This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, challenging, amazing things. This is the story of Megan and her time acting as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I understand that proselytizing and missionary work is behavior that some readers might take issue with. As always, polite, respectful, articulate disagreement is welcome, inflammatory comments will be deleted.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m originally from northern Colorado, and with that comes a love for the outdoors. I love biking, hiking, and camping, as well as reading, baking, and eating. I’m 28 and just finished a masters degree in woodwind performance last August (I’m an oboist), and currently work as an academic adviser.
Could you share a little bit about your faith?
I was raised Mormon. Both my parents are practicing Mormons, but come from families who practice to varying degrees. I grew up attending church every Sunday, and graduated from the church’s seminary program.
Doing missionary work is part of being Mormon, right? What is the goal of your mission work?
Missionary work plays a huge role in the lives of all Mormons, but it is carried out in different ways. While all members of the church are encouraged to share their beliefs, men are expected to serve a two year full-time mission, women have the option to serve, and senior couples also can choose to serve.
The young men and women who serve are mainly full-time proselytizing missionaries, but there are humanitarian missions, short-term missions, part-time missions, etc. Missionaries pay their own way, putting employment and education on hold. I served a full-time mission for eighteen months, and my goal was to teach people about Christ, and offer them the opportunity to be baptized.
Did you actively proselytize while you did your mission work? How did people react to that? Did you successfully convert anyone?
I did actively proselytize on my mission. I served in northwestern Washington, where there is a good mix of religious views, including some that are anti-Mormon. In my mission (and in most), there were standards for how many hours of tracting, or door-to-door knocking, we were expected to complete each week. People reacted in all sorts of ways, from ignoring us, answering the door in their towel (and berating us for making them come to the door in the middle of their shower!), cussing us out and slamming the door, to literally inviting us in to share a meal with their family. I was involved in the conversion of 28 people, who ranged in age from 8 years old to 55.
Has anyone from another religion ever proselytized at you? How did you feel about it?
Yes! In fact, more than once on my mission, Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on our door. Given the situation, it was kind of funny, and we usually just exchanged pamphlets. Since my mission, I have a much greater respect for anyone willing to respectfully share their beliefs.
Tell us about an ‘average day’ while you were doing mission work.
Missionaries follow a very structured schedule, and it is very much full-time. We would get up at 6:30 every morning, have personal and companionship prayers, and follow with 30 minutes of exercise. Then we would shower, get ready, and eat breakfast until we had personal study at 8 am. There were only a handful of books we studied: the Standard Works (the King James Version Bible
, The Book of Mormon
, The Doctrine & Covenants
, and The Pearl of Great Price
), Preach My Gospel
(the missionary training/study manual, which you can read online here
), and the Missionary Reference Library
After an hour of personal study, we studied together for an hour as a companionship, planning lessons for our investigators, and looking for answers to their questions and concerns. What we chose to do each day was completely left up to us, and it was often a daunting and humbling experience trying to determine through thoughtful consideration and prayer where we needed to go, and how we could best serve the people in our area.
At 10 am, we left the apartment, sometimes for appointments with people who were investigating the church, but often to go tracting door-to-door, or to go places where we could talk to as many people as possible. We had lunch at 12, when we’d also try and make phone calls (we did not have cell phones in my mission at the time!), then head back out at 1 for more of the same. Dinner was usually at 6 pm, and often with families in the ward. We tried to have dinner with church members every night, which helped us get to know them and people they knew who might be interested in learning more about the church. Dinner lasted strictly an hour, during which we shared a lesson with the family, then we were back out again, teaching, tracting, or talking to people. This happened in literally all kinds of weather: heat, rain, fog, snow, you name it!
We came home at 9 pm, when we reviewed our day. In our missionary planners, we kept numbers of how many people we contacted, how many lessons we taught, referrals we’d received, etc. and reported this to our mission leadership. We would also do our planning for the next day—the goal was to have something planned for every hour of the day, as well as back up plans since our original plans usually fell through. Then we’d have a little time to write in our journals and prep for the next day until we had companionship prayer and went to bed at 10:30 pm.
The schedule didn’t vary much from this, except that on Sundays we went to church, and we also spent time each week doing planned and unplanned service. Once a week, missionaries also have a Preparation Day, or P-Day, and that is when we took care of groceries, laundry, and doctor’s appointments, wrote to our families, and had some fun with other missionaries. Twice a year, on Mother’s Day and Christmas Day, we got to call home to our families.
How did your non-Mormon friends feel about your mission work?
My non-Mormon friends from high school were a little curious, but otherwise didn’t seem to react too much to my serving a mission. A few even wrote to me while I was gone.
What were the biggest challenges you faced while doing mission work? What did you gain from the experience?
Being a missionary is still one of the hardest things I’ve done, harder than completing my masters degree (though in different ways). I have never been as tired as I was on my mission! It was exhausting work because of the emotional connection you gained to the work you were doing, and because there was a lot of disappointment. Very few people actually listened to you, and even fewer were willing to try coming to church, reading the scriptures, or being baptized. Some people were hateful toward you without even knowing you as a person.
It also goes without being said that it is HARD to be away from family, friends, books, school, TV, the internet, the news, everything, for 18 months. It was so rewarding, though, and I learned so much about people, the world, the church, leadership, myself, and what I really believe. It is a very rare opportunity to completely give up all personal pursuits, and fully dedicate oneself to one’s beliefs. There were many times that I wanted to quit, but the experience of really getting to know, love and care for people—most of whom were very different from me and my upbringing—was incredibly fulfilling. Despite all the challenges, I wouldn’t trade my mission for anything.
Thanks for sharing your story, Megan! Have any of you guys done mission work? Do you have any (respectful!) questions for Megan?