Tokyo South

Provo District

In the Afterlife

Two months after Thackeray died, he got a letter from his old companion.

Hey, civilian, Michaels wrote. Guess who’s my new companion? Danbury! I guess Prez. Atkinson wanted to prove you could get ten in a month here. Hey, as long as I don’t have to stick around and clean up the mess, I’ll bask in the glory—if Yoshida Shimai doesn’t kill him first, that is. Oh, Atkinson got his one thousand baptisms. Was there ever any doubt?

No, there hadn’t been.

Michaels died before the mission changed presidents. The new president was Japanese, President Inoue.

He’s a good man, Yoshida wrote. But no matter how Atkinson’s old APes tell him to run things, he’ll listen to the local leaders. Because that’s where he comes from. And because he’s not some hotshot gaijin from Salt Lake City who can intimidate people because of who he’s related to and all the big numbers in his reports.

Thackeray was back at BYU, majoring in English lit. The center will not hold, he pontificated, having recently digested a good deal of Yeats.

The center was having a tough time of it. Then the North Asia Area Presidency was reorganized. And things fell apart. The new GA took one look at the Tokyo South Mission and did not like what he saw. He eliminated the small groups, recombined the two-man districts, and banned streeting. He followed that up by expanding the pre-baptism church attendance and lesson plan requirements for investigators.

Baptism rates dropped 90 percent. Long-term activity rates showed no signs of rising out of the low teens.

Thackeray decided to minor in Japanese. Most of the students in the 300-level classes were returned missionaries from Japan. The subject of missions inevitably came up.

“Tokyo South,” he said, simply answering the equally simple question.

Tokyo South! Jeez, so you were one of those thousand a month weasels, huh? Flip, we were lucky to get a couple hundred in a year. You know how many times we got our noses rubbed in it? Like every flippin’ zone conference. Like we’re not as holy as you guys ’cause we’re not drowning everything that doesn’t naturally sink. How many triffs and kids did you baptize anyway?”

The guy tried to come off lighthearted but Thackeray could taste the animosity. He wanted to defend his mission, point out that there were a few missionaries—Chadwick, Matthews, Kempner, Yoshida—who maybe weren’t dunking ten a month, but were doing the work well and weren’t cutting corners. He wanted to pursue the question he’d asked Michaels—about the point at which baptizing for the numbers turned into nothing but numbers.

He already knew the answer. A fine Potemkin village they’d constructed, all soaring and majestic. And about as substantial as a billboard. The first hard squall blew it clean over.

Then there was the time an RM came up to him after class and introduced himself as a Tokyo South alumnus. He knew Thackeray from the old lost-in-Shinjuku story. Thackeray didn’t recognize him.

“Yeah,” he said. “I hear them bad-mouthing Tokyo South and President Atkinson. Fact is, they didn’t have the spirit like we did. They could have done it if they wanted it. You just gotta want it.”

Thackeray listened, nodded politely, and walked away. No wonder they hate us. In his heart, despite all his knowing cynicism at the time, he hadn’t been part of the solution. That made him part of the problem. And no less a prick than the rest.

The wounds wouldn’t heal until the Atkinson-era missionaries had all died and reality fully settled in and those halcyon days turned to myths and legends, hardly to be believed.

For a long time, he didn’t talk about his mission except in the abstract. The next summer, Yoshida Shimai died. She came to Utah to see him. They talked about everything for a long time.

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