The vanishing sister missionary?

Received by mail:

Dear Father of a Senior Primary son,
The Primary is preparing for our musical program to be performed in
sacrament meeting on November 18th.
We will close our program with the Senior Primary boys singing with
their fathers “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission.” We invite you to
join your boy in singing this song.

The Primary Presidency and Chorister

Background Notes

1. Vivian Bednar Teixeira, “’Grandma hoped they would call her on a mission…and they did!’ Sister Missionaries in the 20th Century
Church,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 92:4 (Winter, 2059).

2. Melissa Baird Carpenter, Editor, Eighteen Months: Sister Missionaries in the Latter Days, Millennial Press, 2007.
3. Margaret Merill Toscano, “‘Are Boys More Important Than Girls?’” The Continuing Conflict of Gender Equality and Difference in Mormonism,” Sunstone, June, 2007.

[note 47 includes an update of the event, which turned out reasonably well]


  1. That is one gender-rich ward!

  2. I have mixed feelings on this issue. On one hand, making little girls sing “I hope they call me on a mission” seems to go against President Hinckley’s statement that we should not make young women feel they are obligated to go. On the other hand, excluding the girls might make them feel they are not invited to go, or they should not hope to be called. What is to be done? Should we not sing this song at all in primary? How about changing it to “I hope I’ll be a missionary.” (Since every member should be).

  3. My 14 year old daughter was SO bent when our ward purchased Preach My Gospel for all of the Young Men and none of the Young Women. I think it was just that the YM Presidency budgeted for it and the YW decided to go to San Francisco with their $$ instead. It could have been sexist. Who knows?

    My husband and I have this debate all the time. I have all of the kids’ missions scheduled in the budget. (Hopefully, we’ll have more money by then.) He thinks I shouldn’t pressure the girls since they are not obligated to go.

    Pressure? I think not. I’m not pressuring any of the monkeys. I’m merely thinking ahead with joyful anticipation.


    P.S. Newbie question: How do you underline in this little box? I see Bold Italic

    Block Quote

    and some undefined arrow that’s making my browser ask about scripted windows. Just wondering.

  4. Julie M. Smith says:

    The problem is that song. No one–boys or girls–sits around hoping that they get called on a mission. They either choose to go or they don’t.

  5. Another thought on the song itself: “I hope they call me on a mission.” Can we all agree that the “they” refers to statisticians in the missionary department? If we mean we hope “the prophet” calls me on a mission, the words should say “he.” Good time for the passive voice. Oh well.

  6. Jami, it’s best practice not to underline. People expect things that are underlined to be links. If you must, though, you can look up html tags from a miriad of places online.

  7. Stirling,

    This is consistent with the message in other Primary songs:

    “When the Elders find their door, they’ll say come in and tell me more.”

  8. Technically, if I understand the process correctly, “they” is accurate as I believe the assignment itself is handled by a council or committee of more than just the prophet.

    My wife served a mission, plus I worked and even lived at the MTC for years, so I am very well aware that sister missionaries are often better prepared, more mature, and more effective than their male counterparts. So in no way do I wish to minimize their importance or contribution. But when the vast majority of missionaries are male, and many eligible young men are not serving (in our area, about 45% of those eligible to serve actually do so), perhaps it is appropriate that the emphasis be placed on preparing the young men for missionary service. I have no problem, for example, that a the YM in a ward have and use in their meetings the Preach My Gospel book but the YW do not. I would assume that the YW are taught that the expectation of missionary service is not the same for them but that they are welcome to be a missionary if that is their desire.

  9. I’m clueless about HTML tags, but I do like to underline book titles. I just feel like someone with a red pen will come and get me if I don’t.

    Just so you know. I never post links. So if I underline something, I generally mean, “Hey, this is a book title and I want everyone to know that I know that book titles should be underlined.” Sometimes I mean, “Hey! I really mean this.” (Pretend that the really there was underlined.)

    Seriously though, does anyone actually know what those HTML tags are? Or will I have to humble myself enough to ask the 14 year old to show me?

    TTFN. Jami

  10. Test

  11. Jami, you can put them in (like I did in my last comment), but the software will strip them out again.

  12. Thanks Kaimi.
    OK. You’ll all just have to imagine that I’ve underlined all book titles.


  13. This text is underlined.

    You can always cleverly link to the source you are citing.

  14. Jim –

    I have no problem, for example, that a the YM in a ward have and use in their meetings the Preach My Gospel book but the YW do not.

    Interestingly enough, at least 3 speakers in the most recent conference talks this weekend discussed the importance of every member of the church becoming familiar with and using the Preach My Gospel program.

