Category Archives: Missionary work

Changes in missionary age: a brief observation

Like most wards here in North America, we’re seeing more of our young men and women leaving on missions; I help my wife lay out the weekly sacrament bulletin, and the list of missionaries serving keeps growing longer.

Beyond that, though, I’ve noticed an increased seriousness and maturity among our priest-age young men, especially those in their senior year of high school. We’ve been in this ward for eight years now, so I’ve watched most of these young men grow up, and I can see those changes as the weight of their mission calls — impeding or actual — settles on them.

It will be very interesting to see the long term impact of this change. I think it will be significant and very positive. ..bruce..

Mormons, Vietnam, Romney and the Draft, revisited

Five years ago, the Boston Globe ran an article suggesting collusion between the LDS Church and the US Selective Services regarding deferments for missionaries in general, and Mitt Romney in particular. The simple truth was, yes, young men could get a ministerial deferment (one of many different deferments available) for the duration of their mission, but the deferment vanished as soon as the mission ended — and the mission was fixed in duration. I should know: my own draft number was 4, and the only reason I didn’t end up enlisting in the US Navy was that the draft was suspended before I returned home from my mission.

More significant, though, is that during an era in which anti-war protests were common on many college campuses, they were almost non-existent at Brigham Young University. What’s more, BYU had large, active Army and Air Force ROTC programs all through the war, even though many other colleges and universities were criticizing, curtailing, or even shutting down their own ROTC programs.

Well, the issue has come up again, triggered in part by Ann Romney’s appearance on The View, where Whoopi Goldberg inexplicably thought that Mormons weren’t allowed to fight. (Seriously? Did someone feed her this question, or did she come up with it on her own?) But that brought up the fact that Mitt Romney didn’t serve in the military and has resurrected the same themes of collusion and draft dodging. I made the statement in my post five years ago that Latter-day Saints if anything were probably over-represented in the US military during the Vietnam War; now I have evidence of that.

Let’s look at the figures. During the period of the Vietnam War — say, 1965-1974 — the total US population was around 200 million. During that same period of time, LDS Church membership grew from roughly 2.4 million to 3.4 million. That membership is men, women, and children of all ages, both inside and outside of the United States. I have not yet been able to find the actual United States LDS membership for that period, but I will assume that it was on the order of 75% of the total LDS membership, or about 2 to 2.5 million — just a bit over 1% of the US population.

Furthermore, probably only about 50% (if that much) of that membership within the United States represented actively practicing and attending members. So the ratio of active LDS members living in the US to the US population at large during that period was probably on the order of 0.5%, perhaps less.

So, how many self-identified Mormons were killed in Vietnam? 589 out of 58,193, or just over 1% of all US military deaths. In other words, Mormons were at least proportionately represented by population among US military deaths in Vietnam and were likely over-represented. 

How many Mormons served in uniform for the US military in Vietnam? Assuming they died at the same rate as everyone else, it would be about 27,000 (1% of 2.7 million).

So, yes, Mormons did fight — and die –in Vietnam in numbers at least proportional to their percentage of the US population and likely higher.

As for Mitt Romney, my understanding was that he had a ministerial deferment for his mission and one or more student deferments (which didn’t end until 1971) while attending college. Millions of other students had legitimate student deferments, too, usually in multiples (since you had to reaffirm each year that you were still enrolled in college) — that wasn’t draft dodging, that was the norm, and it actually increased college enrollment during the period in question. ..bruce..


Archuleta announces plans to serve mission

Here’s the story (in the Hollywood Reporter, no less):

Slightly overwhelmed with emotion and fighting back tears, Archie, as he’s affectionately known, explained to an audience of over 2,000 at Abravanel Hall why he felt a two-year mission was his calling at this juncture in his life. “It’s not because someone told me I was supposed to do it and not because I no longer want to do music anymore,” he said. “It’s because it’s what I feel I need to do next in my life. It’s the same feeling that I’ve always tried to follow in my life — the feeling that’s allowed me to have the opportunities I’ve had, the challenges and the blessings, too. And I’ve learned to trust that feeling and answer when it calls. That’s the reason why I know I have to do this in my life. ”

Good for him, all the more so because there is no guarantee he’ll have much of a music career waiting for him when he returns. (Yes, there are those who will argue he doesn’t have much of one now, but, hey, he is on tour, isn’t he?) Plus, it’s hard to think of a better innoculation against the unrealities and distortions of the showbiz industry than two years of hearing about the real problems of ordinary people.

