Opinion: Proselytizin’ Ain’t Easy


While often only known by a quick sneaky glance through a peephole, or perhaps spotted ahead in the distance, motivating a slight change in path to circumvent conversation, Mormon missionaries are seen around occasionally, but I would presuppose that very few people know much about their ways of life. 

Instead of looking at them with a fish-eyed view, it may be fair to take a moment and focus in on their intentions. With no attempt to change your spiritual beliefs or even explore specifics of their religion, but to provide a better perspective of their motivations, duties and day-to-day activity.

Virtually always in pairs and recognizable by their standard attire of dark slacks, white button-up shirt and tie, perhaps you’ve seen missionaries here on campus, or “elders,” which is how they present themselves. Elder Ryan Davis and Elder Carson Burton may be two specifically that you’ve seen around. The UCO campus is part of their beat.

First, it may be important to know where they’re coming from, and how your area becomes their mission’s destination. 

 “In our church, we turn in our mission papers and they go to our prophet or apostles who lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They look at all the information and they pray about it, and then they receive revelation on where we need to go. I got my mission call and it said the Oklahoma, Oklahoma City mission,” said Elder Davis, describing the process.

Once on a mission, each elder spends six-week intervals on what they refer to as a transfer.

“We have a mission president who leads all missionaries here in Oklahoma, there’s about 200 of us,” explains Elder Burton, “every six weeks he’ll pray for us, where we need to go, and so here in Edmond is where God needs me.”

When asked where each wanted the prayers of prophets to send them, Elder Burton, “was really hoping for Canada but Oklahoma works too.” He  said, “I really hate spiders. I didn’t want to go anywhere that was like tropical, with big spiders.”

Elder Davis explained, “I just really wanted to go where the Lord wanted me to.” He then admitted, “it would have been pretty cool to like go somewhere foreign or something like that just for the experience,” but followed with,” I’ve really come to enjoy Oklahoma. I’m glad that I’m here. When I read the call, I hardly really knew what Oklahoma was. I generally knew where it was in the United States and I’ve watched the musical, but I love the people here and when I read the Oklahoma, Oklahoma City mission I just felt really good about it and I couldn’t get a smile off my face. It felt right.” 

Neither are students here at UCO,  only on campus and other local areas to proselytize and  fulfill their duties of this specific transfer of their mission.

Elder Davis comes from a small Colorado town and Elder Burton from a city in Utah. Prior to the pairing, two perfect strangers, are now called on to spend 24 hours a day together. Regardless of each other’s specific interests, this tightly bonded relationship is constructed by religious commitment and matched by prayer.

According to official missionary lexicon, the team of two are referred to as “companions.”

Each elder spends two years on a mission with a transfer every six weeks; however, the transfer may require they stay in the same location for an additional six weeks and can actually find themselves in the same location for the entirety of the mission, but not likely. Missionaries are single men between ages 18 and 25 and single women, also referred to as “sisters,” over age 19. Women’s missions only last 18 months.

*Elder Burton has been on his mission for around 19 months and it’s been nearly 18 for Elder Davis. Both have applied and been accepted into college (BYU for Davis and UVU for Burton), but have deferred for two years to complete their missions.

What do these devoted soldiers of God get out of a mission?

“Nothing material, or even like a position in the church,” said Burton, “for me, it’s really helped me know who I am. It’s an irreplaceable experience. I 100 percent believe that if I didn’t go on a mission I would never in like 100 years have learned what I’ve learned in like the space of 18 months. It’s been an irreplaceable experience where I’ve been able to forget my own needs, and serve God, teaching about Christ and trying to be more like him. It’s kind of set a model for the rest of my life of what I should prioritize and what really I should be working toward. So, it’s just really helped me know who I should become; my potential.”

Elder Burton’s gains are similar. “I’ve really been able to see how it does bless my life. I’ve grown so much more, just like an insane amount. Sometimes we like to say like, you get 10 years of experience in two years. It’s turned a lot more into like, just that desire to share those blessings and that truth with those around me.”

Both Elders Davis and Burton have older siblings, who completed missions before them. Elder Davis’s father also completed a mission in his youth. Being that both are legacies, it was all but a foregone conclusion that that each followed suit and experienced a two-year term themselves.

When an individual begins his or her mission, they start out with more experienced missionaries as trainers. The training lasts for two transfers (two six-week periods or a total of three months). 

“When I got there it was shocking to me that nobody was checking on us or nobody was really holding us accountable for what we did,” explains Elder Davis, “we could have gone to the movies where we’re not supposed to go as missionaries. The point is, I was treated as an adult, and we worked as hard as we could and we were obedient to standards we are expected to have as missionaries as representatives of Christ.”

