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Mormon Missionaries Focus on Williamsburg

By Meredith Hoffman | August 24, 2012 7:05am

WILLIAMSBURG — As sunglasses-clad residents just off work strutted down the sidewalk, Bedford Avenue's latest pack of street musicians clustered on the North Ninth Street corner with a ukulele and guitar. 

The dozen men in their 20s came from all over the country to serenade the trendy strip, though their performance was drawing little more than rolled eyes as most passers-by ignored them.

But the fresh-faced group in their dress pants, white collared shirts, ties and metal name plaques smiled.

"I am a child of God and he has sent me here," they sang, trying to hand out information cards about the Mormon Church, officially called the Church of Latter Day Saints.

"Even if one person says 'yes' and the rest say 'no' I feel happy," said one of the missionaries, Dallin McEwen.

"I feel fulfilled. No matter how people respond to me I know I'm doing what the Lord wants me to do," said McEwen, a California native who played football in college before taking a break to join the mission.

McEwen, 20, and his compatriots have recently amped up outreach efforts around the Bedford Avenue L train and southward to their church on Marcy Avenue by the Williamsburg Bridge.

In recent weeks they've started weekly information sessions, known as "street sweeps," where they  speak about their religion on the sidewalk, perform music and hand out flyers.

"We've noticed the community feel," the area's mission president Kevin Calderwood said about the blocks in Williamsburg they're targeting, where a dozen missionaries now circulate, rather that two that worked the area previously.

"I'm really pleased with what we're doing."

Calderwood said the same number of missionaries are stationed in Brooklyn as before, but that they have been reorganized to focus more on the blocks by the Williamsburg church.

"We believe we're here to help," Calderwood said, noting that Mitt Romney's campaign for Presidency made strangers to the church more curious.

"There seems to be a heightened sense of 'what do you believe?'" he said, emphasizing the need to "dispel myths" about the religion.

But Calderwood and the missionaries said the new outreach effort is completely unrelated to the election — in fact, the missionaries are discouraged from reading the newspaper, using the Internet, or watching television during their two years of service.

"Our whole central purpose is to make people happy," said Cabanilla, a Utah native who joined the mission after one year of college.

"Every question people ask [about the election] I say 'I don't know, but I'd love to teach you about Jesus Christ.'"

The strict regimen of mission work every day, the young men said, has completely transformed their own lives as well.

"Before my mission I was a selfish 19-year-old kid," reflected Cabanilla, who has two months left of his service.

"Now I'm a caring man."