    As to the main post – is the Primary just fishing for ways to get the boys and their fathers involved? Sometimes, leaders will do anything to get the older boys to participate musically. (If I were the one doing the music, however, and I had no choice but to use the song in question, maybe I’d ask all of the Sr. Primary kids who do actually hope to become missionaries to sing, then they could all stand up their singing something truly meaningful to their own personal lives.)

  15. Jami, I work for a newspaper, where the rule is “book titles in italics.” So if you used italics instead of underlining to denote book titles, readers might not suppose you to be ignorant. They might suppose you to be a newspaper writer.

    Or perhaps I repeat myself.

  16. LRC: I probably didn’t state that very well. I was merely responding to the comment in #3 where a ward had done just that- YM had PMG, but YW did not. That does not surprise me and would not be a big concern to me- I believe the same is the case in our ward.

    I would be interested to see the context of the references to PMG from conference. I do remember hearing at least a few references.

    I do not disagree that all members should use PMG as a resource.

  17. “The problem is that song. No one–boys or girls–sits around hoping that they get called on a mission. They either choose to go or they don’t.”

    Hmmm. At the most literal level, this is true. You decide to go, you put in your papers, you get called. Or you don’t.

    But on the other hand, hoping one gets called on a mission may actually describe the current situation of girls better than it does that of boys. Boys are essentially called by default; precisely because girls aren’t called by default, they have to seek to know the will of God for them personally in this regard.

    I’ve known girls who–sometimes quite desperately–hoped they got called on missions, and instead got called to marriage or other pursuits. I’ve also known sisters who hoped quite desperately not to get called on missions, who were quite clearly called by God nevertheless. (Since I have severe allergies to pantyhose, early mornings, and being told what to do by a hierarchy of men, my personal call to serve a mission fell into this second category.)

  18. Speaking to the broader question of who stands up and sings such songs and whether girls should be included, it’s a tough question. It seems to me an instance of a far broader difficulty–the roles we’ve made most characteristic of male spiritual advancement are, for the most part, contingent only on worthiness. You receive and advance in the priesthood and serve a mission based on your personal worthiness. On the other hand, the roles that we’ve made most characteristic of female spiritual advancement–marriage and motherhood–require the cooperation of other people and biology in addition to worthiness, and so simply wanting to fulfill those roles and making oneself worthy to fulfill them is no guarantee one will get the chance.

    So it’s hard to figure out exactly what girls should sing about. (Maybe everyone could just sing about the temple, since that is something to which everyone can reasonably aspire?)

  19. This post has inspired me to write a Primary song for sister missionaries.

  20. When I was in Primary, I never thought “I Hope They Call Me On a Mission” was just for the boys. The whole Primary sang it, and the song spoke to me, even as a little girl. And they did! I always knew that I wanted to serve a mission.

    It’s sad to see that some Primary leaders have this kind of bias. Who knows how many sparks of desire to serve a mission they have unknowingly put out in the girls in their stewardship.

  21. MarkinPNW says:

    Well, my daughter’s mission proved the “old gospel principle” that if you train up a child in the way she should go when she is young (done mostly by my DW), when she is old(er) she inspires her parents to get back into full activity and to the temple when she calls home from college and says “Hey, Mom and Dad, what would you think if I went on a mission?”. The opportunity to support and sustain my daughter (an only child) on her mission was one of the great highlights of my role as a father.

  22. Peter LLC says:

    OT: In the good old days, underlining was an editor’s mark to show that something ought to be italicized. The modern practice of using a word processor to underline book titles should be dispensed with post haste.

    Anyhoo, when I was on my mission, my companion received an album of mormon music from his serving girlfriend. It was a song cycle centered on the valiant efforts of some sister missionaries that found and converted somenoe. Like Cool as Ice, it was so bad it was good.

  23. VictoriaW says:

    I have two questions. 1. Why can’t the Dialogue search engine come up with the article cited in endnote 1? (oh, I get it,it’s from 50 yeras in the future. cute).
    2. So, do you (did you) and your boy join in the song? If you did, did it seem or feel exclusionary to you?

  24. Stirling, OUCH! Seeing that makes me sad. How did/will/could you respond?

  25. BIV,#19, are you ready to share your lyrics?
    Tona, this is still unfolding. I want to be supportive of the primary leaders, and I want my children to learn good organizational behavior practices, but I also want to minimize reasons for my daughters (or anyone else) to feel excluded from full fellowship.

  26. Why not just ask your daughts if 1)they hope to be called on missions and would like to participate in a song about it and then if they say yes 2)tell the primary president that they would like to participate and that you will be planning on that.

    It probably was a thoughtless error. Rather than picket, just solve the problem.

