True Story: I’m a Missionary

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. 
 
Megan
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?

28 Comments

Anna

Thanks for sharing. Personally, I just don't understand the need to try and convert other people to your beliefs at all, my beliefs are personal and I believe everyone is on their own path, if someone else was supposed to believe similar things to me on their path, they will find these beliefs on their own, and if they were not meant to believe these things in their current life, that's okay too.
But I now realized missionaries believe their beliefs just as much as I belief in mine and they want to share these beliefs with others, and that comes more from a place of love than trying to shame people into believing the same things as them.
I still don't think I'll ever be converted to their beliefs and I'll keep the note under my doorbell up (No sales, no missionaries) but I do have a better understanding of why these people go door to door with their beliefs, so thanks for sharing.

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Megan

Anna,

I think foremost there is good to be found everywhere, in all kinds of people. We definitely don't head out on missions expecting to have everyone welcome us, and we also don't wish to impose our beliefs on anyone, though I understand how it might come across that way sometimes. I think Gordon Hinckley, one of our past leaders, put it so well: "We say in a spirit of love, bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it."

We try to talk to everyone so that we can find, and not miss, those that really are looking for something in their lives. I wish I could say this is how missionaries always came across, but the truth is missionaries are very human 18 and 19 year olds just doing their best. I can't tell you how much we appreciate kindness and politeness, as you have demonstrated.

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Kaylee

Megan, you have a very sweet testimony and sound like you were a fantastic missionary. I love when girls have the strength to serve missions and you will be blessed for it. Thank you!

Thank you for putting this interview on this blog. It means a lot to the Mormon community that others will take the time to ask questions about what we do. We aren't trying to force our religion on others, but simply trying to share our good news. Thank you for interviewing and taking the time to listen.

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EJ

We had missionaries knock on our door a couple times. We invited them back for a traditional Shabbat dinner. It was a wonderful experience. The 4 missionaries we hosted were so excited to learn more about our religion and experience and were respectful. It was fun to learn about the similarities in our own religions. Thanks for posting this!

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Jenny

Hi Megan, thanks for sharing your story! Did your training prepare you well for the actual field-work?
I've always wondered, what is a respectful way to decline or engage with missionaries if we have no interest in conversion? I'd be one to invite someone in for a meal or chat to respectfully talk religion, but I don't want to be a "tease" and I feel disrespected when I make clear I'm not interested but missionaries still think that's negotiable. Is there a good approach for we folks interested in connecting with missionaries as people, but not on religious grounds? I realize there will be many individualized answers to this, but what's your own perspective?

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Megan

Hi Jenny,

I felt like the training I received was certainly valuable, but it's sort of a best-case scenario training. There's really no way to prepare for the real deal without experiencing it. Since I served my mission, the training missionaries receive has trained drastically, so that much more of it happens out in the field.

When I was a missionary, I always appreciated when people were direct yet polite. A simple, "I'm not really interested, but thank you!" is fine. I had so much respect for people who could state clearly that they didn't share our beliefs/weren't interested, but still had the decency and kindness to offer a glass of water and a smile. And there's nothing wrong with talking to the missionaries just to "respectfully talk religion"–there plenty of ideas circulating about Mormons out there, and I'm always grateful when people will try to understand Mormonism from the source. I agree with you about feeling disrespected when missionaries still push the issue after you've made it clear you aren't interested.

As far as your last question, I think a great way to connect is through community service. Never hesitate to refer missionaries to someone who could use some help, or a listening ear. Missionaries have the unique ability to spend all their time serving, and are able to go and talk to an elderly person, or help a single mom with her yard work when others have work and other commitments that don't allow them the time.

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fawn

@Jenny – Nice question!

@Megan Do missionaries serve as community volunteers in a formal sense?, e.g. serving at homeless shelters, food banks, etc.?

Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

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Megan

Fawn, it depends on the mission. Mission presidents lead each mission, and each one is run a little differently. In my mission, we were allowed to volunteer at shelters and retirement homes, but not on a long-term commitment. We were encouraged to look for unplanned service to help individuals, since our main purpose was proselytizing. You will often see missionaries helping when crises such as Hurricane Sandy occur, though, and we also have humanitarian missions that are geared toward that end.

