Eventually, most people will find a Mormon missionary standing on their doorstep. Who are they and what are they doing? What will happen if you invite them in?
Young Mormon men are encouraged to serve missions at age nineteen. They serve for two years and pay their own expenses. This is a time for them to share the testimony they’ve developed in their lives, and it’s also a maturing time for them. Women can also serve missions, at age 21. Most go just after college graduation, serving for eighteen months and also paying their own way.
Prospective missionaries are interviewed to evaluate their worthiness and preparation for a mission. They may state a preferred location, but go where they are sent, which helps them become flexible. Often they are required to learn a new language, fit into a new culture, and eat foods they’ve never heard of. All of this makes them better world-citizens in their post-mission adult lives.
They adhere to a strict schedule of sleep, exercise, study, and work. This trains them to be disciplined and to work hard, also very beneficial when they return home and go back to school or enter the work force. They do not date and have limited contacts with their families during this time, calling home twice a year and emailing weekly.
They are assigned a companion, and they spend all of each day together. These companionships are rotated often, and missionaries learn to live, work, and worship with a wide variety of people. They must learn how to work out their differences, find a common work and lifestyle, and accept that others live and behave differently than they do. They become more accepting of things they might find annoying at first, and learn to respect those with different backgrounds from their own.
The work of living in a companionship helps to prepare them for marriage. They learn effective tools for getting along with others and making decisions. The missionary and his companion pray and study together, a pattern they are expected to honor in their marriages as well. They hold regular evaluations with their companions in which they work out their differences, giving them an effective skill for protecting and preserving marriages later in life.
Tracting is the process of knocking on doors offering to share a brief spiritual message with the people they meet. It is one way missionaries fill their work day. The messages vary, but often involve teaching something about Jesus Christ or about how to improve family life. If the person who answers the door is not interested, they leave. If the person is interested, they share the message right then or return at a time the home owner requests. Some women, for instance, prefer their husbands to be home if they’re greeted by male missionaries.
The initial message is brief and is designed to bring a small portion of something the Mormons value into the home. Often it is a fairly non-denominational message, in order to give the listener something of value he can use immediately. If the listeners are interested, they will make an appointment and return to share a more specific denominational topic with the family. There are a series of discussions they can hold with interested listeners to introduce the family to the Mormon beliefs.
The missionaries are not interested in debate. They haven’t come to the home to have someone try to convert them or to debate the gospel. They go only where they’re welcome and their responsibility is to teach their own beliefs and to allow the listener the freedom to decide whether or not to continue learning, and whether or not they believe what is being taught. While they welcome respectful questions, debate is best conducted somewhere else with other people.
A sincere investigator who is interested in receiving these messages can prepare to get the most from this experience. Although the missionaries are always dressed up, the family needn’t dress equally well. Modest clothing is appropriate for these discussions. Gather the family together and make sure very small children are given something quiet to do. Older children will enjoy the discussions, which are usually tailored to be of interest to them as well as to the adults.
You needn’t feed the missionaries, although you can feed them. They live on a limited budget and work long hours, so they are generally receptive to being fed. It is not, however, expected or required.
Assignments are given to family members, which help them to prepare for the next discussion. Do these assignments thoughtfully and take note of any questions you might have. If you’re unable to read, let the missionaries know and they’ll show you other ways to complete the assignments, which usually involve a small amount of reading, prayer about the subjects you discussed, and contemplating your feelings about them.
Keep your appointments if at all possible, since the missionaries usually have busy schedules. Feel free to invite friends to join you.
Even if you decide not to become a Mormon, you will find the discussions enlightening and the missionaries to be knowledgeable visitors to your home.