At age 19, the three young men could still be called boys. Like boys, they tease and rib one another, consider themselves novices in the kitchen and sometimes bicker about silly things.
The trio — Braxton Tanner, Jarom Biberston and Carter Purdy — are also young men on a mission. They are in North Platte as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
North Platte was not originally their destination. Tanner was due to be a missionary in Argentina; Biberston and Purdy were headed to different locations in Mexico.
But just as a COVID-19 altered the lives and plans of so many others, it did likewise for them. In the wake of the pandemic, all LDS missions outside the country were canceled. The three would ultimately arrive at the Omaha Mission and were then dispatched to North Platte.
Tanner is from Spanish Fork, Utah, about 15 minutes from Provo. Biberston is from Eagle, Idaho, a neighboring city of Boise. Purdy is from Calispell, Montana.
All three of the young men feel they have, with their families, received great blessings and much happiness in their lives through the Gospel. It is those blessings and that happiness they’ve found in their own lives that they want to share and bear witness to with others in the community.
Mormon missionaries, often readily visible by their style of dress — dark suits, white shirts and neckties — frequently make acquaintance with others in the community through conversations in public places, sometimes simply by knocking on doors.
Once again, COVID-19 has had an effect on that.
The trio decided to offer their help to people in the community who need assistance with odd jobs. A small news story in the Telegraph alerted everyone that their free services were available.
“We’ve met some really nice people and have been able to be of help to them,” says Biberston.
Among many of their tasks, they have done raked leaves and cleaned gutters, put up and taken down Christmas lights, helped Habitat for Humanity and insulated a chicken coop.
“In one day we shoveled snow from 23 driveways,” says Purdy.
They’re quick to point out their offer of help isn’t some kind of “bait and switch.”
“If someone has questions, if there’s something they’d like to know about us, we’re glad to share,” says Tanner. He adds they also like to get to know people and about their beliefs.
It was through an individual who shared with them that they were able to gain some new insights into their own Mormon heritage, they say.
“There’s a lot of history about the Mormon Trail that’s right around here. There are things that were part of the trail that are still here,” says Purdy.
Biberston said it was that person’s story about the Mormon Trail anniversary re-enactment that also brought the meaning of the trail to life to him.
“We studied about the Mormon Trail in grade school. But hearing about the chill of the morning darkness and being reminded of the hardships and courage of those who made the original trip gave me a more personal understanding,” says Biberston.
There’s a sadness in Tanner’s voice as he recalls that the journey on the Mormon Trail had come, in part, because of religious persecution.
“There’s still some hate here,” he says quietly of people shouting crude remarks at them as they’re walking down the street.
“We’re just three guys trying to be of service,” he says.
They are also three guys who share an apartment and the cooking.
Tanner is credited with being the “crock cook.”
“I’m the best cook of all of us,” he says.
Biberston is good at pizza quesadillas and wings.
“I’m also good at barbecue, but we don’t have a grill,” he says of his wasted cooking skills.
Tanner and Biberston take a poke at Purdy’s culinary skills.
“He’s good at opening cans,” says Tanner as Biberston adds Purdy is still learning how to cook.
There is a touch of devilish superiority to Purdy’s retort. “Remember that I know something about cars and keeping them running,” Purdy says.
Usually perceived as suited guys on bicycles, they have a car they can use. Costs come out of their monthly budgets.
All three of them, Elder Tanner, Elder Biberston and Elder Purdy, are Mormon missionaries.
But they’re also three young men who are on a mission, who see their missionary work as an opportunity to serve others in the community.