Missionary car mileage

Elder X (a recently returned missionary) was riding his bike in the mission field without a helmet when he was hit by a car.  He sailed 25 feet, landed in a bush, and was miraculously free of serious injury.  The thing is that he wouldn’t have been riding without a helmet had it not been for the strange limits placed on missionary car mileage.  

Elder X had been assigned to a zone where they used cars and not bikes.  Hence, at the time he had neither a bike nor a helmet. However, missionaries with cars are given a limit on the amount of mileage they can use each month.  As far as I can tell, this limit appears to be somewhat arbitrary, but I’d appreciate insight into how it is determined.   Elder X had used up his mileage for the month, and for three days was unable to reach his investigators because he couldn’t drive and he didn’t have a bike.  After these three days, he borrowed a bike from a member so that he could keep his appointments, but he wasn’t able to get a helmet.

A few months earlier, elders in my hometown experienced a similar dilemma.  My neighbor, an investigator at the time, invited them to have dinner at her house, after which they planned to attend a baptism at the stake center.  However, it was the end of the month, and the elders didn’t have enough mileage left for the trip.  So, they called us from the stake center where their car was currently parked—a thirty-minute drive one-way from where my neighbor lived—and asked her if they could get a ride to her house for dinner.  But, alas, she is a female (meaning she can’t give rides to the virtuous elders).  Consequently, her husband had to leave work to go pick them up.  However, her husband could not then give them a ride back, which he felt more adamant about after he was shocked to see their car when he drove into the stake center parking lot.  As a result, they had to call a bishopric member (who lived on the other end of town) to drive to my neighbor’s  house, pick them up, and take them back to the stake center where both their car and the baptism awaited.

These stories are absurd.  And yet true.  My point: We ought to give our missionaries who we assign to cars enough mileage that they can fulfill their obligations.  I’m not sure that we fully realize how bad it looks to non-members when the missionaries can only meet with them if given rides.  Is it worth this to curb occasional abuse of car privileges?  Have other people observed issues like these in their wards?


  1. Yes, I’ve seen this in our area too (Just north of Philly).

    As to the rides being an embarrassment – that’s another story. Many of the members of wards and branches here give rides to others, including missionaries. Needing a ride isn’t something to be embarrassed about. We all have resources to manage, some have fewer resources at their disposal than others. Should those who have help those who don’t?

    It could also be a way for the Elders to invite ward members to participate in missionary work. It can also teach the Elders about budgeting their miles. If it’s a serious problem send a letter to the mission president and/or slip a few dollars into the missionary fund.

  2. jendoop – Yes, it can also be a way to invite members to participate. But that’s not always a good thing. What if the investigator has specifically asked that the missionaries NOT bring over members? My hubby is a sometimes-investigator and hates when the missionaries bring others (an opinion hard earned with many, uh, interesting visits). But when they don’t have a car, they have to get a ride, which results in 1) random members sitting in anyway, 2) late appointments because members who aren’t sitting in don’t seem to care about punctuality, or 3) both. I’d pick them up, but I’m a succubus and would seduce them in the ride over. Or something like that.

  3. I agree that this looks bad. It makes the elders look more like kids and less like adults. I always thought that the limits on miles were in place because the cars were leased, and were subject to mileage limits (but I seem to remember people buying used cars from the mission on occasion, so I don’t know). On my mission, we were in a real pickle with mileage sometimes because we used our mission car to access a USMC base that was part of our ward. We had a sticker on the window that got us in. So if we ran out of miles and had an appointment on base, we needed an enlisted member with a car to come get us. That was no small accomplishment. So when we ran out of miles, we drove the car anyway. I think I remember getting in trouble a little for it, but we just decided to never miss an appointment because of car miles.

  4. In my mission, I always had a car. It was my understanding that the Church leased the cars, and didn’t want to pay for the mileage overage at the end of the lease, thus, only a certain number of miles were allowed per month. Paying for those extra miles can be quite expensive.

    I think we went over on miles one time. Other than that, with very careful planning we were able to stay within the mileage allotment each month. The key for us was being as careful with our miles at the beginning of the month as what we were at the end of the month.

  5. Former Missionary says:

    From my own experiences on my mission (where I spent all but 6 weeks in a car), the mileage limits imposed seemed to be determine based on past usage in the area, the size of the area, the cost to fuel and service the car over a month period, the age of the car, etc.

    The mission vehicle coordinator has to balance all of these factors (how much money the mission has to pay for the vehicles and their expenses, how soon the car is scheduled to hit its mileage limit and therefore be exchanged for a newer one, how many miles the elders realistically need, etc), and it is no easy task. However, in all of the areas where I served, I never once went over my mileage limit (except once when I inherited a car at the end of the month that the previous elders had totally “abused” mileage-wise), despite some ridiculously low numbers (like I couldn’t go more than 300 miles in a month or something like that). Did it require careful planning of appointments, help from members, and sacrifice? Of course. But was it ever a major inconvenience? No, not really.

  6. Former Missionary says:

    My understanding is that these cars are bought outright, but the Church wants to limit their total mileage to around 50,000 miles (which for missionary use can be within 2 or 3 years) so that they still have a decent resale value.

  7. This reads like the worst caricatures of ancient Jewish culture doing everything to skirt the spirit of the law while obeying the letter of the law. Assuming for a second that the limits are correct, running out with days to go means they wasted earlier on. Asking members to go to great inconvenience in order to cover up this mistake just multiplies the wrong.

