Preparation Day

Preparation day (or P Day as it is often referred to) is a missionary’s once a week chance to do big shopping trips, play sports, do laundry and write letters home to family and friends.  Preparation day is the one day a week in which Mormon missionaries get a break from their usual proselytizing labors.  It is called preparation day because it is designed to help missionaries prepare physically for the week ahead. P day, in my mission, was on Mondays, though the day of the week may vary from mission to mission.

Preparation day ends around dinner time (about 6:00 P.M.), after which missionaries are expected to carry on normal proselytizing activities.  At least those are the p day instructions in the missionary guide; when I got to my mission, I found a slight alteration to that policy. rosario argentina mission home fisherton

When I arrived in Argentina, it was late December and in the middle of a long, hot, muggy summer (remember the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere).  At the airport to meet us were a couple of the office Elders, and they took me and the other new Elders and Sister missionaries to the mission home located in the Rosario, Argentina suburb of Fisherton.  The mission home was big and in a nice area of town and soon we met our mission president, Thomas Coburn, and his wife.

The introductory meeting with President Coburn lasted an hour or two.  He inspired and uplifted us, shared some scriptures, and reviewed the mission rules.  One of the Rosario mission rules that differed from those in the missionary guide was regarding p day.  In the missionary guide, it said to use preparation day to see cultural and historical sites in the countries where you serve.  President Coburn said there really were no such sites worth seeing in our mission, therefore he was cutting p day short by two hours.  Preparation day would end at 4 o’clock for us, and this would give us a couple of extra hours each week to do missionary work. monumento bandera flag monument rosario argentina

This shortened preparation day was a disappointment to me at first, but I soon realized it wasn’t a big deal.  I still had plenty of time to do my shopping, write my letters home, and I even got to play basketball a few times.  And though there weren’t a whole lot of cultural or historical sites in the places I served, I did make it to the Argentina Monumento a la Bandera (Flag Monument).


I hope you future missionaries remember to make good use of your preparation day.  Don’t forget to write a letter or email to your parents every p day.  By making wise use of your time on this day, you will be better prepared throughout the week to do the work of the Lord.

Mormon Polygamy

Today’s post is in response to a question received on the Web site.  A young man who is preparing for his mission asked me how I would respond to his non-member friend who asked why Joseph Smith practiced polygamy.  The polygamy question is one I got only a time or two on my mission, but one that missionaries should be prepared to answer. wilford_woodruff

First, I would answer that polygamy is part of our past, but not part of the present Mormon Church.  Joseph Smith began publicly teaching the principle of plural marriage (polygamy) in the 1840s, but by the year 1890 (119 years ago), polygamy was officially discontinued by the Church.  The book of the Doctrine and Covenants contains the official declaration from Church President Wilford Woodruff ending polygamy. Also, last year, the Church created a site with a lot of good resources for people seeking the truth about Mormon polygamy. Bottom line, today there are over 15 million Mormons around the world, and none of them practice polygamy.

Now, having established Mormons do not now practice polygamy, it still doesn’t address the question of why Joseph Smith instituted the practice in the early days of the Church.  To answer the why question, I’d like to quote the Church’s official statement on polygamy. It reads:

“At certain times and for His specific purposes, God, through His prophets, has directed the practice of plural marriage (sometimes called polygamy), which means one man having more than one living wife at the same time. In obedience to direction from God, Latter-day Saints followed this practice for about 50 years during the 1800s but officially ceased the practice of such marriages after the Manifesto was issued by President Woodruff in 1890. Since that time, plural marriage has not been approved by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and any member adopting this practice is subject to losing his or her membership in the Church.” (emphasis added)

Jacob Blessing His SonsThe statement from the Church goes on to cite instance in the Bible where Abraham, Jacob, and others of the Lord’s servants had plural wives (see Genesis 16:1–3; 29:23–30; 30:4, 9; Judges 8:30; 1 Samuel 1:1–2).

