Posted by: 1of10boyz | October 18, 2012

Mormon Missionaries


There has been much written and said of late about LDS missions and missionaries. The official announcement by President Monson earlier in the month reducing the ages that the young men and young women could request service is causing quite a buzz. Young men can now begin their missions as early as 18 if they have graduated from high school or its equivalent; a change of 1 year. Young women can now begin their missions as early as 19; a change of 2 years. I commented on another blog this past week and it started my mind into what now follows.

There has been much said about what the motivation of the Church is for the change in age for missionary service. I can’t speak to that as I don’t “swim” in those circles. I do know that by comparison to my generation and the generations before, the youth of the church are better prepared to be missionaries AND for missionary work. I am not saying that my generation was unprepared, I am not even saying that I was not prepared; but, the youth of today are stronger in their testimonies of the gospel and have a better understanding of the principles of the gospel than generations past. Much of that preparation comes from the more challenging circumstances that they have had to grow up in. The challenges of their youth are more difficult than mine and the fact that they are worthy to serve a mission in these times is a statement about their character and ability.

The young men and women that are soon to be serving missions under these new guidelines are the ones that would have been baptized soon after the letter dated December 11, 2002 from the LDS First Presidency that instructed Church leaders about the principles of eligibility for full-time missionary service. This has become known as “raising the bar for missionary service”. The instructions stated: “Full-time missionary service is a privilege for those who are called through inspiration by the President of the Church. Bishops and stake presidents have the serious responsibility to identify worthy, qualified members who are spiritually, physically, and emotionally prepared for this sacred service and who can be recommended without reservation. Those individuals not able to meet the physical, mental, and emotional demands of full-time missionary work are honorably excused and should not be recommended. They may be called to serve in other rewarding capacities.”

I am still often surprised that people in general think that a Mormon gets to chose where he or she will serve their mission. I often don’t think they believe me when I tell them that a perspective missionary has NO say in where they will eventually be assigned. The perspective missionary completes the required paperwork, completes the required interviews and obtains the requisite approvals, and the package is submitted to Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. That is true for EVERY single perspective missionary in the church; everyone is assigned from Salt Lake City, regardless of which continent you live on. In my opinion, the assignment process can really be broken into two parts, one part inspiration (we call that part revelation in the church) and the last part administration.

Now, I don’t have any personal knowledge of how the assignments are made in Salt Lake City. I can only repeat the hearsay that I have heard about how the Missionary Committee works. The Missionary Committee is the group of church leaders that are assigned the responsibility for all things missionary in the church including assignments.

Before I get into that some general information might be helpful. There are roughly 52,000 missionaries serving in the Church right now. Assuming that all of them are men, though we know they are not – but my math example works better, they will serve 2 years; so there are roughly 500 new missionaries every week.  This means that every week in Salt Lake City, the Missionary Committee must make assignments for 500 missionary. I have heard that the committee meets once a week on this part of their assignment. So assuming an 8 hour work day there are 480 minutes to do “work”.

I am sure that there is some kind of spreadsheet or map that keeps track of where the needs and requirements are. Considering that there are 340 missions and 15 missionary training centers (MTC) it would seem to be an impossible task to balance and maintain a consistently functioning organization. Yet, it happens week in and week out, and has done so for many, many years.

So the Inspiration/Revelation part of the assignment goes like this. The Missionary Committee has less than 1 minute for each individual application. In that 1 minute the committee needs to understand any physical limitations, testing results for ability to learn a language, and make an assignment to fill a hole that will exist in one of the 340 missions AND will have a training spot open in an MTC for initial missionary skills training and language training if required. The chance of a missionary getting to go to where he/she wants or desires is astronomically small. In fact the running joke for those that talk about missionaries and missionary service is to ask the missionary where they DON’T want to go, since it is more likely that will be what happens in most cases. The inspiration/revelation complete the perspective missionary is assigned to a mission and a language.

Once the mission assignment is determined the administration function begins. There is much that the perspective missionary needs to know about this assignment. The entire way of life as a missionary is different than anything that they have experienced. That must be communicated to the missionary. This occurs with the “assignment letter”. This letter is heralded as a significant and important day within the family of the perspective missionary. The family gathers in person, by phone, and any means possible to witness the opening of the letter and notification of where the missionary will serve. This is the first time that the perspective missionary and his/her family know where they will spend the next 18 months to 2 years. In nearly all cases it is met with grateful and happy hearts.

