- Missionary (LDS Church)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is one of the most active modern practitioners of missionary work, with over 52,000 full-time missionaries worldwide, as of the end of 2010. Commonly referred to as Mormon missionaries, most LDS Church missionaries are single young men in their late teens and early twenties and are assigned to a mission of the church which is usually far from the missionary's home. LDS missionaries serve voluntarily. They do not receive a salary for the work they undertake; most are financially supported by themselves or their families. Throughout the history of the church, over one million missionaries have been sent on missions.
Preparation to serve
Significance and basic qualifications
LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball said, "Every young man should fill a mission". Completing a mission is often described as a rite of passage for a young Latter-day Saint. The phrase "the best two years of my life" is a common cliché among returned missionaries when describing their experience. Although Gordon B. Hinckley had suggested that a mission is not to be a rite of passage, this cultural aspect remains. With the usual starting age of 19–21, a mission provides a clear event or marker for the traditional age of adulthood, but is not necessary for continuance in church membership.
Young men between the ages of 19 and 25 who meet standards of worthiness are strongly encouraged to consider a two-year, full-time proselytizing mission. This expectation is based in part on the New Testament passage "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations..." (Matt. 28: 19-20). In 2007, approximately 30% of all 19-year-old LDS men became Mormon missionaries; from LDS families that are active in the church, approximately 80-90% of 19-year-old men serve a mission. In some countries, male missionaries may be 18 years old because of educational or military requirements.
Because the mission is seen as a rite of passage for Mormon men, it is considered deeply shameful to leave a mission early, unless it is for a medical reason. Even in cases where an immediate family member dies, the missionary is strongly encouraged to stay on the mission. Missionaries can be sent home for violating mission rules, and occasionally missionaries choose to go home because of unhappiness or because they "lost their testimony" (meaning they no longer believe in the church or have serious doubts about it). However, the vast majority of missionaries serve the whole two-year (men) or eighteen-month (women) terms.
As of 2007, 80% of all Mormon missionaries were young, unmarried men, 13% were young single women and 7% retired couples. Women who would like to serve a mission must meet the same standards of worthiness and be at least 21 years old; women generally serve shorter 18-month missions and are not actively encouraged to serve. Married retired couples, on the other hand, are encouraged to serve missions, but their length of service may vary from 6 to 36 months depending on their circumstances and means. Any single retired person may also be called to serve in what is known as senior missionary service. In the last two decades, the LDS Church has stepped up its call for senior couple missionaries. Leaders have encouraged this both as a responsibility to help other people and as a cure to the loneliness that often affects the elderly.
Standards of worthiness
All missionaries must meet certain minimum standards of worthiness. Among the standards that a prospective missionary must demonstrate adherence to are: regular attendance at church meetings, regular personal prayer, regular study of the scriptures, adherence to the law of chastity (sexual purity), adherence to the Word of Wisdom (code of health and nutrition), payment of tithing, spiritual diligence and testimony of God.
Other exclusionary factors
In addition to spiritual preparedness, church bishops are instructed to ensure that prospective missionaries are physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of full-time missionary work. In the same speech where he called for "every young man" to fill a mission, Kimball added, "we realize that while all men definitely should, all men are not prepared to teach the gospel abroad." Apart from general issues of worthiness and ability, there are a number of specific situations that will disqualify a person from becoming a full-time missionary for the LDS Church. Those excluded include those who would have to leave dependent children in the care of someone else; young couples who are still of child-bearing age; those who are in debt and have not made arrangements to meet these obligations; those who are on legal probation or parole; couples with serious unresolved marital problems; those who are HIV positive; and those who have been convicted of sexual abuse. Additionally, members who have submitted to, performed, encouraged, paid for, or arranged for an abortion are usually excluded from missionary service, as are members who have fathered or mothered a child out of wedlock; men under 26 and women under 40 who have been divorced; and anyone who has participated in "homosexual activity" after age 16.
Until 1978 the LDS Church did not call men of black African descent to go on missions, due to the ban on blacks holding the priesthood. The priesthood ban was lifted during Kimball's presidency and since 1978 there has been no restrictions to missionary service that are based on race or ethnicity.
After application to the church and the requisite approval, prospective missionaries receive a “call to serve”—an official notification of their location assignment—through the mail from the President of the Church. The mission call also informs the prospective missionary what language he will be expected to use during his mission. Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are responsible for assigning missionaries to a particular mission.