Joseph Smith also asked God why he had been commanded to restore the practice of plural marriage and was told simply that the Lord has His reasons.  One of those reasons given by the Lord is mentioned in the Book of Mormon: “If I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall [have only one wife]” (Jacob 2:30; see also v. 27).  In other words, it was to bring more children into the world who would be raised up faithful to the Lord.  (sourced, again, from the Church’s official declaration on polygamy)

The polygamy question is a tough one to answer, and missionaries should know it’s okay to say they don’t know all the reasons why.  We know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and we know it came as a commandment from God. As a missionary, the conversation should then turn to helping the investigator gain their own testimony of Joseph Smith which can be gained by reading the Book of Mormon and praying to know its truthfulness. (see my previous post on The Power of the Book of Mormon)

Finally, I’ll leave you with two video clips.  The first is from President Hinckley’s October 1998 General Conference talk where he reiterated the Church’s position against polygamy.  The second video is from Truman Madsen where he explains more of the history of Mormon polygamy and the doctrinal reason’s why Joseph Smith was commanded to do it.

New Section: Mormon Missionaries in the News

mormon missionaries newsI’ve added a new section to the Web site called Mormon Missionaries in the News.

I have found, in my daily perusing of the news, that I often run across articles in which Mormon missionaries or LDS Church missionary service is highlighted.  The Mormon Missionaries in the News page has about six articles posted there now, and I will add to that over time.

If you know of a news article about Mormon missionaries that is not listed below, please contact Mormon Mission and I’ll add it to the page.

Also, don’t forget about the page of recommended reading on missionary preparation with articles from Church General Authorities. I recently added a good article for the youth called Spiritual Crocodiles, and a good one on leadership skills called Jesus: The Perfect Leader.

Truman Madsen

Truman Madsen I was sad to hear that Truman Madsen passed away last week at 82 years of age and after a long battle with cancer.  Many of you young future missionaries may not even know who Truman Madsen was, so let me tell you a little about him and about the influence he has had on me.

I first learned of Truman Madsen when I was a freshman at BYU and he gave a devotional address.  I had a professor urge us to go listen to the talk, calling him “a general authority without authority.”  I quickly learned that though not a General Authority of the Church, he certainly was an authority on many gospel and Church history topics.  8 lectures on Joseph Smith by Truman Madsen

Truman G. Madsen was a grandson to the seventh president of the Church, Heber J. Grant.  He was a Professor of Philosophy at Brigham Young University, and former Director of the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies in Jerusalem.  He wrote numerous books and released countless recorded talks, and he was one of the editors of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

Some of my favorite lectures by Truman Madsen are:jesus Of Nazareth By Truman Madsen

When I returned from my mission and began again my studies at BYU, I was lucky enough to have Truman G. Madsen as my stake president.  A couple of his teachings that I remember from that time was once, in stake conference, he was giving a talk about moving forward with faith.  He said, to paraphrase, “some day, when you die and are in Heaven, you will realize that you accidentally married the right person.”  presidents Of The Church By Truman Madsen

Though smarter than just about anyone else, Truman Madsen was also humble.  I once met him when he was my stake president and I had requested a meeting to talk about a personal issue.  When I told him the situation, he said he felt unqualified to help, but one of his counselors in the stake presidencies had particular training and skill in that area and he suggested I talk to him instead.

Truman G. Madsen’s love of the gospel and love of learning were contagious and had a profound impact on my life.  He will certainly be missed by me, by the LDS community, and by any who knew him.  A memorial service will be held Tuesday, June 2, at noon, at the Provo Utah Tabernacle. Here are some additional news articles about him from the last couple of days:

How to Write a Talk

Giving impromptu Church talks is a pretty common request of missionaries. Additionally, every missionary gives a farewell talk in sacrament meeting before they leave. Therefore, knowing how to write and deliver a talk is an essential missionary skill.

