Saturday, my son passes the 18 month mark of his mission–and he will then also pass me, having served longer on his mission than I did on mine. I confess, I’m a little jealous.
With the dawn of another much-anticipated season of college football nearly upon us, I’ve been thinking about a series of conversations I had this past year with a friend regarding the allocation of resources at BYU. This friend was bothered by the fact that the BYU football program has received such a tremendous amount attention and financial support from the alumni and administration while what he saw as more deserving schools and programs within the university went underfunded. The standard answer to such concerns seems to be that the football program is shown preference because it serves as an important missionary tool for the Church (and the school).
Its been 25 years since I returned from my mission, and this past week I got an email from a friend asking me to join a new website for my mission. The first thing I asked myself, before joining, is ‘why do we need another mission site?
I was in Mozambique. I felt safe.
It isn’t easy to be inconvenienced, especially when we are asked to tolerate the views or the actions of the other, and love them too! It would be easier to ignore them, cast them out, keep things easy and pure. But that isn’t the plan.
The news yesterday was that President Obama will hold a Passover Seder in the White House tonight, the first time a Seder has been held in the White House. So, who is going to ask him to hold Family Home Evening some Monday night?
So your mission call finally arrived (see here, here, or here) and you suddenly realize that it starts in 44 days but you don’t know that much about Mormonism or what it is you are supposed to teach for two long years. You are suddenly serious about “missionary prep.” What book should you read?
An anti-Prop 8 organization has released a new commercial drawing Mormon missionaries into the fight over Proposition 8. To say the ad is inflammatory is putting it lightly.
One unique aspect of the missionary experience is the opportunity to focus everything you do, day and night, directly on the goal of serving God. It can be kind of scary to set that as your project, because it is a tall order. Serving God for one day is hard enough; you run out of ideas. Serving God for two years takes a lot of creativity and thought.
One unique aspect of the missionary experience, quite distinct from life before and after, is the feeling that someone is always watching you. Itâ€™s probably the one aspect of my mission that I could have done without, although I wouldnâ€™t say that it was entirely unproductive.
So my colleagues have caught on to my secret plan to convert them all.
Last week BYU Newsnet posted and then pulled offline an article announcing that North American missionaries were no longer being called to serve in Russia. The move left many wondering about the state of the missionary program in Russia with some tempered hope that perhaps the Newsnet article had jumped the gun on a situation that was being resolved. Unfortunately, however, the news now official. The Deseret News has confirmed that the Church is no longer sending North American missionaries to Russia “due to new, tougher visa laws.” North American missionaries currently in-country will stay, but those newly called missionaries and those currently in the MTC have both been reassigned. The Church clearly hopes to resolve this situation, but the reassignment of these missionaries suggests to me that it isn’t expecting a solution anytime soon.
My grandmother, mother, and I all served missions, so I was delighted when my firstborn announced her intention to serve, submitted her papers, received her call. Little did I know.
Sometimes I have suffered from convert envy.
Stake conference in the mission field. Still the mission field, for although we are a stake, there is no stake center, only a chapel in some of the main cities, and rented rowhouses elsewhere. The stake covers some 10,000 square miles. Therefore we gather in this huge, sparsely lit movie theatre—theatre number 14 in a massive cinema complex close to the highway.
As a missionary, I was constantly admonished to ensure that our potential converts were spiritually, and not just socially converted.
The reason that I don’t like to tell my conversion story is that it is boring. If I were to appropriate the famous Joseph Smith line, I would have to modify it thusly: “No man knows my history. . . . I don’t blame any one for not staying awake through my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have stayed awake through it myself.” So don’t say I didn’t warn you.
David O. McKay presented a dramatic contrast to his predecessors: an athletic, movie-star-handsome, clean-shaven figure who often wore a white double-breasted suit; contrasted to the dark-suited, bearded polygamists (or, in the case of George Albert Smith, son of a polygamist) who preceded him as Church President ever since Joseph Smith. In an age prior to professional image-makers, he instinctively grasped the importance of appearance, and coupled it to the substance of a professional educator to become an icon of Mormonism whose persona did much to change the negative image of the Church in much of the world.
There has been a very interesting and vigorous discussion on Blake’s thread on “raising the bar” for missionary service. I’d like to pick up a theme from early in that thread that I think needs more attention: what sort of spiritual development should we be hoping missionary service will provoke in the missionary?
Blake’s post prompts me to share some information I culled while listening to conference last month. First up are the raw numbers of missionaries and converts.
Can y’all stomach a mission story right now?
The new missionary manual is out and available for browsing.
