At age 16 Soon Joo Park was baptized in Seoul, Korea. When she was 21, she knew, after much prayer, that her Father in Heaven wanted her to serve a full-time mission. She discussed it with her bishop, was interviewed by him, and began making preparations. But her nonmember parents were unhappy with her decision. Her father was particularly distressed. When she received a call to serve in the Salt Lake Temple Square Mission, she put her faith in the Lord and boarded a plane for the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.
While on the plane, Sister Park wrote a letter to her father. She told him where she would be for the next 18 months and tried to explain how important it was for her to serve a mission. A short time later, she received a letter from her father saying that he loved her and understood her desire to serve.
Temple Square brought Soon Joo Park and her father together. Tourists from all over the world also come together on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, to learn about the Savior and his Church. More than 5 million people visit Temple Square each year, and some 200 missionaries greet and guide them through their visits.
What makes this mission unique is that no full-time elders serve in it. Several missionary couples serve on Temple Square in a Church-service capacity, so there are some senior elders on the Square. But they do not serve full time. All the full-time missionaries are sisters.
Within the relatively small area of their mission’s few city blocks—which include the Salt Lake Temple, the Tabernacle, the Assembly Hall, two visitors’ centers, several pioneer monuments, and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building—these sisters are helping to fulfill the prophecy that “every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language” (D&C 90:11).
Because visitors from so many nations come to Temple Square, the missionaries serving there speak on a daily basis the greatest number of languages of any mission in the world—making it perhaps the most international mission in the Church. Of the more than 3,000 motor coach bus tours that visited last year, more than half brought non-English speaking visitors. At any given time, as many as 30 different languages may be spoken on the Square.
Sister Najet Rahou of Nice, France, was excited when she received her call to Temple Square because she knew it would allow her to use the five languages she speaks—French, Spanish, English, Hindi, and Afrikaans. During the summer months, when the number of visitors is the highest, she speaks several of these languages daily.
Sister Mireille Van Tonder of Bordeaux, France, also speaks five languages—Afrikaans, French, Dutch, English, and German. She recently spoke with a young woman visiting from South Africa. Sister Van Tonder, who was born in South Africa, was able to tell the visitor about the Church in her native language. The young woman was surprised and excited to learn that the Church was in her own country and that she could be taught by missionaries when she returned home.
Many visitors the missionaries speak with are like this young woman from South Africa—they return home and are taught by others. This kind of proselyting is another reason the Salt Lake Temple Square Mission is so unusual. Temple Square missionaries teach visitors of the divinity of Jesus Christ and about the history of the Church primarily through tours and presentations; they do not give the standard missionary discussions or see converts baptized. They send the names of those interested in knowing more about the Church to the missions where the people live.
“Other missions find, teach, baptize, and fellowship. We only find, but we are very successful finders,” says Robert Charles Witt, former president of the Temple Square Mission.
Sister Cheri Reid of American Samoa explains the sisters’ role: “We are instruments in the Lord’s hands, and we share our testimonies a lot. We help people recognize the role the Lord plays in their lives to strengthen and uplift them.”
Sister Erika Lecaros of Lima, Peru, says of serving on Temple Square: “It’s one of the hardest missions because you give so much of yourself—yet you don’t get to see the results. You give the people all you can and share the Spirit and bear your testimony, but you rarely find out what happens to them.”
Because their responsibilities at Temple Square are so unique, each Temple Square missionary spends four months of her 18-month mission serving in another mission in the United States. This gives her an opportunity to give the standard missionary discussions and work with members of the Church.
For example, Sister Tiziana Vacirca, from the Novara Branch, Italy Milan Mission, spent four months serving in the New York New York South Mission. Although New York is very different from Utah, Sister Vacirca says she saw so many people there from all over the world that it reminded her of Temple Square.
There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work at Temple Square to keep the mission organized and running smoothly. Fortunately, the mission office is on the Square, so the missionaries are able to work with and see their mission president on a daily basis.
The sisters’ daily schedules are planned out carefully to accommodate different preparation days, shifts, languages, training, and tours. There are more than 150 specific duties for which missionaries are trained and to which they are assigned at various times. Some of these duties include greeting visitors as they enter and exit Temple Square, conducting the various tours offered to visitors, answering questions at information desks, helping visitors using the FamilySearch® Center to look for family history information, and assisting those wishing to see Legacy, a Church-produced film portraying pioneer courage.
Temple Square missionaries also donate several hours each week in additional service. They volunteer at Welfare Square in Salt Lake City, where they sort used clothing for worldwide distribution to the needy, assist patrons in the bishops’ storehouse, teach English as a second language to any wishing to learn, and work in the cannery or dairy.
This experience proved useful for Sister Ilona Machinic of Vilnius, Lithuania, who met a Russian man on Temple Square. Able to speak to him in his native language, she discovered that he needed assistance and was able to call upon the resources of Welfare Square to help him. He gratefully went on his way, promising to repay the kindness of the Church somehow.
Like all missionaries, Temple Square missionaries have one day every week as a preparation day. Their mission is also like all others in that they have district meetings, zone conferences, and transfers. Transfers may include a change in apartments, zones, companions, preparation days, or shifts.
Since all the full-time missionaries in the mission are sisters, all the leaders and trainers are sisters. Another unique aspect of the mission is that the sisters don’t spend all their time working in tandem with their companions. While they do serve together on the Square as companions, they are often given individual assignments.
There is an ongoing spiritual excitement on Temple Square due to a variety of uplifting activities, such as general conference, Tabernacle Choir rehearsals and performances, and concerts in the Assembly Hall. The sisters are also able to attend sessions at the Salt Lake Temple twice a month on their preparation days.
Sister Tupou Naeata of Tonga explains that even with that excitement, there are challenges: “The Temple Square Mission is not as difficult physically as it is spiritually. There is such a great responsibility to be an example and to smile all the time and to always have the Spirit. It is amazing how God works through us.”
For example, Sister Lai Chong Wong of Hong Kong was conducting a tour for seven Cantonese visitors. Two of the visitors were asking a lot of tough questions and making negative comments to others on the tour; this type of experience is not uncommon, because people often come to Temple Square with preconceived ideas about the Church. However, the Spirit was so strong that Sister Wong was able to answer all of their questions and help the other visitors feel the Spirit.
What seems common to all the missionaries on Temple Square is their love for the Lord and their love for one another. The great unifying force on Temple Square is the Lord’s Spirit. It does not matter that the missionaries come from many different cultures. It does not matter that they speak different languages. During the time they serve together on Temple Square, they truly are of one heart.
“Even though my time on Temple Square will end, I will always wear my name tag in my heart, and my mission will continue through my life,” says Sister Lecaros, voicing the thoughts of missionaries serving throughout the world.