Since its earliest days, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church as it is sometimes called, has been a proselyting church, sending out missionaries to all parts of the world. Missionary work is constantly talked about in Mormon congregations, with Church members encouraged to share the gospel with their friends and neighbors.
The LDS Church has perhaps the most active missionary program of any world church. As of December 31, 2004, there were in excess of 51,000 full-time missionaries serving around the world at any given time without pay.
Missionary work is a fundamental principle of the Church, and has become one of the most readily identifiable characteristics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The darks suits and white shirts of male missionaries, called Elders, biking or walking two by two is a recognizable image on the streets of cities both large and small throughout the world. Female missionaries, who also go forth two by two, are called Sisters. All missionaries have been assigned by Church headquarters to their area of work, which can be in any part of the world where governments allow them to preach. They contribute to their own support for up to two years, frequently learning another language.
Formal Missionary Service
The formal missionary program for the Church is responsible for sending out over 56,000 missionaries to approximately 330 organized missions around the world. Mormon missionaries are a common sight in many areas, biking, going door to door, talking to people on the street, or doing service in communities small and large. These young men, typically 19 to 24 years old, are not the only missionaries that are fielded by the Church. There are missionaries who are old, young, male, female, proselyting, and service oriented. Missionary service can be full-time, like the young men and young women who proselyte and preach the Gospel in places far from their home, or it can be part-time in the missionary's own local community. These part-time missions are often call stake missions, since they are done within the local church administrative area called a stake. A stake is similar to a diocese in the Catholic Church.
In 1974, then Mormon prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball, issued a call to all young men of the Church, calling them to serve full-time missions. The members responded and number of young men and women serving missions doubled in a few short years, and continued to grow thereafter until today when an average of 55,000 missionaries are proselyting in any given year.
Mormon missionary efforts, however, have had a long history. In 1830, not long after Joseph Smith had published the Book of Mormon and established the Church, the first missionaries were sent out. Samuel Smith, Joseph Smith's brother, was the first missionary. He took the newly printed Book of Mormon and began preaching in the regions of upstate New York. Through this mission, many important future leaders of the Church were converted, including the second President and Prophet of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young.
Since that time, no matter how severe the circumstances, or fierce the persecution, the Church has continued to send out missionaries to all corners of the globe. This fulfills the prophesy of Jeremiah when he said:
"Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks."
Today, every worthy young man of the Church is expected to fulfill a mission. Every worthy, young woman can also serve a mission, and many do. The missionaries and their families are expected to pay their own way, or as much as they can. In circumstances where extreme poverty or hardship may prevent a young person who is desirous of serving from going on a mission, the members of the missionary's home congregations, called a ward, will help out. Missionaries are also aided by a general Church fund set up to assist missionaries. In general, however, most missionaries and their families save up for the expected time. Many young Mormons will have a missionary fund in which they can save money for their future mission.
When young men turn 19, or 21 in the case of women, they can submit their name to the Church to prepare for a mission. Mormon leaders, including the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, prayful consider where missionaries are needed and what applications they have. They then assign each missionary to a particular mission, of the Church. As of 2005, there were over 330 missions worldwide. When the soon-to-be missionary receives his or her call, it is time for the whole family to celebrate.
Depending on where the missionary is called, he or she will report to a Missionary Training Center, or MTC, where missionaries receive intensive language training, study the gospel, and learn how to teach the Gospel. See Missionary Training Centers below for more information. After a few weeks of training, missionaries leave for their mission. Mormons often refer to this as "entering the mission field" The Mission field refers to every place where the Gospel is preached and hence refers to the whole world. Sometimes, Mormons use this word to refer to areas outside Utah, Northern Arizona, and Southern Idaho, where Mormons make up the majority of the population, even though many missionaries proselyte within Utah, too.
Every mission is presided over by a Mission President. He supervises the missionaries, and assigns them to work in various areas within the mission boundaries. Each missionary is assigned a companion, since the Lord commanded his disciples to go forth that way. In Mark 6:7, we read, "And he called [unto him] the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;" Each companionship usually stays together for four or five months.
Missionaries spend their time studying the holy scriptures, including the Bible and the Book of Mormon, preaching the Gospel to everyone they meet, and providing community service like cleaning city parks, teaching English, or even helping out their neighbors. Missionaries are expected to devote at least 10 hours per week toward community service, though many do much more. Serving others and teaching the gospel allows missionaries to follow the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ who "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38).
These young men and women must sacrifice much to serve a full-time mission, including time and money. Many must take time from school or careers to do so, but they are richly rewarded by the joy they bring to themselves and to others, as well as the great experience and feeling of accomplishment that a mission brings. Many returned missionaries, sometimes called RMs by Mormons, report that their mission was the hardest, and most rewarding experience they have ever had. For this reason, many RMs refer to their mission as "the best two years" of their life. One of the greatest sacrifices is being away from family and friends. Missionaries may write weekly, but only call home twice a year, on Mother's Day and Christmas.
