When I was a missionary, in the 1990s, “transfer” was primarily a verb or perhaps a noun meaning that act of being transferred from one area to another. For today’s missionaries, however, “transfer” has taken on a whole new meaning and is usually a noun meaning a period of time, generally six weeks, between the transfer events. This shift in primary meaning for the word “transfer” seemed to have happened in the early 2000s (if someone has inside knowledge as to more precise timing, please let me know). In this article, we will discuss mission transfers within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, both the traditional and more modern meaning of the word, as well as the two-transfer mission that has become more common in recent years.
Transfer (Verb): to move from one area to another
Missionaries are assigned to serve in a large geographic area called a mission for two years, for young men, or eighteen months, for young women. The geographic area of the mission is usually very large, consisting of multiple large cities–it could be a whole state in the United States or even a whole country in parts Europe, Central America, or South East Asia. Missionaries are generally transferred ever three or four months to different cities or wards (congregations) within their mission. These cities or wards are referred to as the missionaries’ “area” within their mission.
I’m not totally sure why we do this periodic transferring, but I imagine it is designed to give missionaries a variety of experiences, which could vary from area to area, and it also keeps things new and interesting for the missionaries to keep them engaged in the work. While most missionaries spend a few months in an area before being transferred to a new one, the time frame can vary widely, and I’ve heard of missionaries being in an area only 1 month or for as long as a year.
Transfer (Noun): the period of time between two transfer events
When I was a missionary in Argentina from 1995 to 1997, we had transfers once a month, and since transfers always happened on the same day of the week, this meant that sometimes there would be four weeks between transfers and sometimes five weeks in between. That inconsistency of time between transfers, I presume, is what prompted the Church in the early 2000s to standardize the time between transfers to six weeks. Now, every six weeks, the mission president will transfer missionaries to different areas in the mission and that six-week length of time is now known as a “transfer”, as in a transfer period.
Not every missionary is moved to a different area every time there is a transfer–as stated before, missionaries can stay in an area for three or four transfers some time. And not every transfer event happens at the regular six-week interval. Sometimes, on rare occasions, a non-scheduled special transfer can occur due to situations such as an injury or illness causing a missionary to go home early. The change of missionaries assigned to one area can have a ripple effect in many other areas as the mission president shifts people around.
Mission Rules about Transfers
Missionaries are instructed, per the rules in the Missionary Handbook, to stay with their companion at all times. Obviously, this is not possible if the two missionaries have been transferred to two different areas. In my experience, mission presidents usually only transfer one missionary at a time out of an area, to keep continuity. But still, this can leave a missionary on his or her own for a while without the presence of their companion. In talking about transfers, the missionary handbook says:
“Unless otherwise directed by your mission president, go directly to your new area when you are transferred and meet your new companion without delay. If your companion is transferring but you are staying in the area, make arrangements with your district or zone leader so that you are never alone.” (Missionary Handbook)
How Missionary Transfers are Determined
Since transfers are on a regular schedule, it’s no secret when transfers are coming and missionaries are generally anticipating it, wondering if it will be their time to be transferred to a new area. Missionaries are usually kept in suspense about whether or not they will be transferred until a day or two before the transfer. I suppose this is designed to keep young missionaries busy in their regular schedule of teaching, rather than getting trunky and putting things aside if they were to know too far in advance that they are being transferred.
There is no set amount of time for a missionary to be in an area–when the missionary is to come and go from an area depends on the inspiration that the mission president receives. Every six weeks, generally the week before transfers are to happen, the mission president will prayerfully consider the circumstances of missionaries, areas, and the will of the Lord to determine who should be transferred to where. As Elder W. Christopher Waddell of the Seventy reminded us in General Conference:
“Prophets, seers, and revelators assign missionaries under the direction and influence of the Holy Ghost. Inspired mission presidents direct transfers every six weeks and quickly learn that the Lord knows exactly where He wants each missionary to serve.” (The Opportunity of a Lifetime, Oct 2011)
A two-transfer mission is a concept I first heard of also in the early 2000s. Since that time, I have heard them mentioned progressively more and more frequently. The November 16, 2018 letter from the First Presidency, in which they announced that service missions would be treated the same as proselytizing missions, mentioned the two-transfer mission, defined it, and explained how it is utilized by the Church.
“When the stake president is unsure if a candidate could serve a proselyting mission, he may discuss with the candidate the possibility of being called to a two-transfer mission, a service mission, or being honorably excused. …A two-transfer mission is a trial proselyting mission. If the trial mission is successful, the missionary may receive a 15-month or 21-month proselyting mission extension to the same or a different mission. If not, the missionary can be reassigned to a service mission.”
As you can see, the two-transfer mission is using the word transfer in reference to the six-week period of time between transfer events. A two-transfer mission is a trial mission that lasts for 12 weeks (2 six-week transfer periods). In recent years, more and more missionaries have been asked to do two-transfer missions , so please know that if this is asked of you that you are not being singled out.
If missionaries, their parents, or priesthood leaders are not sure if a traditional, full-time proselytizing mission is right for the individual, then then Church could ask them to do this two-transfer mission. During this trial period, the mission president will evaluate if he thinks the missionary would perform well in a full mission. If the answer is yes, the missionary will then receive a new call that will extend their mission to two years or eighteen months. If the answer is no, then the missionary will be honorable excused from missionary service or they may choose to serve a church service mission. (see the Church’s page called A Customized Experience)
Conclusion: Memorable Mission Transfers I Had
I have written about my first day in Argentina, including my journey there and traveling to my first area, which basically is a transfer though a unique one since you are transferring from the MTC. I have also written about my first transfer from one area in Argentina to another, so I recommend you reading about both of those memorable transfers. Additionally, I fondly remember one other transfer in Argentina after I had been serving in the Godoy Ward for several months. While there, I had baptized several people include an entire family with the last name of Godoy and a great man named German Arrieta. German and his family, when they heard I was being transferred to another city, quickly but thoroughly arranged a going away party for me. I was very moved by the gesture and was touched in my heart by the fact that German and the others loved me and would miss me.
And so it is with mission transfers. You do great work building up the Kingdom of God on earth and meet many people and make wonderful friends but eventually you get transferred away. But those friendships endure and when we all receive our final transfer to the Celestial Kingdom of Heaven, then we will be reunited. Until we meet again, God be with you.