Before beginning their mission, prospective male missionaries are usually ordained to the office of an Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood (if they do not hold this office already). All missionaries are "set apart" by the laying on of hands to preach the gospel; this is usually performed by the missionary's stake president. Prospective missionaries also usually attend the temple for the first time to receive their Endowment if they have not already done so.
Newly called missionaries attend a short training period at one of 17 church Missionary Training Centers (MTCs) worldwide. The largest MTC is located in Provo, Utah adjacent to Brigham Young University. Missionaries who will not be learning a language in order to serve their missions spend three weeks at an MTC where they practice using proselytizing materials, learn expected conduct, and study the scriptures. Missionaries bound for foreign-language missions spend eight to thirteen weeks at an MTC, depending on the language to be learned. During this period, they are encouraged not to speak in their native tongue but rather to immerse themselves in the new language.
Dress and grooming
Full-time LDS missionaries are required to adhere to a dress code: for men, conservative, dark trousers and suit coats, white dress shirts, and ties are generally required. For women, modest and professional dresses or blouses and skirts must be worn. Dresses or skirts must reach the mid-calf. In some areas these standards are altered slightly. For example, in hot, humid climates, suit coats are not required and dress shirts may be short-sleeved. Casual clothes may be worn only in limited circumstances, such as when missionaries are providing manual labor or during preparation day, when the missionaries are involved in recreation, cleaning, shopping (at the discretion of the mission president), and laundry. This has changed and missionaries are now asked to wear their shirt and tie even on preparation days unless they are doing activities such as sports. These rules are outlined in the new white handbook issued to missionaries since about 2003.
All full-time missionaries wear a name tag that gives their surname with the appropriate title ("Elder" or "Sister" in English-speaking areas, or their equivalent titles in other languages). The name tag also bears the church's name, unless the mission president considers this inadvisable due to circumstances in the area (e.g., adverse political conditions). Missionaries are required to wear the tag at all times.
A missionary companionship, consisting of two (or occasionally, three) missionaries, is the smallest organizational unit of a mission. Every missionary is assigned by the mission president to be another missionary's companion. Missionary companionships are generally maintained for months at a time and most missionaries will have served with multiple companions by the end of their mission. These companions rarely have prior acquaintance outside of the mission. Companionships are always of the same gender, with the exception of married couples, who serve as a companionship for the entirety of their mission.
Missionary companions are instructed to stay together at all times and not to go out of the hearing of their companion's voice. Privacy is allowed only for personal care such as showering. At the missionary training center, missionaries are instructed to wait directly outside of the restroom if their companion is inside. One of the intentions of this strict policy of staying together is to discourage missionaries from breaking any mission rules. The rule is also intended to defend missionaries against complaints of sexual abuse, because one companion could always serve as a witness for another companion if needed for legal purposes. The companions must sleep in the same bedroom and are not supposed to go outside of the hearing of one another's voice. Companions share the same living quarters and the same bedroom (but not the same bed, except in the case of married missionary couples). When companions have conflicting personalities or interests, they are encouraged to try to resolve them themselves. If they are unable to do so, mission leaders may mediate to help resolve the differences. High value is placed on the spiritual commitment to the virtues of humility and love. Missionaries are urged to treat the companionship as a relationship that must succeed in being cooperative and selfless, thus improving the spirituality, character and social skills of each individual missionary.
Missionaries are encouraged to write a letter to their parents weekly. Since almost all of their time is otherwise occupied, other communication is limited. However, a missionary may use preparation day to correspond with any person that is resident outside of the boundaries of the mission. Missionaries do not go on vacation and are generally permitted to telephone their parents only on Christmas Day, and one other day of the year, usually Mother's Day. Missionaries are provided with a free, filtered church e-mail account to correspond with their parents on preparation day only by using a computer in a public location, such as at a public library or an internet café. In the event of an emergency, family members of a missionary may contact him or her via the mission president's office.
Single missionaries are prohibited from dating or courting while serving missions. The policy of companionships staying together at all times serves to discourage these activities. While missionaries may interact with members of the opposite sex, they may never be alone with them or engage in any kind of intimate physical or emotional activity (e.g., kissing, holding hands, flirting). They may not telephone, write, e-mail, or accept letters from members of the opposite sex that live in the area where they are assigned to proselyte. Missionary companionships are also asked not to visit with members of the opposite sex unless at least one person of the missionaries' same sex is present to chaperone. Alternatively, those contacts may be referred to a companionship of the same gender as the contact or to married couple missionaries, when available.
