Who Do Mormon Missionaries Serve?

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Answered by: Matthew, An Expert in the Missions and Missionaries Category
You've probably seen them. They seem to be everywhere. Mormon missionaries--more precisely called missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hence the LDS acronym)--are located in more than 150 countries in over 340 geographical areas called "missions" worldwide. All told, more than 51,000 young men and women, and many retired couples, are "serving their missions" somewhere in the world today.

But what exactly does it mean to "serve a mission"? Who and what do Mormon missionaries serve? Last time you were served something, it might have been either dinner at a restaurant or a court-issued subpoena. Neither one of these connotations is accurate here. To "serve" a mission in the LDS culture is to travel to a different part of the world for a predetermined length of time and work according to instructions from Church leaders.

For young men that means two years; for young women, it's 18 months. And for older, retired couples, it can be anywhere from six months to three years. And it's all volunteer work, meaning no one is paid to do it. In fact, the vast majority of missionaries finance their own missions, or their families and close friends pitch in to foot the bill.

Mormon missionaries are expected to devote 100% of their time and energy to their calling. When a prospective missionary submits an application to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, he is stating his intent to consecrate (devote 100%) his time to the work he'll be engaged in. That work ranges from walking door-to-door finding interested persons to hear the teachings of the Church, to teaching English as a second language, to working in fields, factories, and pantries that provide clothing and food to the needy. In some parts of the world, where the Church has not formalized relations with the recognized government or open proselyting is prohibited, LDS missionaries may still be found in plainclothes, performing humanitarian work or teaching classes on sanitation, personal care and related topics.

Service to others is a keystone of the LDS religion. Most Americans have a favorable impression of the service-oriented nature of Mormons generally. In fact, when a natural disaster strikes, civic leaders have been quick to notice that the first to respond are members of the LDS faith. Mormon missionaries are routinely called to assist in the relief efforts. More than one appreciative governor or mayor of a disaster-stricken area has said something like, "We wish to thank two groups for their efforts here: the Mormons and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", not realizing they are one and the same.

To qualify for missionary service, an applicant must have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more than one year in good standing. There is no knowledge or skill test, but the applicant must be in sound mental and physical condition. The rigors of missionary life are not for the faint of heart, as Mormon missionaries serve many hours on foot, riding a bicycle, or otherwise physically laboring. New missionaries spend the first several weeks of their missions in one of more than a dozen Missionary Training Centers, where they learn a new language if applicable, teaching skills, and religious doctrine and history.

Mormon missionaries are called to serve. Maybe they have served you!

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