From “Snail Mail“ to Email: Mission Calls Are Going Digital

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News associate editor

  • 5 September 2018

Excited family and friends react after 17-year-old Billy Elliott opens his online mission assignment to the Peru Chiclayo Mission. The Church is rolling out a new initiative where missionary candidates receive their call online rather than in the mail.

Article Highlights

  • Missionary candidates will receive their assignments online instead of in the mail.
  • The switch reduces wait time for receiving calls, obtaining visas, and reporting for training.

Opening a mission call—it’s a life-changing, deeply personal event for tens of thousands of young Latter-day Saint women and men (and senior couples and senior sisters) each year.

Traditionally, that eagerly anticipated assignment to full-time missionary service has arrived in the mail enclosed in a familiar white envelope.

No longer.

On September 5, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it is rolling out a new initiative in which missionary candidates receive their assignments online instead of in the mail. This process has been tested in various parts of the world for the past several months and will now be expanded to all of Utah and Idaho.

By the end of 2018, it is anticipated that nearly all missionaries around the world with reliable internet access will receive their calls online to serve in one of the Church’s 407 missions in more than 150 countries.

Through the process, almost all mission calls will be delivered through a secured website after the prospective missionary is notified by text or email that an assignment has been made. By simply logging into the website, a future elder or sister missionary will be able to open an online call letter to learn his or her mission assignment—along with other key details such as their mission language and where they will report for missionary training.

Before viewing the letter, missionaries will be notified that they are about to open their call letter and learn their assignment. This will give them the opportunity before opening the letter to gather together family and friends to participate in the experience.

“Technology is there, and it’s so easy to do,” said Elder Brent H. Nielson, Executive Director of the Missionary Department. “We just put it online and they can read it in a matter of minutes.”

The switch from “snail mail” to email was made to reduce wait time for future missionaries. That means no more anxiously watching for the mail truck to arrive and wondering if “today’s the day.”

“I think it’s going to be a wonderful change for us,” Elder Nielson said.

Bill and Liz Elliott stand with their son, Billy Elliott, on the day the 17-year-old received a call to serve a mission to Peru. The call to serve as a missionary came electronically rather than by mail.

Additionally, missionary candidates living in countries far from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City have had to wait over a month for the call to arrive through the mail. Now, a young man living in, say, Tokyo, will receive his mission call as quickly as a young woman living in Draper, Utah.

The new online call letter process will also allow missionaries to speed up possible visa applications and to often report earlier to their assigned missionary training center.

In recent years, the opening of a mission call has frequently become a popular social event. Family and friends squeeze into living rooms with smartphone cameras at the ready as a future missionary opens his or her assignment. Such gatherings can still occur—except web browsers will now be opened instead of envelopes.

And, of course, the digital mission call letter can be printed out for framing and scrapbooks.

The method of delivering mission calls may have been streamlined, but Church leaders emphasize that determining each individual mission assignment remains a sacred, deliberate process made only by members of the Church’s First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is rolling out an initiative in which missionary candidates receive their assignments online instead of in the mail. In Fruit Heights, Utah, 17-year-old Billy Elliott recently received his call to the Peru Chiclayo Mission.

The mission call process

The steps to receive a mission call also remain unchanged—allowing prospective missionaries to prayerfully prepare themselves and work closely with their local ecclesiastical leaders.

When a young man turns 18—or when a young women turns 19—he or she can begin the process that typically ends in an assignment to labor as a full-time missionary.

First, the prospective missionary meets with his or her bishop or branch president, who authorizes him or her to begin filling out the online recommendation form found under “Share the Gospel” at LDS.org. That form gathers detailed information about a future missionary’s background—along with results from standardized medical and dental examinations.

Then the local Church leaders review the recommendation form and conduct personal worthiness interviews. The local leaders submit confidential observations and impressions about the prospective missionary.

The recommendation form is then electronically submitted for initial review and assessment.

Then it’s time for an Apostle to make the missionary assignment.

In 2015, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, utilized Facebook to share a unique glimpse into the apostolic duty of determining where in the world a missionary will serve.

“I recently assigned missionaries, a sacred responsibility for which we always come fasting,” he wrote. “I assigned 240, my share of the 1,047 (which includes young missionaries, senior couples, and senior sisters) whose papers were ready for assignment last week.

“We are assisted in this sacred experience by a member of the missionary department staff, who keeps records and manages the computer screens on which we view the essential information on elders and sisters and the needs (including languages) of our more than 400 missions in the world.”

In a May 27, 2015, Facebook post, then-Elder Dallin H. Oaks works with Dwayne Saviano at a missionary assignment meeting.

Making missionary assignments remains one of the most essential duties for latter-day Apostles. Assignments are made every week, year-round, even during the holiday season and in the busy days leading up to general conference.

In his April 2010 general conference talk, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, then a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, spoke of witnessing the assigning of missionaries:

“With the encouragement and permission of President Henry B. Eyring, I would like to relate to you an experience, very special to me, which I had with him several years ago when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Each Apostle holds the keys of the kingdom and exercises them at the direction and assignment of the President of the Church. Elder Eyring was assigning missionaries to their fields of labor, and as part of my training, I was invited to observe.

“I joined Elder Eyring early one morning in a room where several large computer screens had been prepared for the session. There was also a staff member from the Missionary Department who had been assigned to assist us that day.

“First, we knelt together in prayer. I remember Elder Eyring using very sincere words, asking the Lord to bless him to know ‘perfectly’ where the missionaries should be assigned. The word ‘perfectly’ said much about the faith that Elder Eyring exhibited that day.

“As the process began, a picture of the missionary to be assigned would come up on one of the computer screens. As each picture appeared, to me it was as if the missionary were in the room with us. Elder Eyring would then greet the missionary with his kind and endearing voice: ‘Good morning, Elder Reier or Sister Yang. How are you today?’

“He told me that in his own mind he liked to think of where the missionaries would conclude their mission. This would aid him to know where they were to be assigned. Elder Eyring would then study the comments from the bishops and stake presidents, medical notes, and other issues relating to each missionary.

“He then referred to another screen which displayed areas and missions across the world. Finally, as he was prompted by the Spirit, he would assign the missionary to his or her field of labor.

“From others of the Twelve, I have learned that this general method is typical each week as Apostles of the Lord assign scores of missionaries to serve throughout the world” (“The Divine Call of a Missionary”).

Elder Rasband added that Elder Eyring ended the meeting by saying Christ’s love allows the Apostles to know where to assign each missionary for full-time service.

While the moment of knowing where a young missionary is going to spend 18 months to two years of their life is highly anticipated, 17-year-old Billy Elliott reflects on going to Peru, learning Spanish, and being away from family and friends.

Elder Fernando Armindo Zuca, left, and Elder Jorge Gabriel, right, work with other missionaries on a lesson at the missionary training center in São Paulo, Brazil on Thursday, May 24, 2018. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

Sister Mary Ruff from Midvale, Utah, and Sister Erin Bianucci from Layton, Utah, talk with Miraida Ortiz as they use a pump to inflate a ball for Miraida’s son in Puerto Rico on Saturday, February 17, 2018. Photo by Scott G Winterton, Deseret News.

Sister KayLee Todd of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Sister Xana Rogers of Bountiful, Utah, high-five during a lesson at the missionary training center in São Paulo, Brazil, on Thursday, May 24, 2018. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.