By Kathy Feist
As a teen, Kallen Webster could run a 5K (3.2 miles) in under 16 minutes. He was a top qualifier in track at KU’s high school regionals, as well as in cross country races at KU and the University of Arkansas.
Webster, who grew up in the Hickman Mills school district but was homeschooled, was offered many college scholarships due to his running ability.
Instead he chose to run down a different path and follow his family’s footsteps as a missionary for his church.
Webster is one of 70,000 young men and women raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who chose to spend two years of their life doing missionary work. Their service includes knocking on doors to proselytize the Bible and the Book of Mormon as well as doing community projects.
“It was an awesome experience,” says Webster. “It was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
When Webster applied, he had no idea where he would be assigned. His mother, Carol, had served in Peru when she was a missionary. His sister served in Denver. As it turned out, Webster was sent to Ogden, Utah, only 45 minutes from the Mormon headquarters in Salt Lake City.
While Ogden may be over 50 percent Mormon, Webster says it still had its challenges. Due to the overfamiliarity of the religion in the area, Webster and his preaching companion were not always welcomed. “A LOT of people said no,” he says. “They would cuss you out and scream at you.”
But Webster also discovered a segment of Ogden that needed help: those dealing with drug addiction, crime, or homelessness. “It was not that different from Kansas City or Chicago, but definitely more than I expected to see, for sure,” he says. “We would talk to anyone we would see and offer to help.”
As a missionary, Webster’s day would begin at 6:30 a.m. and end at 9:30 p.m. After a few hours of study in the morning, he and his companion would begin service work at 10:30. Sometimes this included volunteer work in the community, such as the Ogden Nature Center, Salvation Army or a collective food pantry. But usually it involved walking 12 to 18 miles a day to talk to people about their spiritual needs in reference to the LDS beliefs.
“We would primarily help them study about themselves through the history of the Bible and the Book of Mormon,” he says. “We would let them know how God works on people and is present and talks to us. We would help them be motivated to seek answers for themselves.”
They would also help people with odds and ends chores. “If a missionary sees someone outside working when walking, they are supposed to offer to help,” he says. This would include anything from raking leaves to digging out basements and cleaning out houses.
If someone expressed interest in spiritual help, Webster would share his phone number and set up a return visit. In all, Webster helped 34 people find spiritual help by becoming LDS members. Webster managed to continue running during the 30 minutes of exercise scheduled each day in addition to walking 12 to 18 miles a day proselytizing. Despite staying in shape, when his service time was up in June, the running scholarships were no longer available.
After a brief visit home last month, Webster moved back to Ogden where he will be attending Dixie University, in St. George, UT, where he received a full-tuition academic scholarship.