At 6:30 a.m., when many 20-year-old Londoners are still sleeping, their alarm clocks go off and they spring into action. Their morning starts with a plan for what they’ll accomplish this day. They think of various ways they can leave a positive influence on this tiny, mostly African community in southeast London.

After this brief pause for meditation, they exercise for 30 minutes to make them stronger and improve their mental health. Push-ups, sit-ups, dips, squats and an occasional run are all part of the daily routine.

By 9 a.m. they’ve showered, eaten breakfast and talked to their companion about any upcoming appointments.

They are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). These four have come to serve the church by sharing the Gospel with the people of London for two years: Elder Anthony Ellsworth, 21, from San Diego, Elder James Allred, 20, from Alberta, Canada, Elder Brett Christensen, 21, from Delta, Utah, and Elder Garren Allred, 20, from Cedar City, Utah.

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In 1837 seven missionaries were sent from America to Great Britain, just seven years after Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. At this time, Mormons were persecuted because of their beliefs. Some outsiders called their church a “cult.” In 1844, Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob in Carthage, Mo., before facing trial on charges of starting a riot that were later upgraded to treason against Illinois.

In the early days of the church, people of African descent couldn’t serve as priests. They were thought of as “cursed” after God turned their skin black because they were “less valiant” during the time before Adam and Eve. In 1978, the historical practice of denying some dark-skinned men the priesthood was changed by a revelation that clarified the doctrine. Now all worthy men, regardless of skin color or race, could become priests.

Over the years, Mormon missionaries have been so successful in the United Kingdom that the church now counts about 200,000 members in a country with a population of roughly 61.4 million, according to the Office for National Statistics, a U.K. governmental agency.

Today, close to 800 Mormon missionaries are serving in the United Kingdom, according to Elder Christensen. The LDS church has one of the most active missions in the world. Mormons believe the Bible tells them to serve on a mission, citing Matthew 28:19-20: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

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At 9 a.m. the elders begin Bible study. They read from the Bible, the Mormons’ testament of Christ known as the Book of Mormon and other LDS literature. This helps them feel the spirit and puts them in the right frame of mind.

Different reasons propel young Mormon men and women to serve the church. For Elder Garren Allred, his “brother coming back to the church was instrumental in me wanting to serve a mission.” He wanted to do the same service that the missionaries did to convince his brother. According to Elder Ellsworth, “The more you’re selfless, the more happiness and joy you receive.”

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At 10 a.m. the missionaries hit the streets of southeast London to spread the message of God. They wear a crisp white shirt, a colorful tie and a name badge to identify themselves as representatives of the Mormon Church. Besides meeting and talking to people, the missionaries pitch in to paint fences, wash dishes or do anything else that will leave a positive influence on the community.

The people in this small, mostly African suburb hail from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Jamaica and various parts of Latin America. You could literally walk past five people, each from a different part of the Earth.

In this impoverished community, the LDS church is often referred to as the “rich church” because of the upkeep of the manicured church grounds and the cleanliness of the building. In a neighborhood with graffiti-tagged buildings, the Mormon Church stands proud as a symbol of what is good in the community. The residents of this community are open and kind to the God Squad—a nickname the locals have given the Mormon missionaries.

Often, the missionaries are welcomed into a home and offered food from whatever part of the world the homeowner is from. Most of the time, it’s traditional African food, such as fufu. This West and Central African dish is a thick, pasty starch pounded into a bowl and then molded into a ball. Soup is poured over it, and it’s eaten with a piece of flat bread.

On a typical day the missionaries have numerous appointments with church members, who invite them over for lunch, pray with them and look for an uplifting message in the scriptures. The missionaries also meet with investigators — those who want to learn more about the church or aren’t quite sure if the Mormon faith is right for them. Some investigators want to hear what the missionaries have to say.

Ellen Ray, a 29-year resident of this community, bumped into a couple of missionaries in December 2008. She “seen it built,” Ray said, referring to the new construction across the street from her house. “I wanted to see what it was.” She hoped it would be a church. “Then one day the missionaries came up to me … and I never looked back”.

But others challenge them, either physically or spiritually. One day Elders Ellsworth and Garren Allred ran into a rather large man on a bridge in London. They had spoken to him before and remembered that he was aggressive. He immediately began yelling at them, using quotes from the Book of Mormon. Eventually he pushed Elder Allred up against the wall. Somehow, the two missionaries were able to defuse the situation and quickly left the area.

Criticism is a part of their daily life. As Elder Allred says, “The two main things that people question are why were the blacks not given priesthood and why was polygamy accepted?” They handle the criticism with a scripted answer that basically says, “It was God’s revelation” at the time. In an e-mail from Elder James Allred, he states, “The only way to know spiritual truths is through the Spirit of God.” In other words, the best way to know answers is to pray.

When the missionaries don’t have appointments, they walk the streets of London, talking to people at random about anything from the weather to Bible stories. The day is a success if they can get one person to read a passage from the scriptures. If they build a relationship with people, Mormon or not, and ultimately become part of their lives, they believe they have furthered God’s work.

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At 9:30 p.m. the missionaries are home and can finally take off their shoes. They review their appointment book together and prepare any scriptures that might be read to people the next day. They also restock the box of Book of Mormon and prayer cards they keep in the trunk of the car. When all the preparation is complete, they write in their journals, wash up and then pray before going to sleep.

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