The standards Elder Davis speaks of are a long list of rules that each missionary is expected to follow. With a list too long and detailed to mention here, some of the basics are: to keep all actions in harmony with the gospel, read and take in messages and media only authorized by the church, keep a neat and clean appearance while dressing conservatively, wake at 6:30 a.m. and study for two hours every morning, proselytize for 10 hours from 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily (except for a few hour on preparation days once a week), lights out at 10:30 p.m., do not watch television, do not listen to the radio, one should always be with their companion, be loyal to a companion and pray with them every day, never be alone with anyone of the opposite sex, nor should one date or even flirt, do not telephone parents ( however, many are allowed two calls home a year: Christmas and Mother’s Day), do not get involved in politics or commercial activities, provide community service but none that isn’t approved by the mission president, exercise and eat a healthy diet, no coffee or tea, keep record of your spendings, do not spend more than your companion, do not loan money, do not borrow money, pay tithing on outside sources of income. 

Again, this is only a very condensed list with many others concerning more on interactions with opposite sex, driving vehicles and being conscious of safety at all times. Some of the more interesting safety ones include: No use of power tools, a missionary’s head cannot be above 10 feet off the ground, no swimming, no candles or open flames and no full court basketball (however, half-court basketball is acceptable).      

There are many rules concerning technology as well. “There are a lot of things that you can do with technology,” explains Elder Burton, “and of course we want to keep each other safe from those things that God doesn’t want us to have in our lives.” When describing the way these restrictions are implemented, Burton continues, “a lot of the times like, at the end of the night, we’ll check each other’s phones, to you know, see if we’re doing those things, keeping our focus on God. We’re just watching out for each other.”

The extensive list of rules also provides for missionaries to report to the mission president any unallowed activity by the companion, keeping everyone in check.

The methods of proselytizing vary.

 “Around here we find it effective to catch people walking around outside and sometimes knock a door if nobody’s around. We’ll use Facebook and things like that. We’ll find people like in groups or that posts stuff and respond to comments or like things and we can interact with people much like we do in person but like online as well. So lots of methods of reaching people and their reaction is up to them,” Elder Davis unfolds. “If they say they’re not interested that’s fine. That’s happened plenty. It was tough for me to deal with that rejection at the beginning of my mission. I was kind of between like dueling and not caring, but there’s no love in it. I have to be able to love people in order to share the gospel. I’d care too much and let it get me down, and so I’ve kind of had to find a balance where it’s like water off a duck’s back while I’m still enjoying the swim.”

Elder Burton explains, “ I wish they would just tell us they’re not interested, or they don’t want to learn more. I think sometimes if people tell us that, you know, we’re going to hate them or we’re not going to love them. I just wish they’d communicate. Because a lot of people just like ghost us and leave us in the dark.” Burton explains that after information is exchanged, “we’ll text them and they just don’t respond and we’ll call them and they don’t respond. Sometimes they block us. I understand if they’re not interested, then that’s okay and we don’t want to bother them if they don’t want to learn more, that’s why sometimes I wish they’d open with that,” adding, “you also never know, maybe we think we were at their house but maybe it’s a misunderstanding, or we don’t have all the facts when they don’t tell us. It’s a principle to keep reaching out until they’re able to tell us because what if there’s a miracle and we’re able to get in contact with them and they’re interested and they could benefit from the message? And so the more information we have, the better we’re able to serve them.”

Many may think that the expenses for these missions are completely funded by the church—not exactly true. At an early age, missionaries begin saving their allowances and wages from part-time jobs to each pay for their mission. After they pay a lump sum which is distributed for living expenses, the remainder is subsidized by tithing funds of the church.

As for the experience as a whole, Elder Davis describes, “it’s been awesome. It’s had highs and lows of course. It’s hard work. I saw my weaknesses turn into strengths as I turned my life over to Christ who is able to improve those aspects of me, and that’s a huge benefit, as well as people I’ve been able to help. Whether they join or not, just the opportunity to love and serve them and get to know them. It’s been amazing.”

For Elder Burton, “I feel like the high points are probably just what I focus on most because like it is hard. And so it’s very easy just to let that get you and let that take you down, but when you see those little miracles of like God and putting you in people’s paths, that’s joyful. And that’s what I find probably the most joyful in the work.”

Perhaps, the next time you get a knock from an Elder Burton or an Elder Davis, don’t just give them a glimpse through the Judas hole and pretend you’re not home. Greet them with kindness and mirror their politeness. Listen to what they have to say or simply let them know that you’re not interested; they’ve heard it before. There’s no reason to argue because if your mind is made up, they understand; likewise, you probably won’t change their minds as well. Respect that the path that has put them at your door step, has required self-discipline, composure and a lot of efforts and devotion.

Share This