Mormon devotion something to admire

Tucked between sorority houses and Green Street is the Urbana Institute of Religion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our campus’ go-to center for Mormon students and families alike.

Before Wednesday, I’d never been inside. It’s strange, really, that I knew so little about the religion, considering my cousins are Mormons and our Republican presidential nominee is a Mormon. And One F Jef, winner of “The Bachelorette”? Yep, he’s a Mormon, too.

Travis Winkler, the director of the Institute, is responsible for teaching classes and working with Mormon students who are seeking God on a campus littered with temptation. His office, cozy and welcoming, is the perfect place for a curious writer to get her questions answered.

I did my homework before meeting Winkler, scouring the internet for the religion’s history and details. Here’s the Cliff Notes version: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all began with Joseph Smith. According to the Mormon Church, God appeared to Joseph, choosing him to translate the Book of Mormon. Joseph received these revelations and organized the LDS Church in 1830.

Mormonism has a very specific doctrine today, one that includes many strict guidelines with the intent of bringing a believer closer to God. There’s the law of chastity, for example, banning Mormons from having sex outside of marriage.

Of course, that law doesn’t apply to you once you’ve said, “I do.” Such is the case for Joel Ouska, graduate student in Engineering. When he transferred to the University as a junior, Ouska was married.

“I couldn’t relate to other undergrads,” he said. “I was the only married one. When I told people, most of them thought I was joking.”

But for Ouska, a Mormon, marriage was the obvious next step in his relationship. “My wife and I, we loved each other. We prayed about it a ton before deciding (to marry),” he said.

Much like the law of chastity, there’s another important regulation called the Word of Wisdom. This emphasizes physical and spiritual health by forbidding the use of tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea and illegal drugs.

With laws like that, it’s hard for me to imagine a Mormon college student feeling completely comfortable at a public university, especially one like ours.

Alexis Byrd, junior in ACES, joined the LDS Church when she was a freshman. Her new faith meant new boundaries — boundaries that she said were meant to make her completely reliant on the Lord instead of substances or sex.

For Byrd, living and growing as a Mormon here isn’t always easy. “I have friends that go out every weekend … But I try to keep in mind that I have other good things, like my church.”

Byrd then explained why she chooses not to partake in the party scene.

“If you go to places unfit for the Spirit or that might offend it,” Byrd said, “like where there’s music that has cuss words or where people are disobeying the Law of Chastity or drinking, then the Spirit can leave you. So, I tend to stay away.”

While I sat in Winkler’s office this week, I couldn’t help but wonder how LDS members persevere on a campus that rarely glorifies God.

“If a student comes from a place where they have a solid base of the Church, then they really cling on to the few LDS members that are here,” Winkler said thoughtfully. “They might have roommates or friends with different lifestyles, so they want strength from fellowship. The Institute is where they can find that.”

It makes sense. We all want someone to relate to, don’t we? Mormons on campus may be in the minority, but small numbers doesn’t mean small hearts. These believers are passionate about the LDS Church and what it stands for. And that, I think, is something to admire.

“After meeting with Mormon missionaries during my freshman year, everything just made sense,” Byrd said. “I would cry every time I met with them because I felt like I was hearing something powerful and true. I still feel that way. It’s changed my life.”

Walking through college is certainly not easy, but having spiritual guidance makes all the difference. I’m not a Mormon, but that is one thing I can wholeheartedly agree with. Over at the Institute, that help is abounding for LDS members and even those who are just checking the religion out.

“No matter what, life is tough. Students everywhere deal with upsets and frustrations and relationships and temptations,” Winkler said. “But for me to be able to talk about truth and see the truth change people? That, that’s what I love.”

Even if I don’t see eye to eye with most things in the Mormon church, I still deeply respect their strong faith. Specifics and laws aside, commitment like that will always be an admirable trait. Always.

Melanie is a sophomore in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]