In the early days of the LDS Church, men were called to serve missions regardless of marital status. Today, however, married young men are not expected to serve missions, unless called to oversee a mission as a mission president. A call to be a mission president is typically extended to the married couple, and in turn, the entire family of the chosen mission president. Older retired couples also may serve as missionaries, but do not take their families with them.
Generally, missionaries wake up at 6:30 a.m. After eating breakfast, exercising (30 minutes), and spending two hours studying the scriptures and other materials, missionaries leave their place of residence at 10 a.m. to proselytize (if they are teaching in language that they do not speak, they spend an additional half hour studying that language and leave at 10:30 a.m.). They have an hour for lunch and dinner, and return to their apartment by 9 p.m., or 9:30 if they are in the process of teaching a lesson at the end of the day. They plan for the next day's activities, pray, and retire to bed at 10:30 p.m.
Missionaries are admonished to "avoid all forms of worldly entertainment."  They are not permitted to watch television, watch or go to movies, or use the Internet  (except to use email, see "Contact with Family and Friends," above). They are not permitted to listen to music that has romantic lyrics or overtones, or merely entertains. The general interpretation of this guideline is to listen to only religious music. They are only permitted to read books, magazines, or other materials authorized by the Church.
As with the members of any organization, some missionaries use slang when communicating with each other. Some words and expressions are mission- or language-specific, while others are universal, such as calling the halfway point of a mission the "hump" or hump day, or describing a missionary who is excited about returning home as "trunky" as he has already packed his trunk. Foreign-language missionaries often develop a "mission language", distinct from but combining aspects of their first and acquired languages, that they use when communicating with each other; the senkyoshigo of Japan is an example.
Number of missionaries and number of converts
As of December 31, 2010, there were 52,225 LDS missionaries serving in 340 church missions throughout the world. Their work, often in cooperation with local members, resulted in 272,814 convert baptisms in 2010. Author David Stewart points out that the number of convert baptisms per missionary per year has fallen from a high of 8.03 in 1989 to just 4.67 in 2005. He argues that the number of converts would increase if Mormon missionaries made greater efforts in meeting new people; he points out that the average companionship spends only four or five hours per week attempting to meet new people.
Types of missionaries
The most visible and most common type of missionaries are typically those who proselytize door-to-door and ride bicycles for transportation. For many years, Mormon missionaries used structured lessons called "missionary discussions" (formally called "The Uniform System for Teaching the Gospel") to teach interested non-members and recent converts about the doctrines of the LDS church and to commit them on the steps to take to become a member of the church. Missionaries were often instructed to adhere very closely to the six lessons, and they frequently quoted segments word-for-word (an especially helpful practice when learning a foreign language). The training materials also instructed missionaries to freely change the order of the lessons segments according to the needs and questions of the learners.
The missionary discussions were replaced recently by a guide called Preach My Gospel which places emphasis on "teaching by the Spirit". According to Mormons, "teaching by the Spirit" means seeking guidance from the Holy Ghost to teach; the idea is that the teachings will be catered to each person who is seeking the truth through divine guidance. According to "Preach My Gospel", God knows each of His children and can guide His servants to say and teach what is best for each individual.
Despite the latitude given to missionaries, the guide still contains material which should be actively taught. Chapter 3 of Preach My Gospel concisely describes all of the doctrine that the missionaries are to teach to those learning about the Church. The missionaries are responsible for knowing the doctrine and continually preparing to teach it. They can choose the order that this material is taught to serve the needs of each individual. This is a change from the missionary discussions which were usually taught in order to each investigator.
The book, now published in many languages, is meant to be used by the general Church membership. This sets it apart from the previous missionary discussions, which were used primarily by full-time missionaries, members with Church callings related to missionary work, and those preparing to serve missions.
Missionaries with special needs or health considerations may be called as full-time or part-time "service missionaries". Many fully able missionaries are called to do genealogical research or act as tour guides or hosts at Temple Square or Family History libraries and other church sites. In many areas, even proselytizing missionaries spend most of their day responding to incoming phone calls and queries, delivering requested media from the church's television and radio commercials. Missionaries may use public transportation, walk, bicycle, or in some areas drive automobiles owned by the church, or occasionally ride with in a private automobile with a church member who is accompanying them to a teaching appointment or proselyting or fellowshipping activity.
