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Missionary Farewell Talks

Mormon Missionaries Elder Smith and Lopez in Rosario Argentina SmilingWhen I left for my mission to Rosario Argentina in 1995, on the Sunday before I left there was held a farewell sacrament meeting for me. My grandma spoke, either my father or mother (or both) spoke, and I spoke. I rememeber my grandma and my father commenting on my good smile. I suppose if I had nothing else going for me in terms of missionary skills (Spanish language skills, gospel teaching skills, etc.) at least I had a good smile 🙂

While I believe my farewell sacrament meeting was completely appropriate, at this time period, back in the 1990s, not all missionary farewells were appropriate. In some instances, the entire sacrament meeting was virtually turned over to the family to do as they pleased, including at times, lengthy talks and elaborate musical numbers. Some families would send out invitations and hold reception lines at the church or do other things that would detract from the sacred nature of a mission call.

In October 2002, President Gordon B. Hinckley put that practice of missionary farewells to rest. Said he:

“Now we have an interesting custom in the Church. Departing missionaries are accorded a farewell. In some wards this has become a problem. Between outgoing missionaries and returning missionaries, most sacrament meetings are devoted to farewells and homecomings.

No one else in the Church has a farewell when entering a particular service. We never have a special farewell-type meeting for a newly called bishop, for a stake president, for a Relief Society president, for a General Authority, or anyone else of whom I can think. Why should we have missionary farewells?

The First Presidency and the Twelve, after most prayerful and careful consideration, have reached the decision that the present program of missionary farewells should be modified.

The departing missionary will be given opportunity to speak in a sacrament meeting for 15 or 20 minutes. But parents and siblings will not be invited to do so. There might be two or more departing missionaries who speak in the same service. The meeting will be entirely in the hands of the bishop and will not be arranged by the family.

…We are convinced that when all aspects of the situation are considered, this is a wise decision. Please accept it, my dear brethren. I extend this plea also to the sisters, particularly the mothers.

We hope also that holding elaborate open houses after the sacrament meeting at which the missionary speaks will not prevail. Members of the family may wish to get together. We have no objection to this. However, we ask that there be no public reception to which large numbers are invited.

Missionary service is such a wonderful experience that it brings with it its own generous reward. And when a missionary returns to his family and his ward, he may again be given opportunity to speak in a sacrament meeting.” (To Men of the Priesthood, General Conference, October 2002)

sacrament meeting speakerSince that time, newly called missionaries have continued to be, as they should be, invited to speak in sacrament meeting a week or two before they depart. And while the sacrament program is not a farewell meeting, it is still the missionary’s farewell talk and most people still refer to it as the missionary farewell.

Priesthood leaders and missionaries should remember the following guideline with regard to missionary farewells:

  • It is a regular sacrament meeting, not a missionary farewell meeting.
  • The bishopric will plan and conduct this meeting, including assigning topics and musical numbers, as they normally do, making sure they are worshipful, faith promoting, and gospel oriented.
  • Family members and friends of the missionary should not be invited to speak so people don’t get the impression that the meeting is a missionary farewell.
  • If there are other departing or returning missionaries around the same time, they can and should be invited to speak in the same sacrament meeting.
  • Missionary talks should not dominate the sacrament meeting schedule to the exclusion of other valuable subjects and speakers.
  • The regular time of the sacrament meeting should not be extended.
  • Members should avoid holding open houses for missionaries (except for family gatherings).

Related Article: How to Write a Talk

My First Day in the Mission Field

Note to my good friends in Argentina: Many of my initial reactions to life in Argentina were completely changed after living there. In this post, though, I tried to capture some of my first reactions, as misguided as they may have been. I love Argentina and the people there and look forward to visiting again some day soon.

map of trip to argentinaI left the MTC in Provo Utah on December 26, 1995. I flew from Salt Lake City to San Francisco en route to Miami, FL. I remember waiting in the airport in Miami, a city with many Spanish speakers, and hearing the announcements for departing flights made in both English and Spanish. I hardly understood anything when they made the Spanish announcements. I sincerely hoped my lack of understanding was due to the poor quality PA system, but honestly I knew my Spanish language skills were pretty weak and it made me very nervous.

