Friday, February 24, 2012

A Non-Mormon's Guide to the LDS Missionary Experience

Lately, I've been wondering if my Facebook posts make any sense at all to friends not of my faith. I put things out about the MTC and Braden, and it finally dawned on me that I might have friends asking themselves what exactly is an MTC? And what exactly does it mean when I talk about Braden's mission? I know his brother Traven has visions of Little Einsteins when I mention the word "mission"!

Where to start? Firstly, the church I belong to, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is known by other names, such as the term "Mormons" and the abbreviation "LDS". We will get into the origins of the term "Mormon" later on in my ramblings.

One of the stated purposes of the LDS faith is to proclaim the gospel. Of course, one way to do that is to send out missionaries. In my faith, those missionaries are primarily composed of 3 groups:
19 - 21 year old young men, known as "Elders".
21 - 23 year old young women, referred to as "Sisters".
Married couples, generally retired.

Of course, there are exceptions, such as widows and widowers, but by and large the missionary population breaks down into the above 3 groups. Young men are strongly encouraged to go on missions, so the majority of LDS missionaries fall into that grouping.

When a young man is old enough, he meets with his local church leaders and basically submits an application to be a missionary. This is often referred to as "turning in your papers". This paperwork is reviewed by the top level church leaders, and the young man then receives his "call", or assignment. In Braden's case, his assignment is to the Indiana, Indianapolis mission. Missions are basically geographic areas around the world. The call also states what day the missionary should report to the Missionary Training Center, often known as the MTC.

The MTC is basically what you would think. The missionaries attend classes to prepare them to serve as missionaries. If a missionary is going to serve in his native language, he is in the training center for about 3 weeks. Foreign speaking missionaries generally stay around 2 months to get intensive language training as well.

Missionary work is voluntary, and non paid. The church asks for a monthly donation for each missionary, which is used to pay for housing, transportation, etc. Missionaries spend their entire time teaching the gospel. They don't hold down jobs or do anything else. Young men serve for 2 years, while the young women serve for a year and a half.

Missionaries work in companionships of two. In my opinion, this is one of the many values of missionary service. The missionaries learn how to work and get along with others.

Many, many years ago, I served a mission in Porto Alegre, Brazil. It is an experience that really defines who I am and set me on the course for the rest of my life. I had companions that tested me and taught me patience. I had many spiritual experiences which cemented my faith in Jesus Christ. I left the comforts of home and learned about a whole new world. I still love the people of Brazil, and would love to go back someday. I spent two years worrying about and serving others, rather than myself.

As far as the term "Mormon", I'll toss out a very brief summary. Basically, one of the teachings of our faith is around a book titled "The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ". The term Mormon of course is in reference to the book. The book is an inspirational read, and if you haven't had the opportunity, grab a copy and have a look.

One thing I learned on my mission is the value in respecting others beliefs. I have found goodness in people of all faiths. I have some good friends scattered around various spots on the globe, with a wide variety of beliefs. I think most of us struggle with some common questions, such as why are we here, where did we come from, what waits for us after this life, etc. I guess what I hope is that each of us strives to bring out the best in ourselves and others, as we each seek answers to these questions.

Feel free to ask me any questions you might have about the missionary experience. I apologize for this blog, as it has been all over the map as my thoughts spill out to the keyboard. And if I post something that makes absolutely no sense to you, feel free to ask me about it!