Summer at work (a University) is somewhat odd- I work at home sometimes and when I go into University to work in the office it often seems as though everyone else is working at home on those days. As such I’ve not really had any conversations with colleagues except by email on work related issues. This week marked the beginning of the academic year and we welcomed new students and I have been teaching from dawn until dusk or at least that’s how it has felt. But this return means that the traditional ‘how was your summer?’ conversations have happened. Although we had a lovely holiday in Cornwall at the end of August, and GCSE and A Level results for Abi and Eleanor respectively, the other point of reference for my conversation with close colleagues is Eleanor’s mission call.
There are two questions that are coming up regularly. The first is: ‘Could she really have gone anywhere?’ The answer is yes we really did not know and it could have been England or anywhere else. Every now and again there is a follow up question/ comment: ‘But you’re a Bishop, surely she got preferential treatment.’ Definitely not- aside from a Bishop in my Church not being the same as a Bishop is the Anglican or Roman Catholic Church, the belief that we have in the inspiration of the call, in addition to the sheer number of Bishops around the world negates this as a possibility.
The second question is usually ‘So have you organised when you will be going out to visit her?’ The short answer to the initial question is that we won’t be going to visit however much we would like to. This leads to a discussion of the rules that Eleanor as a missionary will need to follow. Missionaries have a Missionary Handbook colloquially referred to as the ‘white handbook’ as it’s white- it is also something missionaries will carry with them all the time. This outlines the importance of the call of a missionary and the various guidelines that all missionaries should follow.
The letter Eleanor received calling her as a missionary had the following paragraph which is repeated in the handbook:
“You have been recommended as one worthy to represent the Lord as a minister of the restored gospel. You will be an official representative of the Church. As such, you will be expected to maintain the highest standards of conduct and appearance by keeping the commandments, living mission rules, and following the counsel of your mission president. You will also be expected to devote all your time and attention to serving the Lord, leaving behind all other personal affairs. As you do these things, the Lord will bless you and you will become an effective advocate and messenger of the truth.”
This means that Eleanor will be devoting all her time and efforts to serving the Saviour and standing as a witness of him. As a member of the Church I believe that it is important to always live my religion, to always stand as a witness of Christ but rather than only being a part of our everyday life as a missionary there is no ‘secular’ work; rather you are devoting all of your time to his work and service. A such there are guidelines/ rules that are given that are t help facilitate this service and devotion, but are also additional to those lived by an ordinary member of the Church some of which are outlined by leaders of the Church in publications such as For the Strength of Youth.
Travel: To not leave the boundaries of the mission for reasons of safety, etc. As such Eleanor will be gone for 18 months and will not come home for holidays, birthdays, etc.
Communication: Eleanor will email/ write to family and friends each Monday (we can imagine Monday’s becoming an incredibly exciting day in our house); twice a year (Christmas and Mother’s Day) we will be able to Skype with her. This also means that we won’t be visiting her; the handbook suggests
The impact of such visits may extend far beyond the visit itself, both before and after the visit and among other missionaries. It can often take some time for missionaries to refocus on their callings and their work. While expressing your love and your desire to share your experiences with them after you have been released, help those who may want to visit you to understand the importance of maintaining singleness of heart and mind on the work of the Lord (see Matthew 10:37–39; Luke 9:61–62).
We fully imagine that this will be the hardest part for us of having Eleanor serve a mission. Whenever the children have been away we have been used to phone calls and texts every day- and the thought of this limited contact will be a test of our faith.
Companionship: Eleanor will be with a companion (another sister missionary) 24 hours a day. Usually they will change every two to three months. This has a basis in scripture:
“Ye shall go forth in the power of my Spirit, preaching my gospel, two by two, in my name, lifting up your voices as with the sound of a trump, declaring my word like unto angels of God” (D&C 42:6; also Ecclesiastes 4:9–10; Mark 6:7; Luke 22:32; 3 Nephi 11:29–30; D&C 6:28; 52:10; 64:8–10; 84:106; 108:7)
The Missionary Handbook says:
Preaching the gospel two by two is the pattern established by the Lord. The testimonies of two companions support each other in proclaiming the truth and bearing witness of it. Companions support each other in other phases of their work. They help each other learn and grow. They strengthen each other in times of difficulty. They can provide protection from physical danger, false charges, and temptation.
I watched a Channel 4 documentary last year that saw this as incredibly restrictive; I have to say that this was not my experience. Some the closest relationships I have involved with were with my companions. This is not to say there were not challenges, or the possibility of rubbing each other up the wrong way, but on the whole it was a fabulous experience. This is not even to mention the positive aspects of preparing for a marriage- ie navigating different habits, etc.
There are also guidelines for interaction with the opposite sex. Dating and the formation of romantic relationships is not the focus of a missionary. The handbook suggests:
Never be alone with, flirt with, or associate in any other inappropriate way with anyone of the opposite sex.
This seems odd to some people, but when you consider that the purpose of a missionary to devote their life to the service of Jesus Christ; full time devotion may be diverted by romantic entanglements. It is, also, only for a period of 18 months.
Dress Standards: as you may be aware members of the Church have standards of dress that encourage modesty. As a missionary these standards are further clarified:
“Thou shalt not be proud in thy heart; let all thy garments be plain, and … let all things be done in cleanliness before me” (D&C 42:40–41; see also Alma 1:6, 27).
As an ambassador of the Lord, you are to wear professional, conservative clothing that is consistent with your sacred calling and that will clearly identify you as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Appropriate dress and grooming will help you earn respect and trust. Your appearance is often the first message others receive, and it should support what you say. Never allow your appearance or your behaviour to draw attention away from your message or your calling.
For Sister Missionaries this usually entails skirts and blouses or dresses (see here); because of the location of Eleanor’s mission in a potential Zika area she will be able to wear trousers.
Other guidelines: there are many other guidelines that enable the missionary to stay safe and focussed on serving the Lord. These include no TV, only uplifting music, no going to the movies, no swimming, rock climbing, or other high risk activities.
Schedule: apart from Sundays and one day which is a preparation day missionaries follow a certain format for each day:
Time is one of the most precious resources Heavenly Father has given you. The period when you are able to serve the Lord with all your time and all your efforts is extremely short. Use it fully and wisely. Such an opportunity is a privilege.
6:30 a.m. Arise, pray, exercise (30 minutes), and prepare for the day.
8:00 Personal study
9:00 Companion study
10:00 Language study for 30 to 60 minutes.
11:00 Missionary work/ activities
You may take an hour for lunch and additional study and an hour for dinner at times during the day that fit best with your proselyting time.
9:00 p.m. Return to living quarters (unless teaching a lesson; then return by 9:30), and plan the next day’s activities (30 minutes). Write in your journal, prepare for bed, pray.
10:30 Retire to bed.
Not your normal 19 year old’s schedule!!
As you can tell from the mission rules, although Eleanor is going to a beautiful holiday destination it will not be a holiday. We will explore more in the next post what a mission is all about and the various activities that Eleanor, and all the other missionaries around the world, undertake.