From Miami, me and a few other missionaries took a 13 hour flight to Buenos Aires. When I stepped off the plan in Buenos Aires I was astounded by the heat and humidity, and also by the uniformed and armed military personnel standing at the end of the jetway. All of us of missionaries gathered together and none of us knew what to do next. Luckily, a local member of the Church showed up to greet us and help us get our luggage. We sincerely appreciated the assistance. We piled in to a van, and this wonderful helper took us to another, smaller airport. As we waited in this airport, I had to go to the bathroom, and when I went inside I found a toilet and a bidet but no toilet paper. I don’t recall what I did, but I guess I figured something out. Soon we got onto another plane, a small, propellered one, which took us to the city of Rosario.

At the Rosario airport, we were greeted by two missionaries, who were the Assistants to the Mission President. They took us to the mission home, which housed the mission president’s family and also served as the central office for the mission. There we had a meal with the mission president’s family, then a group meeting, and then individual meetings with the president. In the group meeting, the president’s wife spoke about sanitation, being careful of water and washing vegetables thoroughly. I was very concerned about contracting a parasite and her talk actually set my mind at ease somewhat. Still, I was wary of the water. For more detail about my first meeting with my mission president, see this post about arriving in your mission and this post about preparation day.

After a couple of hours at the mission home, the assistants took us to the bus station to catch a bus to our respective areas. I remember being amazed at the assistant’s skill with the Spanish language and the confidence with which they spoke to the bus driver. I longed for the day I could speak Spanish that well (read more on my experience learning a language here). With some trepidation, I boarded the bus and prayed fervently that I would make it to the right city, Paraná, where I had been assigned to work.

Mormon Missionaries in Paraná Argentina 1995I arrived in Paraná late in the evening. Once again I was extremely blessed to be greeted at the bus station by two Elders, the Zone Leaders. They helped me get my suitcases, and then we took a taxi to the apartment where my companion was supposed to be waiting for me. As it turned out, my companion wasn’t expecting me, because he already had a companion. None of us knew it until that moment, but we had been made into a three-person companionship.

The Elders in the apartment were kind and helped me get settled. There wasn’t a third bed in the apartment, so one of them, an American named Elder Ballou, volunteered to sleep on the floor. I was tired from the traveling, yet I still had a restless nights sleep. In the morning, I showered, studied the scriptures, and had breakfast much like I would every other morning in my mission. I was amazed at the electrical device hooked up directly to the shower head to provide hot water (read this post on what to expect in Argentina for more info on the calefón, the common shower water heating device). I counted myself blessed for not being electrocuted. I was pleasantly surprised to find a refrigerator in the apartment, though this turned out to be a luxury I had in only about half of my missionary apartments.

As we went out to work that morning, I followed the other Elders diligently. We walked many dusty roads that day, and I had some difficulty keeping up with the fast pace. We stopped by a few members houses and they each offered us something to drink. Whether it was justified or not, I still had a real fear to drink the beverages offered to us by the members. One of the first places we stopped at, the members offered us some “jugo” (juice). I didn’t want to offend them by not taking it, so I drank it and found it to be significantly watered down flavored drink mix. I didn’t ask for seconds.

Later in the afternoon, we stopped at another member’s home and they offered us some “agua fria” (cold water). I remember being so excited that I actually understood the offer, and I was thrilled just to get some normal, plain cold water to drink. It was a hot day, and when the sister handed me the cup, I gulped it down right away. Big mistake. As the beverage hit my tongue, I almost spit it out. It was carbonated water. And while it was cold and refreshing, it was not what I was expecting.

At one point late in the afternoon, we stopped at a small neighborhood store (a “kiosko”), and Elder Ballou bought a two liter of lemon-lime soda from. Finally, I thought, something good to drink. I had no fear of this drink because we had been told that bottled drinks from the store were safe. After being out in the hot sun for most of the day with little to drink, this was the best tasting drink I had ever had.

