In a field that is white and ready to harvest, the Church now has more missionaries than at any time in history. The current count is well over 44,000, including those at the Missionary Training Centers. Along with their proselyting efforts, missionaries now also show their love for others by putting shoulders to the wheel in community service for half a day a week.
This new practice follows a letter sent by the Church to Area Presidencies and mission presidents on 11 May 1989, giving guidelines for missionaries to become involved in service in their communities. The letter urged missionaries to give “Christian service” and contained suggestions for doing so.
Even people long familiar with the Church’s missionary work have commented on this new dimension of missionary service. The Reverend Standrod T. Carmichael, rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Galax, Virginia, said that after thirty-seven years as an Episcopal priest, he had enjoyed meeting many missionaries. But he was especially impressed when two missionaries recently offered to help him with several hours of physical labor.
“I wish to express deep appreciation for the useful services rendered by Elder Adrian Schmid and Elder Spencer Moser, who carefully mowed and trimmed the three-city-lot expanse of the grounds of the church and hostel at the Good Shepherd,” he wrote.
Specific directions for local community service have been left up to mission presidents, who are to be responsible for leadership and who are to work with local priesthood leaders to identify worthwhile projects. The service is to be limited to four hours a week on days other than weekends or preparation day. It should not require extra expense, become burdensome or dangerous, distract from the spirit of missionary work, or separate missionary companions. The guidelines stress that the service should come from a sincere desire to help others rather than as a means of obtaining teaching appointments or gaining publicity for the Church.
This emphasis on service is helping missionaries feel greater love for those they help and is giving them good feelings about being in the service of the Lord.
President David Stanley of the Idaho Boise Mission reports that his missionaries have begun to feel more a part of their community as they participate in its workings, serving in many different ways.
Missionaries in Boise go to rest homes, the local Veteran’s Hospital, or the Diabetes Association, or help local residents with weeding, painting, and fixing fences.
“In correlation councils with stake mission leaders, we discuss service opportunities,” says President Stanley. “Local leaders know where the needs are. Stake and ward mission leaders communicate with bishops in priesthood executive meetings, where people know community leaders or are community leaders, and we have found unlimited opportunities.”
Service may be planned, or missionaries may respond to a crisis, as many have done when floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes have occurred.
“My companion and I felt deeply concerned for our landlord when the flood hit,” says Elder Wes Rhoten, from Tacoma, Washington, who was serving in the Iowa Des Moines Mission when rains flooded a creek in July 1990. “We got two other sets of elders to help us clear our landlord’s carpet store of large hundred-foot rolls of carpet that had been soaked. Using chain saws, we cut off the ends that had been ruined. Seeing people go through hard times and getting close enough to help really helps you love them.”
Elder Rhoten and his companion, Greg Brown, from Dothan, Alabama, obtained permission from their mission president to spend two long days removing the mud and debris from the carpet store and other downtown businesses.
In the small town of Adel, Iowa, in September 1990, Sister Lanette Mower, from Sandy, Utah, and Sister Denise Frei, from Broomfield, Colorado, were invited to participate in the town’s renovation of its town square. “We were walking along the street,” says Sister Mower, “and people were taking up the old cobblestones that had been broken and worn. The plan was to replace all the cobblestones with concrete, but when enough people offered to help with the laborious task of replacing cobblestones, the city agreed to preserve the old look. It’s great to work alongside the townspeople.”
Sister Mower adds that they have also taken elderly people bowling, visited rest homes, and read to people. Sometimes, they even go service tracting. “We just knock on the door and ask if there’s anything they need done and offer to help do it. They’re often surprised and always appreciate it.”
President Duane Welling of the Iowa Des Moines Mission received a letter from a woman in Fort Dodge expressing her gratitude that the lady missionaries took time to show interest in her and give needed service.
She writes: “I was going through a very difficult time personally. The one bright spot that helped me through that difficult time were the two Mormon missionaries who just happened to stop by the day after I returned from the hospital. …
“They were even willing to help me pack and move my belongings. They were so supportive during this difficult time, and I will never forget it.”
Missionaries in the Guatemala Guatemala City North Mission have made continual efforts to contribute to the cleanliness and beauty of the towns and cities in which they serve. From picking up trash on the streets to helping build a little chapel, the missionaries are finding ways to serve. Missionaries in one zone cut grass along the road, those in another painted tree trunks in a park with a coat of white insect-repelling paint, and missionaries in a third zone scrubbed statues along the main street. They report that people came by and asked how much they were earning doing the work; when the missionaries said they were serving for free, the people shook their heads in disbelief.