The LDS Church also has a strong welfare and humanitarian missionary program. These humanitarian missionaries typically serve in impoverished areas of the world and do not actively proselytize. Humanitarian missionaries comply with any local laws regarding teaching or displaying religious symbols, including the identifying name tags. This allows them to provide services and aid in countries where activities by religious organizations are typically restricted or forbidden, such as in predominantly Muslim countries or in Southeast Asia. Regular proselytizing missionaries are asked to engage in welfare activities and community service, limited to four hours a week on days other than weekends or preparation day.
Building missionaries were called by the president of the Tongan Mission in the early 1950s. Among their major successes was building Liahona High School. From 1955 on, Wendell B. Mendenhall institutionalized building missionaries on a larger scale with skilled tradesmen called as supervisors of the missionaries. Most of the supervisors were Americans, while most of the workers were young men indigenous to the areas of the South Pacific and Latin America where the work was carried out. However, at times the situation was more complex. One example is Jose Alvarez, who was a native of Argentina, but had lived in the United States for three years when he was called to go with his family to Chile, where he served as a building missionary supervisor. Often, trainee or assistant building supervisors would work under the leadership of an experienced supervisor in preparation for an assignment as a fully-fledged supervisor of some project or group of missionaries.
Every part of the world is assigned to be within a mission of the church, whether or not LDS missionaries are active in the area. An adult male mission president presides over the missionaries in the mission.
Most missions are divided into several zones, a zone being a geographic area specified by the mission president (though these are often the same area as the LDS ecclesiastical unit known as a "Stake"). A zone encompasses several more organizational units called districts. Each zone and district is presided over by leaders drawn from male missionaries serving in that area. Zone and district leaders are responsible for gathering weekly statistics, assisting missionaries in their areas of responsibility, and general accountability to the mission president for the well-being and progress of the missionaries under their stewardship. A district typically encompasses four to eight missionaries, and may or may not comprise more than one proselytizing area. An area is typically a portion of the LDS ecclesiastical unit known as a Ward (or congregation), one Ward, or multiple Wards.
In addition to the leaders mentioned above, the mission president has two or more assistants. Assistants to the President (APs) are typically missionaries who have previously served as district and/or zone leaders. They serve as the president's executive assistants, administering policies and helping missionaries throughout the mission.
Missionaries are expected to pay their own expenses while on the mission, often with assistance from family. In the past, each missionary paid his or her actual living expenses, but this approach created a disproportionate burden on missionaries who were assigned to more expensive areas of the world. In 1990, a new program was introduced to equalize the financial responsibility for each missionary and his or her family. Now, all young missionaries pay a flat monthly rate which is then redistributed according to regional costs of living. The cost of a mission as of April 2010 is USD$400 per month, which helps to cover food, lodging, transportation, and other mission related expenses. Missionaries are asked to bring extra personal money for any personal items they would like to purchase. Once the money is received by the Church it is then redistributed to the missionaries in amounts proportionate to the cost of living within the assigned mission area. As families now contribute to a general fund for missionary expenses, the sum is deductible under many nations' tax policies regarding charitable gifts.
For health care, the church provides missionaries with limited medical care. A missionary will be required to pay for any medical treatment that is considered non-essential or that is considered to be associated with a pre-existing condition. The local mission office will often help missionaries find Mormon doctors or dentists who can offer their services to missionaries for a small fee or for free.
Young people in the church are encouraged to save money throughout their childhood and teenage years to pay for as much of their mission as they can, although many receive assistance from parents, family, or friends. Missionaries who cannot save the required funds may obtain assistance from their home congregation or from a general missionary fund operated by the church and contributed to by Latter-day Saints around the world. Married couple missionaries are expected to pay their own costs, but in 2011 the church began paying for missionary couples' housing expenses that exceed US$1400 per month. In many areas, church members often invite locally assigned missionaries over for meals to help reduce the overall expenditures of the missionary program.
A returned missionary (often abbreviated "RM") is a term used by members of the LDS Church to refer to men and women who have previously served as Mormon missionaries. Once they return home, RMs are generally encouraged to begin dating seriously and to seek marriage. Those who learned to speak a foreign language must readjust, sometimes with difficulty, to speaking their first language.
