What fraction of missionaries are sisters?

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.

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The Problem of Women and Church Courts

CW: discussion of violence and sexual assault

Midway through my mission, I was transferred into an area and took over teaching the new member discussions to a recent convert, a young single mother with one child. The father of her baby was an immigrant who had married a local in order to get citizenship; he had never slept with the woman he married or even lived in the same house with her, but he had to maintain his “marriage” on paper in order to stay in the country. Because of this, he could not marry our recent convert, the mother of his child. This situation was, sadly, quite common.

Shortly after she was baptized, he came over to her apartment uninvited, drunk, and raving, and slapped her around. I do not know what he was angry about, but she showed me the bruises on her body. Later that night, they slept together. Read More

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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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. Read More

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. Read More

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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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. Read More

How do we offer pastoral care?

One of the overarching themes that I see reiterated throughout the bloggernacle – or perhaps, one of the pervasive subtexts – is that LDS people are in need of pastoral care. They seek a space to voice their doubts, to bring their honest concerns and deepest hurts; to ultimately come and find the succor and peace of God. And, because we are a church run by laymen, we struggle to find that space. We are not always, despite our best intentions, able to serve one another. We cannot always see each other’s hearts. We cannot always offer love as we should, or compassion as we should. Most often, I believe, people seek mercy and understanding. They want to know – they need to know – that despite their stupidity, their arrogance, their mistakes, despite being petulant and petty, despite sometimes being mean and cruel, they are and can be good enough. They can change. They can grow. They can purge themselves of the ugly parts. It’s worth trying again. They are worth it.

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Missions, Numbers, and Lying

On a thread last year at BCC entitled Coming Clean, Mark Brown daringly confessed to the entire Bloggernacle that he invented his mission numbers reports. His bold revelation transported me straight back to a dark, sweltering night in the dark, sweltering center of my mission. I had recently become senior companion, and while my first couple of ZLs had accepted our numbers as representative of our best efforts and delivered encouragement rather than condemnation, our new ZL, who had just ascended from junior companion with a death grip on his own personal scepter of self-righteousness, was subjecting us to the first real numbers pressure I’d ever experienced. The Sunday-night ritual of calling numbers in was becoming distinctly unpleasant; the ZL was constantly critical of the weekly results we had to report, unwittingly heaping discouragement on me during what was already, for me, a very difficult time, one of the lowest of my mission. Read More