30 LDS missionaries deported from Guyana [updated]

Please turn to hymn number, uh...

UPDATED [09/03/09 — 2150 MDT]

There are now indications that the expulsion of LDS missionaries from Guyana may have been due to political and/or religious reasons, rather than visa problems as originally reported:

GEORGETOWN, Guyana – Authorities in Guyana grew “uncomfortable” with the presence of Mormon missionaries who have been ordered to leave the South American country, a governing party leader said Thursday.

About 40 missionaries were briefly detained Wednesday and told to leave within a month as authorities said their travel documents were out of date.

Comments by Donald Ramotar of the governing People’s Progressive Party, however, suggested the crackdown went beyond immigration issues.

“While we tolerate all religions, it appears that some officials had become uncomfortable with them around,” said Ramotar, the party’s general secretary.

Ramotar declined to elaborate. But some government officials and party members said privately that leaders felt the Mormons were too close to opposition figures and also were wary of the church’s independent charity work in the interior.

Hey! It’s the Extermination Order all over again! Cool! I still want to find out if the missionaries really sang “We Shall Overcome” while in jail.


Via KSL News:

At least 30 Latter-day Saint missionaries were detained Wednesday in the South American country of Guyana because they did not have updated travel documents, police said.

Most of them are U.S. citizens and will be given one month to leave before they are deported, Police Chief Henry Greene said. He declined further comment.

The missionaries were expected to be released late Wednesday to prepare for their departure, acting U.S. ambassador Karen Williams said.

Sounds like more visa problems. But here’s my favorite part:

It was unclear what prompted the arrests. No incidents involving the missionaries were reported prior to their detainment. They could be heard singing “We Shall Overcome” from their cells Wednesday night.

OK, what LDS missionary knows the words and tune to “We Shall Overcome”? I suspect what they were heard singing was “Come, Come Ye Saints”.

Then again, I could be wrong — all it would take is one of the missionaries, and s/he could teach it to the rest. We’re nothing if not quick studies on hymns, given how many times in Sacrament meeting we are confronted with a hymn that we would swear we have never heard nor sung before. And, of course, the missionaries would all think it was hilarious (just as I’m sure they’re amused about spending the night in jail — even in Guyana — and possibly being deported).

I do think all LDS missionaries (and members) should learn how to sing “We Shall Overcome“.  It would make a great closing hymn for Sacrament meeting. 🙂 ..bruce..

A sticky wicket: the Church and illegal immigration

From the Salt Lake Tribune comes this, well, awkward article for the Church:

The arrest of an undocumented immigrant returning last week from his LDS mission has sparked discussion at the highest levels of the church about how to limit such exposure in the future.

“With the known realization that those risks exist, then we want to do better, or at least learn more,” LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, said Friday during an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune . “We want to be more precise, if we can, about how to help, how to make [a mission] the calmest, most spiritually rewarding experience for everybody.”

Early last week, a missionary was detained at the Cincinnati airport for “lacking necessary documentation to board his flight home,” according to Michael Purdy, LDS Church spokesman.

That triggered fears in the undocumented LDS community in Utah, and already prompted a change in how one Utah missionary returned home. The young man, a Salt Lake Valley resident, completed a mission in Oklahoma and was scheduled to return home two days after church leaders heard of the unrelated arrest in Ohio. The mission president contacted local Utah church leaders, and it was decided the missionary’s uncle would drive out to Oklahoma to bring the missionary home, which he did.

The travel department of the church has to rethink everything. Things have changed, and they need a whole new policy,” said a local church official who was aware of the situation. “With ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] hitting them at the bus terminals and airports, this opens a whole new discussion. I don’t know how many undocumented immigrants we have serving missions, but I’m sure this is going to repeat itself.”

