Mormon Missonaries Abroad

My previous post, and several stories I’ve told, mention Mormon missionaries.  They represent some 10,000-30,000 expats and are therefore worthy of further introduction here.  You may have seen them, walking or riding (bicycles, mostly) two-by-two in their white shirts and ties, or in their modest dresses.  I have met them in Colombia, Japan, Poland, Italy, and even Malta.  They seem to be everywhere.  For the most part, they are Americans sent abroad for 1 1/2 to 2 years, at their own expense.  Some are non-Americans away from their homes, and perhaps even in the U.S.

These missionaries live like locals.  They stay in rented apartments or rooms.  They do their “work” of proselytizing and conducting religious affairs with local congregations and in the local language.  This makes them experts, after a few months in country, in local customs, idioms, shopping places, bargains, handicrafts, and more.  And they are connected to excellent support networks including communications, cultural events, and local community connections.  Whether or not you agree with their teachings or their methods, I recommend them as valuable contacts and friends while living overseas.  They will welcome any contact that speaks their native language.  They are given no more than 2 months of language training and are then reliant on their “senior companions” to bring them up to fluency.

The missionaries don’t date.  If a romance looms, they are quickly transferred to a new area.  They might cook for themselves, but being primarily young men between 19 and 21 years of age, they don’t have the skills or the time to do that with any expertise, so a cook / maid / laundress is often involved.  Except for some supervision from their mission president and local supervisory missionaries, they are remarkably independent, working within their prescribed area as they deem best.  They can’t leave their area without permission from the mission “home”, meaning the mission president or his staff.  To illustrate, this means that missionaries in Alexandria, Virginia can’t take the Metro into Washington, D.C. without express permission.

They can’t call home at all, except on Mother’s Day and Christmas, when they must, according to one of their many rules.  Some have permission to use email, but with restrictions.  They can reply only to messages from family.  And there are tons of other rules and restrictions that they adhere to willingly–for the most part.  (There are some who struggle against authority.)

Most missionaries love the experience, referring to it ever after as “the best two years of my life”.  It’s a positive exercise in self-discipline, an exploration of self-worth, and a close observation of the positive effects of religious principles and faith on families–all just as they are about to begin their own families.

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