    As an aside, I can say I did hope they would call me on a mission after I turned in my papers, because I was afraid (perhaps irrationally) they would reject a convert like me… Also, I hope Heavenly Father and Jesus (they) call my children on missions….

  27. daughts should be daughters… stupid fat fingers these…

  28. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 19

    What will you call it, BIV? How about “Nobody Can Make Me Feel Obligated to go on a Mission” ???

  29. Nick Literski says:

    Be careful about attributing this stunt to the primary president. She may be just as uncomfortable as you are, but acting under orders from the bishop. My last bishop promptly vetoed any YW activities that fell outside the parameters of “homemaking” skills. It was inappropriate for the YW as a class to meet with a skilled astronomer to learn about using telescopes and such. Instead, they spent multiple class sessions crocheting dishcloths and scripture covers. The YW president (the bishop’s daughter) was truly embarassed about it, but could do nothing to change the bishop’s mind.

  30. AnonymousForThis says:

    I hope to meet a man to marry on my mission
    I hope by then his puberty is through
    I hope he has a thing for older women
    ‘Cause I could surely teach that boy a thing or two

    As one married (very happily for over 25 years) to a sister missionary from my own mission, I can joke about it.

    Everyone knows why young women really go on missions.

  31. #30 –

    Two words: Awesome!

  32. Nick: your stories sometimes are so out of the ordinary as to seem fictional.

  33. Fernández-Armesto says:

    Matt, Nick’s anecdote doesn’t seem extraordinary in my ward. For the last couple of months, animated by either the bishop or stake president, I’m not sure, there has been a cross-organizational push on emphasizing fathers as “THE Head of the house.” Home teachers are asked to solicit from the father as HOH what lessons he would like them to give, at least a couple of sacrament talks have been expressly directed to the male HOH, etc. It wouldn’t surprise me if as part of the program the bishop or s/p had advice for other auxiliaries in how to support the initiative.

  34. StillConfused says:

    I think it sucks that women have to be 21. My daughter would have been a great missionary but she got her Bachelor’s at 19 and by 21 will be established in her career and/or married and/or whatever.

  35. Nick must live in the worst. ward. ever.

  36. StillConfused,

    Why would your dauther let getting (just) a bachelor’s a couple of years earlier than her peers prevent her from serving if she wished? What kind of career requires only a bachelor’s and a lifetime commitment?

  37. We’ll just put it this way – in the ward I grew up in (not in Utah), there were more boys my age than girls. I think that one young man out of the ten or so served a mission and the rest of them ended up in jail, some had kids in high school, most of them deadbeats, etc. At least three of the girls my age served missions (myself included). So this is to say, don’t exclude the girls; the odds could tip in their favor. Even though men are supposed to comprise the majority of the missionary force, women do still serve, and, as in the case of my home ward, numbers of female missionaries outstripped the number of males. It can and does happen.

    And what about the mothers that served missions? Hello, are you just going to ignore that voice? Don’t you think it’s GOOD for both the primary boys and girls to see that women can and do serve missions? I know that if anyone ever pulled this stunt with my son, both my husband and I would give the primary presidency an earful. As I am currently in the primary presidency, at least I can make sure things like this don’t happen in my ward :)

  38. My daughter also thinks it sucks to have to wait until she’s 21. She totally agrees that the age difference produces a reduced number of young women who are available to serve missions. She and I had a long talk last night on the subject. She hates that when they ask who is planning on serving a mission she is the only girl in our ward who raises her hand.

    I really think the age difference exists to reduce situations where Elders and Sisters need to be sent home for violating “arms distance” rules more than a desire to reduce the number of sisters who can serve. Situations like #30 certainly occur, but the older woman/younger man cultural bias slow it down a bit.

    I think it is wise to teach all children to understand the gospel and how to present it. I served a full-time mission and found my gospel preparation was very helpful. Even if I hadn’t gone on a mission, I am a mom. I’ve got six little investigators who I’ve been teaching for quite some time. Even if I wasn’t a mom, I’ve taught in RS, YW, Primary, GD, etc. Gospel preparation has come in handy there too. Growing up to be an apostate is pretty much the only situation I can think of in which the knowledge wouldn’t be useful. And even then a thorough gospel background might facilitate writing that virulent anti-Mormon book. ;)


    OT: re: #3 and all following OT comments. I whipped out my old copy of Printice Hall Reference Guide to Grammar and Usage “When you are typing or writing by hand, use underlines as described in this section [I’ll spare you]. When you have italic lettering on a computer, you can use italics instead.” So I shall. Thanks for the help.

  39. Nick Literski says:

    #32 Matt W.:
    Matt, I think most people would read your statement as an accusation. If you really intend to accuse me of fabricating stories, at least be brave enough to be direct–but then be ready to back it up. If I had a motive to make up stories of odd behavior (which I don’t), I’d be much more creative.