    If they really don’t have enough miles, they should just get more miles, not have members drive them around.

    If a missionary asked me to go to inconvenience like that to give them a ride, I would just call the mission president and report the problem. If they wasted their miles, the mission president can punish them. If not, he can ok more miles. Either way, I get to not throw away half a sick day to bail them out. Win-win!

    Actually, this may have less to do with the mission president having the discretion to ok more miles than an insurance policy limitation on miles. But those aren’t on a monthly granularity are they?

  8. Natalie B. says:

    #1: I agree that it can be a good thing to have members participate, but the problem that I ran into when my neighbor was investigating is that I couldn’t give them rides because I was female. I just don’t feel comfortable asking men to leave work for this purpose.

    Could the missionaries plan better? Maybe. But I also suspect that it is hard for them to know exactly how many appointments they will have and where at the beginning of every month. In geographically large areas, I suspect it must be challenging to figure this out with accuracy. Perhaps we could keep the basic concept of tracking mileage but violate the mileage requirements at the end of the month when common sense dictates?

  9. This was a real problem in my ward growing up. The ward was on the edges of Vegas and covered a pretty vast area. (To give an idea of how underdeveloped the area was at the time, the nearest stop sign on the way to the church was 3 miles away.) The missionaries shared an apartment with another set of missionaries in the stake, but out of the ward boundaries. They used a minimum of 200 miles per month just getting into and from their assigned area. Never mind actually going from place to place.

    I have clear memories of the missionaries hanging out for several hours at least a couple times a week at our home (my dad was ward mission leader) precisely because the missionaries were low on miles and couldn’t justify driving around to check on people but needed to stay in the area because of a late appointment. What a waste of their time.

  10. I sustain the right and the duty of the Church to manage its property, including its automobiles. After all, the Church owns the automobiles, not the missionaries. And more miles costs more money. A plea for unlimited (or “more”) missionary miles is exactly like a plea for unlimited (or “more”) ward budget money for the Young Women in this ward or the library in that ward. Every organization that has resources must control those resources, and use them as wisely as possible. Decisions on apportionment of these resources is best made carefully and prayerfully by those holding the decision-making responsibility.

    If a mileage allowance in any particular location is too low, the local mission president can deal with it — but even this is within his overall resources pool — more money on miles might mean less money on housing or other costs.

    When members (or non-members) in any local area are unable to assist their local full-time missionaries, they can simply say “no” — and they can leave any problem with the missionaries and the mission president to deal with . When people are kind and offer to help the missionaries, they do so as volunteers (and such kindnesses and offerings are wonderful and beautiful) — but they cannot say they did it because the Church made them do it.

    So there is no problem here, as I see it. All is well.

  11. Natalie B. says:

    #10: I have no problem saying no more miles–if we then only expect from missionaries what they can accomplish on their miles. I do see a problem if the situation results in an unfunded mandate or in embarrassing situations when representatives of the church can’t keep commitments. I feel that more info is needed on specific areas to learn if this is the case.

  12. No, Natalie (no. 11), more information isn’t needed — even if no more miles does create an unfunded mandate or embarrassing situations, the problem isn’t yours — the problem is the mission president’s. Wherever possible, you can offer help the missionaries and the mission president — please do so to the extent you’re able. If this is a matter of sincere concern to you, then your best approach is probably to discuss it with your mission president (or maybe your ward mission leader, if the mission president is at a distance) (I note that your original posting involved inconveniences for Elder X, the full-time missionaries in your hometown, your neighbor, your neighbor’s husband, and a bishopric member — but not for you). However, if you raised this issue to create controversy and an interesting blog, then this is the right forum.

  13. What happened with public transportation? Why couldn’t this elder (or any other elder) make it around to their appointments with a city bus? or subway?

  14. I should add, on my mission in Romania, my companions and I were never late to our appointments. Public transportation got us there always on time. I never drove a vehicle for those two years. I never rode a bike. I walked or I took a bus or a subway. It can be done.

  15. Dan, public transportation is much better in European cities than it is in rural places in the US.

  16. Cynthia,

    I used to live in Provo/Orem and got around on public transportation. I grew up in the Bay Area in California and got around everywhere in San Jose by public transportation. I think we coddle these American missionaries too much. :)

  17. Interesting. I’ve heard horror stories on my mission about missionaries having to pull all kinds of stunts to get where they need to go because they ran out of miles, but for the most part, they were few and far in between.

    I served in Oklahoma, and we had elders who complained about the mileage restrictions, but for the most part, they were, I felt, reasonable. In the areas we had a car, we never struggled constantly with miles. As long as we budgeted wisely, we’d be okay. Our mission president once told us that the majority of the miles for church vehicles should be about getting to meetings, which would often be far away (especially things like zone meetings), and we should limit our time in the car anyway because it’s less time actually out in the street walking or biking around where you could talk to random people (pulling up to people walking on the street in a car, rolling down the window, and trying to get them to let you into your house is just creepy).

    At the risk of making incredibly generalizing statements, in my experience there were two groups of elders who struggled with mile budgeting. Either they were just irresponsible with mile budgeting, or the members were very reluctant to give them rides when needed for more far-flung parts of their areas. If they were bad with mile budgeting, generally they were irresponsible in other areas, too, and lack of miles were the least of your problems. If the members weren’t helping out, well, that’s just tough luck.

