Category: Missionary

About Social Media

Elder David A. Bednar just delivered a talk on social media at BYU Education Week. The text of the talk is already posted at (video also available). You are probably going to be hearing about this one so you’d better go read it. Here are the highlights. Quotations in the italicized blockquotes; my commentary in plain text following the quote.

Salt Lake City, We Have a Problem

Artist's rendering of a serious problem.

It has always been the case that some missionaries “come home early,” as the gentle phrasing goes. It turns out that more missionaries are coming home early than ever before. The percentage is now into the double-digits, and it turns out the folks in Salt Lake City are already well aware that we have a problem. This is based on information quietly passed down the priesthood chain, coupled with an urgent request to extend support and guidance to our young men and women as they prepare for and depart on LDS missions. So the leadership recognizes there is a problem and, surprisingly, the young returning missionaries are not being blamed. But acknowledging a problem is only the first step. What is going on and what can be done to improve things? How can we fix the problem?

Same Old Thing or A New Vision for Missionary Work?

lds missionaries

The reaction to yesterday’s two-hour Worldwide Leadership Broadcast on missionary work has been mixed. Given the pre-broadcast hype, some viewers were undewhelmed; others were impressed. Our friends at BCC live-blogged the event with reader comments ranging from cynically dismissive to excited and energized. Below I’ll give links to media and LDS coverage, offer my own summary, then add some commentary.

So, how many missionaries will be serving next year?

Missionaries Serving

I made a mistake. The week before conference the LDS Church Growth blog, analyzing a Church news release, projected that the number of missionaries serving could pass 100,000 by the end of 2013 or early 2014. When the news appeared in a facbook group I follow, I thought it seemed overly optimistic. I realized soon after the announcement last October that we would have a surge in missionaries, as 18-year-olds joined the 19 and 20-year-old Elders serving, and as 19 and 20-year-old Sisters joined the 21 and 22-year-old Sisters serving. So, I though, the number of missionaries will jump to 80,000 or 90,000 and then fall back down to something a bit above current levels, as we get to a missionary force that mainly started at 18 (for Elders) and 19 (for Sisters). To confirm this, I put together a spreadsheet model. And I was quite surprised.

18 is the new 19

Six months ago, at the October 2012 General Conference, President Monson announced the missionary age change. Here is his report on how things are going, delivered earlier this month: The response of our young people has been remarkable and inspiring. As of April 4 — two days ago — we have 65,634 full-time missionaries serving, with over 20,000 more who have received their calls but who have not yet entered a missionary training center and over 6,000 more in the interview process with their bishops and stake presidents. It has been necessary for us to create 58 new missions to accommodate the increased numbers of missionaries.

My missionary moment

Our stake president has challenged all members of our stake to have a “missionary moment” this year. I never served a mission and I don’t like doing overtly missionary-type activities. But his challenge did bring to mind one of the most important missionary experiences I have ever had. It was more than a decade ago. I was a young housewife living in one of the graduate and family student housing complexes at UCSD while my husband was doing his graduate work. I had a toddler and I was expecting our second baby. One day a couple of strangers knocked on our door. One man had a well-worn Bible, and both were carrying copies of the Watchtower. “Do you believe in the Bible?” he asked. “Have you read it?” I had a hard time answering. It had been a long time since I abandoned a literal belief in the Bible, which seemed to be the only way he would conceive of…

A Mission Epiphany For Epiphany Eve

Snow White. If on Christmas Day of 1975 you were for some harebrained reason outside on the frozen Belgian tundra and you squinted up your eyes against the shiny white landscape to look east from the edge of the little town called Zichem, then you would’ve almost certainly noticed in the houseless distance the improbable sight of four overcoated and possibly harebrained missionaries-dressed-as-local-businessmen trudging along a slippery, messy path next to a big field.

Authenticity and The Book of Mormon

I know, I said a year and a half ago that I wasn’t going to see The Book of Mormon. But then it came to Chicago and, in spite of the fact that it is sold out through at least March, a friend set me up with a ticket. So I’ve now seen the show. I’m not going to review it, though. It’s already been widely reviewed, and frankly, I don’t have the musical theater chops to provide a credible review.

A Mission Dream For the Last Day of Autumn

Five-Sense Gray.  9:15 in the morning in the very late autumn in Belgium.              It’s barely and unenthusiastically light because the sun has just come grudgingly up (if you call ten feet above the horizon up), and because the heavens are so blanketed with clouds that whatever slivers of rays manage to get through are absorbed right away into the gray. Belgian towns aren’t colorful in any sort of autumn or winter light, but in this particular flannel-gray sort they might as well just go ahead and say it: we are thoroughgoingly monochrome.

A Mission Story: Tigre


I met Tigre pretty soon after arriving in my second area. He was a solid man, all muscle but his midsection. As I got to know him, I learned that both his muscle and his gut were well-earned. The muscle because Tigre taught karate for a living, and owned his own studio. The gut? You have never seen such a mountain of rice, covered with an avalanche of beans, as this man ate for lunch.

