We’ve all seen them … full-time Mormon missionaries … with their white shirts and black name tags (or skirts and name tags in the case of the ladies). You see them in pretty much every corner of the world you can imagine. From Boise to Bangladesh and everything in-between, this force of some 60,000+ volunteer elders and sisters is doing a great work all over the world and it was a pleasure to be one of them myself some 30 years ago.
Here are ten quick facts about missionaries I thought may be of interest to you:
- The mission is encouraged, even expected (you could say), but it isn’t required. You won’t lose your membership or temple blessings or anything like that if you don’t serve a mission (although your dating prospects are probably better if you’re a so-called “RM,” a returned missionary). Most active Mormon girls would much prefer to marry an RM if they can, especially all those pretty co-eds cruising for a husband on one of the BYU campuses.
- It’s a volunteer effort. You pay for it yourself. Some missionaries work in advance of their missions, saving money. For others, their family members, relatives, friends, or even the Church will help (the Church has a missionary fund that members can donate to, enabling those who don’t have the means to pay for it to still Go & Serve).
- You have to be 18 years old as a young man and 19 years old as a young woman to go. You don’t get to choose where to go when you serve a mission (except in certain situations as older couples). When you’re young you go where the Church assigns you. It’s a big day for most missionaries, the day they open their call. Like I said, it could be anywhere in the world; you don’t know. Note: we do believe you go where you’re supposed to go and there are multiple examples of people who have felt this confirmation. I myself met people I know without question I was supposed to meet.
- Before serving, you go to one of the MTCs (Missionary Training Centers)—there are 15 worldwide, although the main one is in Provo, Utah. If you’re serving stateside, you go for 3 weeks to learn how to comport yourself as a missionary, etc. If you’ll be learning a language you’re there for 11 weeks, much of it in language immersion.
- Each mission is organized into districts which are then organized into Zones. Each mission has a mission president (and his wife, the “mission mom”), assistants to the president, zone leaders, district leaders, and two-person companionships, with one elder or sister serving as the “senior companion” or senior “trainer” missionary.
- There are quite a few rules and regulations when you’re serving as a Mormon missionary. You can’t swim or do other dangerous things like jumping off cliffs or skydiving; missionaries aren’t supposed to shoot guns, they don’t watch TV, they don’t date for two years, and they only call home twice a year (on Christmas and on Mother’s Day). They get to email friends and family one day a week, on their Preparation Day (usually called their “P Day”). They have lots of other rules like rising and bedtimes, using titles, being alone with others, etc. (Companionships are supposed to be with each other 24/7 except when they sleep or use the facilities).
- Missionaries get one day off each week to do laundry, write home and relax/have fun a little, as mentioned. Many go see sites in their local areas, play sports, get together with the local members, eat local foods and/or go shopping, etc. Most missionaries take a lot of pictures and maintain a journal. Memories…. ahh.
- Most missionaries go on missions to really do three main things: (1) They serve in the communities in which they live … and not just Mormons; they give a great deal of community service all in the name of serving like Christ did and of building goodwill for the Church in all of the countries around the world. (2) The second thing they do is teach and support the local members, many of which are often new and need to be trained in how to start and operate branches of the Church so they can stay consistent with the practices and programs worldwide; and (3) Missionaries obviously go on their missions to try to share a message that they feel strongly has blessed their own life, and they’d like to share it with others (I compare it to a cure for cancer: you would want to tell everyone if such a miracle ever existed). This is very much the same. We believe it’s a commandment but it’s also, even more so, a blessing—the mission changes your life in ways I can’t begin to explain and the missionaries have a special endowment, a “mantle” of the mission that endows this with power, the spirit, and protection. It’s extraordinary to experience. (If you want to know for yourself if the Church is true, stop your local missionaries when you see them and ask them to share their story; they would be happy to meet with you … or Click Here to request a set of missionaries and/or a free copy of The Book of Mormon yourself).
- Most missionaries will tell you it was the “Best Two Years of [Their] Life” and I’d have to agree, especially up to that point. You really come away with an appreciation for what you have, how it works, and what it means to be Mormon. You invariably leave with a stronger testimony, in most cases—personally I did—along with a desire to stay strong in the faith. It’s something that many are able to carry into and throughout their entire lives. I think it was so great because, for most of us, it’s the closest we’ll ever come to knowing and being like Christ. The rest of our lives we’re focused on our jobs, our schooling, our families, and our responsibilities, etc. But, for two years, as a faithful missionary, you’re focused 100% on everything and everyone else but yourself. I think it’s the # 1 thing that changes you. You also see lives change, and it changes you inside in very personal ways. You’ll never be the same if you go and serve a faithful, full-time mission, I assure you. If you’re thinking about it, I hope you will. You also make lasting friendships you’ll hold sacred to you the rest of your lives.