    Since most people are not home in the day (work, school, what have you) we usually spent time in city centers contacting. Most appointments, in my general experience, were in the late afternoon/evening when most people were home – and members too. And most city centers in my areas could be reached by bike or foot.

    Again, these are pretty sweeping generalizations, (and again, I emphasize the word generalizations) and limited to my own personal mission experience and home experience (Oklahoma, Seattle area). And there were areas that just had a shortage of miles in general and the missionaries struggled no matter what. Certainly, there are always exceptions. But as someone who rarely ever got to be in a car area (strictly bike for most of my mission), a car was a huge blessing and shouldn’t be used to just “drive around” and “check on people.” Precious contacting time is lost when in a car, and in my personal experience, stories of car usage abuse in the mission far outnumbered the sad stories of missionaries out on the curb with a sign saying “Dinner appointment or bust.”

  18. Mike Parker says:

    I spent two-thirds of my mission in Pennsylvania in a car. (Dan #13: There’s no public transportation in farming communities.) The typical companionship was allotted 1,000 miles per month. District leaders got 250 additional miles; zone leaders 500.

    Two memories:

    1) One really large area I served in covered two counties (Synder and Northumberland). We lived near the center of the area, but limited mileage kept us from proselyting in its outlying corners. If we had found people to teach far from our apartment, it would have required us to drive out once or twice a week to see them. We simply couldn’t pull it off. One particular last day of the month, when we had a bunch of miles left over, we drove out to the furthest town from us—over 30 miles away—just to see what was there. I remember commenting to my companion that it was a shame we couldn’t tract there; we figured no Mormon missionaries had been there in decades.

    2) There were some months, when we were running short on miles, where I recall driving backwards down remote country roads. The odometer didn’t roll back (think Ferris Bueller), but at least it wasn’t going forward.

  19. Mike: #2 = awesome.

  20. The zone leaders and APs were the only ones with cars in my mission and I never remember having a problem being over on miles when I was in a car. Those who did have problems usually had them because of poor planning or making trips they shouldn’t have been making. I remember one ZL companionship that decided to drive backwards for the last three days of the month so that they wouldn’t go over on miles. I think they both work in government jobs now.

  21. I live in Montana, the fourth largest state in the U.S. in area but with a population of only about 900,000. In other words, we are really spread out and we have virtually no public transportation. When the missionaries here were given mileage limits (which was only in the past couple of years) they had to quit teaching people in much of the state. The distances are just too great. So often, they don’t have enough people to teach, because they don’t have the miles. My understanding is that the mileage limit they have here was decided in Salt Lake, and that there really isn’t anything that can be done about it.
    I have been impressed with the missionaries we have here currently, whom I often see walking down the highway. I saw them just a couple of weeks ago, when the morning temperature was somewhere between -20 and -10 degrees. I would gladly have stopped and picked them up, but of course, I am not allowed to do that because I am a woman.
    Needless to say, I have some pretty strong feelings about this. I know it can be difficult to understand the local conditions of any particular place, but all one needs do is ask the local people, something that has not been done here. Our stake leaders are just as frustrated as I am (I know because I’m married to one).

  22. I’m with with Dan.

    If it’s impossible to get around otherwise, I agree that there ought to be some mileage leeway. But I didn’t drive on my mission and didn’t find walking, transit, bike and ride coordination to be humiliating or juvenile (a lot of people my age didn’t have cars either). Cars are convenient luxuries, but getting our noses out of joint that missionaries don’t have unlimited access to them seems a bit entitled.

    The second anecdote especially seems to me less an absurdity, and more just poor planning by the missionaries.

  23. These are my memories from serving a mission in Texas in the early 1990s, so take them with a grain of salt as I may have forgotten important points.

    All missionaries in my mission had bikes, and we took them from area to area as we were transferred. (Well, maybe only the elders had bikes.) Maybe half the areas had cars. The mileage limits on the cars were typically low enough that the cars could be driven for maybe 1/2 to 2/3 of the month. The rest of the time we were expected to bike.

    District and Zone Leaders got a few extra miles. There was also a monthly scripture memorization contest in Zone Conference every month, and the winning missionary’s companionship got 100 extra miles on their car (or something like that). I actually won the contest a number of times, but through a variety of odd circumstances, never got to use them (I was in an area without a car, in another area we got into an accident and the car was being repaired, etc.)

    I know of some areas that included several small widely scattered towns, where biking between them was impractical. Missionaries there took to “coasting” their cars to increase how far they could go. They would get on a little used country road, get the car up to 60 or 70 miles an hour (I’m guessing) and then turn it off and let it coast as far as it could. Since the odometers were powered, they didn’t run when the car was off. I only saw this practice firsthand once while on splits. It seems dangerous to me, but I can also see it as a kind of ingenious solution to what Natalie describes so well as an “unfunded mandate.” The mission president eventually came out against this when the car’s starters began to wear out quickly. I don’t know how much it was actually reduced or eliminated, but that’s what I heard anyway.

    I also heard of elders in my mission unplugging a fuse (? my knowledge of cars and electricity is limited so I’m probably wrong on the details) or something to cut power to the odometer so they could drive without having it turn.