I gave at least one talk in every ward or branch to which I was assigned as a missionary. My first talk was my first Sunday in Argentina.  I arrived in my area mid-week, and one of the first people my senior companion took me to visit was the branch president.  I didn’t understand much of the conversation, but I did understand that he wanted me to give a five minute talk on Sunday. elder loesener hermano cabrera gazano argentina

The Gazano branch was very small; we only had 20 or 25 people attend Church each week.  One of the active members was our landlord, Brother Cabrera, who rented us a room in his house.  The branch president didn’t assign me a topic, so I basically just bore my testimony of Jesus Christ and the restored gospel.  If new missionaries can do nothing else, they can bear their testimony, even if it is in broken Spanish.  I can remember struggling through the talk with Brother Cabrera, sitting on the front row prompting me, correcting my Spanish, and encouraging me.

Through my two-year mission, my Church talks, along with my Spanish language skills improved.  It got to the point where being asked to give a talk with only five minutes notice was no big deal, which, though rare, did happen a few times.

In the ten plus years since my mission, those impromptu speech skills have diminished, I’m sure, though I was probably never an expert on how to write a talk.  BYU Professor Randy Bott, who teaches a Mission Prep class, though, is an expert on how to write a talk for Church. In a recent article in BYU Magazine called How to Write a Church Talk, he discussed the four elements a sacrament meeting talk should have: 1) a purpose, 2) main ideas, 3) expansion or validation, and 4) your testimony.professor randy bott

  • Purpose: “Once a person has the purpose, the rest of the talk is easy.”  If your topic was faith, for example, you could come up with a purpose statement like “The purpose of my talk is to teach people how to recognize the power of faith in their own lives.”
  • Main Ideas: You will need one or two, or perhaps more, main ideas that support this purpose. One might be “Faith is the very motivating power that enables us to act.” A second main idea might be “I can increase faith by recognizing it in my life.”
  • Expansion or Validation:  You can expand or validate the main ideas with stories, scriptures, or examples of faith (or whatever your topic is) in your life.
  • Testimony: Says Professor Bott, “I would honestly evaluate how strongly I feel about the principle I am teaching and then testify about that principle.”

Professor Bott says this method can be used to write any talk in five minutes or less. In fact, he says he once gave a twenty minute talk with less than one minute’s notice and did so by simply following the steps above.

So you future missionaries, learn these steps for how to write a talk.  By learning the gospel principles missionaries teach and by having organization to your talk as Professor Bott indicates, you will be able to deliver great sermons when called upon.  D&C 84: 85 “Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.”

Restoration of the Priesthood

John Baptist Aaronic Priesthood Joseph SmithToday marks the 180th anniversary of the restoration of the priesthood of God.  It was May 15, 1829 when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery went into the woods on the banks of the Susquehanna River and prayed to God to for the authority to baptize.  Their prayer was answered and the resurrected John the Baptist, the same who baptized Jesus Christ, descended from heaven, laid his hands on their hands and ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood.  This event is recorded in section 13 of the Doctrine and Covenants and this is what John said:

“Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.”

Restoration of the Priesthood Video

Below is a video that I found depicting the restoration of the priesthood.  The video seems to be a 1970s seminary video produced by the LDS Church, but it’s good and short (about 6 minutes).  It portrays John the Baptist restoring the Aaronic Priesthood to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery followed by Peter, James and John coming to restore the Melchizedek, or higher Priesthood.

elder david a bednarMissionary Work Inherent in the Priesthood
Elder David A. Bednar, in his Nov 2005 talk called Becoming a Missionary, said:

“All of us who have received the holy priesthood bear the sacred obligation to bless the nations and families of the earth by proclaiming the gospel and inviting all to receive by proper authority the ordinances of salvation…Proclaiming the gospel is not an activity in which we periodically and temporarily engage. And our labors as missionaries certainly are not confined to the short period of time devoted to full-time missionary service in our youth or in our mature years. Rather, the obligation to proclaim the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is inherent in the oath and covenant of the priesthood into which we enter. Missionary work essentially is a priesthood responsibility, and all of us who hold the priesthood are the Lord’s authorized servants on the earth and are missionaries at all times and in all places—and we always will be. Our very identity as holders of the priesthood and the seed of Abraham is in large measure defined by the responsibility to proclaim the gospel.”