The subject of the Church and proper immigration documentation comes up on a regular basis, given that the Church has missionaries in roughly 150 countries. But this is here in the United States, and it involves calling young men and women who are here in the US illegally to serve missions.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for this practice. My own mission (Central America Mission, 1974-74) covered four countries — Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama — plus the Canal Zone, then US territory under lease from Panama. (We couldn’t actually proselyte within the Canal Zone itself, though we could teach Zonians who were referred by members, etc.). If I had been found without the proper visa at any time in any of those countries (outside of a few days’ slack when leaving), I would have at best been deported or escorted to the border. At worst, I would have been thrown into jail or prison — and believe me, you wouldn’t have wanted to spend time in any Central American jail or prison in the early 70s.

The varying laws in those countries limited how long missionaries could stay in a given country. For example, in Panama, my visa was only good for three months. So at the end of three months, I had to take an all-day bus ride from Panama City to the Panama-Costa Rica border, get a short-term visa to enter Costa Rica, walk across the border, spend the night in Costa Rica, get a new Panamanian visa in the morning, walk back into Panama, and then take an all-day bus ride back to Panama City. In at least some (and I believe all) of the countries, you had to show an outbound airline ticket before you were allowed to enter the country. And in Nicaragua, before you could leave the country you had to go to a police station and get what was called a paz y salvo — a document that showed you still had a valid visa and weren’t currently wanted for any crimes or lawsuits.

I know that all this juggling was a headache for the mission president. In addition to all the various visa length restrictions (3 to 6 months), some countries had restrictions on who they would let in. Honduras wouldn’t allow any missionaries from El Salvador because the two countries were still technically at a state of war with each other over a soccer game. (No, really.) Panama would only allow missionaries from the US; Panama was far and away the richest country in Central American, and they didn’t want missionaries from nearby countries to stay behind when their visas expired and, well, immigrate illegally.

Still, our mission presidents (Pres. Hunsaker, followed by Pres. Eager) worked carefully to stay within those laws and to act quickly when a problem arose . I spent the last three months of my mission in the mission office, during the transition between presidents, so I was fully aware of all the immigration problems and issues, and the efforts to deal with them.

Back to present day and circumstances: I think the Church is creating a difficult legal situation for itself by continuing to call illegal immigrants to serve missions within the US. This is far more than a problem with a missionary having a lapsed or perhaps questionable (e.g., student) visa; this involves young men and women who are here in the US illegally from the get-go and who are subject to arrest or detention (and possible deportation) at any time.

Thoughts?  ..bruce..

I’m in trouble now

My sweet wife Sandra has figured out how to post videos on YouTube.

Here’s her first effort. She works part-time at Curves (a women-only fitness center), and her employer was closing down one Curves center and moving all the equipment to another. My wife got several of the local missionaries to help move the equipment. Afterwards, Sandra’s boss made the missionaries do a full circuit on the workout equipment. They found it was a lot harder than they thought:

This was done using her cell phone, hence the jerky quality. ..bruce..

Missionaries find Bigfoot footprints!

I’m sure the mission president was thrilled when he read this newspaper article about two LDS missionaries finding possible “Bigfoot footprints” outside their house:

Two missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints received a scare on the night of Dec. 2 when they saw what they think was a set of sasquatch footprints outside of their Burns Lake home.

Tyler Beck and Brad Blazzard are in B.C. for two years, rotating in different communities throughout the Smithers and Burns Lake area for the past seven months.

“The first thing we thought was that someone was playing a trick on us,” Beck said.”But we don’t know anyone our age who would do that and our house in on the southside, so pretty much in the middle of nowhere.”

The footprints, which Beck said was about 20 inches long is right in front of Beck’s porch, leading to the path where the pair keep their wood shed.

Beck said prior to finding the footprint at 9:30 p.m. on the night of Dec. 2, he didn’t really believe in the possibility of bigfoot.

“I still don’t know what to think,” he said. “I have heard some pretty ridiculous things about bigfoot but now I am leaning toward the edge of thinking it may be possible.”