    In my mission at least, I’m quite sure the Church had bought the cars and planned to sell them after they reached 50,000 miles. Several years after returning from my mission, I actually bought a car coming out of missionary use. It was a good deal and ended up being a great car, in spite of my fears that crazy young elders had driven it wildly. :)

  24. In my mission, we rode burros, and the only mileage limitation was what my skinny ass could endure.

    I think car miles for missionaries should be limited to no more than 12 per month. And they should never be allowed to take the car out of second gear. And on their days off, for entertainment, they should be allowed to suck on a penny.

  25. CodeMonkey says:

    Our mission had an interesting experience regarding mileage limits. At the far northern end of our mission was a city very popular with tourists. Many missionaries wanted to either serve in this city or get the opportunity to visit there on splits to be able to see the sights there. The few sister missionaries in the mission were never assigned that far north and thus were never able to visit. A group of sister missionaries that were in a city with a car assigned to them came up with their own plan to visit. They fudged their mileage numbers each month for a few months until they had a surplus of unused, but already reported miles. They then left their area and used those miles to drive north and spend a day as tourists. After the mission president eventually found out, the number of cars assigned to missionaries was drastically reduced and even stricter limits were enforced.

  26. Natalie B. says:

    #22: Again, some missionaries are in CAR ONLY areas. While I’m all for public transit, it isn’t available in all places. Elder X had no bike, because according to the mission rules he wasn’t supposed to. Perhaps we should consider changing the car only policy, but while it exists, it seems like there needs to be common sense mileage leeway.

  27. Peter LLC says:

    If only that blasted William Clayton hadn’t invented the odometer, modern missionaries wouldn’t be forced to commit fraud. Or hassle the ward mission leader. Thanks a bunch, Bill.

  28. It is a case of poor planning on the missionaries part AND a failure to take responsibility. Instead of demanding rides in that situation they shoudl admit fault and work within the area of their appartment building. It does take planning, scheduling appointments in similiar ciites on the same days . On my mission if we tried our best it worked out even with a few MUST appointments in various cities, or the odd surprise-must pick up elders because their car was stolen-funeral in a far away town- that sort of thing.

    It is good to get the memebers involved and if the missionaries are smart they will coordinate that with where they are-once you know you are to be in a city schedule splits in the city and let the miles be on members cars for that night in their city-that sort of thing.

    We were specifically discouraged from using public transportation as sisters in two of the areas I was in. South Africa isn’t always safe.

  29. If you do not limit miles, 19-21 yo men will abuse the privilege of having a car. End of story. We had missionaries head up to colorado from New Mexico, to see friends. Does this cause difficulties for other missionaries? Yes, but I don’t really see a way around it. I feel sorry for the mission president.

  30. A bigger problem than the mileage issue noted in the original post is the rule that a man can’t give a ride to sister missionaries and a woman can’t give a ride to elder missionaries. This simply doesn’t make sense in the chaperoning context because a single woman with two elder missionaries is not alone with a single man and ditto for a single man giving a ride to sister missionaries. This causes huge problems and logistical headaches for us in our ward and greatly affects all the members who are eager to help the missionaries in any way possible.

    To put it simply, a man driving two sisters is already chaperoned by the presence of a third person. A woman driving two elders is chaperoned the same way. A third person has always historically been considered a chaperone. The rule means that to drive the sister missionaries anywhere, I would have to have my wife with me. If two older single women in the ward who are ward missionaries want to drive the elders somewhere, they have to have a man along to do so, meaning that there would be five people in the car to offer a service that one single older woman ward missionary should be able to do all by herself if we had any sense of proportion about these rules.

    Last night, the sisters and elders were at our house for dinner. Afterwards, because it was below freezing and because we like to help the missionaries, I wanted to drive all four of them to their next appointments. I thought that as a single man I could drive the sisters if there were two elders present. It turns out that this is also against the rules. It makes reason stare. Instead, my wife drove the sisters to their appointment in their area on the other side of the ward from where we live and the elders walked to theirs.

  31. Natalie B. says:

    #30: I agree that this is a problem. While I see that for liability and safety reasons we don’t want one female and one male in the car, it doesn’t make sense that two women (in my case, my neighbor and myself) cannot give a ride to the male missionaries. I don’t know whether to be flattered or bothered by the fact that my overwhelming sexiness prevents me from assisting in missionary work :)

    Next thought: Thinking about this conversation, in cases such as the missionaries walking on the highway in Montana, if injury were to come to them and if their decision to walk on the highway was dictated by the mission and not by their own initiative, would the church be liable for some form of negligence or reckless endangerment? This situation actually seems pretty dangerous.

  32. Peter LLC says:

    I thought that as a single man I could drive the sisters if there were two elders present. It turns out that this is also against the rules.

    Talk about hedging around the law–that’s a veritable Atlantic Wall, and probably just as effective.

    my overwhelming sexiness prevents me from assisting in missionary work :)

    You should follow Brother Evans’ new year resolve to work on this problem.

  33. I have to admit to being unsympathetic to missionaries with limited mileage. Part of it is that I didn’t have a car on my mission, and only had a bike for two months before they were taken away from the whole mission. (Long story, but probably the right solution.) I was in South America, but the public transportation and walking worked fine.

    I’m a bigger fan of limiting or eliminating cars because of environmental issues; my family has one car and we drive it (a) to church in the winter and (b) when we’re going out-of-state. Otherwise we walk, bike, and take public transportation. I know families–with small children!–both in my neighborhood and in my ward who don’t have a car. (And I realize that there are some areas without great public transportation, but I’d assume in most cases that mission presidents or whomever could ensure that missionaries have enough miles to get where they need to go.)

