What Do "Mormon Missionaries" Do?

I have a good friend who’s a Mormon. One of the REASONS we’re good friends is that we’ve cheerfully agreed to disagree about religion and simply don’t discuss it.

Anyway, last night she mentioned she’d be away for a year, as she and her family were off on a “mission.” She didn’t know where she’d be going yet—I suggested Venice or the South of France, and she promised to look into it.

I didn’t want to ask her—but what do these “missions” consist of doing? If it’s helping out in hospitals or shelters, then bully for her. But if it’s harrassing innocent people and browbeating them into becoming Mormons . . . Well, I’m glad I didn’t bring this up with her last night.

I lived in Utah for 3 years and knew a lot of Mormons, and learned quite a bit about the church. I can pretty much guarantee that your Mormon friend’s mission is to proselytize and convert. That’s what Mormons do.

Apparently. Sitting drunk on my stoop, I had my fair share of encounters with Mormon missionaries. I must hand it to them, my state of inebriation, and strategy of speaking to them in a language they had no clue over, did not deter.

“I can pretty much guarantee that your Mormon friend’s mission is to proselytize and convert.”

WELL. At least she has the common courtesy and good sense not to try and pull that on ME. I’d send her away with the world’s biggest flea in her ear.


I shared an office with a Mormon for years in upstate New York, went to the Mormon dances, was Best Man at a Mormon wedding. THEN I moved out to Salt Lake City for four years. So I got a pretty good course in Mormon culture.

Mormon missionaries do indeed proselytize. They are not excessively pushy about it, and are well-mannered and clean (Mormons are squeaky clean). They do not generally proselytize outside their missions (I only had one Mormon friend try to convert me, gently, and she backed off when I showed her I wasn’t interested). Mormons are polite above all.

I have to admire the missionaries – every Mormon boy (and quite a few girls) look forward to this. THEY PAY THEIR OWN WAY. They keep banks on their dressers into which they put spare change as kids to save up for their mission.

Before the mission they may go off to the Language Institute to learn a foreign language. (My office mate’s mission was in Southern California – I’d love to see the language lessons he got.)They then get shipped off for eighteen months. I don’t think they get a choice where they get to go – it’s like the Army.

Time spent on missions is directed pretty much at spreading the word. They get a day a week for cleaning up and personal business (“P-day”), but one’s mission is not supposed to be looked at as a vacation or an opportunity for sightseeing.

One of the more interesting sights in SLC was the Missionary Store in Crossroads Plaza in downtown SLC. I’ve never seen a store like it – even in Utah. It sells stuff for the aspiring missionary, or things you can buy and send to your son/daughter/boyfriend/girlfriend missionary – cards, triple testaments, etc.
Year and a Half missions strain relationships (lots of “Dear John” letters, I understand). Missionaries make jokes about foreign food, or about how you can tell the newly arrived missionaries from the states because they have so much extra weight. Returning missionaries tend to be thin.

Since you lose 1.5-2 years on the mission, the college age statistics in Utah are skewed upwards. I taught at the University of Utah, and had a LOT more students in their twenties than I had teaching back East.


I once came across a couple of mormons trying to peddle their faith in the street, and started discussing their religion and its history with them. In the end they, very politely, asked me to leave.

I have two American LDS missionaries come to visit me in my home for the purpose of proselytising. As other posters have mentioned, they were very polite, made it clear they would not push if they were not welcome, and sat for an hour or so explaining their beliefs to me. They also gave me a copy of their “third testament” free of charge, which I read.

I have no complaints whatever about their behaviour or attitude, although I’m sorry to say I found it hard to take their book seriously.

They were living in the apartment downstairs from me, and they told me they stay in one place for 6 months before moving on. Overall I think the mission lasts two years.

I did not serve a mission myself, but I know lots of people who have, so I’ll pass on a little of that info.

Yes, they pay for it themselves, and it lasts about 2 years

Yes, they spend a great deal of their time proscletyzing (sp?), but the trend now is to do it off referrals from members rather than door-to-door. That doesn’t mean they never go through neighborhoods knocking, but I think some personal safety issues have arrisen in the not too distant past that has cut that down considerably.

