There was much to appreciate about James Picht’s article in the Washington Timesin June 2012 about missionary work in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a solid outline of what is expected of young people in order to take two years to complete what is often arduous and trying work.
I know, since I served a Mormon mission myself. My 25 months in the New Jersey Cherry Hill-turned-Pennsylvania Philadelphia Mission were certainly challenging, but as I told my spouse just yesterday, there is no doubt that some events that happened could not have been the results of a twenty-something (or younger) doing his best. That’s a comment that I feel apprehensive to attach with everyone who has ever served a mission, but I am grateful for my experiences. They have in fact become reference points in the two years I have since returned to help me know that God has certainly been on my side previously in life—and that this can continue to be so. I can understand what it’s like to feel the Lord’s hand in my life when I am “in tune.” This in contrast to when it may not be there as much as a result of my own choices.
Boys in active LDS families are encouraged to ‘go on a mission’ from the time they can talk. (Women serve as missionaries, but the expectation is less.) As three and four-year-olds, they sing songs in church like, “I hope they call me on a mission, when I have grown a foot or two.
It’s true: as described, I was raised with the expectation to “go on a mission” from an early age. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Yes, I sang the song mentioned in the article, saved money from the time I was a young child, and filled out the mandatory papers outlining my health, background, interest in speaking a foreign language and other information.
The arrival of the mission call is an event looked forward to by the entire family, the young man’s friends, his bishop and seminary teacher and other adults in his church family. The call might be to Alaska or France or Madagascar, any of hundreds of missions around the world, to serve in English or some other tongue.
I had the experience of anticipating my mission “call,” so much so that my family drove 80 miles north of our home, a commute north of Salt Lake City to Utah State University, so that they could open the call with me the very day that it arrived in the mail. My parents even arrived at their local post office around 6:30 a.m. so that they might get their hands on it as soon as possible.
How did they know how to arrive so early? In the tight-knit Latter-day Saint community where my family lives, the post office will personally call the family whose name is listed on the standard envelope.
Later on the same night that I received the call, I was able to further explore the contents of my Mormon missionary “call packet” describing the region where I would be proselytizing—the southern half of the Garden State—and learn about my mission president and his wife (who are responsible for overseeing the affairs of a mission, including dozens if not hundreds of young people) and further details about grooming expectations and the Missionary Training Center, in Provo, Utah. (There are 14 satellite centers in the world, but I was assigned to the largest due to the location of my call.) Though I had a girlfriend by my side at the time, I issue a bit of advice for those young men who are considering service and reading this post: there’s not a problem with reading your packet without a female clinging to your arm. It will probably spare you some emotional distress when you are actually proselytizing.
High-school-age LDS youth attend early morning religion classes (‘seminary’) before going to school. In four years of seminary they memorize hundreds of scripture passages, a process that began when they were children, but now a focused activity on the way to seminary graduation.
A clarification regarding the Times piece: while I admire those LDS students who participate in early morning seminary—an inspired program that will help a prospective missionary make remarkable spiritual strides if they allow it to—I can’t say that I was in a situation where I was faced with doing the same. Growing up in northern Utah, the LDS demographic was large enough for me to attend “released time” during the school day in my high school years. During release time, I attended seminary in a nearby building owned by the LDS Church. That has only increased my appreciation for the likes of high school basketball phenom Jabari Parker, who also attends early morning seminary in the Chicago area multiple times per week.
Life in the mission field itself is the subject for another day. Let this suffice to stress that the LDS missionary experience requires a tremendous amount of commitment, it consumes much of the imagination of Mormon boys (to say nothing of their savings), and it is a central rite of passage into full adult participation in the church.
It is certainly important to understand why missions are ultimately viewed as such a priority for members of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is because of our belief that anyone who engages in such service will in reality be ordained disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Master and Savior. It is a result of the conviction that He and our Father in Heaven appeared in the modern day to a 14-year-old boy named Joseph Smith to begin the restoration of the same gospel that Christ taught in His day and that has been revealed to the world since the days of Adam and Eve. That restitution and restoration process, as spoken by the great apostle Peter in Acts 3:19-21, involved the reestablishment of divine authority necessary for true prophets and other disciples of Christ to minister the Lord’s work in our day as it has in the past. The dedicated service of such young people (over 50,000 at any given time) is a great miracle, but is just one fruit of the larger “marvelous work and… wonder” of the Lord’s Church once again established on earth, as the prophet Isaiah foresaw (Isa. 29:14).
