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New idea for Mormon missionaries: Fill time with service

First Published      Last Updated Jan 13 2014 05:04 pm

Lowering the age for Mormon missionaries to 18 (from 19) for young men and to 19 (from 21) for young women swelled the ranks of full-time LDS proselytizers from 58,500 to more than 82,000 in just a year.

The problem, though, is how to keep these zealous young Mormons busy.

"We have too many missionaries to do anything constructive with them under the standard program. It is a crisis and church leaders know it," Jonathan Stapley, a Mormon in Seattle, wrote in October 2013. "It has sucked up the budget and everyone is trying to figure out what to do. It is the biggest logistical, budgetary and perhaps spiritual problem we have right now, and all the general leaders are talking about it because they want to find a solution."

Now John Fowles at bycommonconsent believes he has an answer: Have missionaries link up with local charities during the day, then do teaching and meetings from 5 to 8 p.m.

Use missionaries to beef up the "fourth mission of the church — caring for the poor and needy," Fowles writes. "Companionships in missions worldwide [could be] placed with locally strong and established charities as permanent volunteer workers."

For this full-time charitable service, he writes, both men and women would "wear a uniform consisting of a clean and tidy polo shirt with the LDS Church logo on it and khaki shorts or trousers."

Come evening, they then would don the typical white shirt and tie for men and dresses/skirts with their mission name tags, Fowles writes, "to make full use of the traditional prime [proselytizing] time' to find and teach investigators the gospel using 'Preach My Gospel 'and other traditional methods of missionary work."

The Utah lawyer acknowledges some flexibility would be needed in such a system, but argues that focusing on charity work would make better use of the young missionaries' time as well as improve the Utah-based faith's image.

Right now, Mormon missionaries are expected to provide four hours a week of charitable service.

One commenter, Gina, sees multiple benefits in Fowles' approach, including "missionaries having genuine reasons to feel great about the time they spend on their missions regardless of who does or does not accept the gospel; being able to include missionary service on a résumé in a positive way that doesn't make everyone squirm and wonder about legal issues; the world at large slowly starting to see a Mormon missionary and think positive things instead of locking their doors and drawing the blinds; people thinking about the church in general as the church that sends out all those remarkable, clean, wonderful young people to improve communities around the world; networking with people worldwide who run and serve in the organizations that help the poor, who certainly are among the most wonderful and inspiring people anywhere and who will enrich the lives of missionaries and the church everywhere."

Besides those advantages, Gina writes, "I think the effect on teaching opportunities would be incredible."

Peggy Fletcher Stack