That evening, when we got back to the apartment, the Zone Leaders showed up again, expectantly. They said Elder Ballou was getting transferred to another area and he needed to leave right away. Our trio only lasted for one day. Our companionship was back down to two, per the norm, me and Elder Loesener, a native Argentine who spoke English about as well as I spoke Spanish. I was a little worried at first, but Elder Loesener turned out to be a great companion and trainer. Read more about how Elder Loesener helped me in my post on practical steps for mission prep.

It was a whirlwind of a first day in Argentina and first day as a full-time missionary in the field. All in all, I think it went pretty well. We visited with many wonderful members. I don’t recall teaching any non-member discussions on this first day, but there would be plenty of those in the days and weeks ahead (this city is where we found and baptized the wonderful Almada family). In a relatively short period of time I became more comfortable with the language, the food, the people, and the lifestyle. I grew to love Argentina. I met and shared profound gospel discussions with many great people there, and I was blessed to see many families baptized and enter the gate that leads to eternal life with Heavenly Father. Missionary work truly is the work of the Lord.

LDS Church Websites’ Traffic Stats

Though this isn’t exactly related to Mormon Mission Prep, I thought this would nevertheless be a good forum to publish a summary and highlights of official LDS Church Website traffic. As some of you may know, I work for the LDS Church and I am in charge of their Web analytics. Therefore people often ask me, both in my professional and personal life, for data, facts, and figures about Church’s Web presence. For some, it’s a matter of curiosity, for others, they want to use the information in firesides, or fifth Sunday lessons. With the Church’s permission, I’m happy to provide a few data points. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Download One-Page Summary of LDS Church Websites’ Traffic Stats

How many people visit Church sites?

top-ten-lds-church-sites-monthly-visitorsThe family of official LDS Church sites (LDS.org, Mormon.org, FamilySearch.org, etc.) gets about seven million unique visitors per month.

What are the biggest LDS Church sites?

FamilySearch.org is our biggest site with about 3.5 million visitors a month. The LDS.org Home Report Suite* gets about 2.5 million visitors a month. The Gospel Library, which has current and past magazine articles and other content, gets about 1 million visitors each month.

*The LDS.org Home Report Suite includes the home page and several other miscellaneous pages, but it excludes other major site sections such as the Scriptures and General Conference.

How many websites does the Church operate?

top-ten-lds-international-sites-monthly-visitorsThe LDS Church operates over 100 different websites. We have international sites for about 65 countries around the world, plus more than 50 other official Church sites (and the number keeps growing).

What are the top international sites?

Brazil’s site is our biggest international site with almost 40,000 visitors each month. It is followed by Argentina, Mexico, Japan, and Germany.

What are some of the newest official LDS Church sites?

What time of the week do LDS Church sites get the most traffic?

Weekends see the most traffic. LDS.org usage peaks on Sunday mornings, with about to 35,000 visitors per hour. There is also a peak on Saturday nights with about 30,000 visitors per hour. Fridays are the lowest day per week in traffic.

Has mobile traffic been on the rise lately?

Yes, the volume of mobile visitor traffic to Church websites has more than doubled over the past year. The Sunday spike in Church traffic is even more pronounced in relation to mobile, with Sunday traffic from mobile devices about three times the volume of the average day of the week. Sundays see about 45,000 unique mobile visitors, while weekdays generally have about 16,000. The iPhone and iPad are the most frequently used mobile devices browsing Church websites.

