Jul 01

From the archives: Tracting: Is It Worth Doing?

In light of last week’s “Hastening the Work of Salvation” broadcast and the reduced emphasis on tracting it suggests, this post from 2008 might be relevant again. You can read the original post and discussion here.

We tracted a lot in my mission. It was the activity we defaulted to if we had nothing else to do, and we frequently had nothing else to do. But nobody I ever met through tracting was ever baptized. I’m sure this is at least partly a reflection on my (lack of) skill as a missionary. But I’ve also wondered if tracting is worth doing at all, even if it’s highly skilled missionaries doing it.

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Apr 21

Top Ten Reasons I’m Grateful for My Mission: 3

You can find the earlier posts in this series here and here.

3) The Interviews

Every six weeks on my mission, the missionaries would have a one-on-one interview with the Mission President. Interviews were one of the only times that companionships were separated. These interviews were not particularly long – they would typically last anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour. Their purpose was simple: the MP was checking in with the missionaries, and giving them an opportunity to ask questions, discuss any issues had in companionships, etc. They were not scripted, and no topic was an absolute requirement for review.

I liked my MP, and I liked him a lot. On a personal level. He was sincere, reflective, and a deeply thoughtful man. I also liked his wife, largely for the same reasons. I respected them. He would often make comments to me about how he disagreed with our culture of quasi-hero worship of the General Authorities, since they are men serving in a calling, susceptible to weakness like any other man.

Once in a Zone Conference (also a meeting that took place every six weeks) he opened up the floor to questions on doctrine or practice, encouraging the missionaries to ask anything they wished. One of the Elders from my district – a guy that I also really liked and stayed friends with after the mission – asked “What would happen if we used a cross on our church?” The MP replied, “It would still be the Lord’s Church, but with a cross on top.” Like I say, I really liked this man. Continue reading

Apr 15

Top Ten Reasons I’m Grateful for My Mission: 2

You can find the earlier post in this series here.

2) The Mother’s Day Lesson

My last companion was relatively new to her mission. The child of a recently widowed mother with several teenagers at home, one of her biggest worries as a missionary was that her mom would need her back home and she would be powerless to help.

One day, shortly before Mother’s Day, she received a letter from home filled with good news after a long interval of anxiety-inducing silence. Her mom and family were doing remarkably well. Things were as smooth and happy as they had been since her father passed away. After reading the letter she brightened visibly, and remained noticeably relieved and relaxed for some time afterward. And, since she had been asked to give the lesson at District Meeting that week, she chose to speak on mothers. It was a simple, brief lesson, consisting mostly of her expressions of gratitude for the sacrifices her mother had made for her. Neither then nor ever did she tell the other missionaries in our district that her father had died. Continue reading

Apr 13

Top Ten Reasons I’m Grateful for my Mission: 1

 This is the first post in a series on reasons I’m grateful for my mission.

1) The Stories

As a missionary, I often felt like I was playing the part of an extra in the movies of other people’s lives. I felt I was mostly there to watch and listen; to hear their stories.

Yet, as I lived through the months and met new people day after day, I found meaning in my role. There is inherent value in being observer and confidante, in acknowledging the realities of the worlds of others – worth in serving as witness to their pain.

I left filled to the brim with human stories. Here is one: Continue reading

Dec 19

A Few Days Before Christmas: Notes from an MTC talk by Cheiko Okazaki

Nearly a decade ago I was a missionary, serving for three weeks in the Provo MTC before moving on to a smaller MTC in Latin America for the remainder of my Spanish language training. While I was in Provo, Sister Cheiko Okazaki (1926-2011), the former first counselor of the Relief Society General Presidency, came and spoke to the Sister missionaries. (I was sad, after hearing her, that the Elders had not been invited as well.)

I have always loved Sister Okazaki’s thoughts. In her books and public speaking, she quotes often from the Bible. Her advice that day in the MTC was both practical and inspiring, a discussion of dealing with feelings of inadequacy and hypocrisy, of “putting on Christ,” and of navigating the need to forgive ourselves and others on our journey. It was filled with metaphors from scripture about clothing and Christian discipleship. Continue reading

Nov 18

On Mission Hierarchy, Gender, and Organizational Communication

In support of RAH’s Sister Missionary Leadership Project over at fMh, here’s a post about my mission originally published at Both Sides Now in July of last year.