Blessings of the Priesthood

So on this anniversary of such an important occasion as the restoration of the priesthood, I hope that we priesthood holders remember that missionary work is an inherent part of the priesthood we hold.  I also pray that we remember what a privilege and a blessing it is to hold the priesthood.  It is through the priesthood that the Lord does his work and blesses mankind.  And by being faithful in our priesthood callings, we prepare ourselves and become eligible to receive magnificent blessings from the Lord ourselves.

As it says in the oath and covenant of the priesthood found in D&C 84:33–34 “For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies. They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God”

Mothers’ Role in Mission Prep

Friberg Helaman Stripling Warriors In the Book of Mormon, in Alma Chapter 56, the Nephite and Lamanite nations are engulfed in war.  A group of Lamanite converts to the Church, known as the people of Ammon, wanted to help defend the Nephite people.  The Ammonite adults, though, had made a covenant never to go to war again, so it was their sons, 2,000 of them, that volunteered to go to war to defend their families.

The prophet Helaman said of these 2,000 stripling warriors, “Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.  And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” (Alma 56: 47 – 48)

The mothers of the 2,000 stripling warriors, like latter-day saint mothers today, had a profound influence on their children, which gave them faith to overcome all obstacles.  Just like with these youth in the battles of the Book of Mormon, mothers today are preparing their children to do a great work and there is probably no more vital role in mission prep.

jimmy and heather smith kids Many mothers, my wife included, may not realize the great work they are doing.  It is so easy to get caught up in the mundane, day to day routines with raising children, that we neglect to see the great work we are doing.

I want to talk today about what so many good mothers are already doing, sometimes unwittingly, to prepare their children for missionary service. Four things come to mind that my wife does daily with our children that is teaching them faith and skills that will help them become great missionaries some day.  (There are actually more than four things, but for now we’ll focus on these four.) She teaches the children to:

  • Get Along with Others
  • Be Clean and Tidy
  • Obey the First Principles of the Gospel
  • Read the Book of Mormon

I suspect most latter-day saint mothers are also doing these four simples things as well, and in the process, they are teaching vital missionary skills and doing a wonderful job raising the next generation of Mormon missionaries.

kids playingGet Along with Others

When playing with siblings or other children, my wife has two rules for our kids: be kind and be safe.  These two rules have been found to cover a multitude of situations, and they teach our children how to get along well with others.  I have talked about the important missionary characteristic of sociability in the past.  This is what Elder S. Dilworth Young said in General Conference in April 1972, “faith-building begins in the cradle…In the formative years your boy will need to learn how to give and take, how to get along, how to put up with inconveniences, how to be patient and tolerant, how to resolve differences with playmates and, later, with missionary companions.”

Be Clean and Tidy

Like any good parents, we have our children do daily chores of cleaning their rooms and other household tasks.  Helping your children learn now to stay clean and organized will help them be more productive and spiritual throughout their lives.  Again, quoting Elder Young, he says missionaries “will need to learn that bodily cleanliness goes with spiritual cleanness and that the body is the expression of the spirit…he should learn that the dusty, ill-kept room with its unmade bed is the devil’s best means of discouragement.”

Obey the First Principles of the Gospel

Like most parents of small children, we try, frequently unsuccessfully, to maintain their attention once a week for Family Home Evening.  We focus on basic gospel principles such as faith in Christ, and obedience to the commandments.  These basic gospel principles will form the foundation of what they will be teaching people across the world as they go forth as missionaries.  Again, quoting Elder Young, he says the future missionary should “learn to know that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will give men reason for their repentance from sin, which is the great doctrine that brings hope; that baptism by immersion is both a covenant and a sign of acceptance; and that the gift of the Holy Ghost is what makes him, and his father and his mother, different from the world; and that it will make those he converts different also.”

Read the Book of Mormonmother reading to children

Nightly, my wife gathers the family for scripture reading in the Book of Mormon.  We quickly went through the illustrated versions, and though our children are still small, we have moved on the full version now.  Nightly reading of the Book of Mormon, though it may only be a a few minutes, teaches the children the importance of that book in our lives.  And though they do not understand everything, the Spirit of the Lord is there, teaching and testifying things they will not forget.  Elder Young says that by reading the Book of Mormon with your children and helping them gain a testimony of the truthfulness of that book, “you will have him on his way to becoming a missionary…He will not consider the Book of Mormon dull reading if you will make it live for him while he is growing.”