Once they have completed their training in the MTC in SLC(training for foreign speaking missions takes additional time), they go to an assigned area (they do not get to choose) and are attached to a stake/ward/branch (terms for groups of members that meet together – depending on how many members there are). Their assigned area may change many times during the course of their mission. Many times they may be asked to help members in their local area or provide emergency service to the community. If a member in their area has a friend that is interested in knowing more about the church they will refer them to the missionaries to help teach them about LDS beliefs and doctrine.

A mission is basically 2 years of service to the church. Missionaries don’t get much free time and have little opportunity to practice whatever it is they would normally do for enjoyment (TV, music, reading secular material, etc.). The last time I moved we tried to do it ourselves (big mistake) and when I called the Bishop of the ward we moved into he sent the Missionaries out to help us get our stuff situated … it was very helpful. Ward members often sign up to feed them dinner on a specific night (we have a calendar that gets passed around every month) because we know they are making do on their own funds and it gives us an opportunity to provide a service for them.

They live a spartan lifestyle where practically their entire time is spent in scripture study, teaching, and service to the church and it’s members. It can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Although I know of a few stories of unsuccessful missions where the kid just couldn’t take it or did something stupid and was sent home, the majority of return missionaries that I know say they reaped immeasurable benefits from those years of service.

FWIW, they are not interested in teaching those who do not want to learn, and if you tell them to go away, they will. They are not there to sell you a Book of Mormon, but they will give you one if you would like to read it. If you need help (i.e. you’re water pipes just burst in your basement or you are digging up a new garden plot) they will roll up their sleeves and assist you.

Disclaimer: I am not an authority on LDS Missions, I just gave you the best answer I could to the OP. If I left anything important out, there are other LDS members on the SDMB who could probably answer better.:slight_smile:

Great thread with lots of good information and I realize that I’m getting a little off track but can someone explain to me how these foreign language schools work? How long does someone attend a school to do missionary work in say Japan or China? To speak fluently, paritcularly on a topic as intricate as religion, would seem to require a fairly detailed knowledge and understanding of the language. I would expect they would have to study a language for years before they would be fluent enough to be able to communicate with people who presumably have little or no understanding of English. Am I missing something here?

An interesting side-note is that, in the 2000 census, the Morman missionaries caused Utah to miss out on getting an additional House of Representatives seat. When the population counts were totaled up, North Carolina just edged out Utah for the last up-for-grabs House seat. Utah has since filed suit contesting the count, claiming that 14,000 out-of-state missionaries–which would be enough to move Utah ahead of NC on the list–should have been included in their state count. However, traditionally only groups like overseas military have been included in the counts, so it seems unlikely Utah will prevail. (I like to think NC is getting its additional seat from Connecticut, which lost a seat, and also was nice enough to give us a hockey team a few years back).

My friend said her whole family—she, her husband and their kids—are going on this “mission,” and they don’t yet know where they’re going. Do they get to pick (“Ooo! Ooo! South of France!”) or is it chosen through a lottery (“Damn! Weehawken, New Jersey!”)?

I note again that I did not ask HER any of this, as I would have wound up yelling . . .


I never heard of families going on missions. Heck, I’ve never heard of married couples going. Your typical missionary is a young male circa 18-21. That’s the only kind I’ve seen. There are supposed to be female missionaries, too, but I’ve never seen one. The Mormons I’ve known say that they have no choice in where they end up going. As I noted above, it’s like being in the army – you toss your chit in the lottery and you go wherever they send you.

So they COULD end up in Weehawken (don’t put down New Jersey – I’m from central Jersey myself. It’s less than an hour commuting time from midtown Manhattan). Or Fiji (for some reasion I don’t understand, Mormons have had a LOT of success in the South Pacific). Or Novaya Zemlya. Maybe if they’ve been really bad they go to Afghanistan and try to convert the Taliban.

I lived in Salt Lake City for a year, so I can’t claim to be an expert. However, I did learn that if you have a “bad”
mission (e.g. you don’t convert enough people), you will be sent to a lower level of heaven when you die.
By the way, SLC is the capital of “Jack Mormons” - the ones that go to strip clubs then come home and kick the dog and beat the wife.
When the missionaries come to my door, I always ask if I can “go” first with my beliefs before they talk, sometimes they listen and other times they exit rapidly. Worth a try.