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Alisha - the.wineglass.manifesto

This is so interesting! Thank you for sharing.

I'm curious as to why you were not allowed to call your family? My initial instinct is so you remain focused on your mission, but it feels to me like they're actively discouraging feelings of love and family and togetherness and connection, and that just seems a bit… cruel…!?

I acknowledge that you found it exhausting and hard, but overall, did you find your mission 'fun'? Did you genuinely enjoy what you were doing each day, or did you have a positive experience because of how you were impacting people's lives?

Thank you!

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Hormell's

I also served a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so I'll answer your questions in case Megan doesn't see them (though if you do, please feel free to add your own response since this is your story!). You are correct in assuming that missionaries don't call home so that they remain completely focused on their mission. However, they are not only encouraged but expected to write home to their families (via email as well as written letters) each week and let them know how everything is going. The families also write their missionaries each week to update them on things happening at home. It was hard for me not to be able to talk to or see my family while I was on my mission, but I know I would have had a really hard time focusing if I could have called my Dad whenever I wanted like I've always done when I'm not a missionary! It also really helped that my family was fully supportive of my missionary work. Not all missionaries are blessed with supportive families, and I have to absolutely give them so much credit for serving God completely while knowing that their family would prefer they weren't.
I can't speak for Megan, but I did find my mission very fulfilling. I don't know if "fun" is the word I would always use, but there were definitely amazing experiences and the day-to-day life could be very enjoyable (depending on your companion, who you have to be with 24/7) and, yes, fun! But just like life outside of a mission experience, each day is different and some days were great and some weren't!
I hope that helps give perspective- I'm not trying to steal Megan's story, but I felt your questions deserved to be answered!

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Megan

Alisha,

It does seem kind of like a paradox, doesn't it? For a church that places so much emphasis on family, it can seem a little strange that we have distance from them while we serve. You are right, the idea is to help us stay focused on the mission, and also to rely on God. When things get tough (and they do!), instead of calling home, you've got to work things out with your companion, and rely on prayer and thoughtful consideration. That produces unbelievable growth and confidence. Missionaries are encouraged to write home/email every week, and their families can send as many emails/letters/packages as they'd like. What was interesting is that despite the distance, I felt a greater connection to my family through my mission. I got to know my parents and siblings on a much deeper level, as they shared weekly letters with me. I kept all those letters, and it's a sweet memory to read through my brother's confidences as he dated, and then was engaged to his wife. I don't think he would have shared those things in quite the same way.

The mission was definitely fun, just not all fun. I have so many funny stories and great experiences, and it doesn't take long on a mission to realize that people are amazing. Everyone around you has such an interesting story, and has so much for you to learn from. I feel like it was the most worthwhile thing I have done, hopefully because I helped others, but also because of how much I learned and grew. My entire perspective and understanding of people changed.

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Mel

I had no idea the schedule was so structured and full! It makes sense now that I see it written out, but wow, that's definitely a full-time job. Also, I think it's amazing that you gave 18 months of service to your church.

Thanks for sharing!

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Hormell's

Sarah, I really enjoy that you share these True Story interviews from literally every walk of life! I learn so much from them and it's really awesome to have my religious beliefs talked about in a positive way, since we all know that Mormons have often earned a bad reputation in society. Thank you!

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Maria

It is an interesting perspective to gain and I always considered Mormons very interesting people due to the way they seem to live their faith in everyday life. However, I really don't appreciate people knocking on my door, invading my personal space, to preach their believes (that actually counts for any kind of door-to-door sellers or telemarketers). I try to be polite and respectful when I close my door but I wish there was a way to let people know I am just not interested so please don't bother me!

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Megan

Maria, I know that we do try to be respectful and considerate. It is absolutely fine to state your disinterest, or even to choose not to answer your door.

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Little redhead

Interesting interview! There are no Mormons in Belgium (as far as I know) so I know very little about it. We do have Jehova's witnesses, who occasionally come to our door. I always just take the pamphlet and thank them for it. I wouldn't really know what to talk about, as I know it wouldn't be for me. It's fascinating how many different religions and how many branches of Christianity there are in the States. So many options for people to explore and find the one that fits with their beliefs. We don't really have that, it's mainly Catholics, Protestants and some Muslims here, although most people are atheists or question mark ! I'm not an atheist, but I haven't really found any religion that I can truly connect with.