An MTC Story

Mid-December is creeping up on us, bringing with it finals and the end of another semester. This year, as a result in the change in missionary ages, mid-December may also herald a tidal wave of new missionaries. Growing up, I heard not-infrequent stories about missions. But I remember only the rarest stories of the MTC. So, To better prepare you for the MTC,1 here’s an MTC story. Merry Christmas! When I was in the MTC, we had three classes a day, for three to three-and-a-half hours per class. To break up the monotony and make sure missionaries had some minimal daily physical activity, we took a walk every day in our afternoon class. My district considered itself musically talented–when we sang hymns in class, we sang them in 3-part harmony. At some point during our two months in the MTC, we decided to take our act on the road. As we walked, we sang, Portuguese hymn books in hand. We…

Potential Effects of the Missionary Age Announcement

If you had any doubt about the impact of the announcement yesterday that missionary service for men and women can begin earlier, just read the reactions in the bloggernacle, on facebook and twitter and even in major newspapers. The largest of the blogs in the bloggernacle have already weighed in on the change… multiple times… in less than 24 hours. I have to wonder; has anyone not put in their two cents?

The Upside of Returned Missionaries

I want to note, upfront, that although this post was inspired by Rachel’s and Alison’s excellent recent posts, it is not meant in any way to respond to them. I fully agree with them that there are returned missionaries—even active, temple-attending returned missionaries—who do bad things. And those bad things can, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, hurt people around them, especially where the people around them (reasonably) believe that returned missionaries should not do bad things. Moreover, being male, my relationship with (male) returned missionaries did not have the same structural inequities Alison and Rachel describe, even when I was younger. Still, I want to provide anecdotal evidence that, in some circumstances, returned missionaries can do good (at least, if you consider getting me out on a mission good). Before I went to BYU, I thought returned missionaries (or at least recent returned missionaries) were complete losers. No, I don’t remember why—it’s been a long, long time. But I think I…

Missions, 15 Years Later

Today is the 15th anniversary of the end of my mission. (Note that I can’t entirely remember what I mean by that—I’m pretty sure that August 5, 1997, was my last day of proselytizing, the 6th I got on an airplane, and the 7th I arrived home. But it has been 15 years, and I’m not 100% sure.) And what does that two years mean to me, 15 years later? On one level, not a whole lot. I don’t think about it a whole lot; my days are much more likely spent occupied by the Internal Revenue Code. Or my kids. My wife. My calling. Blogging. But although its explicit significance has diminished in my life, I still feel fallout from my mission’s underlying repercussions. (Fallout in a good way, naturally.) Principal among these is that my commitment to the Church and the gospel solidified over those two years. This is not to say that, without a mission, I wouldn’t…

Mother’s Day, 1996

I sit, waiting for the phone to ring. I haven’t spoken to my parents since December and, though I love what I’m doing, I love them, too. But I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour. I’m not 100% sure of the time zone difference between eastern Brazil and the western United States, but I’m pretty sure they’re late. In this area, none of our members have phones. One of our member’s father has a phone, but, in order to call, I’ve promised that it won’t cost him anything. It’s a party line, something I’d heard about in the U.S. but never actually experienced. (The way it works is, 10 households share a line. Calls come to the first house in the group. That person directs the call to whomever it’s for.) I told the person at number 1 that, when she got a call she didn’t understand to put them through to me. But, after the hour, I decide…

My Cri de Coeur to Randy Bott [Updated][Update 2]

[Update 2:] The Church has responded, both with respect to Dr. Bott’s statement and with a statement on the Church and race. I’m adding the text of each to the bottom of the post, but I want to highlight these two excerpts: We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine. (In both, emphasis mine.) The first excerpt is wonderful, not pulling punches against our own. And the second, although it’s phrased in the passive voice, is pretty much as explicit a renunciation of previous thought as I’ve seen in the Church, and I know that I’ll be pulling these statements out when (or, I hope, if) I hear…

Romance, MTC Edition


Tomorrow morning, a bunch of Provoans (and presumably others) will wake up with a brand new ring on their left ring fingers. To all of you: congratulations and good luck! This, though, isn’t your story.

Harold Bloom, the Byrds, and Me

About a week ago, James posted a reflection on Harold Bloom’s (frankly awful) New York Times op-ed. Rather than directly responding, though (other than expressing his rightful disappointment), James engaged with Dr. Bloom’s allegation that Mormonism and Protestantism are converging. Though concerned about such a convergence, James ultimately (and rightly, I believe) doesn’t think we’re headed inexorably down that path. That said, Dr. Bloom is right that the Church has changed a lot between 1844 and 2011.[fn1] Change is inevitable and, as Ecclesiastes tells us, is to be expected. And, frankly, there have been a number of changes that, even if they risk our Protestantization, I’m really happy about. And I’m not talking Official Declaration 1 or 2 stuff—I’m going to assume that most of us are grateful that polygamy is no longer the sine qua non of the faithful member, and that all of us are grateful that we don’t live in the world of a racially-based Priesthood ban.…

Desperately Seeking Seniors


I was surprised a week ago when a senior missionary serving in our ward said that the Church is struggling to get senior missionaries, something that an article in the Deseret News last week confirmed. But my senior missionary friend went further than the article did, saying that the number of senior missionaries has declined by 40% in the past decade.