- Most missionaries will carry a love of the area and the people they served all the rest of their lives. I myself consider Italy a “second home” now and always will. I love all things Italian, have been back three times so far, and plan to go there many more if I’m able. I pretty much live for pizza and gnocchi and, well, really any type of pasta; the list goes on. It’s hard to describe but, you give so much of yourselves to the mission, it becomes part of you. It changes you but it’s a little difficult to explain.
While serving in Italy I got a new mission president about 3/4 of the way through my 2-year sojourn there. President Pasta left us (true story; that was his name and he was amazing, a native Italiano) and President Favero, an amazing Italian-American who I also came to really love and respect, replaced Presidente Pasta about 6 months before I came home. Pres. F. shared with us something he’d learned that I will never forget.
In his first zone conference, he taught us missionaries that, while he was in the MTC with all the other new mission presidents, the Apostle Elder Boyd K. Packer, came and taught them and asked them all this question while he was there. He said, “Presidents, what will the success of your missionaries’ missions be based on.” They gave a variety of answers: the number of baptisms, reactivation, stakes opening up, etc. “None of these are correct answers,” he noted. “Don’t take me wrong: they’re all important, true, but the success of your missions, Presidents,” he continued, “will be based upon the number of temple marriages your missionaries’ great-grandchildren have!” Isn’t that interesting. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. He’s just saying that the most important “change” happens is the missionary himself or herself. (One of the best scriptures of all time talks about this point. Click Here to check it the verses and see where real joy comes from).
Suffice it to say that the mission changes hearts and strengthens faith. And, if a young elder or sister return, solid in the gospel, excited, grounded, and able to continue in the Church and in their service for years to come, then, ultimately, I think their mission was a success! Hopefully, they will stay strong and pass down their knowledge and testimony to their kids and grandkids and beyond. Their faith will continue and they’ll go on to serve, lead, and inspire. The Lord will bless them and their families. The promises are extensive. It’s a beautiful thing.
It’s also important to understand, especially with regards to the last comment about “seeing lives change” that the missionaries don’t convert people themselves. Only the Spirit—the Holy Ghost—can ever do that. Missionaries are just the messengers … the so-called “conduit.” It is the Spirit that touches hearts, confirms truths, and changes lives.
Last but not least is The Book of Mormon, the primary tool Mormon missionaries have for sharing the gospel and helping people gain a testimony of their own. The book holds the key. I won’t tell the whole story since I’ve told it before in places like this Post entitled “A Stone Cut From the Mountainside” (Click Here if you’d like to check it out). The Book of Mormon is essential to the story for a couple of main reasons: (1) We’re the only Church in the world who has it (except any offshoots like The Community of Christ). It sets us apart from the rest of the world, not to mention teaches and clarifies the Gospel of Jesus Christ so clearly, especially together with the Bible … and (2) The book is actually the key to knowing whether the whole thing is true or not. We have the promise that the Lord will answer us by way of The Holy Ghost if we ask him in faith and integrity. (See Moroni 10: 3-5 to view this promise). It is this message that is blessing and affecting the lives of others all over the world. It’s softening hearts and converting minds.
Click Here to watch a great (short) video on missionaries and The Book of Mormon and additional details if you’d like about how critical the book really is in the process.
It’s late and I have my 14-year old’s birthday to celebrate in the morning. (Yes, we do celebrate birthdays as Mormons too; the ones who don’t are the Jehovah Witnesses and maybe a few others. Seventh Day Adventis?) Either way, I’m headed to bed.
Thanks for hanging with me tonight.
Talk with you later,
PS – I’m not positive, but the last picture above looks a lot like a photo of American singer, David Archuletta, of American Idol fame, while on his mission in Santiago, Chile.
PPS – The picture below reminds us all to be member missionaries, that is, to seek ways to share the gospel with others even if we’re not a full-time missionary. It’s so important that we do. The Lord will help us if we ask him to, and trust us to assist in His work. To do otherwise—not try to share this with others—I believe, is to give into selfishness and fear. I hope we all can do more, be Brave, and do a better job of this in our own lives.
Patrick Laing – The Daily Mormon – Portland, Oregon USA