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Hormell's

There are definitely Mormons in Belgium, but the Mormon population there is probably really small! You'll run into one someday and remember this story 🙂

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Jamie

I'm Gnostic, and while we are encouraged to talk about our belief system if we so choose, it is never encouraged to do so in an unorganic manner (like knocking on someone's door and invading their space). If I'm chatting with someone and they ask "Do you go to church?" (as they often do here in the South), I often explain I'm Gnostic and what that means.

I have had both Mormons and JW's knock on my door and start a spiel. Not only do I NOT appreciate it, I'm also annoyed they've clearly ignored the Norse protection symbol painted over my door, a clear sign that we are of another faith.

Oftentimes they don't let you say anything until they've finished their spiel and while I appreciate the dedication it must take, I feel both Mormons and JW's would be better served to approach people in a less aggressive manner.

If I want to learn about Mormonism, I'll ask someone or do my own research. People need to stay off my doorstep and learn not to bother me, particularly as I've clearly told them already that we practice Paganism and Gnosticism and have no interest whatsoever in converting.

I cannot tell you how many times a Mormon or JW ignores this and starts preaching about "the true way" or "the correct way".

I do not diminish your faith by claiming its wrong, so why, exactly, do you feel you have the right to do it to mine?

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Megan

I think your approach to sharing your beliefs is actually the best way: just being open about what you believe, and answering questions. We serve missions knowing that not everyone has neighbors or friends who are members to talk to about the church, and hope to give everyone the chance.

While "No Solicitors" signs are pretty obvious, I'm afraid most missionaries would be pretty clueless about the Norse symbol you mentioned.

I'm sorry you've had such negative experience with the missionaries. One new approach we have taken is to provide answers and even anonymous chat on mormon.org. I think it's been well received as a way for people to do research (from the source!) while retaining their privacy.

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Anonymous

In regards to proselytizing…If the LDS church didn't require 10% income tithing in order to be temple worthy member, then I don't think I'd have as much of an issue with the zealous missionizing. However, the extensive training at the missionary training center and self-funded missions that are, at least in part, in pursuit of an increase in its 10% income-paying new membership just leave me with an uncomfortable impression of it all. If you're asking for people to join your beliefs and never pay a dime, then I have an easier time with it ethically. However, with that 10% income business, it moves into a gray area.

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Megan

It is true that one of the requirements to enter the temple is to be a full-tithe payer. I just wanted to mention that a great many Christian churches teach the principle of tithing, and it is based on Bible teaching; it isn't unique to Mormons.

With that being said, LDS tithes do not pay for clergy. Our bishops and other leaders are unpaid, and have regular careers and families, but serve with their time. The funds merely go towards meetinghouses, temples, missionary work, building maintenance, etc. All of our meetinghouses and temples are paid for before they are built, and tithing and fast offerings also go towards families and individuals in need within each congregation.

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Anonymous

I realize that tithing is a part of Christian churches also. However, I don't think that the tithing is as expected in most Christian churches as it is in the LDS church. While it is true that LDS bishops and some other leaders are unpaid (similar in that regard to Catholic priests, monks, nuns, etc.), there are many leaders in the LDS Church who are paid, like the higher authorities. So, I think mentioning that point without also noting that there are paid leaders is a bit misleading. Also, are you aware that the LDS Church has funded a multi-billion dollar shopping mall in Utah? Also, ss a returned missionary, how do you feel about the concept of "milk before meat" teachings? Did you use that approach yourself (glossing over the gritty details of the faith in lieu of a more "faith-promoting" initial approach)?

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Anonymous

I have always found the LDS church to be interesting and loved getting a glimpse into the day-to-day of the missionaries. While I agree with many of the responders (I also don't like getting bothered at home), I have found the LDS-ers to be extremely polite and friendly (I live in Cleveland and I see them A LOT). Working in a public library, I see them often come in to use the computers to email and never proselytize to the workers or the public. All of the Morman missionaries I have encountered (home or at work, and it's been a lot) have always been respectful, and I appreciate that.

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