    #35 Jordan:
    I don’t live there anymore. I’m kind of glad.

  40. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 35 Or have some unresolved anger issues…but I suppose one shouldn’t speculate.

  41. Nick Literski says:

    I don’t think one needs to be angry at someone, in order to refer anonymously to their behavior as an example not to be emulated.

  42. StillConfused says:

    My daughter has a bachelors in arts administration and will manage a theater company. Taking 1.5 years off after beginning a career is much harder to recover from than simply taking a little longer in school (as is often the case with men missionaries).

    I can appreciate that the age of 21 was originially set because there were states where women didn’t reach the age of majority until then but those laws have since been changed and I think the age limitation should be reconsidered.

    p.s. Everyone knows that women mature before men anyway so the ages should probably be reversed. (Don’t freak out — I am kidding — mostly)

  43. When I was a teenager I asked L. Tom Perry, who was the apostle overseeing the missionary program at the time, “why is the missionary age for women 21?” His reply, between bites of lemon pie, was “to discourage them from going.”

  44. I helped run a Primary activity this summer. One of the stations was about missionary work. We asked them if girls could serve missions. Most the kids said “no!” but we promptly responded “YES!”

    I’ve always felt very strongly that serving a mission would be a good decision for me. My boyfriend did not serve a mission (gasp!). This is, of course, backwards from the “normal” setup, but I see no reason why men who haven’t should be universally condemned and that women should never go. I wonder if the whole issue of going on a mission will ever be seen as more of a personal choice. I think that girls who decide to go on missions have felt the Spirit testify very strongly to them that they need to, and guys can also have good reasons not to.

    And what of the fathers in this ward who didn’t serve missions, for whatever reasons? It seems like a sticky situation to me.

  45. I know my ward has handed out “Future Missionary” tags before to the primary, but I’ve never paid attention to whether or not the girls got them. I need to check into that — my daughter has expressed an interest in serving and I have been vocal in my ward about the need to encourage girls to go on missions should they so choose. (A “well, at least we don’t discourage them” is not an appropriate approach for YW organizations).

  46. My CTR8 class is all-female, and you’d better believe I handed out the “Future Missionary” nametags for the appropriate lesson. I’m torn between creating nametags with their names on them or giving them (really cool) mirrors with the new year’s theme on it for my Christmas/”I’m not your teacher anymore, which means I can finally give you stuff” gifts this year.

    The only people (and I mean the ONLY people) who do anything publicly in our ward of a look-I’m-preparing-for-a-mission nature are the 16-19 year old males, and most of those things are on the list of things you’re supposed to do for your Duty to God award anyway (e.g., the guys did mini-missions a few months ago.) I’d love to see some mission-prep stuff in the Personal Progress program, but most of the stuff in the Duty to God program that isn’t matched in PP is of the “look like a missionary and pretend to be one” variety — the girls’ program is full of spiritual education stuff that I’d expect future missionaries to be engaged in.

    Anyway, sometimes Primary people just do things because they think it’d be cute. There’s no “little kids can feel the Spirit better, which is why the Junior Primary will be singing Listen, Listen by themselves during the CSMP this year” mentality in my ward, I assure you.

    And as a practical matter, the overwhelming majority of tracting missionaries are males. Most of the women I know who’ve been on missions did things like working at a historical site, and we haven’t had a pair of female missionaries in our ward for about a year (we’ve had at least five sets of male missionaries over the same period.)

  47. Well, the primary program came, and went, in fine fashion.
    After receiving the initial invitation, I told the leader that invited me that I wanted to participate, but that I was concerned about a message being sent that males, and not females, were primarily invited to serve.

    She responded via an understanding email and told me that in the program they would be sure to emphasize that several of the female primary leaders and teachers had gone on missions, and that they would have one of the primary girls include in her spoken part a statement about missionary work. The senior primary girls would also have a song of their own, but the primary leaders wanted the boys to have their own song, in part so they would have some motivation to sing out (which apparently the boys don’t do if at all possible, go figure).
    As it turned out, because of the multiple comments from the women and girls about missionary work, I think the program didn’t send a gender-limited message about missionary service, and I was largely comfortable with my participation.
    However, the several boys who sang “I hope they call me on a mission,” were almost silent, and looked as if they were undergoing torture (including my own 10-year old, who just a week later could be seen in the Boston Garden joyously belting out one Springsteen song after another, to the accompaniment of Bruce and the E-Street band on their latest “Magic” tour).

  48. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m glad it worked out ok, Stirling.

  49. Sounds like the program went fine, but I’m with your son. I’d rather be singing along with Bruce Springsteen (and at the Garden@! I’m jealous)

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