Being autistic and having never been on his own before, Connor, a graduate of Woodstock High School, decided he wanted to serve a two-year church mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I wanted to know how to take care of myself,” Connor said. “(On my mission) I learned how to cook, and how to do the laundry in a laundromat with quarter slots. I’m a good saver (financially). I liked grocery shopping.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has young men usually ages 18 to 20 and young women ages 19 to 21, serving as missionaries all over the world. Although the church has certain physical and mental requirements for serving a mission, they also have missions available for those with disabilities.
Connor says he was called by the church to serve a mission in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the church headquarters is located. For the two years, Connor worked in the Family History Library on the U.S. and Canada floor.
The Family History Library, owned by the LDS church, is the largest genealogical library in the world containing 2 million rolls of microfilmed records. Records are from the U.S., Canada, the British Isles, Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Australia. A majority of these records contain information about persons who lived before 1920, and it is open to the public for genealogy work.
“I was excited to go on a mission,” Connor said. “Sometimes, I would wonder what my parents were doing back home, and if anything would change while I was gone for two years.”
Although his parents, friends, and family were supportive of Connor’s decision to serve a mission, they said they knew it wouldn’t be easy. The church assigned Connor a place to serve for two years.
During those two years, young missionaries put many things on hold, including college, dating, calling or texting their friends and family, and watching TV and movies.
It was also hard on parents who could only communicate with their child through once a week emails, twice a year phone calls or video chats at home, and letters in the mail.
“Like any missionary mom, you just miss them,” said Tracy Ensign, Connor’s mother. “I’ll be honest. I worried so much until he left. Once he left, I felt a big peace because I knew he was serving the Lord. I just knew he would give it his best. And I knew he was safe. We just miss him because he is so much fun to have around.”
Connor worked about 60 hours a week helping visitors to the library, who were doing genealogy research on U.S. and Canada, load films onto the microfiche and scan pro machines and find records. He was also given a special assignment to index the 1940 Georgia census records. And Connor found records and history books on Cherokee County.
There were 90 other young men with various disabilities serving in the same Family and Church History Headquarters Mission, information showed. All missionaries were assigned to do work that fit their abilities and talents. With the help of elderly single women or couples who were also called to be missionaries there, these young men missionaries with disabilities were given training on how to help the library guests and other assignments. They were also put into companionships where two missionaries were responsible in keeping track of each other and made sure they followed mission rules.
“All his companions had disabilities,” Tracy Ensign said. “They were all different. So some of them he got along great with and others he didn’t. That’s life. That’s one thing they learn on the mission. Getting along with all different types of people. And no one is perfect. One of his companions was obsessive compulsive and had to do things over and over again.”
As with all LDS missionaries, Connor’s family paid the expenses of the two-year mission and the church coordinated a place of living and other day-to-day needs. He lived in an apartment a block away from the library with three other missionaries with disabilities.
Connor was given a personal day once a week where he did his own laundry, grocery shopping, cleaned the apartment, wrote letters home to his family, and explored Salt Lake City. He was also responsible for his own meals where he learned to cook much more than he knew before his mission. Then on Sundays, he attended church.
“I learned that I didn’t like living in a big city,” Connor said. “I didn’t care to live in the city (Salt Lake City). Walking around the city, we had to deal with panhandlers, protesters and even two drunks that walked by and made fun of us. I didn’t want any problems with anybody. Then I had a companion that told me, ‘Whether you like it or not, you are supposed to be here.’”
During the two years, Connor kept an extensive record of his mission in his journal. During his free time, Connor could be seen with paper and pencil in hand, drawing, which he says is his favorite thing to do. He also loves anything Disney and learning about other cultures.
Now that Connor is home from serving his two-year mission, he said he is hoping to find a job that will allow him to draw. His dream job would be working for Disney as an animator. He is planning on attending college at Chattahoochee Tech.