A new policy regarding missionaries was announced by President Thomas S. Monson in the October 2012 semi-annual General Conference of the Mormon Church. The ages at which young men and women could become missionaries dropped from 19 to 18 for males, and from 21 to 19 for females. Men still serve for a period of two years, and women for 18 months. Male missionaries are called “elders” and female missionaries “sisters.”
When single LDS members desire to go a mission for the Church, they are interviewed by the Bishop and Stake president to determine their worthiness and financial ability to cover the cost of their mission. If the person is deemed a good candidate for missionary work, the individual “turns in their papers,” which are signed by the Bishop and Stake President and forwarded to Church Headquarters to be assigned a mission to serve in. Each large city, state, or country is divided into mission areas. For example, a missionary might be sent to the Las Vegas Nevada West Mission or the Guatemala City South Mission, or somewhere else in the world. LDS missionaries are not sent to countries in the 10-40 window.
Missionaries are on a budget. Under ideal circumstances they and their families have saved up enough money to send them on missions. The standard amount families are expected to contribute for each son or daughter in the mission field is $400 per month. This is essentially what are expected to live on. A missionary’s family supplies all the clothing, luggage, shoes, and personal care items their son or daughter needs for the duration of the mission. These items can be rather costly, running between fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars to outfit their child. All dental and medical issues need to be taken care of before leaving. In a case where the family is unable or unwilling to cover the cost of the mission, ward members usually pitch in to pay for mission expenses.
Missionaries only have one day off each week, called P-Day (Preparation Day). This is their “free” day to do laundry, write letters home, go shopping, and play a little basketball or some other activity. They are not allowed to go swimming while on their missions because according to LDS teachings, Satan has “power over the waters.”1 The missionaries are not allowed to listen to non-Mormon music. The only material they are officially allowed to read is that which is published by the Mormon Church. They are not supposed to go to movies or engage in any unauthorized (by the Church) activities. They are not allowed to call home except for twice a year; Christmas and Mother’s Day. Depending on their “Mission President” they may even be limited as to how long those two phone calls may last. Unless they have been invited to someone’s home for dinner (a sure way to make them your friends) they must eat each others’ cooking. That’s usually not a problem for the sister missionaries; however, for the elders it might be scary.
Missionaries are moved from one area of their mission to another about every three to four months. This is to keep them from getting too emotionally attached to ward or branch members, investigators, or new converts. It also keeps others from getting too attached to a particular missionary companion.
There is tremendous pressure for LDS males to go on missions. From the time they start Primary (the name of the children’s program, which includes youngsters aged three to eleven), boys are taught the importance of serving a mission for the Church. Primary songs about missionary work are taught to the children, like “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” and “Called to Serve.” Parents are encouraged to start a missionary fund for their sons when they are small, and suggest they have their sons set aside a portion of their allowances or other money for their future missions.
Young girls are taught the importance of marrying a “Returned Missionary” (one who has returned from faithfully serving a two-year mission), the rationale being that returned missionaries (a.k.a. “RMs”) make better husbands and fathers. Leaders refer to Church statistics which seem to indicate that boys who go on missions are more likely to get married in the Temple, and those with Temple marriages are more likely to remain active in the Church. Most LDS parents are anxious that their sons serve missions for this very purpose. It is also a source of parental pride to be able to say their sons have gone on missions. Occasionally, a young man might choose to go on a mission hoping to gain or strengthen their testimonies of Mormonism; however, this is not the norm, and it was more common in the past. The Church has tightened up its requirements for prospective missionaries in recent years.
Up until the 1990s, young women were strongly encouraged to get married rather than go on missions. There was great pressure on them to begin their families as soon as possible. If there were no marriage prospects for a woman by the time she was twenty-one, she could turn in mission papers. It used to be assumed by quite a few church members that if a woman went on a mission it was because she could not find someone who would marry her. Now, however, there is no stigma attached to young women choosing to serve missions before getting married.
Keep in mind that Mormon missionaries are young, isolated from family and friends, and completely dependent on the Church to meet their needs. The Mission President and his wife (an older couple “called” to be stewards over a mission area) become a missionary’s second father and mother. They provide authority, stability, and accountability for the elders and sisters under their care. The mission president’s goal is increase the number of convert baptisms within an area, while keeping the missionaries motivated to go out each day tracting (going door-to-door looking for people to teach the Mormon gospel to). He is very protective over the elders and sisters, and goes to great lengths to keep missionaries from people the Church would consider to be threats to a missionary’s testimony of the Church.