Rhett Wilkinson attends Utah State University, is a Capitol Hill intern and the co-founder and editor of Aggie BluePrint. He has previously been an intern for the Deseret News. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter: @wilklogan.
To raise children means to help them grow up to be an accepted and helpful member of the community. When Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) speak of raising an eternal family, they mean a family that has participated in eternal sealing ordinances and has continued to be faithful to Christ. Mormons believe that family relationships can last forever, not just for this mortal life. Family members who accept the atonement of Jesus Christ and follow His example can be together forever through sacred ordinances performed in Houses of God, His holy temples.
As recorded in the New Testament, Jesus gave Peter the power to have things sealed on earth and sealed in heaven (Matthew 16:19). This sealing power is only given to prophets who are the heads of their particular dispensations, as Peter was the head of the Church after the resurrection of Christ. This power was lost when the original apostles were martyred, but it has been restored in modern times by the resurrected Peter and by the translated being Elijah to Joseph Smith, the first prophet of this final dispensation before the coming of Christ. Mormons believe this is the sealing power that can bind families together forever.
In God’s restored church, marriage and families are believed to be the most important social unit now and in eternity. God wants us to do all we can now to prepare ourselves to live with our family forever. If we build our marriage and family around Christ’s principles, including faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome fun, home can be a place of refuge, peace, and immense joy.
We must not get discouraged. No matter how hard we try, our marriages and homes won’t be perfect. That’s part of the growth process we were sent to mortality to experience. God wants us to learn how to be patient and loving within the walls of our own homes, with the people we are closest to — this is where it is the most difficult, but also the most growth-producing. We become more like Christ by serving our own family members. In serving them, we become more like God.
Just as some of life’s greatest joys can come through family associations, the loss of a beloved family member can be the source of our deepest sorrow. Death does not need to be the end of our relationships with cherished loved ones. The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that the “same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there (in eternity), only it will be coupled with eternal glory (Doctrine and Covenants 130:2).
The creation of the earth provided a place where families could live. It was part of Heavenly Father’s plan that Adam and Eve be joined eternally with all their offspring. The atonement allows for the family to be together forever and provides a way for us to repent and become pure enough to enter God’s presence.
Early in the year 1994 my father, whom I loved dearly, discussed with me the things he wanted to later that year. But he collapsed and died from heart failure in October. Sadness filled my life and my Buddhist faith brought me no comfort. Mormon missionaries had just entered my life, and I believe they saved my life. The Book of Mormon was my only source of comfort, with its beautiful descriptions of resurrection and salvation. I would search its pages and ponder about life and my entire existence.
I have learned from my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints how to raise my children to love the Savior and to desire to serve Him. To learn how to pray and to teach my children to pray. To learn to study the scriptures as a family; to have Family Home Evening on Monday nights without distractions; to help the children focus on serving a mission and make temple covenants; to send them to college at schools where gospel standards are taught and revered.
In 1991 I went to the Salt Lake Temple to get my own endowment and to do temple work for my dad and a few ancestors. Once we have made our own Mormon temple covenants, we can gather our family history and perform temple ordinances for our deceased ancestors to seal them in love to ourselves.
I know that we are responsible for our own spiritual and temporal well-being. Blessed with the gift of free choice, what Mormons call “agency,” we have the privilege and duty to set our own course, solve our own problems, and strive to be more self-reliant. However, we do this privy to revelation and inspiration from God through the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.
I know that through the gospel of Jesus Christ and through keeping the commandments of God and the covenants we make with Him, we can each make our homes like heaven on earth, while we prepare ourselves and our children to return to Heavenly Father’s presence.
This article was written by Angela Yeoh, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.