Understanding Mormonism Rotating Header Image

Young Missionaries

The Young Mormon Missionary

Spencer W. Kimball, then President of the Mormon Church, called all young men of the Mormon faith to serve full-time missions.  This happened in 1974.  The amount of young men and women serving missions doubled in the next few years, and the growth has only continued since.  About 55,000 Mormon missionaries are serving throughout the world today, preaching the gospel to everyone who will listen.But 1974 doesn’t mark the beginning of Mormon missionary effort.  Mormon missionaries have been around since the beginning of the Church.  The Church was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, and the first missionaries were sent out the same year.  Also by 1830, the Book of Mormon had been published, and the missionaries could carry it as well as their spoken message. Samuel Smith, Joseph Smith’s younger brother, was the first Mormon missionary.   With the brand new Books of Mormon, Samuel preached in upstate New York.  He didn’t cover a wide area in his preaching, and his mission was short, but many future leaders of the Church converted because of Samuel’s missionary work. One of these leaders would be the second President of the Church.  His name was Brigham Young.Missionaries have gone out to the world ever since Samuel’s time.  Persecution is nowhere near as fierce as it was in the 1800s, but missionary work has never been easy, and never will be.  Despite hardships, discouragement, no matter how bad things get, missionaries will preach the gospel. This fulfills Jeremiah’s prophecy:

Mormon Missionaries“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” (Jeremiah 16:16).

Today, although it isn’t required, the Mormon Church counsels every worthy young man to serve a mission. And although they’re not as expected to, young women can also serve missions, and many do.  Mormon missionaries are not paid for their work, neither are they given money to go.  Rather, missionaries and their families pay their own way as far as they can.  If paying their own way is impossible, because of extreme poverty, ward members (a ward is like a congregation) help cover the cost.  The Church also has a fund set up for missionaries in need.  Both of these are considered last resorts, though.  In fact, many Mormons save up for a mission from their early childhood.

When young men turn 19 (or young women turn 21), they give their names to the Church to indicate they’d like to go on a mission. Mormon leaders, including the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, will consider their names prayerfully.  Where missionaries ought to go is decided through prayer and revelation – missionaries are sent where they’re needed. As of 2005, 330 missions had been established worldwide, scattered all across the world, from Russia, to England, to Venezuela.  A missionary can be called to any of these 330 missions.  Once the mission for a particular missionary’s been decided, the leaders mail the aspiring missionary his or her assignment, or “call.”  The call tells missionaries where they will serve and when the mission will start.  When a missionary receives a call, it’s usually a time of celebration for the entire family.

After their call, at the appointed time, Mormon missionaries report to a Missionary Training Center—or MTC.  In the MTC, the missionary receives intense training in a foreign language (if necessary), studies the gospel, and learns how to teach the gospel to others.  Missionaries don’t stay in the MTC long, though – only a few weeks before they leave for their mission proper.

A Mission President presides over every mission – and most missions are big enough to be split into sections, called zones and districts.  The missionaries are supervised by the Mission President, and assigned to specific zones and districts by him.  Every missionary has a companion, since the Lord’s disciples were commanded to go forth in that fashion. 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;” A Mormon missionary’s companion doesn’t remain the same through the whole mission, though.  Every four or five months, they have a new one.

Missionaries are mostly involved in missionary work, of course – this takes up most of their time.  They are probably most famous for knocking door to door, but they also preach the word in the streets.  Anyone interested is given a series of discussions, where the missionaries give their message in detail.

Mormon missionaries spend the rest of their time in several ways.  They study the Mormon books of scripture, including the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  They do community service, such as helping to clean up the city, teach English, or just helping their neighbors.  10 hours a week are supposed to be spent in community service, although missionaries can do more.  Jesus Christ “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) and the missionaries would follow His example.

Serving a mission is a sacrifice.  Mormon missions last two years (or eighteen months, in the case of female missionaries).  This time is spent away from family, friends, and home.  Although they can send weekly letters to those currently not with them, they can only make phone calls to home on Christmas and Mother’s Day.  Everything must be put on hold, except for spiritual development.  But that spiritual development is a rich reward and the joy of the missionaries, and those they teach, is great because of their sacrifice.  Many former Mormon missionaries describe their mission as the hardest and most rewarding experience of their life.