Welcome to your mission!

Yesterday, Wednesday May 21st, I did an interview with a remarkable reporter from the SL Tribune, whose son is currently serving a mission in Uganda. She said he had assumed that he’d be the Church authority for his mostly African companions. Not so. His first companion, from Ghana, had been raised LDS and had given up a scholarship to Oxford to serve a mission. His father was a bishop.

Oh my. We are at the second generation now in Africa. I had not realized so much time has passed.

Yesterday evening, Bruce and I welcomed twenty-one missionaries into our branch at the MTC. As the missionaries come into the room, I generally shake their hands and say, “Welcome to your mission.” We then spend a couple of hours getting acquainted.

Let me give you a sense of who we got last night:

Several of the missionaries come from blended families, where death or divorce have ruptured expectations. At least one young man delayed his mission for a year until he could work through the issues his mother’s death had introduced. One missionary was from Scotland. When I shook his hand, I noted his tie. “It’s not my tartan, but it’s a good one,” he said in a thick accent. I answered, “You’re from Scotland, aren’t you. Either that or you’ve mastered the accent.” “I’m from Scotland.” “Well, you have a very good accent.” “Thank you very much,” he said. “ I’ve been working on it for eighteen years.”

We had a humorous exchange, but when he stood to bear his testimony, I saw his depth.

We ask the missionaries to tell us why they’ve chosen to serve. Of course, most have sung “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” since they were old enough to carry a tune. But there are exceptions—several who had not considered a mission until recently.

Several of the young men had had periods of inactivity. One, a musician, gave up an orchestra tour which included Carnegie Hall so he could serve. (I’ve reported elsewhere on one of our rock-star elders, who finally sold his guitars to pay for his mission.) One got a college degree focusing on international relations, and even taught for a year. He was admitted to law school with the goal of improving international justice. He is twenty-four years old, and chose to defer his law school admission for two years so he could serve a mission. His family is mostly inactive, and he hopes his example will inspire them. More than that, he is serving a mission because he genuinely believes in the restored gospel. He will be going to Africa. Of course I won’t share his name, but I am eager to see how this mission prepares him for the rest of what he’ll do in his life. He will learn about Africa in a way no class on international law will ever teach him.

As I left our new crop of elders and sisters last night, I thought about the reporter I had met with that morning. I wondered if our missionaries might meet her son’s African companions. I wonder who is being prepared now for the burgeoning work of the future.

I thanked God for the privilege of being a part of it.

P.S. The next screening of Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons will be on Saturday June 14th at 12:30 p.m. in the Museum of the African Diaspora, as part of the San Francisco Black Film Festival. We’d love to get any BCC Bloggers there. The sfbff has a good website.


  1. Wow, Margaret, that must have been quite a shock to that young man. I also forget sometimes that there could be a native-African, Oxford-admitted, missionary son of a Bishop father serving in Africa.

    I simply can’t express how cool that is to read.

  2. Hi,

    I was comps with a Zulu in 1995 who’s family had joined the church when he was 5 years old and his Dad was the BP when he was growing up.

    I also had a comp from Uganda who was 28 and a certified accountant.

  3. When I was in the MTC nearly ten years ago (!), I was in one of the first groups to go to the new MTC in Spain. The teachers there were all astounded that only one out of the 11 of us was from UT (“the factory” as they refer to it). If I remember correctly, we had Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, 2 from Ohio, Nebraska, Utah, California, Idaho, and Oregon. The church really is growing.

  4. Margaret:

    What is your role a the MTC? We have a missionary arriving there on July 16 heading to the Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Mission and we would love to say “hi”.

  5. I would only see him at lunch. Bruce is in a branch presidency there, French-speaking. You will drop your son off on Wednesday morning, July 16th. His branch presidency will meet with him–and all of the other new arrivals–that evening at 6:30.

    Believe me, you’ll have so much on your mind that day, you won’t want to do much more than manage your emotions.

  6. The African elder has made an enormous sacrifice. Generally, scholarships and admissions to Oxford are one-time offers. BYU students never wrestle with these dilemmas.

  7. In the past few years in my Southern California ward we had one elder who came directly from Seoul. In the last few months in that same ward we have had three sister missionaries. One moved to Utah from her native Korea when she was 9. One arrived directly from Okinawa, Japan. Our newest arrived directly from Vina del Mar, Chile.

    When I’m with these missionaries I think of the parable of the olive tree and the branches that were once scattered in the farthest parts of the orchard being grafted back into the original tree to reinvigorate it.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    We had several missionaries who were a little bit older; college degrees, time in the armed services, etc. They were by far the best male elders in the mission. That little bit extra of maturity and life experience really goes a long ways in producing top notch missionaries, in contrast with the immature, goofy kids like me.

