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Snapshot of the Tennessee Knoxville Mission—The Tennessee Knoxville Mission is an amazing place to serve, where local culture encourages God and religion to be top priorities. The areas are split fairly evenly between urban cities, suburbs, and rural towns. The reputation that goes along with the Southeastern United States and the “Bible Belt” is legitimate. The people are famous for their hospitality and love of Christ, and for every person that slams a door in your face there are many more who genuinely respect what you’re doing and are looking for the truth among the sea of different Christian churches.
The Hispanic population is generally isolated to a few towns with major factories or other basic employment needs that migrant workers fill. While most of the Hispanics you will meet are from Mexico, there are pockets that are heavily populated by Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Cubans. As well, there are members from basically every Spanish-speaking country in the Knoxville Mission. The majority of them are Catholic, although many haven’t been to church or practiced the religion in many years. They are typically very humble, willing to listen, and hospitable.
There are currently four stakes in the mission: Chattanooga, Knoxville, Kingsport, and Cumberland. As of 2011 there were four Spanish Branches throughout Tennessee and Alabama, and one Spanish ward in Dalton, GA.
As is the case in any mission, the success you will have will greatly depend on how well you and your companion work with the church members and local leaders. Most wards and branches treat missionary work as one of their top concerns, and many members actively talk to their friends and family about the church. With that being said, tracting and street contacting is common and can also be successful. The culture of the region is that church and God are important—beware of “Bible-bashing” as it’s easy to find people who just want to argue. LDS missionaries are generally recognized but there remain a lot of misconceptions and rumors about the church.
The church has been sending missionaries to Tennessee as early as 1834, many who received heavy persecution in those first years. There isn’t a temple within the boundaries of the mission yet; the closest temples are located in Nashville, Atlanta, and Birmingham.
Members and nonmembers alike will be more than happy to feed you far past the bursting point. Some common meals are fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, fried okra, collard greens, mashed potatoes, grits, green beans, corn-on-the-cob, refried beans, and cornbread. For anyone who hasn’t had real cornbread, it’s a lot different than the sweet cake-like bread that you might be used to. It’s very brittle, not sweet, and most people like to dip it in milk, gravy, or just about anything. BBQ is a big deal as well: ribs, brisket, and pulled pork are all very popular. This is usually what’s thought of as classic southern cooking, but you’ll also eat a lot of lasagna, spaghetti, hamburgers, etc. If you ever eat with non-members you should know that sweet and iced tea are very common (and typically not allowed, as they are a black tea).
Spanish-speaking missionaries have the opportunity to try food from many different areas of the world. Mexican food is the most common: tacos, tostadas, chile relleno, gorditas, and enchiladas are all fairly typical meals. Posole is a mexican soup that includes some type of meat and hominy that gets served quite a bit. Be prepared for some of your meals to be really spicy. Entrees from Peru, Argentina, Honduras, Guatemala, and any other spanish-speaking country you can think of are all possibilities. Some members will have you try menudo, which is a soup made out of cow stomach, but it’s pretty uncommon.
Missionaries either ride bikes or have cars. There are many areas that are quite large. As of 2011, the majority of areas had cars but that was before the influx of missionaries in 2012. You could be in a “car share” area, which typically means you are riding your bike for one week and then driving a car for the next. Since some of the areas are so large, odds are you will run out, or have to conserve, your allotted monthly miles by riding a bike. If you have to go somewhere far away for an appointment, try and get a member to take you (as they should be coming to lessons anyhow!).
The biggest safety issue in this mission is when you’re driving or riding your bike. Other than the usual safety risks like distracted drivers, the roads in this part of the country can be very narrow with little room in the lanes on either side of you. Many areas don’t have gutters, the side of the road just goes into a ditch or a steep embankment. There are also one-way roads and tunnels that can be dangerous if you’re not careful. The same goes for riding a bike, there aren’t regular bike lanes so just make sure to pay attention when driving or riding. Staying alert and following the Spirit will help you avoid most accidents.
There isn’t a huge difference in customs between the people of Tennessee and the rest of the United States. They are very polite and will frequently offer you food and drink; if it’s not against the church’s standards (i.e. iced tea, coffee, etc), try to accept it. This is especially true when dealing with Hispanics.
Smoking and chewing tobacco is fairly common in the area, and most people who chew tobacco will carry a plastic bottle around with them to spit their chew into. So if you see a bottle with a black liquid in it, just leave it alone.
Most people will say sir or mam to someone who is older or just about anybody really. It won’t bother them if you don’t say it, but it’s their way of showing respect.
“What do ya say?” = Hows it going?
“Fixin’ ” = It’s a verb meaning ‘getting ready to do something’
“Farsee”=- It’s a unit of measurement, it means “as far as you can see.” So something could be two farsees away.
Most of the weird things people say aren’t really all that strange, they just have a thick accent.
A good rain coat is really important as well as good quality shoes. Some missionaries liked to have certain clothes that they would use only for meetings and church, while other clothes they would use only for tracting.
The best way to send letters and packages is through the post office. Dear Elder works fine as well, you shouldn’t run into any problems either way.
Southern people are very superstitious, it will be really apparent in the more rural towns. You might see ziploc bags filled with water hanging on people’s porches and near their doorways, this is supposed to ward off flies. Another southern superstition is that it’s bad luck to leave and exit from the same door, if you’re lucky you’ll see a home with two front doors—although this is more rare.
11320 Station West Dr Ste 101
Farragut TN 37934
For alumni: http://www.mission.net/tennessee/knoxville/
Straight from the Tennessee Knoxville Mission:
*What did you eat the most of?
“Macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, fast food.”
*What is the craziest thing you ate?
“Chicken soup that tasted like the whole chicken, bones and all, were thrown into a blender, and then all of the cats in the house used the cooking pot as a hot-tub. I would have preferred to eat a dog.”
“The weirdest thing I ever ate was snapping turtle.”
*What was most surprising about the culture?
“The kindness of people in general. Very friendly and always willing to invite you in. They didn’t want to hear the gospel but they did want to offer you a drink and a break from walking in the heat.”
*What advice would you give to someone going to the Tennessee Knoxville Mission?
“Be okay with sweating, even a couple seconds after your shower. Understand that people will like you but not the Church… don’t take it personally. You won’t convert the world but you can do some good.”
*What do you wish you had known before you served?
“More Church history.”
“Most people have a dog, some of them are chained up and some aren’t. Depending on the neighborhood you’re in, you could have a few dogs roaming the streets. If they start running at you just pretend to pick up and throw a rock and most times they’ll run away.”
**Did you serve in the Tennessee Knoxville Mission? If so, we would love to hear your advice and your stories! Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.**