IN THE MISSION FIELD AND BEYOND
Lavina Fielding Anderson
President David O. McKay launched LDS missionary work into a new era after World War II, an effort fueled by post-war prosperity and the unequalled esteem in which the United States was held internationally. His "every member a missionary" program during the 1960s intensified the emphasis on the service of what had become the traditional missionary cohort of nineteen-year-old boys. According to the most recent figures, 56,531 missionaries are currently serving.1 Most are young men, although a significant fraction—approximately 20 percent2—are young women, while another fraction consists of older women and missionary couples. Missionary service received repeated emphasis from Church leaders in conference talks, Ensign messages and articles, inspirational stories in the Church News, virtually every Church class (although Sunday School, seminary, and priesthood quorum lessons aimed at teenage boys are particularly intensive), and celebratory rituals of departure and homecoming.
I believe in and support the missionary emphasis of the Church. My parents both served missions before their marriage. I served a full-time proselyting mission. So did every male relative in our nuclear families while some of them additionally served stake missions as did some of the women who have not served full-time missions.
However, I also feel that there are some unaddressed problems in how missionary work is organized that create a climate that not only permits but actually fosters abuse. Granted, many missionaries frequently cause many of their own problems. They are at a very vulnerable age. They frequently lack good judgment. Although their youthful idealism is also very high, they lack the experience to evaluate conflicting messages they receive. Missionaries who are trying to be "good" frequently are vulnerable to heavy-handed manipulation through guilt and materialistic reward systems. Missionaries who came on missions reluctantly sometimes become their own best converts but at other times get sent home for misconduct, or drag through their missions, lazy and depressed, inflicting an emotional and spiritual burden on their companions. What follows is not meant to exonerate unprepared or immature missionaries.
However, some structural elements of missionary organization have been problematic in the past and will predictably get increasingly problematic in the future: (1) exploitive mission presidents who view their missionaries as a sales force and baptismal statistics as stepping stones to position themselves for more important positions; (2) the differential treatment of sister missionaries; (3) the real jeopardy, usually not disclosed ahead of time, to the physical safety, health, and emotional stability of missionaries; and (4) the lack of any effective system of appeals in the case of abuse or excesses.3The case reports which follow provide sobering examples of how these problems have impacted missionaries in various ways.
1"Statistical Report, 1997," Presented by F. Michael Watson, Ensign, May 1998, 22. According to this same report, 317,798 converts were baptized during 1997. Although the number of missionaries seems to be those serving as of 31 December 1997, presumably a greater number than those serving on 1 January 1997, these figures yield an average of 5.6 baptisms per missionary. The unified budget plan standardizes missionary expenses at $375 per missionary per month. Thus, without counting buildings, vehicles, and supplies, mission presidents’ allowances, insurance, and other expenses, the average per-missionary cost per convert in 1997 was about $800.00.
The Church will not release exact figures on the number of young women serving missions.