    (FWIW, some missionaries are irresponsible and use up their monthly allowance of money before the end of the month, too, by failing to plan well. Surely they can learn to budget miles by careful planning, by walking where possible, etc. Moreover, several people have indicated that they went over one month on their missions with no ill effect. In most cases, I don’t see any reason why, if something totally unexpected were to come up, they couldn’t call the mission president and ask permission (or forgiveness).)

  34. Natalie B. says:

    Looking at these comments, I think we have sometimes been talking past each other. I wrote this post out of concern about how mileage is allocated in areas where public transit and walking are not possibilities. That said, I do think it would be wonderful if missionaries could be car free: It would be better for community involvement and better for the environment.

    So, perhaps the real issue we need to discuss is how we can better plan the total picture of missions to make being car-free a possibility for more missionaries. For example, in the case of Elder X, he told me that the missionary apartment was located outside of the city he was near. Perhaps simple changes like making missionary housing more accessible to areas or making sure that we build chapels near public transit would help. Without these changes, it seems like driving problems will always be with use.

  35. Natalie,

    What would also help is a change in the mindset of some members vis a vis local governance. There is a good reason why public transportation is so lacking in some areas of this great nation of ours, and geographical distance is not the reason. There are great benefits to public transportation, especially for missionary work.

  36. StillConfused says:

    Is there some kind of a device on the car that prevents it from being driven when the mileage number is hit? Otherwise, why not just go and let God and the Church sort it out?

  37. Yes, Natalie B., missionaries walking down the highway in Montana is dangerous, especially when the temperature is -(minus) 20, as it often is here in the winter time. And we have NO public transportation here. I live in Helena, the capital city (a city of less than 30,000 people, nevertheless). On top of everything else, the local Church members in this mission are asked to provide free housing to the missionaries (and of course, they can only live with a married couple), so the housing choices are limited. The missionaries assigned to our ward live a mile outside the city and walk into town on a regular basis (yes, down a busy highway).
    To the missionaries’ credit, they don’t complain. It’s just a problem for disabled old women like me who can’t stand to see these young men and women walking in inclement weather with heavy backpacks when it seems so unnecessary. I know, the pioneers did it so these young people can too. (That’s an argument I hear often.) But I’m pretty sure that if my ancestors had had the option of riding in a warm vehicle, they certainly would have done so. Some suffering is unavoidable, but I don’t see anything noble in suffering needlessly.

  38. Dan, I totally agree with you about the problem of public transportation. We lived in a rural area in Washington State where we had great bus service, but it came at a price (a fraction of a percent added to the local sales tax) that many people are unwilling to pay. Unfortunately, Church members, at least here in Montana, are among those who object to this kind of public service (or at least they object to paying for it).

  39. Natalie–your sexiness is nothing compared to mine. I’m such a bombshell that I can’t be trusted not to seduce two elders in the presence of my pre-teen children if I invite them to dinner!

  40. #34,

    Missionary apartment location is another problem. My understanding is that the church is only willing to pay a certain amount per missionary for rent. Often, the church can’t find apartments in town that meet those requirements.

    Another gripe maybe?


    I totally agree! I think many areas (including rural areas) could sustain public transportation, if people would just be willing to use it.

  41. Tanya Spackman says:

    Ah, mission car miles. The bane of my existence on my mission in a couple areas. One of my areas was a non-car area. It was in the city and there was plenty of public transportation so no one had a car but the zone leaders, and they rarely used it, as far as I know. That worked fine, of course. Cities are useful that way. Outside the city, like most other places in the U.S., public transportation ranged from minimal to completely non-existent, but then, that’s why we had cars.

    A couple of my car areas were small enough that we had no problems keeping the miles below our allotment. But a couple areas… we pretty much just ignored a large chunk of the area. In one of the larger areas, we had enough miles that we could get there if we had an appointment, but we did almost no finding activities there. That was necessary to keep the miles used low enough. In my largest area we dreaded getting a referral to someone in the far-flung reaches. When we happened to get a media referral in the distant area, we hoped the person wasn’t really that interested because there was no way for us to get down to them more than a couple times a month, even with members driving (they weren’t too keen on driving that far either, so it involved a lot of pleading on our part, and we eventually gave up).

  42. DW served in SoCal, in a language mission. They were *required* to drive. Of course, they didn’t *live* in their working area, so they would drive into the area, park their car, and then work their 2-city block x 3-city block area.

  43. I envied missionaries that had cars, even with limited miles. In some of my areas, cars weren’t necessary due to great public transportation and lots of members not too far away, but in other areas 90% of the active members lived in tiny villages and were almost impossible to reach by public transportation or bike (the entire bishopric lived 4 hours one-way by bike, or 2.5 hours one-way on a train we couldn’t afford, with the train leaving our zone for the majority of the trip). We ended up dropping a promising part-member family because we just couldn’t get out there to visit them. Granted, we had plenty of doors to knock (and even a lot of investigators) close by, but our member-missionary work possibilities were greatly limited. One day a week with a car would have been wonderful.
    So I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for most Elders who “don’t have enough miles.”

  44. Natalie–you have a lot of sympathy for Elder X; it looks like most returned missionaries on this thread (myself included) do not.