The mothers in the Church are doing a wonderful job of raising the next generation of missionaries.  I can’t thank my wife enough for the work she does, often without recognition, in raising our children and teaching them the principles that will help them succeed on their missions, in life and in the eternities.

And here are some concluding thoughts from Elder Young: “These young folks may become great of themselves, but with the faith and teaching of their fathers and mothers they will become greater…He depends on us to teach our children truth that they may better serve the Father of their spirits and live.”

The future missionary “will be taught these lessons at the home evening, at the dinner table, at bedtime, in camp, on hikes and journeys. And driven home at all these stages will be the theme that the greatest adventure a boy can have is to go on a mission and learn to depend on the Lord when faced with a bitter, cold, or hostile world, and that the greatest joy he can experience is to give of his all in the service of the Master in bringing souls unto him.”

Quotes from: Missionary Training Begins Early S. Dilworth Young, Gen Conf, April 1972.

Preparing Youth for a Mission

[colored_box color=”blue”]Note from the site editor, Jimmy Smith: Though they probably wouldn’t consider themselves experts, my parents know a lot about preparing youth for a mission.  They sent eight sons on a mission.  So I recently asked my dad to send me his thoughts on preparing children to serve full-time missions.[/colored_box]

1. Love the Lord

smith_scout_family_picture“If the parents love the Lord with all their heart, might, mind and strength, then the children will see this, and they will be most likely to emulate the underlying faith and devotion of their parents…Children often don’t fully appreciate the devotion of their parents until the kids grow up. But still, when the parents have ‘an eye single to the glory of God,’ the kids recognize this…No sermons can undo the actions of a parent who is not truly committed to serve the Lord with all his/her heart.”

“Only by adhering to this first and great commandment can a family expect to have the Spirit in their home with sufficient frequency to make that home special. The parents who keep this first and great commandment can make their homes a bit of heaven on earth. Such homes are, of course, an important temple in the lives of our children.”

“The conversation of parents who love the Lord with all their hearts will regularly turn to the most important issues and themes of life: the purpose of life; testimony of God and faith in Him; the blessings from the Word of God, including the Book of Mormon and modern revelation; cherishing the words of living prophets; being a hard worker; giving a significant portion of one’s life to church and community service.”

“They receive the companionship of the Holy Ghost, which fills the soul with hope and happiness and love and the desire to serve others. This greatest of all gifts—the gift of a loving heart—comes to those who truly love the Lord with all their heart…These people then become the most grateful and humble and loving people in the world. Their gratitude to the Lord Jesus Christ and their devotion to Him become powerful parts of their character.”read book of mormon

2. Read the Book of Mormon

“Encourage your children to read the Book of Mormon at an early age—10 and 11 is not too young. Then they need to re-read it when their 12 or 13. Reading the Book of Mormon brings many spiritual insights and witnesses. There is no substitute for this.” Encourage them to read the Book of Mormon individually and as in family scripture study.

3. Keep the Sabbath Day Holy

“Sabbath observance is perhaps the most important commandment to help prepare for a mission. I would suggest having family home evening FHE on Sunday as well as on Monday. FHE is a perfect family activity for Sunday: it causes the family to focus on the Lord, on the scriptures and on spiritual things.”

youth basketball4. Community Involvement

“Participate in important community activities. If we are to be a light to the world, we will want to interact with our neighbors and friends. We cannot share the gospel with non-member friends if we do not interact with any non-members. I think we, as a church, can do better in reaching out to others to just be friends—to participate with others in worthwhile activities or causes. This will result in missionary opportunities. When our children see this example, it will help them to know how to develop relations with non-member friends—which is one of the keys to missionary work.” In many cases this community involvement will be through sports, music, theatre, academics, and other activities.