Mission president Gordon W. Romney tells of a zone in a small Guatemalan village where the common well to which the villagers trudge daily is on a hill that is often muddy and difficult to reach. “These missionaries built steps with logs, in the old Mayan style—a solid contribution that will be remembered and used for many, many years to come.”
In New Zealand, when the Christchurch City Council needed additional manpower to set up for the World Youth Festival, held there in October 1989, the council turned to the New Zealand Christchurch Mission office. President Melvin S. Tagg sent ten sturdy elders to help set up tents, design and assemble booths for displays, raise flags, and lift heavy wooden partitions. The organizer said afterwards that he could not have managed to set up on schedule without the able and cheerful help of the missionaries.
Whether they are helping a city council in New Zealand or assisting with a county food bank in Denver, missionaries are becoming known as dependable, service-minded people.
According to Sister Eileen Starr, public affairs missionary in the Colorado Denver Mission, the elders in the Lakewood zone were regular volunteers at the county food bank. The manager called the mission office one day and said, “Could I ask a favor? Next Tuesday, I will be short a counter worker. Would the elders please take her place? They are always so cheerful and capable. I need someone I can count on, and I know your elders are dependable.”
Also in Denver, two elders took a shortcut through a park in subzero weather last winter and noticed a man lying down on the cold ground. They helped the elderly man up and, discovering his confused state of mind, found a warm place for him to remain while they located the nursing home from which he had strayed. The police acknowledged that the elders’ conduct undoubtedly saved the man’s life. Until the elders were transferred, they visited their newfound friend faithfully.
A snowstorm in Denver gave two lady missionaries a reason to shovel snow for other tenants at their apartment complex. Later, they ran errands to the market for single parents in the complex so the parents would not need to take their young children out into the storm.
These same sisters organized a potluck Thanksgiving dinner in the apartments. Anyone who had no other place to go was invited to the festivities at the apartment of a less-active member. The bishop donated the turkey.
Accounts of civic involvement by missionaries are being shared in all parts of the Church. In the Atlanta Georgia Stake, public affairs director Janice Slocum says that missionaries are working closely with members in the Smyrna Ward who worked with city officials to kick off the city’s Adopt-a-Highway program. “Four times a year, members and missionaries get out with bags and rakes and clean up a stretch of a very commercial, highly littered highway in town,” says Sister Slocum. “The city is very pleased with the commitment from the Church and has put up a sign saying this section of road is being kept clean by the Smyrna Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Now the Lost Mountain Ward is doing the same, but is working with the state.”
Most of the community service done by missionaries is done quietly. There are no prominently placed signs or public recognition heralding such service—only missionaries hard at work serving the community.
In Atlanta’s inner city, for example, missionaries have been helping minority and foreign-speaking immigrants with the tasks of becoming naturalized citizens, finding employment, and learning to speak English. Missionaries coordinate their efforts through a member of the Church whose job it is to help settle Vietnamese refugees. By the end of 1991, more than 150,000 refugees will have arrived in Atlanta, with no possessions except the clothes on their backs.
Working through the missionaries, ward employment specialists have learned to adjust to each new situation. President John E. Fowler of the Georgia Atlanta Mission says, “The missionaries are learning poignant lessons of love that only involvement with people in extremity or transition can bring. True missionary work is people loving others and serving them from the heart.”
President Ezra Taft Benson has explained how the gospel cares for a person’s whole being: “The Lord works from the inside out,” he instructs. “The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.” (Ensign, July 1989, p. 4.)
As today’s missionaries perform civic service, they live the principles they teach. And while bringing others to a knowledge of Christ, they are at the same time coming closer to him themselves.
“Every Monday six to eight young Mormon men and women, who are giving two years of their lives to Mormon mission work, come here to help me feed the hungry people,” writes Monsignor John Hourihan, who has provided daily meals to the needy for more than twenty years.
“The missionaries are a clean-cut, hardworking, cheerful, and zealous group and have impressed me deeply. Their youthful generosity justifies my faith in youth.”
“Elders Jock Perkins and Mark Hoggan are just two of twelve missionaries who come regularly from the West Virginia Charleston Mission to volunteer at the hospital. They are wonderful representatives of their faith.
“We get dozens of compliments about how well-mannered and well-dressed they are. We feel fortunate to have gotten to know so many of them and are grateful they are allowed to volunteer in our hospital.”
“Four missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently responded to a plea for volunteer help to repair the roof of the community welfare center in Moss. The missionaries spent three mornings working with local volunteers and city crews to complete the project.”