News Release

Mormon Missionaries

Why Do They Do What They Do?

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, get excited about their beliefs and about the many ways those beliefs impact their daily lives.

One important impact on Church members is the desire to serve as missionaries for their faith — not only to share the tenets of their religion but to help the people they meet during their service. A missionary assignment affords members opportunity to leave family, friends, academic or business pursuits or personal focus behind while they concentrate on teaching others about the Church, its principles and practices.

Missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ voluntarily serve at their own expense for one to two years, responding to a call from the president of the Church to work in any of nearly 350 geographic areas of the world.

Called to Serve

When Geoff Grant was 19-years old, a white envelope arrived in the mail delivering information detailing the next two years of his life. That long-anticipated envelope contained Grant’s mission “call”, detailing the facts about his assignment to full-time service as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Grant could have been assigned to any of the Church’s over 350 missions, all geographically designated throughout the world. As it happens, he served for a period of 24 months in the Ukraine Donetsk Mission.

A similar scene repeats itself every day in homes of Church members throughout the world. More than 10,000 missionaries a year experience this ritual and accept calls for service.

As part of his term of service, Grant spent time in the missionary training center in Provo, Utah, acquiring skills in the language, in teaching techniques and in the cultural traditions of Ukraine.

What prompts young members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to put school, career and relationships on hold for one to two years, to work all day, six days a week, at their own expense and without pay?

For the Church’s 53,000-plus missionaries, it all comes down to the individual’s personal commitment to his or her faith and to a desire to serve.

“Sure it was hard work,” says Grant, now 21 years old and back at his home in Salt Lake City after completing a successful mission, “but I went because I love the Lord and because I wanted to help other people enjoy the blessings that I have enjoyed. I wanted to serve these people.”

The two years passed quickly, according to Grant, because he “was able to help people change their lives for the better. The gospel of Jesus Christ brought light into their lives.”

The message of change was based on Grant’s personal conviction of Jesus Christ and his belief that Christ’s church — complete with the same doctrines, organization and authority that existed anciently — was brought back to earth in the early 1800s through a series of revelations to Church founder, Joseph Smith.

That message and the efforts of missionaries such as Grant bring a million new members into the Church every three years.

Young missionary candidates must be at least 19 years of age (21 for young women) and demonstrate they are worthy to serve — a result of compliance to moral principles and other Church standards, including devotion to Jesus Christ.

They must also be willing to serve wherever they are sent, regardless of the circumstances.

“Where missionaries serve is far less important than how they serve,” says Elder Quentin L. Cook, executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department.

“The call to serve a mission is paramount, the specific location is secondary,” he explains. “As missionaries serve with all their heart, might, mind and strength, they learn to love the people wherever they go.”

Even though he knew little about the country at the time of his call, Grant “got a sense that it was the right place for me to go, that Ukraine was where the Lord wanted me to serve.”

The message of change affected not only people in Ukraine but Grant as well. He returned from his term of service with a genuine love and concern for the people of the country, with fluency in the Russian language and with an increased level of discipline and knowledge of how to effectively meet challenges — attributes and skills that will prove valuable throughout his lifetime.

The Making of a Missionary

They arrive each week by the hundreds with luggage in hand, many accompanied by family members, and others having already said their goodbyes in distant lands — but all with some measure of anticipation.

They are the young men and women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who enter the doors of one of the 17 missionary training centers (MTCs) around the world.

Joining the world’s largest full-time volunteer missionary force — more than 53,000 strong — they receive religious and language instruction and other training at these centers before traveling on to destinations in more than 140 countries.

About 80 percent of them report at the Church’s largest MTC in Provo, home to an average of 2,000 missionaries at a time — 20,000 over the course of a year.

At the training centers, missionaries learn to shift focus from themselves to others.

Such a shift is no simple task for 19-year-old young men, but they take on the task willingly.

Upon entering an MTC, each missionary is assigned another missionary as a companion — a second missionary of the same gender — for protection and support. Though companions rotate periodically, it can be difficult to have another person literally at one’s side day-in and day-out.

Missionaries also adjust to new dress standards — white shirts and ties for men and skirts or dresses for women.

To complete training objectives, missionaries at training centers keep a tight schedule: arise at 6:30 to prepare for the day, personal study time, breakfast, training classes, lunch, more training classes, dinner, additional training and finally bed at 10:30 p.m, with personal, companion and group prayers interspersed throughout the day.

After eight hours of welcome sleep, the routine begins anew. The entire MTC training period lasts for three to 12 weeks, depending upon the language assignment.

For most missionaries, the excitement of becoming a missionary overshadows the apprehension and the challenges.