The first part of this post is taken from a comment that I posted just after Elder Maxwell’s death. The story that follows those thoughts is new. During my mission, while serving in the office, I found notes of a talk that Elder Maxwell had delivered to missionaries in Vienna about a decade before. The title of the talk was â€œSweet Boldness.â€? At the time, still early in my mission, I was struggling to find my own style of missionary work, and this concept appealed to me. (It was easy to become either hostile or reserved in a country where rejection of the message was so overwhelming.) Indeed, it became something of a personal mantra, which I shared with the mission president and several of the missionaries. As fate would have it, Elder Maxwell returned to Vienna toward the end of my mission. The mission president mentioned this talk to him and asked if he could say a few words…
Bob Caswell has an interesting comment over at Meg Kurtz’s new Book of Mormon blog. Bob writes of Lehi: Wouldn’t you be angry if a random person in your town claiming to be a prophet came to you and “testified” of your “wickedness and abominations”? Maybe this is the way the Lord wanted it, but I have to think there could have been a more tactful way if Lehi REALLY wanted people to listen to him. Bottom line: I’m glad I didn’t live in Jerusalem at the time because I probably would have been annoyed at Lehi (big mistake!). Bob has a point — where is the commitment pattern, the “building relationships of trust,” the rest of the missionary toolbox that we use today? Condemnatory prophecy — “Hey, Bob, I testify to you that you are wicked!” — doesn’t seem to be the most effective missionary tool. Why do they seem to use it so much in the scriptures?
In the vigorous debate about Iraq happening below, Laurie Burk (hi, Laurie!) wrote: “In the Mideast, America is still viewed as a Christian nation. In most of the world the LDS church is still viewed as an American church, and the violence of the Iraq war is seen as American instigated violence. And violence does not advance the cause of Christ.” I will leave the Iraq debate to that thread, but I am interested in the idea of an American church. I heard this often on my mission, and I heard it just last week in Germany. It was never intended to be flattering, but it wasn’t necessarily intended to be insulting. The speakers often applied the description as a simple statement of fact, which carried with it the implicit suggestion that the Church was not relevant to them.
I am currently in Giessen, Germany, teaching a class on venture capital to a small number of German law students. Earlier today, I met with the Dean of the law school and the professor here who supervises the exchange program between our schools. They were fascinated by the fact that I speak German, albeit within a very limited range of topics. This ability, such as it is, is a byproduct of my mission in Austria. When I mentioned this fact to my hosts, one of them replied, “I know virtually nothing about Mormons.” What an invitation! I obliged by providing a brief history of the founding of the Church, from First Vision through the pioneer exodus. After the meeting, I thought to provide my hosts with some reading material about the Church. My reflex in such circumstances is to send a Book of Mormon, and over the years, I have distributed a fair number via this sort of contact. But…
Clark says “we treat missions as a way of converting Utah and Idaho Mormons who’ve been in the church their whole life but never had to gain a testimony.” I was converted in the mission field and lived most of my life prior to getting my job at BYU in the mission field. Since then, I’ve several times lived in the mission field for extended periods. In other words, I think I have a reasonably good understanding of both life in the mission field and life in Utah/Idaho, and I would add northern Arizona. I also spent three years as a branch president at the MTC and worked with hundreds of missionaries, and in graduate school I served as ward mission leader for some time as well as in the stake mission presidency. Though there are lots of stereotypes about “Utah Mormons,” based on my experience I don’t think they have much basis in fact. In particular, I don’t think…
Last week Nate pointed to some of the entries on my other blog about my visit to China. Far from being an expert on China, most of what I know was learned during that week, often from tour guides or Chinese law students and professors. On the other hand, merely being in a place results in a type of learning not available in books. How many words would it take to describe the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings that accompany a trip to the Silk Market? Or the experience of standing atop the Great Wall? I can show you pictures of the food in Beijing’s Night Market, but unless you have had a similar experience, it is very difficult to imagine being offered centipede or silkworm. An essential aspect of the experience simply cannot be articulated. Perhaps this is the reason that I find guidebooks so much more interesting after the visit.
Apparently, longtime T & S commenter and BCC contributor Aaron Brown has been doing something most members would never imagine — he’s been officiating (along with some LDS missionaries) at a Catholic Mass! He writes about this experience in his latest BCC post. An excerpt: About a year ago, Father Hans approached me with an unusual request. Convinced that LDS missionaries are ‘angels,’ and that they obviously love and follow Christ more than anyone in his congregation could ever hope to, Hans wanted to organize a Catholic-Mormon ‘hybrid’ Mass. He proposed that my four full-time missionaries and I (the Ward Mission Leader) play an active role in his services. He would conduct as usual, waving the incense, reciting the liturgy and preaching a short sermon (complete with occasional Book of Mormon or D&C quotations – without attribution). We would stand on the stage with him as representatives of Christ, read excerpts from the Bible at key junctures and offer the…
The question is how do we testify. I have come to feel that our formulaic “I know …”does not serve as well as we would hope. In a discussion, it stops the conversation. We are announcing that our belief is highly personal and therefore not subject to examination. The listener is likely to feel okay, you have your belief; I hope you enjoy it. He or she may even feel we protest too much. No one ever says “I know this table exists.” The opening “I know” may function like the word “undoubtedly;” it conveys the opposite of what it purportedly means. An experience a few years back led me to believe another kind of testimony is more effective, but it is a kind of testimony we have not necessarily prepared ourselves to bear.