Since probably last October, you've been seeing more posts/tweets/videos related to "papers," "calls," and even "missions." A mission, according to trusty Websters,is 1. the act or an instant of sending or 2. a ministry commissioned by a religious organization to propagate its faith or carry on humanitarian work. In regular English it means that someone is sent to go preach or help people. And maybe you've been on a mission trip for your church or a charity? Personally I've had friends go on such trips to South America and they had a great time.
But back on focus... what does a mission mean in Mormon terms? Well it means leaving everything behind for eighteen months to two years (yes you heard me right... everything and two years) to go share the love of God and his message. You still with me? Not quite? Okay well... let's go over a little mission history first.
- The Church of Jesus Christ was organized in 1830 by the Prophet Joseph Smith (prophet)
- Samuel Smith was the first missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the real name for Mormons). He became a missionary just months after the Church became official.
- In 1837 Heber C Kimball and Orson Hyde became the first missionaries to travel overseas to England.
- By 1903 missionaries were traveling to 25 different countries
- Spencer W. Kimball (prophet 1973-1985) stated that "every able, worth young man should serve a mission."
And that brings us relatively up to today (yes there's more history... but those are the main points I want to go off of. If you're interested in more, visit the site posted at the bottom of this post). Up until this past year every worth 19-year-old young man was encouraged to serve and while girls were not required to, there were able to go at 21 if they so wished. In October of 2013 Thomas S. Monson announced that the mission age was changing (watch it here, view the Press Conference here and read my experience here!). Now, since October young men can go at 18 and young women can go at 19. And yes, that's a young age, but why should that stop someone from going?
Okay so you know what a mission is now, but what about those other terms? Youth cannot just go on a mission or choose where they go. They must first apply and then they are assigned a location. The application consists of typical things for a mission trip such as education history, medical and dental history, family contact information. And then there is an interview process. Youth meet with local church leads (bishops and stake presidents) to determine if they are worthy and how to prepare. Worthiness is an issue because to be a missionary you need to be following the Commandments of God and living a good, righteous life. Once the application papers are done they get submitted and a call is assigned to the missionary. We believe that missionary calls are inspired from God and that each missionary is sent where ever they are supposed to go (process on how calls are assigned here). There are currently 405 missions in the world covering approximately 176 nations.
So someone gets their call. In their call it tells them where they will be serving, what language they will be speaking and when they leave. Then they wait until the date the are assigned to leave and prepare by buying clothes and other things needed, often depending on the location of the mission. Before actually heading to their designated mission area the now missionaries are sent to the Missionary Training Center, more commonly known as the MTC. While the main MTC is located in Provo, Utah, there are several more scattered throughout the world (a complete list here). The missionary spends anywhere from 2-8 weeks learning how to teach and/or learning a language if they are supposed to teach in another language. After the MTC, the missionary goes to the actual location their supposed to teach and is there for the rest of their mission. While they may move around a bit, they will stay in the same general area (pardoning some exceptions). Girls will now be called Sister missionaries and the young men are referred to as Elders.
So now you've gotten the background on missionaries... but what does it mean to actually be a missionary? First of all you leave everything behind (as I mentioned earlier). That means family, friends, girl/boyfriends, cars, education and more. For two years ( or eighteen months) your time is the Lord's time. You can still write to family members or friends but no phone calls unless it's Mother's Day or Christmas (and depending on the mission the missionary may get to Skype those days). Missionaries get a chance to email and write letters once a week on preparation day (or p-day). P-day is also the day they can go grocery shopping, do laundry or other things approved by the Mission President (head of each mission). Sometimes the Elders in my home area will play basketball.
And now you're wondering why I spent time writing this (and if it was worth if for you to read). I am pleased to announce that today I received my call in the mail. I'm going to be a missionary!
Please let me know if you have any questions. I am happy to answer them and if I don't know the answer I'll either find it, or refer you to someone who actually has the answer.