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For Mitt and other Mormons, missions are like a ‘refiner’s fire’

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The rules and regimen only intensify in the mission field.

A little white handbook instructs the missionaries never to leave their companion’s side (except in the bathroom), not to call home except for Christmas and Mother’s Day, and to refrain from secular music, books and other media. Dating — much less embracing — any member of the opposite sex in or near the mission field is grounds for dismissal.

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Instead the missionaries don their formal proselytizing clothes — the black name tags, dark suits and crisp white shirts — and spend six days a week reading Mormon scriptures, praying or pounding the pavement for converts. Some also lead congregations and organize fellow missionaries.

"It’s not like going on study-abroad program during college," said David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame who served an LDS mission in Illinois during the 1990s. "It’s more like the military."

It can also be dangerous. Brian Carter, an attorney in Harrisburg, Pa., who served his Mormon mission in Ecuador from 1996-1998, said he was mugged and twice caught in gang crossfire.

"Coming from suburban California," he said, "I had never seen any of that."

But Carter and other Mormons say the skills and discipline they acquired in the mission field continue to enrich their faith and their careers.

Ann Norman has used the French she picked up during a Paris mission from 1996-1997 in jobs with the United Nations and consulting for several African nations.

Norman said public relations and fundraising she now oversees at Norman Communications — an international firm with offices in Washington, New York, San Francisco and Sierra Leone — are a cinch compared to converting the French.

"You are essentially selling the church as a missionary," Norman said. "And in France that’s damn hard."

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Norman said her 12 convert baptisms could be a record for her mission field, a feat that she intends to mention the next time she sees her friend and fellow Paris missionary, Mitt Romney.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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