The Mormon mission experience

Story and slideshow by ZACH DAVIS

The tradition of serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormon church) is rooted in the very beginning of the religion in 1830.

The first Mormon missionary to be called was the Prophet Joseph Smith’s younger brother Samuel Smith.

Following Samuel Smith’s call other leaders of the Mormon church were called, including Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr. and Ziba Peterson, who were tasked with teaching the American Indians.

Mormon missionaries were the leaders of the church who preached about their religion across North America.

Later the ones serving missions would shift to the younger members who would be called by the leaders of the Mormon church.

The first mission overseas in the British Isles was fulfilled by Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde in 1837. This led to many converts to the religion immigrating to the United States during the 1840s.

During the 1850s Mormon missionaries expanded beyond the British Isles to countries such as Chile, France, Germany, India, Italy, South Africa and Switzerland.

During this time men had served as Mormon missionaries.

Then in 1898, the first female missionaries, Inez Knight and Lucy Jane Brimhall, were called to serve.

Now the missionary force is comprised of single men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 serving in 422 missions around the world. Mormon missions are two years for men and one and a half years for women.

Preparing for a Mission

The process of being called as a missionary begins with the individual’s desire to serve a mission. If they so desire, they will meet with their bishop (leader of the congregation) to further assess if they are ready to serve.

Individuals must be physically capable of serving, mentally stable, spiritually prepared (believe in what they are preaching), and be morally clean.

Preparing to Serve in 1965

“As I was growing up, I attended all of the church meetings, and in high school they had a program called release time (seminary) in which a person could leave campus and for one hour study the teachings of their now particular religious beliefs, and get credit towards it being one of the student’s elective studies. I took advantage of this for gaining more knowledge of the LDS Church,” Ron Davis said.

When Ron graduated high school, he was unable to leave directly for his mission. Instead he worked for three years to save up enough money to finance his two-year mission.

After working with his bishop, Ron submitted his application to serve as a missionary. This led to him being assigned to the North Scottish Mission in Scotland.

He left for the Missionary Training Center (MTC) located in Provo, Utah, in February 1965, just a month before his 21st birthday.

Serving in 1997

Throughout her life Ron Davis’s daughter-in-law, Jemela Davis, knew that she wanted to serve a mission for the Mormon church. To prepare to serve she participated in the four-year seminary program and took missionary preparation courses offered by the Mormon church through the institutes of religion program.

Jemela was able to finance her mission by working and saving as much as she could. Her parents and close friends financed the rest.

After successfully completing her application for missionary service in 1997 she was assigned to the Chile Antofagasta Mission.

Serving in 2014

To prepare for her mission, Sam Brady said she attended a mission preparation class each Sunday. She also went to temple preparation classes to prepare her to receive her endowments.

When it came to financing her mission, Sam worked full-time to raise the funds with her parents supplementing where needed. While on her mission Sam also received donations from people from time to time.

Once Sam completed all the necessary paperwork to serve her mission she received her call to the Hungary Budapest Mission, in Hungary.

She left for the MTC in September 2014.

Missionary Training Center (MTC)

Scotland Bound

While at the MTC Ron found that it was a very structured place. His daily schedule began at 6 a.m. He said his personal prayers, dressed, ate breakfast, attended instructional periods, then practiced with other missionaries to lessen the feelings of uncertainty about telling people how he felt about the Mormon church.

One of the things he said he found most interesting while at the MTC was that it “seemed a little like role playing, because at times the teachers would all of sudden take a negative approach and then you had to change their outlook with your knowledge of the truths that you were going to present to the people once in the mission that you would be called to.”

When Ron left the MTC after two weeks he was “excited to be going on [his] first plane ride, and to be going to another country.” The plane stopped in London and then went to Edinburgh, where the mission home was headquartered.


Jemela’s daily schedule at the MTC was filled from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. From 6:30 to 9 a.m. she would do personal preparation, individual scripture study and eat breakfast. Then from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. she would participate in morning classes. After lunch, she would do further classes from 1 to 5 p.m. Dinner at 6 p.m. was followed by more evening classes from 7-9 p.m. At 9 p.m. she would return to her dorm for further personal duty until bedtime at 10 p.m.

The classes that Jemela attended focused on learning Spanish, the missionary discussions and cultural lessons regarding Chile.

She spent nine weeks in the MTC. Because she was assigned to a foreign language mission, she needed adequate time to learn the language in order to better teach the people of Chile.

“Hungary” for knowledge

Life at the MTC for Sam wasn’t all fun and games. In fact, it was very strict and rough, but she also found it very spiritually uplifting.

A regular day for her at the MTC consisted of waking at 6:30 a.m. to get ready and eat breakfast in the cafeteria. At 8 a.m. she did personal study in the classroom. This was followed by discussing what she had learned with her companions. At 10 a.m. she engaged in language study with the rest of the day being broken up by Hungarian lessons, devotionals and practice lessons.

Brady also spent nine weeks in the MTC in order to learn Hungarian.