    This Elder’s accident was a result of his (and/or companions) poor planning and subsequent decision to break missionary rules by riding a bike with no helmet.

    Yes, I was one of those missionaries who spent my ENTIRE mission with a bike (and helmet, of course) (that I purchased with my very own money, both), my feet, and public transport. Guess what? When your area is as big as a UT county or two, and your only access to many parts of it is your own sweat equity, you learn to budget your peddling miles pretty well. Does it mean you turn down dinner appointments that are very far away from your, ahem, REAL missionary work–you betcha. Does it mean you can visit people in every corner of your mission every day? No way. Monday for city A, Tuesday for city B, Wednesday for city C, etc etc. All appointments for a given area must be made on the designated day you are already in the area; should there be a compelling reason to mix it up so you can meet the spouse who is always gone but will be home on a day you are usually in another area, so be it.

    [In our mission, we were not allowed to ride in cars ever, under any circumstances, so we never got rides, except the ones we paid for–that helps people budget, too.]

    After their failure to adequately plan, these elders could have said to your neighbor A)Sorry we can’t get there for dinner, but we’d love to meet you at the Baptism, or B)Sorry we won’t be able to use our car that day, but we can get a ride in that direction from Bro. G who heads out there to work in the morning, work around your area all day, meet you for dinner, and then get a ride from you AND your husband back to the Stake Center for the Baptism, how does that sound?, or C) Sorry we can’t make dinner, but your lovely neighbor Sister Natalie can eat with you–she’ll bring a killer dessert and you guys can get to know each other and talk about what you can expect to see at the baptismal service, and then we’ll see you at the baptism.

    It’s just not that hard.

    BTW–in these “mileage shortage” stories, it is almost always elders. Do the sisters have smaller areas, less access to cars, or are they better planners?

  45. well said ESO

  46. I spent about half of my mission in a car, in the Pacific NW. While the mileage allotment was sometimes tight, I can tell you that I only had trouble with miles once. That was when I was transfered to a new area where the former companionship had been going over on the miles and fudging their reports.

    It seems that we in the U.S. have gotten overly dependent on our vehicles. Need to go 1/4 mile to the store? Take the car! I saw this with many of the new missionaries.

    A car was a tool, as it was explained to us, to be used appropriately and not in all instances. For example, in my first area, we covered two towns, about 20 miles apart. We would visit the further town only 2 to 3 days a week, and spend a substantial amount of time there. We would also plan for rides while in the far town to visit some remote areas.

    Our mission also utilized pairing off with members almost every evening, which did wonders for our effectiveness. I would say half of our “work” each day was done between 7-9 pm.

    I have also talked with several vehicle coordinators since then, and have discussed the limits. They are somewhat arbitrary, but only concerning the individual, and not the specific area. Each mission gets a certain amount of miles per month, to be allocated across the fleet. Thus, if one companionship goes over 100 miles, that comes from somewhere else. Its a budgeting issue. Just like the personal allotment given to the missionaries each month for their personal spending.

    Ultimately I have little sympathy for the Elders. We have a duty to help the work go forward, and a car is an expensive tool, that while valuable, comes at a sacrifice from others.

  47. I have to agree with all those with no sympathy. I was on a bike my whole mission. My mission was really small anyway, and most areas could be visited via bike. The only people who had cars were ZLs, APs, Sisters, and the occasional other missionary.

    Oh, and I think ESO hit the nail on the head.

  48. In my own mission, you only got a bike if you were a zone leader in a big city. Everyone else walked or took the bus or taxi. That went for the sisters as well.

  49. Nothing personal to any specific elders, but as a sister I would rather not be in the car with two men I don’t know well, no matter how clean cut they are or what badge they wear. It’s not that I don’t trust myself, or that I’m too overpoweringly sexy. Some men are stupid and at times MORE stupid in pairs or groups.

    I do laugh a bit at the thought that the rules about car riding are illogical…it boggles the mind to think that the rest of the white bible is then considered…what? lgoical? I’ve assumed some illogical idiot made some stupid choice and SHAZAAM there’s a new rule.

  50. I believe that the Missionary Department could manage its transportation budget much more effectively. On my mission, in the area where I grew up and in the area where I now live, I know there are MANY areas allotted cars where there really is no need for them. Missionaries could easily get around to any and all appointments through some combination of transit, biking, walking, and very occasionally receiving rides from members or other missionaries (such as to mission meetings). On the other hand, I know that in some other areas, the missionaries’ allotted mileage prohibits them from teaching people they otherwise might. (One of my areas was large enough that we couldn’t realistically have a serious investigator unless the investigator happened to live in a small portion of the area that our car mileage allowed. I felt that we were allotted plenty of miles, but that a larger allotment or a more fluid regulation could have allowed us to reach some different people.) If fewer areas had automobiles, perhaps those areas where a car is essential to the work could have more miles.

    Giving missionaries cars in areas where they do not need them has some devastating effects. I live in an area where not all that many people have cars — particularly the African immigrant population which makes up a good portion of our population and of the investigators with whom the missionaries largely work. The missionaries, so unfamiliar with any means of transportation other than their car are wholly unprepared to help investigators get to church except by offering them a ride which they will not be able to find for the investigators more often than not. There used to be a companionship that got transit passes instead of a car. They were much more effective at getting investigators to church than missionaries with cars because they could and did advise their investigators about how to get there or would even ride with them to the church. This method is much more effective than the current missionaries’ technique of calling me just before church (and when I’m already at the church usually) asking me to pick up an investigator who is a ten minute bus ride from the church.

