A Port in a Storm

Sister Missionaries

Our (nominally Spanish speaking) sister missionaries just came by. (They’ve never been to our house, and although I of course have seen them at Church I’ve never really talked to them before.) I opened the door and welcomed them in, and they got this deer in the headlights look and asked if my wife was home. When I was a missionary that was not a thing, but fortunately for all concerned she was indeed home, just in the other room.

We had a very pleasant conversation for an hour or so. We learned a little about them (both from Utah, which is very common for missionaries here), and I told them a little about us. Eventually, they did their duty and asked if we had any referrals. I frankly told them no, we didn’t, truthfully explaining that, at least within our ward boundaries, pretty much the only people we know and interact with socially are other Mormons. (I admit to not being a great neighbor; I know my neighbors just barely enough to waive when I see them. Actually, now that I think of it, maybe I’m not such a bad neighbor after all; at least I don’t sic the missionaries on them!) A prayer, and they were gone.

I was happy to take an hour out of my evening and have the conversation. I well remember how nice it was to visit with a member family as a port in the storm when you had nothing else meaningful to do (which frankly was the vast majority of the time), so I was pleased to be able to provide such a port for these earnest young women.

What stories do you have to share on this topic, from either the missionary or regular member side?


  1. When I was on my mission, a family that had only been members for a year or so lived a block away. On particularly rough days we’d drop by on the pretense of dropping something off/asking a question/letting them know about an activity, knowing darn well they’d invite us in to eat bolis (delicious popsicles) and chat. I’ve often reflected on the guilt I’d felt at the time, but I definitely want to be one of those ports to missionaries serving in my area.

  2. Angela C says:

    We used to call missionaries who went to the members’ houses “Cola Cao Missionaries.” it was a derisive term for lazy missionaries (Cola Cao is like Nestle Quik in Spain). But of course, visiting with the members was always a welcome respite. Yet, I don’t remember the strong push for referrals either. There was more friendship and casual conversation, perhaps because the wards where i served weren’t so well established. Members didn’t have preset expectations about roles.

  3. In my mission we were forbidden from eating with or visiting members in their homes except for Christmas and Easter. We often had eternal investigators who would give us refuge, though — like the old lady on the floor just below ours in Toulouse, who called us “les petites soeurs” (an endearment for nuns) and who was sincerely delighted when I took her up on her constant offers to help and one day borrowed a little butter from her; and the lady in Marseille who lived in a 10-ft-square converted garage with an asphalt floor whose invitations we couldn’t accept very often because she fed us far beyond her budget. Otherwise, it was one more apartment building after another, up and down stairs, knocking on doors that didn’t open, or that were slammed with dismissals alternating between “Non, je ne suis pas catholique” and “Non, je suis catholique.”

    Here, elders are allowed to visit members, and apparently elders are even allowed to visit women if they accidentally tract us out. Of course, it didn’t go so well the last time, when some punk elder insisted that I knock on all the doors on my street and invite perfect strangers to my home for dinner so that the elders could just “happen” to drop by and meet them.

  4. I grew up in a small town in British Columbia. When my parents and I (along with a few others) were baptized back in 1950, we kind of were the branch. And the missionaries were ALWAYS at our house. I have tons of pictures of family dinners with the missionaries there.

  5. The white Bible lists “tracting” /knocking doors as the LEAST effective way to find people willing to listen. Why NOT work with members? I’d it’s 20x as effective then work with your head before your feet.

  6. Michael says:

    I once got a midnight transfer into an area where the previous missionaries had been sent home, and one of them had been excommunicated. The members of that ward wanted nothing to do with the missionaries, and the teenage daughter of a stake high counselor had to go live with an aunt for nine months….