When it came time to leave for Budapest, Brady said she “was extremely nervous and excited all at once.”

Mission Field

Life in Scotland

It was a very cold February when Ron arrived in Edinburgh. For the first time in 50 years the main rivers had frozen.

Ron said it rained often – sometimes daily for weeks at a time. He needed two overcoats: one to wear while the other dripped over the tub so it would be dry to wear the next day.

His normal attire was limited to dark-colored (dark blue, dark brown, or black) suits and pants to match. He wore white shirts, very conservative ties, hats and shoes.

Ron woke early each morning and said a prayer. Then he read and studied the Scriptures before eating breakfast. Then he and his companion left to go tracting (look for people interested in talking about the church). After doing that for a few hours the Mormon companions ate lunch.

When proselytizing Ron and his companion (fellow missionary) were often rejected with doors being slammed in their faces. This was done in the hope of finding someone who was willing to hear what they had to say about the Mormon church.

Occasionally during their tracting they’d set up appointments to talk with people in their home.

At supper time, the missionaries would return to where they were lodging to eat. After eating they would go out once more to meet their appointments and teach them about the Mormon church. When the day finally had finished the missionaries would return to their lodging, study and read the Scriptures some more, get ready for bed, say their prayers and retire for the night to be ready to repeat the cycle the next day.

The reason missionaries travel in pairs is because Scripture discusses going “two by Two” (Mark 6:7). It was safer to have more than one missionary together as it allowed them to keep each other out of trouble.

The biggest thing Ron didn’t like during his mission was knocking on doors to meet people as the process of street meetings and discussions weren’t used when he was serving. And during this time the Mormons weren’t very popular.

On Wednesdays Ron took his shirts to the laundry and washed the rest of his clothes at the cleaners or coin laundry.

When it came time to leave the country, Ron said he was “kind of sad” because he had devoted “two years of [his] life in an effort to bring the joy and happiness of the restored gospel here upon the earth and now it was coming to an end.”

Trials in Chile

Jemela arrived in Chile unaware of the trials and poverty she would be facing.

During her mission, she said she lost over 60 pounds and became frail. She and her companions had to boil their drinking water to avoid getting sick.

Soon after these hardships, Jemela said she was able to “set aside the life [she] knew to develop [her] spiritual self.” Instead of focusing on the hardships she focused on faith, prayer and fasting. When meeting people she and her companions would do anything to help make Chileans’ lives better.

The normal attire for sister missionaries in Chile was skirts and blouses. They “could not wear nylons because the fleas get caught in between the nylon netting and [their] legs, resulting in the fleas biting you repeatedly,” Jemela said.

When Jemela found out that she would be serving in such a poverty-stricken country instead of buying brand new clothes she bought clothes from a second-hand store to use on her mission. The reason for this she said was “[she] did not want to appear wealthy or to send a message that she was better than [the Chilean people].”

At one point, she only had two pairs of socks causing her to have to wash them at noon each day and hang them to dry so they would be ready for the following day.

“With the exception of the clothes on my back, I gave away all of my clothes to the Chilean people,” Jemela said.

The daily routine during Jemela’s mission was to get up at 7 a.m. to get ready, eat breakfast, do personal study and companion study. At 10 a.m. they would leave their apartment to either teach people, search for people to teach, or help reactivate members who were no longer attending. At 1 p.m. the companions would return home for “La Siesta” which is a Chilean practice where everything shuts down for three hours. Everyone goes home to eat a big meal and take a nap. At 4 p.m. everything would reopen and the missionaries would return to teaching until 10 or 11 p.m.

When it came time to return home Jemela said that “she was not disappointed, but saddened to leave the people [she] had grown to love.” While at the airport waiting for her flight home she was surprised by four of the youth she had taught who had hitchhiked a thousand miles to see her off at the airport.

To Budapest

Full of nervous excitement and a fear of the unexpected Brady arrived in Budapest.

Brady’s days consisted of rising at 6:30 a.m. to pray, exercise for 30 minutes and prepare for the day. Then she would eat breakfast from 7:30 to 8 a.m. After breakfast, she would study the Book of Mormon, other scriptures, the missionary library and Preach My Gospel until 9 a.m.

Brady and her companion then studied together and shared what they had learned during personal study.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. they proselytized with an hour taken for lunch and additional study and an hour taken for dinner, which was to be finished no later than 6 p.m. They continued proselytizing until 9 p.m., when they would return home, plan the next day’s activities, write in their journals, prepare for bed, pray, and retire at 10:30 p.m.

The standard attire that Brady wore on her mission wabutton-upn up blouse or a nice shirt tucked into long flowy skirts as well as flat shoes. She would sometimes accessorize with a belt or scarf.

One thing Brady disliked about her mission was tracting but she said that she would “absolutely, without a doubt” serve another mission if she could.

A couple mishaps that occurred on her mission was one of her companions got sick and Brady developed foot problems due to all the walking that was required on her mission.

When it came time to return home after 18 months of being away from home, Brady said she was “sad to go, but excited to return home and become human again.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.