Missionaries assigned to Salt Lake East High School Seminary

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    By Craig Kartchner

    Elders Wheeler and Larkin serve in what may be considered the most unique mission in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    They don”t speak a strange language, endure a peculiar climate or adopt a bizarre culture. But their full-time missions at Salt Lake”s East High School Seminary have touched the hearts of hundreds of faculty members and students.

    Elder Wheeler, who has downs syndrome, and Elder Larkin, who is learning impaired, were called by their stake presidents to serve a nine-month mission at the seminary building.

    They arrive at 7:15 a.m. – in time to conduct the daily faculty prayer meeting before they greet students, teach missionary discussions and wish students happy birthday with a song and a card.

    “These young men are amazing,” said East High Seminary Prinicipal Wayne John. “They are absolutely loved.”

    John acts as mission president and monitors the missionaries” activities.

    He said for the first two months, virtually every minute of every day was intricately planned out. But these missionaries have achieved remarkable independence since.

    Seminary teacher Sally Hanna, was the mastermind behind the idea for full-time special education missions,

    “They learn to not be students anymore, but to be adults,” Hanna said.

    As these young men”s independence increases, so does the amount of the work they can do, she said.

    Seminary teacher Lisa Smith has built an ever-expanding list of things she can call on the elders to do.

    They have learned to accompany hymns on the piano, teach discussions with a flannel board and use computer programs to help students make up work after absences.

    “They teach half my lessons in two of my classes,” Smith said.

    John added that these missionaries bring a sweet spirit to everything they do. He wanted the missionaries to soften hearts and make the seminary building a spiritual haven away from the normal rigors of the day.

    Smith attests that the goal has been reached, and surpassed.

    “The elders set a spiritual tone,” she said. “They”ve blessed the faculty and staff immensely.”

    John said although their mission is unique, the elders are expected to live normal mission rules. They can”t swim or date, and must wear their tags on neatly-pressed suits during regular proselytizing time – 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

    Elder Wheeler and Elder Larkin were also stressed as much as any elder was about the preparation of their farewell talk in their home wards. Their smiles can even be seen on the traditional mission plaques in church foyers, John said.

    But to see the validity of the elders” missions, look to the students and faculty at East High Seminary.

    “They make you feel good,” said Darrin Jolley a student at East High. “When they testify, you know what they”re saying is true.”

    Smith recently conducted a survey among seminary students and discovered that prospective missionaries at East High were almost unanimously touched by these special elders.

    “They teach courage in a simple but powerful way,” she said. “I think students say to themselves ”if they can do it, so can I.””

    However, the benefits have not come without a price.

    Principal John”s workload has increased by at least two hours a day.

    This intensified faculty work-load will prevent expansion of the program, John said, despite the fact that everyone at East High thinks more seminaries throughout the country should adopt similar programs.

    Still, the students at East High Seminary will testify that the elders have made a significant difference.

    “They bring the spirit into the classroom because they”re so happy to be there,” said Becky Bunnell a student at East High.

    The elders themselves sum up the missionary experience at the seminary building.

    “I like to be a missionary to help others learn,” Elder Wheeler said.

    Elder Larkin added, “I like serving the Lord.”

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