5. Listen to Good Music

“I have benefited tremendously from listening to great music—I’m speaking of classical music and Tabernacle Choir recordings. Such music should be heard regularly in our homes. Much of it is powerful, prayerful, worshipful music. Parents should want their kids exposed to this. While some kids shun this at first, after a while they mormon tabernacle choirlearn to appreciate it. On my mission, I found that I often reflected on and hummed or sang the inspired words of scripture that was put to music and sung by the Tabernacle Choir…This was a great source of inspiration.”

“In conclusion, I don’t suppose there is any finite list of what to do and what not to do to prepare one’s children to go on missions. The starting point may be for parents to desire this for their children with all of their hearts. If we realize the life-changing and saving effect that the mission experience will bring to our children, we will do all we can to prepare them to have this opportunity/challenge.”

Mission Papers

missionary recommendation application form

The Mission Papers, also known as the Checklist for Full-Time Missionary Recommendation or the Missionary Recommendation Form, is the application Mormon missionary candidates, young and old, fill out to initiate the process of serving a mission. Though we often call it paperwork, it is available in two formats: 1) the physical paper forms to fill out and 2) a web-based version to fill out the information online.

Paper Forms

missionary recommend packet at LDS Store

If your bishop does not have the paper forms, he can order them from the “Unit Materials” section of, the online store for the LDS Church. Visit that site, login with your LDS Account, and then search for “Missionary Recommend Packet” and you will find the mission papers. Or login to the LDS Store and click this link to go directly to the page to order the Missionary Recommend Packet.

If you are looking for the forms to download in PDF format, I’m sorry but the Church just does not make them available that way. Though you can try doing a Google search for Checklist for Full-Time Missionary Recommendation, and sometimes you’ll find people have posted them.

Online Forms

You must get access to the online version of the mission application from your bishop. The Missionary Online Recommendation System, that’s that official name of the website for the online mission papers, can be accessed at In order to get past the login screen, though, your bishop must first go into the site and get the process started and grant you access. He will let you know when that is done so you can login and begin to fill out the information.

Related Articles

The LDS Mission Call Process is one of the most frequent topics that people ask me about. Below is a summary and links to other articles I have written on the subject.

  • Mission Call Process Overview: This article gives answers to questions about the LDS Mission Call Process from meeting with your bishop, to submitting the mission papers / application, and then receiving the call letter.
  • Mission Application Timeline: In this article, I give details about the steps involved in the mission call process with particular emphasis on when to begin, and how long to expect each step to take.
  • Mission Application Form: This article talks in detail about the sections of Checklist for Full-Time Missionary Recommendation. It will give you a good idea of the information and other things you will need to do to fill out the papers. 
  • Missionaries Are Called by God: In this article, Elder Ronald A. Rasband explains the LDS Mission Call Process, particularly, how missionaries are called by God through inspiration to our living prophets.
  • Mission Call Letter: Two to four weeks after the Church receives you mission application, you will receive your call packet in the mail. This packet will contain your mission call letter from the prophet, as well as other materials, including a list of mission clothing and other items to bring. Read this article for more detail on the contents of the call packet.
  • LDS Mission Cost: How much does an LDS mission cost? Mormon missionaries pay their own expenses: $400 a month for young people from the United States (that’s $7,200 for sister missionaries who serve for 18 months, and $9,600 for men who serve two-years). Read the article for more detail.
  • Day of the Week Mission Calls are Issued and Mailed Out: Future missionaries often wonder what day of the week mission calls are issued and mailed out. The answer is it depends, though the most common scenario has the call issued on a Friday and the call letter being sent out from Church headquarters on a Tuesday. Check out the article for more detail.

Learning a Language: My Experience Learning Spanish

Many Mormon missionaries are asked to serve in places far from their home where they are required to learn to speak a foreign language.  Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the people of the world, each in their own language, is a mandate from God.  In a revelation to Joseph Smith the Prophet in 1833, the Lord said, “For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power.” (Doctrine and Covenants 90:11)

My Language Learning Story

Prior to my mission call, I had studied French in high school, and when I filled out my mission papers, I indicated that experience and my desire to go to a non-English speaking mission.  I knew that despite two-years of French in high-school, my ability communicate in a foreign language was very poor, so I was a little apprehensive about really learning to speak a new language.  But I found faith and strength in the fact that so many missionaries had gone before me and had learned to speak a new language.

