Even if you’re very familiar with Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), you might be able to pick out a Mormon missionary on sight. They’re clean-cut, wear white shirt and tie (or a nice shirt and skirt, if they’re female), and a black name tag. They go in pairs, knocking on doors or approaching people on the sidewalks. Their message is that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored in full.
More than 50,000 Mormon missionaries are serving around the world today from and in nearly every country. The majority of Mormon missionaries are between the ages of 19 and 23 and most of those are young men, though there are many young women serving as well. Young men serve for two years, usually beginning at age 19, and young women serve for a year and a half, usually beginning at age 21.
Retired couples also have the opportunity to serve missions. While young missionaries usually preach to the people they serve, senior missionaries are more likely to do more specialized things such as give medical service to a community or work with the youth in a certain area, among many other things.
Mormon missionaries pay for their own missions and choose to sacrifice their time to serve the children of God wherever they are called to go. They sometimes save up for years to be able to serve. However, if a member really can’t afford to go, their family and local congregation can help. The Church also receives donations for missionaries who come from situations which make it impossible for them to pay their own way.
To serve a mission, the prosepctive missionary has to be a worthy member of the Church and must want to teach the gospel. After submitting a lengthy application and being found worthy, the prospective missionary gets a mission assignment from Church headquarters. He or she is then assigned to report to one of seventeen missionary training centers around the world, whichever is closest to where they will serve. If they will be teaching in their native language, they stay in these centers for about three weeks to learn how to best preach the gospel. If they must learn a new language, they stay for about nine weeks.
Mormon missionaries live and travel in pairs called companionships. They are instructed to remain with their companion at all times to ensure physical and spiritual safety.
The area they preach in is called a mission and encompasses a large area made up of smaller areas in which companionships serve. Missionaries will be assigned to several different areas within their mission during the time they serve as well as to several different companions.
Wherever missionaries are, they preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and Mormon beliefs to anyone who’s interested. They preach the Plan of Salvation and the principle of eternal families. Missionaries are also active in community service and helping out in times of trouble or disaster.
Serving a mission is a sacrifice. Missionaries do not return home during their service time. They only call home a couple of times a year so they can focus on serving the Lord. Their communication is mostly through letters and perhaps a weekly email, depending on their area. Misison rules are strict. They preach six days out of seven, and even on their free day, they can do only mission-appropriate activities (movies and listening to rock music is out, for example). Despite the sacrifice, or perhaps because of it, missionaries find the experience very spiritually rewarding and find they also develop life skills as well.