Changing habits of nineteen or twenty years’ standing requires a careful persuasion of spirit, a restructured schedule of activities, and a conviction that the new habits will prove more valuable and effective than the old ones. A missionary, newly called, faces the necessity of revising his more worldly tendencies and arranging his life on a spiritual plane. His spirit is willing, and he knows that the main thing is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ; but how does he make daily preparation to accomplish that goal?
The answers are provided in a five-day program of transition at the Missionary Home in Salt Lake City, Utah. Under the supervision of President and Sister J. Murray Rawson, elders and sisters exchange their individual touches of hesitance, reluctance, and fear, for conviction and confidence. They begin on
Registration is from 9:00 A.M. to 12:00 noon. A sister missionary walks bravely into the room marked “Missionaries—Register Here.” She reports her name, pays a fee to cover meals, and is given a short briefing by a member of the mission presidency as well as written instructions relative to her future for the next eighteen months and instructions to attend her first meeting at 2:00 P.M. Now she somehow wrestles her suitcases upstairs—“Missionaries Only” territory. In her room are seven bunk beds with pink bedspreads, several closets, some mirrors, and another sister lying on one of the beds. She sits up.
“Is that all you brought? Oh no! I’ve overpacked!”
Downstairs two mothers wait, watching missionaries form small groups, shake hands, and ask, “Where are you going?”
Both mothers are smiling; they’re also keeping score.
“Look! There’s another lady missionary there.”
“That’s two we’ve seen.”
By the wall map of mission divisions a father points for his two children.
“Do you want to see where Richard is going?”
Then it’s two o’clock and time for the first meeting and the first rule of missionary life: Missionary time is five minutes early.
The hunt for assigned seats causes some confusion, but soon the missionaries get themselves properly distributed. Seated in front of the sisters are the missionary couples going into the field. One woman confides to the sister next to her, “Look at these clean looking kids. I call them kids. My husband says I will have to get used to calling them elders. You know, it’s exciting to watch them change.”
The meeting begins. “Elders and sisters …” Each meeting is opened and concluded with a song and a prayer. Today’s meeting begins with a welcome from the mission presidency. The group learns that the present group of missionaries represents twenty-seven states of the United States plus Australia and Canada.
Next, Sister Rawson speaks on housekeeping, personal habits, and grooming. Little-known facts of ministerial grooming emerge. The missionaries learn that they can remove grass stains with rubbing alcohol and ballpoint pen marks with hair spray. Then there are talks from the counselors in the mission presidency, President Rees and President Broberg.
After dinner the group is introduced to the missionary discussions, and then President Rawson talks to them about spirituality.
The missionaries then spend a half hour in temple preparation. A more serious mood settles upon them with a deeper realization of their relationship as missionaries to the plan of salvation.
Next comes an introduction to discussion memorization by the teaching director. A few mumbles follow his announcement of the “easy way” to do it.
“I think I have a congenital memorization inadequacy.”
“How about me? I almost failed Primary because I couldn’t memorize the Articles of Faith.”
But then the teaching director concludes his remarks with the fact that sixty percent of the previous group memorized all discussions while still in the Missionary Home and adds his testimony.
“Looks like it’s not impossible after all, doesn’t it?”
Ten-thirty is bedtime. There is a long line of sinks in the women’s dormitory, each equipped with a sister missionary.
“… because the Lord wants me here, that’s why.”
“My goal is to go through every temple in the world.”
“Everyone told me I’d probably be called to some place close, and now just think, Southern Italy. Wow!”
“If someone could just take my make-up case, it would take care of my six excess pounds of luggage.”
“My boyfriend said he’d wait for me, but …”
Back in their bedrooms the sisters kneel together in prayer and know the comfort of feeling their spirits united in a mutual goal: to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. An exchange of good-nights closes the day, except for a whispered, “The top bunk? I’ve never slept in a bunk bed before.” The light goes out, because in a shorter time than could be possible it’s
“Elders and sisters, it’s 6:15. All hands on deck!” President Rawson’s voice comes through the intercom, and missionaries in various stages of alertness arise and turn to make their beds.
Breakfast is at 6:30 in the new Church Office Building, where all meals are served during the five-day stay in the Missionary Home. The elders extend the sisters the courtesy of allowing them to be first in line at the cafeteria.
“I’m glad the Church doesn’t practice women’s lib!”
“Is there a rule against perfume?”
During breakfast the sisters make the acquaintance of a sister missionary whose family is all grown and married and whose husband is dead. She has been called to the Alabama-Florida Mission and speaks proudly of her children, all of whom graduated from college and were married in the temple.
“The Lord has been so good to me; I could not possibly refuse this call.”
Following breakfast the missionaries meet in the Visitor’s Center for a tour. The Tabernacle Choir broadcast then provides a half hour of enjoyment and relaxation prior to the first classes.