In our mission we had APs and “Traveling Elders” who assisted with a lot of the nuts and bolts of mission organization (for a primer on the organizational structure of LDS missions, see here). They acted as extra eyes and ears for the Mission President (MP), traveling around the mission area and checking in with different companionships, helping to arrange apartments, discussing difficulties in different areas or companionships, etc. Because mission rules prevented the young Elders from visiting one-on-one with the Sister missionaries, the MP created a calling he dubbed the “Coordinating Sister.” It was the Coordinating Sister’s job, once or twice a month, to travel around the mission area with her companion, work with other Sister missionaries, and then report back to the MP. From my vantage point it was a very helpful calling, since mission culture and rules meant not only that Sisters were often more isolated than Elders, but also that they typically felt very inhibited about discussing problems in companionships with their District or Zone Leaders or even with the MP. (I should probably note that neither I nor any of my companions served as the Coordinating Sister.)
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Sep 05

Missionaries and Mental Health

In the middle of my mission, I had two very sick companions one after the other.  With both companions, their health was so bad that we slowly spent more and more time in the apartment until they were eventually sent home.  It was a challenging experience for me in both cases as I focused my energies entirely on supporting them in this frustrating circumstance.  After the second one went home, I was assigned an extremely energetic and capable companion.  I missed my previous companions, but was relieved to have the pressure taken off so I could focus on missionary work again.  However, soon after I got this new companion, I spiraled into depression. Continue reading

Apr 11

Implied Statistical Report Graphs

Over at T&S, Kent Larsen wrote an interesting post based on the Church’s statistical report from Conference. He compared this year’s data with statistical reports from 5, 10, and 25 years ago. Since I find this kind of speculation so entertaining, I searched lds.org and found statistical reports all the way back to 1973 to fill out the data set a little. To make the resulting data easier to look at, I’ve put some of the numbers Kent and the commenters discussed into graphs.

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Mar 16

Better than Orange Juice

In the October 2000 General Conference, Elder Robert C. Oaks compared our reluctance to invite people to join the Church to a person’s reluctance to share orange juice with a guest:

Consider that you are invited to a friend’s house for breakfast. On the table you see a large pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice from which your host fills his glass. But he offers you none. Finally, you ask, “Could I have a glass of orange juice?”

He replies, “Oh, I am sorry. I was afraid you might not like orange juice, and I didn’t want to offend you by offering you something you didn’t desire.”

Now, that sounds absurd, but it is not too different from the way we hesitate to offer up something far sweeter than orange juice.

This has always struck me as a particularly poor analogy. It trivializes what I think are very real concerns we might have about sharing Mormonism with our friends. Continue reading

May 26

Tracting: Is It Worth Doing?

We tracted a lot in my mission. It was the activity we defaulted to if we had nothing else to do, and we frequently had nothing else to do. But nobody I ever met through tracting was ever baptized. I’m sure this is at least partly a reflection on my (lack of) skill as a missionary. But I’ve also wondered if tracting is worth doing at all, even if it’s highly skilled missionaries doing it. Continue reading

Jan 12

More Thoughts on “Raising the Bar”

The discussion of “raising the bar” in Steve Evans’s Friday Firestorm #24 last month at BCC got me to thinking about what the possible effects of this more stringent missionary screening policy might be.

The screening process that includes interviews with a missionary candidate’s Bishop or Branch President can result in two types of errors. A candidate can be approved to serve a full-time mission when he or she should not have been, or a candidate can be kept home when in fact he or she was qualified to serve. If the goal of the screening process is thought of as a medical test diagnosing “shouldn’t serve syndrome,” the first kind of error would be a failure to diagnose a true case (a miss), and the second kind would be diagnosing someone who isn’t a case (a false alarm).

So what does raising the bar mean for these two types of errors? Continue reading

Aug 19

Why Discourage Women from Serving Missions?

About a month ago, my beloved sister (and occasional ZD contributor) Melyngoch entered the MTC on her way to the Sweden Stockholm mission. I expect that she will be a very good missionary. She seems to have a great sense of purpose: she knows who she is and what she is doing and why.

I suspect that there are probably many twenty-something women in the Church who would similarly make very good missionaries. So I wonder why the Church discourages women from serving. Continue reading

Jul 19

Write What You Know, Know What You Write: A Review of Bradford Tice’s “Missionaries”

On my way out to Utah last week to attend my sister Melyngoch’s farewell and see her off on her mission to Sweden, my plane was delayed in Denver, and I violated the budget my husband and I agreed upon just hours before and bought the Atlantic’s summer fiction issue. (The Zelophehad family is not noted for the ability to delay gratification.) After a hilarious story by Marjorie Kemper about a priest who gets into massive debt trying to help his poverty-stricken parishioners entitled “Specific Gravity” and Tobias Wolff’s excellent “Bible,” I flipped to Bradford Tice’s rather tiresomely predictable story about Mormon missionaries. (Religion is clearly in the air, even among the secular MFA crowd.) Continue reading

May 11

The Ethics of Missionary Work

First of all, before I find myself pelted with tomatoes (or perhaps Books of Mormon) by an army of RMs, let me clarify that I don’t think that sharing something which you’ve found life-changing, something which you think could have tremendous potential benefits for others, is a bad thing to do; in fact, quite the contrary. Nonetheless, I am troubled by much of our discourse about missionary work. I keep coming back to the question of whether it’s morally acceptable to enter into a relationship with another human being with a view towards using that relationship to accomplish some other end (even a laudable one), rather than seeing the relationship as an end in and of itself. Continue reading