It’s not clear how then ended up talking to the local newspaper about this, but I’m not sure they helped their missionary efforts much by doing so.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite Calvin Grondahl cartoons. It shows two Nephites up on a wall; staring back at them is a one-eyed giant with pointy ears. One Nephite says to the other, “You realize of course, that if you mention the Cyclops in the gold plates, it’s going to create an enormous credibility problem.” Heh. ..bruce..

The best mission preparation I ever recevied

I joined the Church in 1967, at age 14, thanks to being introduced by my then-best-friend, Andrew Bos. No one else in my family joined, but they were all supportive of my Church membership and activities. After graduating from high school in 1971, I went to BYU for a year, then came home and submitted my papers to go on a mission (for which my non-LDS parents paid full financial support, btw).

When my mission call came — to the Central America mission — I found out that I’d be reporting to the Mission Home in Salt Lake City in early September. A close friend from my ward, Doug, was due to report on the same day, so we made plans to fly up to Salt Lake City together the day before we had to report, spend the night at his brother Tom’s apartment, then report the next day.

Tom was two years older than Doug and me. Tom had always been the tall, smart-mouthed tough guy among the ward’s teenagers, the one who was always willing to mouth off to the adult leaders; those of us who were younger than him tended to view him with a mixture of fear, admiration, and awe. I think the adults in the ward were both pleased and not a little surprised when Tom filed papers and left on his mission. He had just finished his mission and had headed up to BYU; his roommate was one of his former missionary companions.

That evening in Provo at their apartment, Tom and his roommate showed Doug and me slides from their mission, many of which involved them doing things that they weren’t supposed to be doing — traveling out of their area, going to the beach, hanging out with girls, and so on. All through the slides, they joked about the things they got away with and the few that they didn’t. They made the mission seem like one big lark; they said little if anything about people taught, lives changed, or their own spiritual experiences.

When they finished the slide show, Doug and I left to go our separate ways and each see a few friends before coming back and crashing for the night. Tom followed us outside and stopped us by the side of his apartment building. Without any tee up or explanation, he simply looked at us and said, “If you want to be happy when you come back from your mission, work hard and obey the rules.” He then turned and went back into his apartment.

It was a rather stunning contrast to the joking and boasting that had been going on just a few minutes earlier. It was also clear that Tom had some real regrets about how he had spent his mission. I had spent years hearing adult leaders talk about missionary service and how to prepare for a full-time mission, but Tom’s single sentence carried more impact that anything else I had heard.

It served me in good stead, too. After spending five days at the Mission Home in Salt Lake and eight weeks at the Language Training Mission in Provo, I arrived in Central America in November 1972. The mission covered four countries — Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama — plus the Panama Canal Zone, which was US Territory at that time. There were no stakes or wards in the mission — only half a dozen or so districts (I can mentally count five, but there may have been one more) and two dozen or so branches — so the mission president (Quinten Hunsaker) was the presiding Church authority over all four countries.

With poor communications between countries (phone service was expensive and unreliable), and the main transportation between countries being air travel, Pres. Hunsaker visited each country only once every six weeks. Most zones covered part or all of a given country, and missionary companionships often lived and worked hours or even a full day’s bus ride away from any other missionaries. This led to many of the missionary problems that Pres. Hunsaker found upon arriving in the mission in mid-1971. He found zones where the zone leaders were changing companionships and area assignments; he found areas, such as the San Blas Islands, where missionaries were treating their assignment pretty much as a vacation; he found rather lax adherence to mission rules in almost all corners of the mission. He spent much of his three years as mission president cleaning up these problems.

My fourth or so senior companion, upon receiving me as a junior companion, asked me right off the bat, “So, are you fun or are you pious?” I quickly discovered that meant, “Are you here to have a good time or are you going to insist on doing missionary work?” That summed up the viewpoint of a large chunk of the full-time missionaries (including a few more of my senior companions) when I arrived in Central America. I opted for “pious”, remembering Tom’s words. I caught some grief for it — but for the most part I didn’t care.

And the day I left Costa Rica to fly back to the United States — though I felt that I had just then finally understood how to do missionary work and should actually be starting over — I nevertheless went home happy, with no regrets or misgivings. I had done my best to work hard and obey the rules.

Tom was right.  ..bruce..