For example, missionaries are instructed not to argue over doctrine with “investigators.” Investigators are people who invite the missionaries over for discussions to learn more about Mormonism. So if you invited them in and began showing them from the Bible that Mormonism is wrong, they would call that “Bible bashing” and excuse themselves by saying they have another appointment to go to. If a person is perceived to be antagonistic toward Mormonism (and “antagonism” could be defined as asking too many hard questions, even if you are gentle and loving about it), missionaries are advised to avoid that house in the future.
How to Engage LDS Missionaries
If you are a Christian, It’s so important to be kind and loving in your approach with the missionaries. Don’t slam the door on them, or peek out the window and pretend to not be home, or ridicule their beliefs. Not only is this type of behavior unbecoming of a disciple of Christ, but it reinforces the missionary’s belief in Mormonism. Mormons are told over and over that persecution can be expected and that it’s another proof that the Church is true. Just strongly disagreeing with a Mormon can be misinterpreted as persecution. Remember, God loves them and sent His Son to redeem them if they turn to Him in repentance and faith. The Creator “knit them together in the wombs” of their mothers for His own purpose and pleasure, and we must be willing vessels of that love to flow through us to them.
You might be asking, “Is it possible to be loving and yet not compromise the truth?” Yes. Your tone of voice, body posture, words, and attitude should all reflect genuine concern for the soul of a lost person. These young men and women are victims of a false religious system which requires them to earn their salvation through works, in addition to faith. As covered on other parts of this website, the LDS gospel is not “Good News” at all. Mormonism teaches a gospel of works and membership in the Mormon Church in order to get to heaven (what Mormons would call the “Celestial Kingdom,” the highest degree of heaven they can attain). The Jesus of Mormonism is unable to provide complete salvation as Christians would understand it. LDS leaders have obfuscated the truth regarding the Church’s history and teachings, which have been whitewashed and changed over the years. Most of today’s LDS missionaries do not know what the core doctrines of Mormonism really are. They have been fed a much watered-down version of the Mormon gospel than what was taught in previous generations.
Christians have been given the mandate to share the gospel message with others. Pastor Greg Laurie, of Harvest Christian fellowship in Riverside, CA, said it this way;
Sometimes we have to stand up for what we believe when issues on the table are too important to have a passive, “Can’t-we-all-just-get-along” attitude, even following Jesus’ example; sometimes He reasoned, other times He turned over tables…To fully appreciate the Good News, you have to understand the bad news. The bad news is that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We’ve offended God! But God loved us so much, He sent His Son to die in our place and be slaughtered and tortured as He took the sin of the world upon Himself, and He rose again from the dead. He’s alive!
Don’t be afraid to tell people that they are sinners separated from God and that’s why they need Christ. You mean we might have to use the “H” word? The great evangelist D.L. Moody said, “No one should ever speak of hell without a tear in his eye.” We have a message to deliver and we need to deliver it. It’s not for us to edit it or update it or take away from it or add to it. It is for us to deliver it and let God do His work.
So Christian, don’t be afraid to share your testimony with the LDS missionary (or Jehovah’s Witness) on your doorstep. You don’t have to know all about Mormon doctrine and history. You don’t have to be well-versed in the Bible (although it is imperative to know what you believe and why). If you really care about the LDS people and where they will spend eternity if they reject the real Jesus, God incarnate, you would do well to become somewhat familiar with the terms Mormons use and their definitions, and then speak to them in a way they can understand.
For example, don’t just say, “I know when I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, He gave me salvation.” The reason is that salvation to a Mormon means something entirely different than what the Bible teaches. It would be better to say, “I know when I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior He gave me the fullness of salvation. I have the assurance that when I die I will live in His presence and in the presence of the Heavenly Father forever.”
Ask questions. Don’t hit them over the head with why they are wrong. Feel free to tell them your concerns or the things that trouble you about Mormonism, but do it in a respectful manner. Better to say, “It troubles me that there is no manuscript evidence for the Book of Mormon,” rather than “The Book of Mormon is a fraud.”
If you’re hesitant to talk with LDS missionaries, think of it this way; if your son or daughter joined the Mormon Church and became a missionary for the Mormon cause, would you want biblically literate Christians to share the truth with them? You bet you would. Ask God for the courage to be obedient in sharing His good news.
1. Doctrine & Covenants section 61 warns that there are many dangers upon the waters (vs 4), God cursed the waters in the Last days (vs 14), and that the destroyer (Satan) rides upon the waters (vs 19); hence the policy for missionaries to avoid swimming.