Mormon Missionaries

This past week my family had a unique experience:  On Wednesday we saw my little sister off to be a missionary in Chile, and then on Thursday we met my husband’s little brother at the airport as he returned from his mission in Brazil.  To see the metamorphosis that these young men and women go through was incredible and I thought it might be interesting for some of our readers to know a bit more about these young people they see on bikes and street corners.

  • Elders (the young men) and Sisters (the young women) are addressed by their title and their last name.  Mormons don’t all have the same first name.
  • Elders are generally between 19-21 years old.  Sisters have to be at least 21.   There are also “couple missionaries” who are married and already retired.  They probably won’t tell you how old they are.
  • Elders serve for 2 years and Sisters serve for 18 months.  Couples serve for 18 months as well.
  • Nearly all missionaries first go to the Missionary Training Center In Provo, Utah for a few weeks before they embark on their mission.  There are 16 other MTCs throughout the world.  They teach the basics of language and teaching techniques.  Their language programs are so successful that several government organizations have approached the Mormon church to ask them what their secret is.  Unfortunately, the secret is the Spirit and a very real manifestation of the gift of tongues.   The State Department just can’t replicate that.
  • Missionaries don’t choose where they want to go.  Otherwise, they would all end up in Venice, probably.  They are called by members of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles who receive their direction from the Spirit.
  • Missionaries pay for themselves.  They aren’t church sponsored and they aren’t paid for their service.  They are very literally serving.
  • There were 54,494 missionaries serving in 348 missions throughout the world as of April 2009.
  • Missionaries always work in a companionship.  There are usually two, sometimes three, missionaries who live together, eat together, work together and teach together.   Nothing weird going on there, it is an extension of having two or more witnesses when they teach and testify.
  • Missionaries don’t date.  If you want to talk to them because you are hoping they will ask you out, you are wasting your time.
  • The missionaries’ purpose is to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone who is interested.  They talk about the restoration of the Gospel through Joseph Smith, the Atonement of Jesus Christ and how it applies to us directly, why we are here on the earth and what our purpose is eternally,  and how to live a life in harmony with God.  When you meet with the missionaries they will likely present a series of four to six lessons introducing gospel concepts.
  • When missionaries go home, they resume their normal lives.  Then they date, go to school, get married, reminisce about their missions, and stop wearing ugly ties.  In fact, if you have Mormon friends, ask them if they went on a mission.  They might have some entertaining stories for you.

So next time you see a set of missionaries walking around, get to know them.  (If they are wearing ugly ties, forgive them.  They are only 19).  They could be from anywhere in the world, and perhaps they were called to that mission just so that they could meet you.

How Do You Pray?

Praying HandsQ. How do you pray?

This is an important topic.  Paramount.  Essential!  We’ve discussed the topic of prayer already here, here, here, and my personal favorite, here.  But I really don’t think we can emphasize prayer enough.  Too often religious discussions get bogged down in abstract dogmas like grace and works, deification, and canon.  These are good things to discuss, but we sometimes miss a chance to talk about what’s really practical in our lives here and now.

Many of our readers have never prayed before and probably feel intimidated at the thought.  I hope my step-by-step instructions will be helpful to you.

Step 1:  Prepare

Why are you praying?  A prayer is communication with your Heavenly Father, and there are many reasons to speak to Him.  Perhaps you are facing hard times and need help.  He can help you.  Maybe you need answers; maybe you just want to know if He is really there.  He will respond.  You can confess wrong-doing to begin repentance.  You can thank Him for blessings.  You can request to feel His love for you.

Meditation before prayer can help you focus your thoughts and will make your prayers more meaningful.

Another part of preparation is finding an appropriate time and place to pray.  I’m focusing this article on personal, private prayers, so alone time is key.  Turn off the music, find a quiet spot and allow yourself at least a few minutes without interruption.

George Washington Prayed too!

Step 2:  Address God

Jesus began His famous prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”  Jesus is the Son of God, so He naturally called on His Father in prayer.  I think it’s significant that He invited us to call Him Father, too.  The most powerful being in existence is your spiritual dad.  Remember this relationship.

Kneel.  It shows your respect and your willingness to defer to His wisdom.  It represents humility.  Your prayer does not depend on the position of your body, but it does depend on your attitude.  Kneeling reminds you to adjust your attitude.

Step 3:  Be Grateful

Express your thanks for the good things and people that are a part of your life.  Think of the beauty of earth, the love of your mother, your innate, sharp intellect, your home.  They are gifts from Father.  Try to recognize when the Lord’s hand helped you and let Him know you appreciated it.