Mission Finances, part 3

(Note: this is the fourth part of a several-part series. You can read previous installments here, here, and here.) Quick review: prior to November 1990, missionaries and their families paid the actual cost of their missions. Moreover, parents would send money directly to their sons and daughters, with no intermediation from the Church. In May 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Davis v. United States that such payments were not tax-deductible, notwithstanding language in the Internal Revenue Code that contributions made “to or for the use of” the Church would be deductible. In November 1990, the Church announced that, going forward, it was equalizing the costs of missions; all (U.S. and Canadian, at least) missionaries would pay a set monthly amount into the Church’s mission fund; the Church would then disperse to missionaries the amount of money they needed. While there’s no indication that the decision in Davis caused the Church to change its policy, I wouldn’t be shocked…

Mission Finances, Part 2 [edited 8/26/2011]

[Note: this is the third (yes, third) part of a many-part series. You can read Part 1 here and Part 1.5 here.] [Note #2: A friend points out that I left some information out of this post that is helpful in understanding what I’m talking about. That information is in Part 1, but it’s been a long time since I posted Part 1, so I’m adding some clarifying details in bold. Thanks, SG.] Pop quiz: when you think “Mormons” and “US Supreme Court,” what do you think? (The correct answer is, of course, Reynolds.[fn1]) For many of us, though, another less-known case impacts our lives, at least while we’re missionaries or while we’re supporting missionaries, nearly as much: Davis v. United States. Brother and Sister Davis had at least two sons, Benjamin and Cecil. In 1979, Cecil was called to the New York Mission, while in 1980, Cecil was called to the New Zealand-Cook Island Mission.  In 1981, the Davis paid…

Mission Finances, Part 1.5

(Note: this is part 1.5 of series that looks to be running at least 4 posts long at this point. Part 1 is here.) In the comments, Naismith pointed out that the $400/month is not the sole expense potential missionaries face. In order to go on a mission, a potential missionary needs a dental exam (including, at least in my case, getting his or her wisdom teeth removed) and a medical exam. There are also clothing costs—for my mission (IIRC), I needed 10 short-sleeved white shirts, 2 long-sleeved white shirts, a bunch of ties, two suits, a couple pairs of slacks, and a couple pairs of shoes. The thing is, all of these upfront expenses represent real money. While potential missionaries with their own health insurance or on their parents’ insurance only have to pay their $20 (or whatever) copay, without insurance, medical and dental exams represent a real out-of-pocket expense. (And the New York Times tells me that more…

Mission Finances, Part 1

(Note: this is part 1 of an at-least-3 part series.) During the 19th century, missionaries often travelled without purse or scrip, relying, instead, on the hospitality of the very people they were trying to teach and convert. And the practice apparently continued, at least in part, until the mid-20th century: until as recently as 1952, missionaries would spend at least some of their time traveling and teaching without purse or scrip. But, as missionary work became urbanized, and as the world became what it is today, missionaries (with the help of their families and their congregations) began supporting themselves, rather than relying on the hospitality of their contacts. And when I say “supporting themselves,” I mean it, at least for the next 40 years or so. In 1989, the New Era informed future missionaries that the average mission cost $300, but that costs could vary radically. And, in fact, in 1989, the average monthly cost of a mission in, say,…

Missionary work, common ground, ethics, and deception

A fascinating New York Times article and follow up blog post discuss negative reactions to a build-on-common-ground Christian missionary initiative among Muslims. The blog post details: An outreach technique that some Baptist missionaries use with Muslims. It involves stressing commonalities between the Koran and the Bible and affirming that the Allah of the Koran and the God of the Bible are one and the same. . . . The “overture” — the missionary’s initial bonding with Muslims via discussion of the Koran — is precision-engineered to undermine their allegiance to Islam. This approach is quite similar to what I learned in the Missionary Training Center: Find common ground. Build relationships of trust. A great way to reach out to people. Or is it? What are the ethics of this approach? Is this two step approach a legitimate way to reach out to other faith communities? Is there something problematic about finding common ground as an opening step in undermining the…

When Should We Fear Discourse?

In Nephi Anderson’s short story, “On the Border-land of Light,” his protagonist meets a woman who knows little of Mormons: “Have you never been down in the lower valley?” he asked. “No, never. You see we were afraid of the Mormons at first,…

Sister Missionaries and Opposite-Gender Attraction

A wonderful woman who served as my Education Counselor a number of years ago served a mission for the church around the time she was 19. She fell in the fabulous loophole. Her father was a mission president, so she was allowed to serve while he served, even though she was “underage.” But George Durrant was not just any mission president.