  9. A friend of mine observed that Africans are prepared to believe in visions and to have a great appreciation for genealogy, and hence are often receptive to the gospel.

    I have found, in general, that people unencumbered by wealth are more spiritually sensitive and indeed more inclined to have visions etc.–and also more inclined to sacrifice. (I love your perspective, Ronan. I hadn’t really thought how huge the sacrifice of that scholarship was for this young man.)

    Once, on a call-in radio interview, someone asked me why Mormons insisted on going into Third World countries, implying that we were taking advantage of folks who didn’t know better and so let themselves be pushed into a baptismal font. As I recall, I gave a stupid answer. (I don’t remember what I said, just that it was stupid.)

    I think the best answer would be one which showed proper respect to who those in the Third World really are–and also to the teenagers and slightly olders who give up two years to serve them.

  10. peterllc says:

    someone asked me why Mormons insisted on going into Third World countries, implying that we were taking advantage of folks who didn’t know better

    Missionaries get it coming and going. In Europe everyone wanted to know why we weren’t in less developed countries where we could do some good instead of waste time preaching to the choir.

  11. Elouise says:

    Lovely post, Margaret. Thank you so much!

  12. Another bit of food for thought this inspired in me: if the church’s exponential growth is going to continue, we are overwhelmingly going to become (and really need to become) a church that is poor. By which I mean there’s only so many rich, middle-class people in the world, even with the development of the BRIC nations. The poor and their slums are growing at a heartbreaking but nonetheless breakneck pace. What are we as a church going to do to serve the needs of these people, to bring the Gospel to them in a context that will let them be lifted as earlier generations of impoverished Mormons were, only this time in far greater numbers and far more complex and diverse circumstances? How will we come to the “unity of the saints” when middle-class white Americans go from a majority of active members, to a plurality, and finally to a small minority? How will church programs, schedules, financial resources, leadership structures, general conference talks, and all the rest change to reflect a demographically very different church and to serve the needs of that very different church?

    I can think of only two times in history that the church faced comparable challenges. In the first century BC as relatively poor and wealthy, and vastly divergent Greek and Jewish cultures tried to meld into a single church. Communication simply wasn’t good enough, and reading the New Testament epistles and then some of the post-NT histories and epistles is a heart-rending view of how the church just couldn’t survive the circumstances. The other was the early days of the restoration as Saints, many (most I presume?) were impoverished to begin with as they crossed the Atlantic or Pacific to gather to Zion and build the kingdom. A solution was found in the flight to Utah and the ability to build a relatively isolated community that was able to meld diversity into a relatively homogenous whole. A nice piece of work by the Lord and his people, but not terribly applicable to a church that aims to be literally 1000 or more times bigger, scattered across the entire globe, unable to cloister itself for shelter in the same manner. Opportunities and challenges. Questions we are all going to have to consider, cherished cultural and organizational assumptions which will undoubtedly have to drop like scales from our eyes as time goes on, but all for the greater glory of God.

  13. Sorry, I meant “first century AD”. And also I realize I came across sounding a bit patronizing talking about how will the church “serve the needs of these people”. Yes, the church exists to serve it’s people, but the church also is the people/the saints. So the question is not just how the church will adjust to accommodate the very different cultural and economic needs of its new poor Saints, but how will the wealthier in the church adjust when it becomes clear that the needs of most church members are best served by leaders from the slums of Delhi, Lagos, and Quezon City. We’ve certainly begun to experience some of these changes, but I think sheer numbers mean that we’ve barely seen the tip of the iceberg.

  14. NAA–I am just really thankful that this is the last dispensation and that the church will not be required to face the challenges of growth (or of atrophy) without a prophet.

  15. MarkinPNW says:

    In one of the last areas of my daughter’s mission in Ecuador, the local bishop was a very black, intelligent, and well educated man from, I believe, the DR of Congo (or perhaps Nigeria, I don’t remember for sure). He was living in South America for business reasons, and according to my daughter was a very strong, if somewhat strong-willed, member of the church.

    In regard to #12, I think that the Perpetual Education Fund might be one part of the answer to preparing the members of the church to lead and bring up the poor of the world who will flock to the restored gospel.

    Interestingly, when I was growing up in the Mormon Corridor (Sandy, UT) in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s, we actually had an Arab Bishop in our ward (his family of origin was from Lebanon). As I recall, he was a really good Bishop, especially with the youth.

  16. Margaret

    One of the new elders could be Elder Scott Snee from Scotland? Going to Paris? Maybe? He is a good friend of mine and this all sounds too coincidental not to be him.

    PS: The Blacks in the Scriptures people sent me the DVDs, and it is so amazing. Thanks for being a part of all that, with Darius Gray and such.

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