Many Mormons, either remembering how wonderful their youthful mission was, or never having had the chance, go on missions when they retire. In the Church, these missionaries are often called Senior Missionaries. They also go two by two, though generally their companion is their spouse. Single, widowed, or divorced seniors can also fulfill missions for the Church. Many senior, both individuals and couples, can do local, part-time missions volunteering for humanitarian projects, or staffing visitors' centers and genealogy libraries. Many senior couples also love serving full-time missions away from home. They do proselyting missions, humanitarian missions, or leadership missions where they teach and train local members in how to be better leaders in their communities.
Like young missionaries, Senior Missionaries will spend time at an Missionary Training Center. They serve within a particular mission under a Mission President, though often they may report to someone else as well who oversees their particular field. So, for example, a humanitarian couple will work with the Mormon Church's large humanitarian program. Also like young missionaries, Senior Missionaries pay their own way. Many save up for years to go. Many couples also serve multiple missions, taking time off in between missions to spend time with their children and grandchildren. Even though they recognize the hardships of missionary life and being separated from grandchildren, Senior Missionaries love the chance to serve the Lord with their years of experience, knowledge, and faith. Senior Missionaries are always needed and encouraged to go. Often, they are allowed to select where, or what type of mission they will fulfill.
Proselyting missionaries are simply those that devote the majority of their time to teaching the Gospel. They do, however, spend time in community and personal service to others. The majority of Mormon missionaries are proselyting missionaries.
In addition to the 55,000 full-time missionaries, each congregation of the Church, called a ward, appoints ward missionaries who assist the full-time missionaries and help encourage local members to teach the gospel to their friends.
Church Service Missionaries
Church Service Missionaries are those mormon missionaries that serve non-proselyting missions by doing humanitarian, educational, leadership training, or technical missions. Full-time Church Service Missionaries are called and sent out to serve like full-time proselyting missions. They go over the whole globe helping Mormons and non-Mormons. The Mormon Church has a vast program called the LDS Foundation that oversees all the Church humanitarian causes worldwide. They accepts gifts in cash, in kind, or through time devoted to helping their causes. Since this program is primarily done through volunteer missions, and the Church uses its money to fund all administrative costs, one hundred percent of donations is given to the needy.
Church Service Missionaries are much in demand and there can never be too many. The Church encourages all eldery couples to serve either a full or part-time mission. Serving a humanitarian mission not only helps others, it helps us grow closer to other people and to the Lord. It is a fulfillment of what James said about pure religion: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).
Missionary Training Centers
Before leaving on a mission, each mormon missionary attends a missionary training centers for a short time. These centers help prepare missionaries to teach the gospel and to orient them to missionary life. There are currently seventeen permanent missionary training centers (MTCs) around the world:
- Provo, Utah (USA)
- Preston, England
- Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Sao Paulo, Brazil
- Mexico City, Mexico
- Santiago, Chile
- Bogotá, Colombia
- Lima, Peru
- Guatemala City, Guatemala
- Hamilton, New Zealand
- Manila, Philippines
- Tokyo, Japan
- Seoul, South Korea
- Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
- Madrid, Spain
- Accra, Ghana
- Johannesburg, South Africa
Missionary training centers are like small universities or communities where missionaries learn teaching skills they will need while serving. If the missionary already knows the language of where they are going, then they will normally stay in the MTC for about three weeks. If they need to learn a foreign language, then the training time extends to a period between eight to ten weeks, with extensive language training being added to their studies. In areas where there are not MTCs or in circumstances where missionaries are unable to get to the MTC because of excessive travel expenses, or government restrictions, temporary Mission Training Centers are set up in local church buildings to help prepare the missionaries.
Every Member a Missionary
This phrase is generally associated with former Mormon Prophet, President David O. McKay. It refers to responsiblity of all members to preach the Gospel through their words and deeds. In 1958, President David O. McKay said:
- It is generally understood that every member of the Church should be a missionary. He is probably not authorized to go from house to house, but he is authorized, by virtue of his membership, to set a proper example as a good neighbor. Neighbors are watching him. Neighbors are watching his children. He is a light, and it is his duty not to have that light hidden under a bushel, but it should be set up on a hill that all men may be guided thereby.
- Conference Report, October 1958, 93
Mormons believe that we should share the truth and power of the Gospel with everyone they meet. The Lord said to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, "Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor" (Doctrine & Covenants 88:81). Since Mormons know that their message is from God and is for all mankind. Therefore, they share it will Christians and non-Christians. To non-Christians they share the testimony of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind. To Christians, they say, Our Savior, Jesus Christ, has spoken again and has an important message for mankind today.
Mormon Missionaries in the News
Four missionaries, one devoted mom 4/7/06
Couple called on Mission to Georgia 2/21/06
Mormons Prepared for any disaster 4/7/06
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