In Mormon culture, stereotypes and jokes abound regarding newly returned missionaries, most dealing with their difficulties in handling the reverse culture shock. Other stereotypes revolve around the fact that as missionaries, they lived highly structured, disciplined lives and avoided contact with members of the opposite sex, so many RMs have difficulty readjusting to social life and dating. Other stereotypes include the supposed rush of many RMs to get married as soon as possible. Many families whose daughters are old enough to marry encourage them to date RMs since they are judged to be the most eligible.
Returned missionaries are frequently called to assist in the local missionary effort and are encouraged to stay active within the LDS Church through callings and service. RMs who served in the same mission frequently stay in touch and often gather for mission reunions in Utah to coincide with the semiannual LDS General Conference.
The notion of the Mormon mission as a crucible is a common one, and the benefits gained from going through it have been used to help explain the prominence of LDS Church members in business and civic life. Mission experience has also helped prepare RMs for later engaging and prospering in non-Mormon environments.
Notable people who have served LDS missions include Aaron Eckhart (Switzerland/France), Shawn Bradley (Australia), Orson Scott Card (Brazil), Stephen Covey (England), Jon Heder (Japan), Ken Jennings (Spain), Elizabeth Smart (France), and Mitt Romney (France).
The LDS Church regards Samuel H. Smith, the younger brother of church founder Joseph Smith, as the church's first full-time missionary. Throughout the history of the church, over one million missionaries have been sent on missions. The peak year for full-time missionary service in the church was 2002, when there were over 61,000 missionaries.
Although rare, missionaries have been the victims of violence. In 1974, two young-adult male missionaries were murdered in Austin, Texas by Robert Elmer Kleason. In 1977, the case of a Mormon missionary who said he was abducted and raped by a woman was covered extensively by newspapers in Britain. From 1999 to 2006, three LDS missionaries were murdered worldwide, while 22 died in accidents of some sort. A few cases of kidnapping have also occurred, a recent one being in 1998, when two male missionaries were abducted while working in the Samara region of Russia. The kidnappers demanded USD$300,000 dollars for their return. The missionaries were released unharmed a few days later without payment of the ransom. In 2008, three men from Port Shepstone, South Africa were convicted of raping and robbing two female LDS missionaries in June 2006.
In August 2006, three male missionaries from Idaho, Nevada and California participated in the vandalism of a Roman Catholic shrine in San Luis, Colorado, for which the LDS Church apologized for the desecration shortly thereafter. The incident recalled a 1972 occurrence in which a pair of missionaries in Thailand took pictures of themselves sitting on an ancient Buddha statue. Although the missionaries "probably didn't think much about it", they were caught and sentenced to a year in prison, and their images were published in the newspapers. The King of Thailand pardoned them on his birthday, and they were released after six months. Missionaries of the church are counseled to respect other religions and cultures, one reason being to avoid such conflicts.
Mormon missionaries in popular culture
Mormon missionaries have been portrayed in various popular culture media. Missionaries are the main focus of LDS cinema films God's Army (1999), The Other Side of Heaven (2001), The Best Two Years (2003), The R.M. (2003), God's Army 2: States of Grace (2005), Return with Honor (2007), and The Errand of Angels (2008). The musical Saturday's Warrior (1973) was also made into a film in 1989. There is also a DVD series, "Liken the Scriptures" that occasionally show missionaries.
Missionaries were featured in the PBS documentary Get the Fire (2003), as well as in the Tony Award-winning satirical Broadway musical The Book of Mormon. Hollywood portrayed missionaries in Yes Man (2008) starring Jim Carrey, and British film Millions also mentioned missionaries. Films portraying missionaries gone astray include Orgazmo (1997) and Latter Days (2003).
In 2008, former missionary Chad Hardy was subjected to church discipline after releasing a pin-up calendar titled "Men on a Mission," which consisted of pictures of scantily clad returned missionaries.
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- Harper, Steven C. (1998). "Missionaries in the American Religious Marketplace: Mormon Proselyting in the 1830s". Journal of Mormon History 24 (2): 1–29. http://content.lib.utah.edu/u?/jmh,13001.
- Official informational site about missionary work
- Official member site for missionary service
- LDS Mission Network A comprehensive index of LDS missionary alumni web sites
- Mormon Missionary Diaries BYU's online collection of missionary diaries, spanning 1830s to 1960s
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