More than other churches, the Mormon church emphasizes the importance of missionary work. Venturing to a new land to convert its inhabitants is seen as a part of growing up and a way of fulfilling a duty to God.
“Young men and young women are frequently encouraged to prepare to serve full-time missions, just as Elder Winterton and Elder Buhler are currently serving,” said Stewart Walkenhorst, the president of the Oklahoma City Mission.
While explaining missionary work, Walkenhorst quotes Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement and a prophet of Latter-day Saints. Smith put great weight on evangelism, writing “the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel.”
For Buhler and Winterton, encouragement to go on a mission didn’t only come from the church — it also came from their families.
Buhler’s mother, Kuniko, supported her son’s decision to go on a mission because she thought it was a service he owed to others.
“When you receive blessings, you need to serve other people,” she said. “Serving is the best way to express your gratitude to the world.”
Winterton’s parents likewise encouraged their son to go on a mission. His mother, Julie, urged him to go because she knew the two years would change him.
“They will mold him into a husband and a father and a person who can change the world,” she said.
Winterton and Buhler interrupted their college careers to embark on their mission. Before Winterton left, his life seemed dominated by athletics, his mother said. Before Buhler left, he was occupied with theater.
Now Scripture is the only thing they study. Singing in worship ceremonies is the nearest Buhler gets to the performing arts, and playing in the local church’s basketball court is the closest Winterton gets to a sports competition.