At 10:15 the sisters meet with the wives of the mission presidency for orientation and a question and answer session. The rest of the morning is spent discussing goals, self-improvement, and how to get organized.
After lunch it’s discussion study again. All the teachers are returned missionaries who have been called and set apart to this position. Each has completed a three-month training course.
Sunday morning the teaching staff for the sister missionaries gathers in the dormitory study area for a meeting to review the results of the previous week, check weak points, and assign study groups of six to ten sisters. The supervisor encourages her staff to maintain their enthusiasm and love for the sisters and to stimulate them to strive to reach the goals they have set. A member of the teaching staff reflects on her appreciation for this special calling with the comment:
“Sunday is the best day of the week!”
Sacrament meeting concludes with the testimonies of recent converts and Lamanite missionaries. A convert of one year bears his testimony to a congregation quiet in contemplation and reverence.
There are a few minutes between dinner and the evening classes, so the sisters use the dormitory to discuss mission rules, passports, bicycles, the language, hometowns, and expected conduct.
“We should exercise for a few minutes every day.”
“Let’s run in place; it’s good for your heart.”
“You mean all that walking isn’t going to do anything for our hearts?”
Then it’s back to the discussions again. The sisters approach memorization of the discussions with a concept of key-wording to establish a broad outline of thought patterns and content rather than the mechanical memorization of words, phrases, and sentences.
The legendary Mr. Brown becomes Sister Brown as the sisters pair off to tackle the first discussion.
“I think I make a better Mr. Brown than Elder Jones.” They memorize the first two discussions on Sunday.
Then, after straining their memories for two hours on the discussions, the missionaries strain them again with a class on how to remember names. Finally, it’s time for family prayer, and the day closes in the same peace of spirit with which the missionaries plan to meet
The temple session begins at 6:45, so the sisters get up at 6:15. The automatic protests at the early hour are brief and overshadowed by a low-voiced exchange of reasons for wanting to be part of this aspect of the Lord’s work.
“Every time I open my eyes it hurts.”
“… share something beautiful …”
“… an overwhelming desire to serve the Lord.”
“… feeling of peace as I signed the final papers in the bishop’s office.”
Between the two temple sessions that they attend, the missionaries meet with President Lee in the temple, where he answers any questions they may have about the endowment ceremony and the temple.
A late lunch is followed by a return to the classrooms, where the elders and sisters learn about door approaches and the use of the Book of Mormon in proselyting.
After dinner they memorize discussions three and four.
Two and a half days after their first apprehensive and impatient hours in the Missionary Home, the missionaries begin to feel a sense of purpose and belonging caused by tangible actions as well as their strong desires and aspirations. With this positive assurance they face
The day begins for the sisters with a morning prayer and song, and then a trip to the mailbox. A disconsolate elder stares at his empty box.
“I guess nobody loves me.”
“Sure they do. They were just glad to get rid of you.”
“Yeah! My brother was wearing my clothes even before I left.”
Most of the day Tuesday is spent learning about some important practical matters such as companion relationships, investigator relationships, health problems, auto safety, mission organization, and the daily work schedule.
Sandwiched in between these subjects is a unique little class taught by a member of the mission presidency. It is called “Listening.” In it the missionaries are taught how to listen perceptively and compassionately to others.
After dinner the missionaries memorize discussions five, six, and seven. Actually they have spent every spare minute all day long in concentrated study of the discussions. The time is only a few minutes snatched here and there, but it’s enough for most to get the job done.
It’s been a long day, but time seems to go faster each day. Lights out at 10:30, and more quickly than ever it’s
Today is the last day in the Missionary Home. This evening many of the elders and sisters will leave in buses for the language training missions at Ricks College and BYU. Others will leave on Thursday morning flights for their mission fields.
Everyone looks forward to Wednesday morning, not because it’s their last but because that’s the day the General Authorities speak to them. These leaders bear moving witness of the divine mission of Joseph Smith, of the importance of modern apostles and prophets, of the truth of the gospel, and of the divinity of Christ. They also explain the order of Church government in priesthood correlation, and advise the missionaries regarding their personal conduct. The morning passes far too quickly.
After lunch there is a testimony meeting. It ends with the elders and sisters singing “God Be with You” with some tears but mostly a sense of hope and enthusiasm and minds and hearts filled with words to remember.
“Smile, elders and sisters! These are glad tidings!”
“If you want to have a certain quality, act as if you already had that quality.”
“I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book.”—Joseph Smith
“The gospel makes bad men good and good men better; it changes human nature.”—David O. McKay
Each missionary takes from the Missionary Home his suitcases, packages, “mission library,” and two special gifts: the gospel and the chance to share it, and the knowledge that he is prepared to succeed.