Again, your attitude is key.  We are dependent on God for all our support.  As King Benjamin taught in the Book of Mormon, “I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants” (Mosiah 2:21).  Our gratitude is the least we can offer to Father for all He has given us.

Step 4:  Speak Your Mind Plainly

You can talk to Heavenly Father as easily as you talk to your own parents. Share your thoughts with Him, let Him know what your dreams are and what kind of person you hope to become.  Celebrate together your triumphs, and seriously reflect on your sins; request forgiveness.

He knows what’s halting your progress, and He can help you overcome.  Ask how.

You can ask for help with other things, too.  Things like: relationship trouble, career paths, patience, mathematics, lost car keys, what books are worthwhile, overcoming addictions, providing food, maintaining health, etc.  It’s really wide open.  There are things that are probably inappropriate to ask for (“please make my neighbor die”), but there is a wide field of possible blessings God is willing to grant, and is waiting for us to request.

Stained Glass of Jesus Praying

Step 5:  Close Your Prayer in Jesus’ Name

“…in the name of Jesus Christ; amen.”  This little phrase, spoken in sincerity, indicates you have faith in Jesus Christ.  Every answered prayer is a miracle, and miracles can only occur with faith in the Redeemer.

The Book of Mormon prophet Moroni was confronted by the charge that God can do no miracles.  This was his response: “And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.  Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth” (Mormon 9:20-21).

This promise even extends to us today, whenever you pray to the Father in the name of Christ.

Praying in Jesus’ name also brings your heart and mind closer to the Savior’s.  Read a bit more about that over here.

Step 6:  Listen

This is the hardest step, especially if you are unaccustomed to praying.  You’ll sit there in silence for a moment, thinking about the things you said in your prayer.  You will analyze and over-analyze every thought that passes through your mind, wondering, “was that from me, or from God?”

Sometimes it will be obvious.  Sometimes it will be subtle.  Like a radio, we must tune into the signal and be ready to receive.  We will talk more about this topic in another article, but I want to leave you with one important rule:  if it is good, it comes from God.

Moroni taught, “But he that believeth these things which I have spoken, him will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit, and he shall know and bear record. For because of my Spirit he shall know that these things are true; for it persuadeth men to do good.  And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me” (Ether 4:11-12).

Book of Mormon Christians

The Nephite people of the Book of Mormon that inhabited the Americas between 600 B.C. and 400 A.D. were, at most points in history, a righteous people.  That is, they had Christ’s church established among them in which they were taught the gospel of Jesus Christ.  They lived by the law of Moses and kept the commandments given to them by the prophets of God. In times of wickedness, they were humbled by the Lord through sword or famine.  In times of righteousness, they prospered and were given strength to protect themselves from their enemies.  This was according to the promises made by the Lord.  “And [the Lord] hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence” (2 Nephi 1:20).

There were many prophecies and scriptures that the Nephites had and all of them pointed to a Jesus Christ who had not yet come.  A prophet named Nephi, who lived around 600 B.C., wrote, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins”(2 Nephi 25:26).  They were looking forward toward Christ much in the same way we look back at His life here on earth and look forward to His second coming.  Other prophets such as Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma and many others taught the people concerning Christ, giving their testimonies as well.  They all knew of Christ and knew that He would come to redeem His people.

Of all the stories, lessons and prophecies in the Book of Mormon, none are as powerful nor of so great importance as when Jesus Christ Himself visited the people here in the American continent. Only five years preceding His birth, a prophet was sent among the people named Samuel.  His prophecies were exceptionally plain and precise.

artbook__081_081__samuelthelamaniteonthewall____And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.  And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.  Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day… and it shall be the night before he is born.  And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld.  And behold this is not all, there shall be many signs and wonders in heaven.
Helaman 14:2-6

Prophecies and signs of Christ’s death were also given.

But behold, as I said unto you concerning another sign, a sign of his death, behold…the sun shall be darkened…and also the moon and the stars; and there shall be no light upon the face of this land, even from the time that he shall suffer death…to the time that he shall rise again from the dead. Yea, at the time that he shall yield up the ghost there shall be thunderings and lightnings for the space of many hours, and the earth shall shake and tremble…and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains…And many highways shall be broken up, and many cities shall become desolate. And many graves shall be opened…and many saints shall appear unto many.
Helaman 14:20-25

artbook__084_084__jesusblessesthenephitechildren____Samuel also explained the mission of Christ on the earth and the importance of His coming.  Most people did not believe Samuel’s words but that did not stop them from coming to pass.  The night stayed lit five years later and a new star was seen.  Thirty-three years after that, earthquakes and storms leveled cities and darkness prevailed for three days.  To the survivors, however, Christ Himself appeared.

