It has been five years since President Monson announced the change in minimum ages at which missionaries can serve. It’s clear that much of the increase in the number of missionaries that followed that announcement came from an increase in how many women were choosing to serve. For example, a 2015 ABC News article on sister missionaries reports (I assume quoting a Church spokesperson) that there were 22,000 sister missionaries at the time, that they made up more than a quarter of all missionaries, and that their numbers had nearly tripled since the age change was announced. Along similar lines, a Deseret News article from one year after the age change reports that there had been increases of 10,000 elders and 11,000 sisters in the previous year. There’s also a Deseret News article from 2014 that gives actual percentage breakdowns: 64% single men, 28% single women, and 8% senior couples.
This increase matches my anecdotal experience. I haven’t tracked anything systematically, but just from following friends on Facebook, it seems like a lot more families who I would have thought were pretty conventionally Mormon have sent daughters on missions in the past few years than did before. I note that they’re conventional because my impression is that having women serve missions before the age change always seemed to me to be a little out of the norm. Like the thinking was that it was a nice thing to do and all, but really shouldn’t women be getting married instead?
It’s great that the news articles I mentioned give some point-in-time snapshots of how many women are serving missions, but what I’m really interested to know is what the trend over time is. For example, I wonder if the number of women serving increased suddenly right after the age change, but then leveled off. Or perhaps it increased at that time, and has continued to increase since then. Or maybe there was a temporary spike and then the number of women serving have decreased.
Like with so many other questions about Church-related data, I’m sure the numbers are available somewhere in the COB, but I’m never going to get to see them. So I did the next best thing and gathered a little data from what I could find. I considered possibilities like counting women and men in missionary alumni Facebook groups, or on a website like LDSMissions.com that allows returned missionaries to register and join a group of others who served in the same mission (although it doesn’t look like the site has been updated in a while). I ended up, though, choosing to gather data from MyMission.com, though, for a couple of reasons. First, it has lists of links to missionary blogs in a nice standard format that was relatively easy to grab. Second, it has missionaries listed as “Sister” or “Elder,” so I didn’t have to make any assumptions about whether someone with a particular first name was female or male.
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.
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. Read More
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. Read More
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: Read More
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. Read More
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.)
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. Read More
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.
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. Read More
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. Read More
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? Read More
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. Read More
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.) Read More
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. Read More
There I was, last October, reading 2 Nephi over my morning Crunchy Corn Bran and Mountain Dew, and suddenly I thought, I think I’ll go on a mission. Yes, that’s a lovely idea. I’ll go convert those people who think they need no more Bible. Glad that’s settled. Are we out of skim milk? Read More