We’ve all seen those Mormon missionaries: white shirt, tie, nametag, backpack, sometimes a bike. Especially after the debut of the Book of Mormon Broadway musical, these young men, always in pairs, are more visible and recognizable than ever. And they’re becoming increasingly more visible as the number of full-time Mormon missionaries serving is projected to grow to over 85,000 by fall of 2013 . The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ leadership announced in April that it would be creating 58 new missions, or geographic areas where missionaries are assigned to serve, in July of 2013, bringing the total of missions to 405 .
As a BYU-Idaho student, President Monson’s October announcement changing the age at which missionaries are able to serve had an immediate and direct impact on me. (The qualifying age for young men was lowered from 19 to 18, and for young women from 21 to 19.) I watched as dozens of my friends, co-workers, and acquaintances altered their life plans and prepared for Mormon missionary service. During my final semester in Rexburg, Winter of 2013, there were noticeably fewer 18- and 19-year-olds on campus, as many had left for missionary service. In each of my classes, there were two or three students preparing for missions or working on their missionary papers. Many had already received assignments and were simply waiting for the semester to end so they could depart. Campus-wide, there are now fewer younger students, as well as fewer females, as many have left on Mormon missions.
Why do Mormons Serve Missions?
What would prompt a young 18- or 19-year-old to leave home, postpone college, friends, and relationships and travel to a foreign country or distant state for 18 months to two years? After all, this is the prime time of life, when there are adventures to be had and careers to be established. For many young people, this is the time of life to be carefree and even a bit reckless. Instead, Mormon youth are putting it all on hold to serve their church. Why?
The answer is simple: Love. Young Latter-day Saints have an incredible capacity for love. They love the gospel of Jesus Christ, and want to share it with others. They understand that everyone is a child of God. Their love for God and the Savior and desire to serve Them is more powerful and important than any selfish desires they have. They believe that “when you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:19), and that the best way for them to be happy is to love and serve others.
I could see in my friends and fellow students at BYU-Idaho a sincere desire to serve the Lord. They weren’t going on missions just because it was “the cool thing to do,” or because their parents were bribing or forcing them. No. They really love the gospel, and have strong faith. Because of this love, they want to serve.
How Can Mormon Missionaries Help Me?
Elder Russell M. Nelson, an apostle and leader of The Church of Jesus Christ, spoke about this very question in an address titled, “Ask the Missionaries! They Can Help You!” In this talk, he identifies eight problems or concerns with which Mormon missionaries can help both members and non-members:
- “You might want to know more about your ancestors.”
- “You love the Lord and often think of returning to His fold. But you don’t know how to start.”
- “You may want to know how to conquer an addiction or live longer and enjoy better health.”
- “You may feel that life is busy and frenetic, yet down deep in your heart you feel a gnawing emptiness, without direction or purpose.”
- “You have concerns about your family.”
- “You desire for greater knowledge.”
- “You have a deep desire to help people in need.”
- “You want to know more about life after death, about heaven, about God’s plan for you.”
Elder Nelson’s solution to all of these problems is: “Ask the missionaries! They can help you!” Mormon missionaries are representatives of Jesus Christ and His Church, and can help both members and non-members with many problems and concerns they may have. Missionaries really love and care about the people they serve, and will do their best to help solve these problems and alleviate these concerns.
Representatives of Jesus Christ
Some may wonder how missionaries are able to help people with such a wide variety of problems and concerns. Missionaries are, for the most part, young people whose world experience is relatively limited. However, the thing that sets missionaries apart is that they are official representatives of Jesus Christ.
All missionaries receive their “call,” or assignment directly from the president and apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ. Their nametags prominently display the name “Jesus Christ” along with the missionary’s own name. They have literally taken the Savior’s name upon them, and are committed to doing what He would do. They will pray and seek guidance from the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, about how best to help the people they are serving. They might not have all the answers, but they will search the scriptures and pray in order to serve and help the best way they can. The Church of Jesus Christ teaches that knowledge of the gospel can bring us the greatest happiness, and so missionaries teach this gospel in an effort to help people at the root of their concerns, rather than the branches.
Mormon missionaries are more than just travelling preachers. They are representatives of Jesus Christ, serving in love, with a strong and true desire to help those they are serving. They have made vows consecrating themselves to the Lord’s service in holy Mormon temples. The young male missionaries hold the priesthood of God, giving them power and authority to receive revelation and perform miracles. Each missionary receives personal revelation through the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost as he or she serves. They strive to bring souls unto Jesus Christ, blessing the lives of many. Having the missionaries knock on your door or stop you in the street isn’t a terrible thing; it’s a great opportunity to learn what Mormons believe from young men and women whose faith and belief is strong and bright.