Chapters 11 through 28 of 3 Nephi contain His words and deeds among the people.  He allowed them to come to Him to be first-hand witnesses of the reality of His resurrection.  He chose 12 men to be teachers and leaders, giving them the authority and commandments pertaining to baptism.  Then, He gave to all the people the words that He gave to the Jews on the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5 and 3 Nephi 12).

Over the next few days, He continued to teach them the scriptures, heal their sick, give them the sacrament, and pray with them.  I would encourage everyone to read these words because they are such touching examples of Christ’s love for His people.  The effect that this visit had on the people was not forgotten.  For hundreds of years, the people were diligent in following the words that Jesus had given to them and it wasn’t until they had turned away from those words that they did fail, just as predicted many times beforehand.

The Book of Mormon is a remarkable book and contains many lessons that are applicable in our lives.  It also shows the sublime truth that Jesus is the Christ, and that He communicated Himself to His people here anciently.  They knew He was their Savior from death and sin and they heeded His words and were blessed.  The same holds true for us today as well.  By their testimony and the testimony of the Holy Spirit, we can know those same truths.

What Do Mormons Believe? That General Conference Rocks

Brush up your britches and polish your teeth kids, a prophet is coming our way! Yea, verily it’s been 6 months since the last one so it’s time for another General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Explanation: it’s a conference where we all get to enjoy a few hours of inspired counsel from the general leadership of the church. And, yes, that includes addresses from the prophet of God: Thomas S. Monson. The meeting itself takes place in the behemoth Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah (note: by “behemoth” I mean “the largest theater-style auditorium ever built” [as seen in the picture]). But luckily some engineering kids figured out how to broadcast the entire proceedings of the conference to any and all of us by way of TV (check local listings), radio (check local listings), or streaming online. Or, stroll on over to a local LDS meetinghouse near you.

areallycoolplaceHere’s the lineup (Mountain Daylight Time):
Saturday April 4, 2009
10 am – noon ~ First session
2 pm – 4 pm ~ Second session

Sunday April 5, 2009
10 am – noon ~ Third session
2 pm – 4 pm ~ Fourth session

If I were you, I super-really wouldn’t miss out on this. When I watch these conferences, I am left on an invigorating spiritual high, wanting to love more, wanting to serve more, wanting to want to love more, wanting to want to want to love more, etc. Unfortunately and granted, this sense of goodness doesn’t last for nearly as long as it should, but then that’s why the entire proceedings of the conference are kindly posted online for review at any time.

If you think life is rough, let me introduce you to the diamond: General Conference.

Why Do You Believe in God?

I recently came across a blog of an atheist named Katie soliciting believers for why they believe what they do.  I took the opportunity to respond.  I’ve reproduced my comment here, because it sums up my faith pretty well.

1. Why do you believe in God?

I’ll grant that my upbringing played a huge role, but I feel that I’ve grown beyond the testimony of my parents and I have learned who God is independently. My belief began as a small seed, planted in my heart, which I nurtured carefully through prayer, scripture-study, fasting, and attending church, etc.

I have seen and felt personal evidences that Father is looking out for me and others, and although any doubter could systematically dismiss them as coincidences or cognitive dissonance, I know that I have felt the peaceful comfort of the Holy Ghost. It is enough for me. The more I feel the witness of the Holy Ghost, the more sense everything makes and the more comfort I feel.

2. Why do you believe in your particular god?

You could make the case that I didn’t give the other gods a chance. You might say I’m only a product of my culture, but I will tell you that there is something deeply significant with the story of Jesus.

It’s concrete; He actually lived, and died. Then, He lived again, according to countless witnesses. It’s practical; He saves us from our own evil, while making us good. It’s universal; His story dovetails perfectly with ancient Judaism and (according to Mormonism) his gospel reaches far beyond first century Israel into ancient America and other locations, into the realm of the dead, into the pre-earth spirit world, and into modern times.

But mostly it’s because of the relationship I’ve developed with God through prayer. The best thing I ever did to solidify my sometimes wavering faith was to read the Book of Mormon and ask God if it were true.

When I learned from Him that it is true, I knew I could trust Joseph Smith as a legitimate prophet. Once this foundation was laid, it became much easier to believe, and I began to see the fruits (evidences) of my faith more abundantly.

Why do you believe in God?  How would you respond?