  51. I miss the days of the Corolla Coaster. Take a Toyota Corolla, open highway, and a little momentum. Throw the car in neutral, shut it off and presto! No use of miles.

  52. A few weeks ago we had a real cold front come through the area that dropped the temperatures to -10°F, I know that’s a heat wave for you North Dakotans, but cold here. My wife saw a couple of missionaries (not from our area) trudging down the road, ill equipped for the cold, and wanted to stop and give them a lift but didn’t because she is a woman and they couldn’t get a ride with her.

    A few days later we had the missionaries over for dinner, after discussing the situation with our Elders, they both agreed that the handbook says they shouldn’t get rides from ladies, but in that situation they’d take the lift.

  53. #52,

    I’d have to agree that there were a few situations, similar to that one where rules were broken on my mission.

  54. I am still thankful that our mission had no cars. Those two years of “perfect” driving cleared all the points off my driving record!

    And I’m not sorry that those were the days before anybody wore bicycle helmets. I’d have hated to mess up my hair.

  55. Dear me, what *is* the matter with missionaries nowadays? Don’t they know how to fix an odometer any more?

  56. I don’t really mind the missionary rules about elders not being allowed in my house or my car. I shudder to think of the easy mark that SAHMs would be for tons of service to the missionaries in all those hours where we aren’t at work and are “just” taking care of babies and homes with more flexible schedules.
    I also appreciate the church being ultra-cautious to help the thousand of young men and countless other people to avoid potentially harmful situations.

  57. jks–I’m not a “potentially harmful situation.” I’m a 40-year-old with three children.

  58. Thirty years ago the missionaries lived in the basement of our house in the country. There was a summer storm and the electricity and phones were out. DH, the Bishop, was at the church, ignorant that I had gone into premature labor. The missionaries came home and I informed them that one was staying with my kids and the other was driving me to the hospital and then going to the church to inform DH. They balked, citing rules, and I informed them that if they didn’t they were going to get to deliver a baby. Elder L called staying with the kids and Elder B took me to the hospital. The baby was born before DH got there. They did not get in trouble for driving my car or for splitting up. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

    Also all 4 of my sons had terrible driving records that cleared up while they were not driving for 2 years. What a blessing. Getting them off the insurance pays for 1/4 of a mission.

  59. It makes the elders look more like kids and less like adults.

    I think that learning to budget is one of the major things that missionaries are supposed to learn on their missions. I suppose that the mileage limits are a part of that.

    Our experience (our family members with several missions served over more than one decade) is that there is always something that the missionaries, who actually are kids, have a hard time learning. When I was on my mission, all missionaries were completely responsible for all their expenses. I don’t long for that time, but we had no mileage limits. It came as a surprise to me that anyone even tracked the miles for service purposes. There was talk about reimbursing for gas, but I can’t remember getting any.

    There were then, as there are now, missionaries with rich parents, who have coddled their kids all the way up to that, and still continue by refilling their accounts or paying their credit card bills with few questions. I suppose the Church wants to have as few of those as possible, and I could see more of them getting called to the States, since careless spending receives more understanding from American people — on the average; as long as it’s not their own money — than, say, destitute Romanian peasants.

    At any rate, I suppose if there are people in the local Stake Presidency, who have noticed that there really is something wrong with something like mileage limits, I would say that there are ways of contacting people who make these decisions. I have very practical experience with this, and know what I’m talking about. But not everyone can be a “special case.”

  60. Natalie B. says:

    I don’t think that the primary concern here is whether or not we have sympathy for the missionaries. Yes, missionaries can do dumb things, plan poorly, and reap benefit from budgeting. But, if we aren’t going to allow them flexibility when they mess up, is that worth the other consequences: offended investigators, risks to their safety, inappropriate imposition on ward members?? Far better in my opinion that they call their mission president up and request more miles and that he chat with them afterwards in order to correct the situation in the future. It seems like what is being perpetuated instead is a system of cover-ups. While I fully agree with every thing said about reducing car dependency, I have a hard time believing that the benefits of being draconian about the rules and mileage limits (or making missionaries believe that there is no possibility of flexibility) when missionaries make a mistake is worth the costs.

  61. esodhiambo says:

    Natalie–you see, the cars don’t stop working when they hit their mileage limit. If the missionaries had a truly special case that NEEDED a car, they should indeed “go over.” Offending investigators, risking their safety, and imposing on members as detailed in the OP, were entirely due to the poor choices of the elders, not the “draconian” rules.

  62. My son left for Montana on his mission this last week, and while the missionaires here in Atlanta have mileage limits (the ones in our ward don’t even have a car, and we live way out in the exburbs), I cannot imagine having mileage limits in Montana. I can just see my boy trekking down the street in rural Montana at 30 below zero on January 30!

  63. on my mission we could call our Pres for getting extra miles. I think the rules exist to help missionaries be conservative and not wasteful w/miles, ie start/stop miles of each day are documented in a note pad.

    How lucky that missionary was safe. i agree w/the points of your post.

    For me, single, it is frustrating to sometimes to see Elders in need of a ride and not be able to help.

    I wish there was a way that there could be a way for single sisters to help w/meals/transportation in certain instances. (I do drop food off)

    Definitely the safety of the missionaries needs to be an essential consideration.