I’ve never heard of a whole family going on a mission for the LDS church. Retired couples often serve missions together (you wouldn’t see them on the street because they usually wind up doing administrative stuff overseeing the activities of the young missionaries in their area). Most missionaries are young men or women – the men outnumber the women but there are girls out there – 19-21 years of age.

I’m going to jump out and speculate here. Maybe her husband is filling a position in the church in another area of the world. Perhaps this is a church “job” and her use of the word mission is merely descriptive of what she perceives as their objective?

As to the learning of languages: I don’t think anyone spends more than 6 months in the Mission Training Center. The language studies are incredibly intensive. I have a friend who went to Hong Kong (Cantonese) and another who went to Japan. Both said that they had the basics of the language down but it took a couple of months living in that country before they really felt comfortable conversing with the locals.

FYI – Missionaries always come in pairs. One will be more experienced than the other. When a missionary gets to his first assigned area his companion will already have been in that country/area for about a year. This way at least one of them is comfortable with the language/culture and can help the other.

I encountered some female Mormon missionaries whose “assignment” was just a couple of blocks away from the tabernacle, at the family history library in SLC. A lot of non-Mormons (like myself) come there do do genealogical research, so I guess it’s a good mission field (for them). The missionaries are there to show you how to get started in their databases, but they are also there to talk to you about the LDS church. The one who worked with me was from the Ukraine, and she asked me a lot of leading questions about God’s Revelation, priesthood, etc. I have a lot of theological disagreements with the LDS church, and I tried to explain them, but I really wasn’t interested in getting into a huge argument with her. But she was persistent, and we had a little discussion and then she let me go.

Eve, it sounds like your friend and her family have been asked not merely to serve a mission but to serve as leaders for the missionaries in that mission. That’s the only circumstance that I know of where families with children are asked to serve. Older couples whose children are grown are frequently called, as are young, unmarried men (mostly) and women.

Most missionaries are called on proselyting missions, but not all. The church also sponsors health missions (you have to be a nurse or doctor, etc.) and education missions where these are needed.

In general the missionaries are not allowed to select which mission they serve in. One of the first questions asked when someone receives a mission call is “Where are you going?”

p.s. Most of what has been said in this thread is accurate but this particular item is not.

The standard length of stay in the Missionary Training Center (where newly called missionaries go for language training) is two weeks if you are going to an English-speaking mission and two or three months if you are going to a mission where you need to learn a language. The language training is intense, but as has been mentioned, it is by no means complete before you are transferred to your mission area.

One of the basic articles of faith of the LDS Church states, “We believe in the gift of tongues…”.

This is a load of crap perpetrated by petty people who don’t worry about their religion as much as their status in the community. Serving a mission is an honor and a priveledge that brings the missionary great blessings, both in this world and the next. There is no running tally of how many baptisms they get to do.

I have to agree that there are a lot of members in the SLC area that do not practice their religion well. I despise the term “Jack Mormon” because every religion (and society) has their reprobate class.

I do the same with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sometimes it sparks a pretty good discussion. At least I go from a “differing faith” standpoint, as opposed to Squid, who comes on as a devil-worshipper – that really makes them run fast.

Am I the only one who wanted to reply “the missionary position”?

Interesting thread; I don’t really have all that much to add, although I’ve had some experience with Mormon missionaries (not as much as some who have posted).

Of my Mormon cousins, all the male children have gone on a mission (except the youngest… he’s 18 and about to go). One went to Korea, (South) and the other went to Jamaica, I don’t recall where the eldest went. None of the female children went on missions, and I’ve never seen a female Mormon missionary, although I hear tell of them…

Also, a college friend of mine went on a mission to Staten Island… language training was required (Spanish, apparently).

They’ve always been very polite, and I have had two different pairs of them try to convert me. Once I was apparently suggested to them by a friend and they were definitely more insistent that time.

According to a native speaker of Korean who spoke with the cousin I mentioned above, either his command of the language was sufficient to make himself understood, but not fluent. I’m not sure how much time and effort is spent in the language training, but I also suspect Korean is a difficult language to learn.

I admire their dedication, even if I disagree with their ideas.