When I received my mission call to a Spanish speaking country, Argentina, I knew the challenge would be even greater than I previously thought.  After spending nine weeks at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) learning Spanish, I found myself in Argentina.  Hearing the people speak there, I wondered if they taught me the wrong language, because I could barely understand anything.  In fact, soon I found out that Argentine’s don’t speak Spanish, they speak el Castellano (Argentina’s version of Spanish). elder pinto and smith rural argentina

The missionary daily schedule has built in 30 minutes of language studying each day, but for me, I found that wasn’t helping my language skills improve fast enough.  So for the first six months I spent in Argentina, I got up a half hour early to get a full hour of language studying each day.  My companions were a big help as well.  Both of my first two companions were native Argentine’s.  The first spoke English, but the second spoke no English.  I had only been in Argentina for three months when I was placed with my second companion.  Those days of pure Spanish speaking, so early in my mission, were very difficult, but undoubtedly helped my language skills tremendously.  I can remember dreaming in English, and then waking and dreading when I realized I had to communicate entirely in Spanish.

With time, my comfort with the Spanish language improved.  In fact, in the later half of my mission I got frequent compliments on my language skills.  One brother, in the Arroyito Ward of Rosario, paid me the ultimate compliment when he said that it took him a few minutes of listening to me speak before he realized I was an American.  He said I had a very good “Porteno” (Buenos Aires) accent.  But those language skills never would have come without hard work and blessings from the Lord of the gift of tongues.

The Gift of Tongues

President Thomas S. Monson once said, “Make it known to the young people that it is not certain that the Lord will direct their paths to do missionary work in an area where the language they have learned is spoken. But if they are called to a completely different country, they will at least have the advantage of having learned well a second language. Learning another language is then usually not so difficult for them, because they have learned how to study and therefore will make rapid progress, especially when they are guided by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Elder Jacob de Jager said, “Some missionaries go to the Missionary Training Center to learn a foreign language with great fears because they are afraid they will not be able to learn the language of their assigned mission area. Let me relieve these fears. I have seen the very practical approach of language teaching in the MTC, and I believe in the gift of tongues. Miracles happen when missionaries learn to speak in a foreign language by the power of the Spirit.”

mtc missionary training center provoPresident Joseph F. Smith received the gift of tongues when, as a young man, he went out on his mission. He said: “I was in a foreign land, sent to preach the gospel to a people whose language I could not understand. Then I sought earnestly for the gift of tongues, and by this gift and by study [I am sure he put in a lot of hours], in a hundred days after landing upon those islands I could talk to the people in their language as I now talk to you in my native tongue.” (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, p. 201)

Source: “Become Acquainted … with Languages, Tongues, and People” By Elder Jacob de Jager, Oct 1982.

Ideas for Language Learning

Learning to speak a new language is not easy, but there are some things future missionaries can do to be more prepared for this trial. Steven R. Wright, one time director of language training at the Missionary Training Center, said, “be sure to do these three things: study the language regularly and faithfully, use the language whenever possible, and seek divine assistance.” Here are some further suggestions from Brother Wright:

  • Take a language class. Study at a local university, take an adult education class in the evening, or try a home-study course offered by a reputable school.
  • Speak the language. Instead of merely learning about the language, have a goal of being able to speak well and understand well. Practice the language with family members or friends who have served a mission or traveled in a foreign culture and have learned this language as a second language.
  • Learn about people and cultures. Read about the people and the country. Visit with someone who is from the country or who has been there. If possible, travel to the country to gain firsthand knowledge of it.
  • Study vocabulary at home. Vocabulary is the most important area when beginning to study a foreign language. Buy a dictionary, label your home with names of objects in the new language, and practice until the words become yours. Purchase a Book of Mormon in the new language and compare familiar verses in English.