  64. J. Michael says:

    “Every member a mission president….”

  65. I would just like to point out that, while I think this post is pretty good, there is something fundamentally flawed about the premise. The author bemoans that the missionary shouldn’t have even been riding a bicycle and instead should have been safe and sound in an automobile. Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among young adults (4,556 deaths among 20-24 year-old males in the United States in one year [2006 in this case being the most recent year for which I could find CDC numbers]) and LDS missionaries.

    … one more reason to reduce the number of missionaries with cars.

  66. I’m sorry, Chuck (#62). I hope I didn’t scare you talking about the missionaries in Montana. It is REALLY cold here in the winter time, but Montanans (LDS and non) are very warm people. Yes, the missionaries do have mileage limits here. We do have a new mission president, however, whom I haven’t yet met, and he may be doing things differently than the last one.

  67. Natalie B. says:

    #65: Er, no. I said there was something wrong with him not having a helmet and with the fact that he was stuck unable to do missionary work until he could borrow a bike. This was meant more as a commentary on what I perceive to be a waste of missionary time and with the failure to equip missionaries with good alternatives to driving when we limit their mileage.

  68. Natalie B. says:

    That said, I can see how what I wrote was interpreted in that way.

  69. My apologies. I shouldn’t have been so snarky. I just wanted to interject that missionaries aren’t so safe in cars as we’d like to think and perhaps there are some other reasons that we shouldn’t be as thrilled about so many missionaries having cars.

  70. We had milage limits in our cars. I spent 22 months with a car. The rules were not draconian on milage. If you went over nobody every said anything to you from the mission office. They wwere guidelines not set in stone rules. Sometimes I was a bit over and sometimes a bit under. You would have had to add like an extra 500K’s over the limit to get a question. My areas were large. At one point I drove hundred’s of kilometers to the Atlantic coast across a desert to open a new area.
    I could never imagine playing games with the milage or not using the car if I needed it.

  71. I served in 3 different missions. Served in areas with a bike, public transportation, and cars. Saw plenty of responsible and irresponsible missionaries go over miles. One area took more than a day to bike across and is today half of it’s own mission. I agree that the mileage restrictions are a joke. But you have to deal with the least capable person when you make rules.

    Unfortunate side results of mission mileage and travel rules are wasted time traveling instead of finding/teaching. Missionaries spend time hanging at member’s homes instead of working. They spend hours biking instead of contacting. Missionaries have to refuse dinner engagements because they can’t get there. And if members live on opposite sides of town, miles add up no matter how well you plan.

    The missionaries in my stake (and we are talking Utah here) live in the next town over. When the sign up sheet for making them dinner goes around, nobody signs up because you are required to go pick them up and take them home. And the mission assigns the time they are to eat which doesn’t work with most family schedules. A simple dinner and lesson which would be an hour tops turns into two and a half hours. It’s easier to have pizza delivered to them than it is for you to have them in your home. It’s more a hassle than a blessing.

    Another issue is missionaries can’t go to areas of their mission. The church decides the limits of the missionary work by the location of the apartment. And if the church is looking for cheap housing, travel limitations are usually not part of the planning equation. So, people who might actually accept the gospel are never given the chance because they live too far from the missionaries. I once had a mission leader complain that the missionaries never tracted in his town, but his town was a two hour bike ride one way. With no buses. So we made the trip twice and spent the day working while smelling like we hadn’t showered. Too much effort for too little results.

    Another thing I find deplorable is missionaries out hitching rides. They call it traveling by faith. They hope someone will pick them up while they walk 10, 20, 30 miles or more. Sometimes they get lucky. More often than not they just wear out shoe leather instead of working.

    I wonder if this isn’t an unfunded mandate issue due to the equalized cost of missions. I remember regularly calling home toward the end of the month to get extra money for travel expenses not covered by the mission. I pinched every penny and still came up short. In the end, I broke the rules many times to get the job done. That’s the point of being on a mission, after all. If you can’t teach because getting there is impeded by rules, you have a problem.

  72. This is really true and stupid in our ward. We live in a very large ward. Our house is 28 miles from the building. The elders are only allowed 30 miles per day on their car. This means that they can never come to our house. What this really means is that me and my wife will never find an investigator or neighbor for them to teach because they cannot come here. This is pretty ineffective.

  73. I was the vehicle fleet coordinator on my mission, and missionaries were talked to if they went over miles, but if it appeared justified, no action was taken (the “action” usually being a reduction in miles the following month). Mileage was dependent on size of area, historical usage, etc., and was at times adjusted based on increased numbers etc. There were also instances of unplugged odometers…

    Peter, just a slight correction: while WC envisioned the concept of the “roadometer,” and was the force behind creating it, Orson Pratt is more suitably credited with the actual design, and Appleton Harmon with the construction of the first working version. WC certainly made the most use of the original, when composing his Emigrant’s Guide.

  74. On my mission we took over an area that had frequently been “hard to cover” with their allotment of miles. Yeah right. We planned our miles and used them judiciously. I never once felt like that impeded the missionary work and we were always giving away miles at the end of the month to other companionships. (There was no public transportation as it was rural and isolated and biking would have been incredibly inefficient). Instead, we tried to plan our days around the area we would be teaching and we would get out of the car and tract etc….never ran out of miles! I think that it takes some planning to use mileage appropriately but it certainly not impossible.