LDS Church Websites, Dec 2010
Mobile Device %
Apple iPhone 29.0%
Apple iPad 16.7%
Apple iPod Touch 10.2%
HTC Nexus One 7.1%
HTC Evo 3.7%
HTC Droid Incredible 3.3%
Motorola DroidX 2.3%
Motorola Droid2 1.9%
RIM BlackBerry 8530/Curve 1.7%
Motorola Droid 1.5%

Learning the Language: Tips for Mormon Missionaries

A large percentage of Mormon Missionaries are sent to a foreign land, and the majority of them, and even some that stay state-side, are asked to learn a new language.  This is the next in a series of posts on learning the language of your mission. This language learning series will be good for both future and current missionaries striving to better master their mission language.

mormon-missionaries-with-manReceiving the Gospel In Their Own Tongue

The Lord declared to Joseph Smith that “every man shall hear the fullness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power” (D&C 90:11). Regardless of the language you are called to teach in, whether it be your native tongue or not, you have been “ordained unto this power.” If you have been called to learn a foreign language, part of your calling is to learn to speak your mission language well so that you can help others come unto Christ.

In order for investigators to feel the truth of your message and seek to gain a testimony of their own, people must be able to understand your message clearly. It is true that sometimes missionaries who do not speak their mission language well are blessed to be able to communicate with people through the Spirit, but such instances are rare. Generally speaking, missionaries who speak the language better are more successful at helping others come unto Christ.

My Experience Learning Spanish

When I received my call to go to Argentina and learn Spanish, I was a little afraid. I hardly knew a word of Spanish, but I had faith in the Lord that he would help me.  I knew that thousands of missionaries who had come before me had learned to speak a foreign language, and learned it well. And I knew if the Lord helped them learn a new language, he could certainly help me. And thanks to a lot of hard work, early mornings of extra studying, good companions, and the help of the Lord I was able to learn Spanish. (See the post I wrote last year on learning a language for more detail on my experience learning Spanish)

Prepare Yourself Spiritually

Studying and understanding the doctrines of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ will strengthen your testimony and, in turn, increase your capacity to teach and testify convincingly. The strength of your personal testimony will bring converting power to your words. You must, therefore, then learn to express in your mission language what is in your heart and mind. To succeed in this, you must be spiritually prepared and willing to work hard and be obedient to mission rules and the commandments so you can have the Spirit with you.

Below are some tips from the Preach My Gospel manual on ways you can strengthen your faith that the Lord will help you teach and testify in your mission language:

  • Recognize that you have been called of God by a prophet.
  • Live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
  • Be obedient to the commandments and to missionary standards.
  • Pray sincerely for divine assistance.
  • Study, practice, and use the mission language each day.

Work Hard and Be Persistent

Learning to teach effectively in a new language requires great effort. Do not be surprised if the task seems hard, or if progress comes slower than you expect. It will take time, but if you are persistent, work hard, and seek the Lord’s help, your language skills will grow.

You may be tempted to memorize the discussions or give the lessons word for word from memory, but to truly be effective as a missionary, you must take it to the next level. You must be able to interact well with others, understand the nuances of meaning, deal with uncertainty, and make adjustments as you teach.

As you improve your ability to speak the mission language, the people you meet will listen more to what you say than to how you say it. You will then be less worried about how to communicate the thoughts and feelings in your mind and heart, and you will be better prepared to respond to the needs of your investigators and to follow the promptings of the Spirit.

Continually strive to master the language throughout your mission and even beyond your mission. The Lord has invested much in you, and He may have uses for your language abilities later in your life. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained,

“We would also hope that every missionary learning a new proselyting language would master it in every way possible. Every missionary in this Church can improve his or her mission language skills. And as you do so, your proselyting and testifying skills will improve, you will be better received and more spiritually impressive to your investigators. Keep pushing on language mastery the entire length of your mission. . . . Don’t be satisfied with what we call a missionary vocabulary only. Stretch yourself in the language, and you will gain greater access to the hearts of the people. They will love you for trying to speak and honor their language” (Missionary Satellite Broadcast, August 1998).

You’re Not Alone in Learning the Language

I’ll conclude with another thought from the Preach My Gospel manual:

You are not alone in learning your mission language. Whenever the Lord gives a commandment, He provides a way to accomplish it (see 1 Nephi 3:7). Seek His help. Be dedicated in your study. In time you will acquire the language skills necessary to fulfill your purpose as a missionary.

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).

Conclusion

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.