So what is it that motivates and causes some 26,000 young men and young women each year to put their lives on hold for up to 2 years? There is not monetary motivation, the missionary and his/her family pays for the experience. There is no guarantee that it will be exotic and beautiful. There is no promise of success as a missionary. There is no promise that you will return home healthy and safe. There is no promise that you will get into Brigham Young University or any of the other church sponsored schools to continue your education. What is it that motives tens of thousands of these young people to put their education and dreams of success in life (as measured by the world) on hold for 2 years at this critical juncture? There is no promise that you won’t be sent to labor in some of the scariest parts of the cities and countries in the world, in fact you can be assured that you will go to the places. You will be in the big scary world far from the safety and comforts that you most likely were raised in.

The desire to become a missionary, as a Mormon, is not about the big scary world we go off into, but about finding, in ourselves, the religion we believe. It is about becoming converted to Jesus Christ and to obtain an understanding of who He was; is; and what He wants us to be. It is as my “conventional” Christian would say, it is about being “saved”. It is about gaining a testimony of Him as David Bednar mentions in the following quote:

“A testimony is personal knowledge of spiritual truth obtained by revelation. A testimony is a gift from God and is available to all of His children. Any honest seeker of truth can obtain a testimony by exercising the necessary “particle of faith” in Jesus Christ to “experiment upon” (Alma 32:27) and “try the virtue of the word” (Alma 31:5), to yield “to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” (Mosiah 3:19), and to awaken unto God (see Alma 5:7). Testimony brings increased personal accountability and is a source of purpose, assurance, and joy.

Seeking for and obtaining a testimony of spiritual truth requires asking, seeking, and knocking (see Matthew 7:7; 3 Nephi 14:7) with a sincere heart, real intent, and faith in the Savior (see Moroni 10:4). Fundamental components of a testimony are knowing that Heavenly Father lives and loves us, that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and that the fullness of the gospel has been restored to the earth in these latter days.”

The desire to be a missionary is about investing in something that begins with the perspective missionary. The knowledge, skills and abilities of a person that has served a mission are larger than they were before the mission experience. Those things learned will make a difference throughout the life of that person. I know that my missionary experiences made me a different person.

I am a better me because I served a mission. I spent my mission serving in the California Arcadia Mission (right where I didn’t want to go) but right where I needed to be. My desire to be the best teacher caused me to spend the time to learn about the gospel so that I could teach it. I was asked questions that I didn’t know the answers to and had to find the answers. I learned how to work with people that didn’t like me or what I had to say. I had to learn to deal with rejection, disappointment, frustration, sadness, pain, and so many other difficult feelings.

The desire to teach and to share caused the teacher to learn. The knowledge gained helps me survive the struggles and challenges that have occurred and will most certainly continue to occur. I continued to learn how to provide service to those that are less fortunate than me, those that have struggles that I hope never to have. That foundation of selfless service does reap benefits in the years that have past, but that investment was not why I did it. That is just a consequence of something else that occurred. It is said that these years of service make good men and women into better men and women. Those missionary experiences are what help create strong husbands and wives, and ultimately strong families.

I have heard many complaints about why we, Mormons, knock on doors and why we try to talk to people that, in most cases, aren’t really interested in talking about religion. Most people aren’t really interested in religion, and even fewer in that group are interested in learning something new or about changing their religion. My experience has been that the guy talking in the shade or the air conditioning in their home sharing the rootbeer or a glass of water on a hot summer day in Southern California was as much a learning experience and a fulfilling experience for my 19 year old self as was the opportunity to talk with the family/person that really was looking for religion that ended up making the changes in their life to enter into the waters of baptism. I learned much from both of those experiences and each unique experience shaped who I am today.

Truth be told, I met many, many more that just wanted to talk about life than I did that were looking for a change or a religion, but in the process I learned more about ME and my religion than anything I could have hoped to share with the others I met.

I have often thought my mission wasn’t about converting anyone but ME. The others I helped were really icing on the cake of discovering in ME what I needed and what I should do, and how religion could play a role in my life. I am certain that it will be the same for the missionaries serving now; they are learning more than they could ever hope to teach someone else.

So the next time that you have the Mormon’s knock on your door, remember that those young men or young women are getting much more out of their experience talking with you than you might be getting from them. Learning about you and your life experiences may teach them more than you will ever know. Take the time to give them a glass of water, a rootbeer, or a minute or two in the air conditioning; learn about who they are and where they are from it might surprise you how far they came. Ask them how the work is going and what they have learned so far on their missions; I am sure that they will be glad to talk with you about those things. You have no idea how those few minutes might change their lives. Don’t be surprised if they try to let them come back because your friendly face might be the only one that they have seen in many days.

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