“I was extremely excited to go to the (Provo) MTC,” reported Geoff Grant. “There was a bit of apprehension about entering the MTC. I knew a lot of hard work was ahead, but I knew if I gave it my all, I’d come out ahead. I had never felt anything so powerful in my life as when I walked through the doors. There’s such a peace and comfort there.”

With the comfort come knowledge and growth. By adhering to the principles they study and believe, these missionaries gain stronger convictions. They can see results in their individual lives, results they hope to share with others they will serve.

A Day in the Life of a Latter-day Saint Missionary

For more than 53,000 missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, knocking on doors and preaching on street corners far from home is more than just a response to a biblical charge to spread the word of God, it is a manifestation of individual faith.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been preparing for my mission,” reports David Whiting, a native of New Canaan, Connecticut, and a newly called missionary to the Argentina Rosario Mission. “I’ve wanted to share the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ that I experience in my life with others.”

To the outside observer, preparing for a daily routine of teaching in faraway places may seem doomed to failure and rejection.

But missionaries don’t hesitate to report that the rigors of missionary life are filled with rewarding, life-changing experiences that prepare them for college, marriage, careers and responsible parenthood.

Perhaps the daily discipline of study, teaching, teamwork, physical endurance and accountability is why many young Latter-day Saints return from missions with abilities far beyond their years. Often they find themselves able to reach out to others, to successfully manage challenges and to find happiness in their own lives.

Perhaps as much as any other factor, this continued infusion of strong, experienced and committed young people into the ranks and leadership of the Church may give it much of its strength and cohesion.

In the geographic area of service, a missionary day begins at 6:30 a.m. After personal preparations and gospel and language study, missionaries began contacting people in an assigned community.

Only a handful of people respond to missionary offers of instruction, but obedient missionaries continue in their efforts to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“It can be a little frustrating at times,” Geoff Grant explains. “We have an important message to share — that there is a God in heaven who loves you and who wants you to be happy eternally, but people are so busy. Sometimes they are content with the life they have, or they are afraid of making changes. I understand that, but it’s hard when you know you have something meaningful to share and few will listen.”

From time to time, however, some people do listen and the accumulated feelings of rejection disappear.

After a day of teaching lessons to interested people, sharing meals with generous members of the Church or continuing the search for willing listeners, the pair of missionaries retires to their apartment. Before bedtime at 10:30, they review the events of the day and lay plans for the following day.

And before they know it, another day of missionary service arrives, and the studying, the prayers, the contacting and the teaching continue.

Teaching in 50 Languages

In the landlocked state of Utah, would you expect to find people fluent in Icelandic, Mandarin Chinese or Mongolian?

When tourists, business leaders or professional recruiters arrive in Utah, the fluency that many native Utahns have in languages of the world may be one of the first surprises.

The reason, however, isn’t hard to discover. The Provo-based missionary training center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints turns out 20,000 missionaries a year — many of them equipped to begin work overseas in any one of 48 languages.

When that missionary service is completed, thousands of these bilingual missionaries will return to Utah. Many are natives, but others come to study or work.

Missionaries respond to a call to serve in any of the Church’s nearly 350 worldwide missions. Some serve in countries where their native language is applicable, but many return from their missions fluent in a foreign tongue, having used it daily to converse with locals in their assigned country of service.

In addition to language skills, missionaries return with a broader understanding of cultural issues, customs and attitudes toward the United States.

These abilities first take root during their training experiences at a missionary training center.

Adjacent to Church-affiliated Brigham Young University, the Provo MTC is equipped with leading-edge language-training technology and methodology.

With a returned missionary staff of approximately 700 instructors teaching 50 languages, the language acquisition for newly called missionaries is efficient, if not remarkable.

“I think people at large marvel at the miracle that happens here,” says Mark Jarman, director of training at the Provo MTC. “It is common for us to pass in three days what many of the missionaries have learned in two years of high school language classes.”

Jarman suggests the training center’s goal is to have missionaries functioning in the basics of their language by the time they leave the center. Fluency will come later as they are confronted in their daily teaching and contacting with the pressing need to improve their individual communication skills.

The center’s language training program requires five to six hours of intensive language instruction every day, six days a weeks, as well as work with computer aids and as much time with native speakers as possible.

Missionaries also learn the customs, sensitivities and protocol unique to the culture in which they will live.

Although the Provo facility incorporates state-of-the-art technology in its teaching methods, Jarman readily acknowledges that the missionaries’ rapid learning rate has everything to do with the caliber and motivation of the young men and women.

“Missionaries are the cream of the crop,” Jarman admits. “They come with the desire to learn, already willing to make the required sacrifices.”

And those sacrifices pay huge individual dividends following the two-year term of missionary service.

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