    I finally reached the solution of getting on our bikes, in August, and riding from member house to member house across the ward. We’d knock on the door, ask for a glass of water, refuse to go in, thank them kindly, and head on our way to the next house. No tracting, no hanging out, just riding house to house drinking ice water. A couple of weeks later, we had more member referrals than we could teach, plus dinner appointments every night.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Michael, that’s pretty brilliant…

  8. Jack Hughes says:

    My wife and I have made our home a “port in the storm” to many elders and sisters in the different places we have lived. Most of the time, the experience has been overwhelmingly positive, and many of the missionaries remain in touch with us, years after their return. Several times we have been in a position to provide guidance to missionaries who were discouraged or struggling, and we saw what a positive difference it makes for them to occasionally get encouragement from outside the missionary “chain of command” (the old chestnut “forget yourself and go to work!” is not very effective on a 20-year-old having a panic attack). Young people in their late teens/early 20s don’t always know how to be authentic, but when they see that my wife and I try to live that way, they relax from their missionary agenda. They don’t even try to get us to refer our neighbors or get on board with any of the latest “programs” anymore.

    Once, though, we had this punk kid from southern Utah who took advantage of our hospitable nature and made it a habit to drop by unannounced, every few days, either during our family dinnertime or other family time (or during my favorite TV shows), and with a very entitled attitude. He used manipulative language about how “the prophet says missionaries and ward members need to work together”. I had to take the young man aside and give him a stern lecture about respecting families and their time, being polite, making appointments, etc. It turns out he always came over because he had time to kill at the end of the day, and our house was conveniently located on the route back to their apartment. I probably would have been more hospitable if he just said that up front, rather than put on this façade of righteousness. Nevertheless, after I told him that he needed to make an appointment in advance next time, we never saw him at our door again.

  9. My mission was steeped in tracting culture. I swallowed it pretty thoroughly and learned to feel quite guilty if ever a bit of time slipped away without some door-knocking. I was very happy, though, to find in one area in particular, that there were three families in the ward who lived quite close to the church building, and they invited us over constantly, and let us know we had standing invitations to join them for dinner, or just to say hi, whenever we had no other plan. I particularly appreciated that they didn’t believe in the culture of the mission and were quite happy to let us relax and just enjoy visiting sometimes, without the need to feel like we were bugging them for ever more referrals, or eating and rushing out the door at top speed so as not to miss precious tracting time.

  10. Felix the cat says:

    On my mission, I was always grateful for members who would welcome us in and be nice to us. However, I will say that if they gave no referrals and clearly were not exerting any effort whatsoever at sharing the gospel, those visits often stoked rather than dampened whatever frustration I happened to feel that day. Our mission president taught us that it was the members’ job to find investigators, and the missionaries’ job to teach investigators.

  11. Michael says:

    Felix – I had a mission president who hit us with much the same thing, but he also firmly believed that tracting was a form of penance, and that it had sanctifying properties. I had a hard time seeing it as anything other than an annoyance, though I did meet some interesting people while out doing it.

    The job of the missionaries isn’t so much to teach investigators, but to be kind of missionaries that local members will trust to teach their friends. This is a bigger deal than you might think. My comp and I got back home to our place one night and got a call from the stake patriarch. He told us he’d been waiting eleven years for the right missionaries to show up, and we were finally there. We ended up with one of those legendary conversion stories that results in hundreds of eventual baptisms, and one where I still hear from the dear brother every day. That ward had nothing but zone leaders there for as long as anyone could remember, and this couple seemed to need a lighter touch. It would have never come about if that patriarch and his wife hadn’t seen us teaching Primary, helping people move, playing tuba in the ward talent show, and getting inactive members back to church. They’d been hit with every special program, referral request, and mission-wide goal. They’d seen December 31st baptisms of the clearly mentally ill, and they knew it just wouldn’t work for their dear friends of thirty years.

  12. Pedro the Lion says:

    I am ward mission leader and we have correlation at our home each week and feed the elders. They stay as late as possible for a bit of a break it seems. But I also think it is great as a reminder to me that I could do a little more inviting. They could use the help. NOBODY wants to talk to them :)
    So hey, who cares if you are a good neighbour? Just invite a stranger !! Peace out.