Standing in front of a group of close friends and family members, Mormon-missionaries-to-be eagerly tear into a letter postmarked from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that will determine where they’ll serve for the next 18 months to two years.

As anticipation builds, they read each line with a meticulous nervousness. Finally, they reach the sentence that spells out where they’ll be sent.

Middle-earth? The Bermuda Triangle? A ‘Star Wars’ moon?

Pranking prospective Mormon missionaries on what’s often the biggest day of their lives to that point has become a mini internet phenomenon. Families have posted hundreds of these videos to YouTube, documenting the laughs (and sometimes tears), as well as the moment the real letter is brought forth and the missionaries learn their true calling.

‘Where on earth is that?’

A hastily taped return address on the envelope from the church nearly derailed the whole scheme — but luckily, Lynn Ray had an accomplice.

“Another missionary was there before the opening and said: ‘That’s exactly what my envelope looked like,’ Ray said. “I conned him into saying that.”

Ray’s son, James, was set to open his mission call letter on a Sunday afternoon in August. After seeing another missionary prank video online, Lynn got to the envelope Saturday night and decided to escalate a long-running prank war with his son.

He copied a relative’s letter and “photoshopped” it, put it in a new envelope, addressed it to James and even subbed in “Star Wars” director George Lucas’ signature for LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson’s.

Then he primed a few people who’d be gathered to see his son open the letter to go along with the hoax.

When he got his hands on it, James said he was skeptical of the sketchy, “slapped together” document, but church members assured him that their letters had looked similar.

He scanned down the letter in front of the group, reading carefully before tripping over his assignment: The Moon of Endor — home to the adorable Ewoks from “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi.”

“I just look at it and think, ‘Where on Earth is that?’ Then I start thinking, ‘That’s a planet in “Star Wars”,’” James said. “I’m a big ’Star Wars’ fan, and my dad knows that. I looked up at him and saw the biggest smile on his face and I just threw the paperwork at him jokingly.”

James’ actual calling is to Lisbon, Portugal. He’ll leave his home in Lake Elsinore, Calif., for the Missionary Training Center in Provo at the beginning of November, and head out Dec. 19.

James is itching to get started on his mission work and isn’t holding any ill will toward his dad or the others who were complicit in tricking him.

And he won’t be sparing his kids when it’s their turn to serve, either.

“I know I’ll do something similar,” James said.

(Courtesy | Lynn Ray.) Lynn Ray and his son James pose for a photo. Lynn pranked his son with a fake mission call letter in August 2017.

Sentenced to Middle-earth

Katrina Hughes said her youngest child, Lydia, was hoping to be called to a foreign country. She’d researched stamp prices so that she could glean clues from her envelope when it came — having read that higher postage prices meant a heavier mission-call envelope, potentially packed with the extra documents for an assignment overseas.

When her call arrived at the end of February, her older brothers Spencer and Jordan, both returned missionaries, took it as a chance to prank their little sister.

Katrina’s four kids are “The Lord of the Rings” fanatics — staging marathons in which they watch all of the movies in one day and play music from the films on cello, violin and piano together. So it was obvious to the brothers where their sister should be “sent.”

The brothers painstakingly copied a friend’s calling letter and envelope, spending an entire day on the fake.

“It has the same letterhead, same color, same font,” said Katrina Hughes, who wasn‘t in on the prank.

At the calling party that evening at the Hughes’ home in Highland — attended by about 50 people — Spencer picked up the real envelope and sneaked out of the room to swap it out it for the fake.

In the video, Lydia slits open the envelope with a letter opener. Her voice trembling with emotion, she reads: “You are assigned to labor in the Mordor, Mount Doom East Mission. It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of forever.”

The gathered crowd reacts with confusion and laughter. Katrina, sitting on the couch next to her daughter, leaps up to read over the letter herself.

“I jump up and I’m looking at it,” she said. “When it said ‘It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of forever,’ then Lydia goes: ‘This is real! This is real!’ ... [her] brain is not wrapping itself around that this could be a joke yet.”

“For a split second, she thought there truly was a Mordor Mount Doom mission,” Katrina Hughes said.

The rest of the prank letter is laced with maps of Middle-earth and references to locations and characters from the J.R.R. Tolkien canon.

After the initial frenzy, the brothers retrieved Lydia’s real calling, which sent her to serve in the Lansing, Mich., mission starting in June 2017.

Katrina and Lydia were upset initially. Katrina said the prank took away from the “whole spirit of the call” because the crowd was distracted when Lydia found out where she was actually going to serve.

“Everybody was just chatting and stuff by the time she opened that one. It put it on the back burner in a way,” Katrina said.

After the initial fallout from the Hughes brothers’ prank, Katrina said the “Lord of the Rings lovers” family now looks at it as unique.

“Overall, in the end, it’s a happy and fun thing to think upon and to remember,” Hughes said.

Before Lydia left for Michigan, she put the Mordor mission call right underneath the real call letter in her bedroom, marked as “the fake” with a winking smiley face drawn on the front.