Using the Youth Sunday School Curriculum to Train Future Missionaries

I am happy to introduce a new monthly youth Sunday school series at BCC: adapting the youth Sunday school curriculum to train future missionaries.

In my own ward I’m fortunate to teach 17-18 year-olds. Some of them already have turned in their mission papers and are awaiting calls. Others are working on their papers. The Sunday school curriculum adapts itself easily to teaching the youth how to share the gospel both with investigators in a formal setting and with friends. [Read more…]

Mouths of Babes — Does Can Mean Should?

O be wise, what can I say more?

Jacob 6:12

A Mormon boy from an affluent neighborhood in Utah, barely 18 years old, will leave a few days after graduating from high school for the crushing poverty, suffering, and misery of Sierra Leone. This isn’t the plot of an off-color Broadway musical. It’s going to happen in a couple of months to a real person.[1] He’s not going to experience mere culture shock; it will be an entirely different world, a different universe. Nothing in the boy’s lived experience up until this point is going to have prepared him for even the smallest percentage of what he is going to observe landing there. I hope and pray he survives!

There isn’t much difference between an 18 year old boy and a 19 year old boy — both are teenagers still, both usually as green as can be. On paper it’s a wash. [Read more…]

A darn shame

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that my gay friends investigate the church. [Read more…]

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #6: “I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart, by the Holy Ghost”

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.

This covers much the same material as the last lesson, historically and thematically.  The emphasis continues to be on Oliver Cowdery’s experiences translating the Book of Mormon and, specifically, his attempts to recognize the spirit of revelation in his own life.  While the emphasis of last week’s lesson was more on preparing yourself to receive revelation, this week’s lesson has more to do with recognizing what on earth is going on when it happens.

First of all, go to the new Revelations in Context resource at and read the article by Jeffrey Cannon on Oliver Cowdery’s Gift.  While you are hopping around, go to Robin Jensen’s post on last week’s lesson and read that as well.  Now return to this post and feel bad; I’m neither as knowledgeable, nor as good a writer as those guys. Oh well.

If there is one message to take from all of the sections being covered this week (and last week) it is this: revelation is not easy work. [Read more…]

A few questions about the missionary surge

We’ve all heard the anecdotal tales about BYU bishops being flooded with interview requests from newly prospective missionaries. And now we have quantitative confirmation of the coming surge, as church spokesperson Michael Purdy released some startling numbers tonight:

“Typically approximately 700 new applications are started each week. The last two weeks that number has increased to approximately 4,000 per week. Slightly more than half of the applicants are women.”

That’s an increase of almost 6X! DesNews reminds us that these are “not submitted applications, rather online applications that have been opened and started.” Nevertheless, the ginormous spike will surely translate to a ginormous spike in submitted applications. Which raises lots of fun questions. For instance:

[Read more…]

Bible Bashing

I’m reading a loved one’s latest missionary letter, and it’s a blow-by-blow account of some righteous argument he reportedly “won” while tracting. It’s a hilarious/sad/scary story, as the argument focused mainly on theodicy (and are there ever winners in theodicy debates?). His letter drips with hubris, righteous fire, and above all, familiarity–that used to be me (and perhaps you as well).

Everyone told me as a missionary that we shouldn’t “bible bash” and argue because “the Spirit can’t work where there’s contention.” Nobody told us not to bible bash because we were stupid 19-year-olds who didn’t know anything.

There’s probably a lesson in here for adults, too…

Goal Tending and Missionary Work

In our ward council last month, the ward mission leader gave a short address on the importance of setting achievable goals. He’s new in the calling and in the ward, and because our ward doesn’t baptize much, momentum is somewhat against him.

As a first step toward reversing this, he assigned us to go to our quorums and auxiliaries and set specific goals for each group, which he can then collate into an all-up ward missionary goal for 2012.

The key to baptisms, he told us, is to set achievable goals and work toward them with faith. It’s a quantitative message which I’ve heard in countless missionary-themed meetings, as I’m sure you have too.

I’ve generally rolled my eyes at such talk, but the way I think about goal-setting has changed significantly in the two years since I started working in the ad industry. You might not know it from watching TV commercials, but good ad agencies are experts at setting goals and measuring results.

[Read more…]

Becoming a Mormon: Thinking about a Brand with Elder Ballard

I am a recent convert to “Mormonism” myself. Not too many years ago you could find me vigorously arguing on Mormon-themed blogs about the importance of avoiding the word “Mormon” as a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[1] At the time, it felt like a concession to detractors of our faith to self-identify by the nickname they derisively gave to us in the nineteenth century. Ironically, however, it was precisely our nineteenth-century ancestors in the faith who had made peace with the descriptor and good-naturedly co-opted it to describe themselves, leaving us with the lasting nickname. [Read more…]

A Little More Conversation

I was having dinner at Cynthia L’s house tonight, and she pointed out something that I’ve noticed as well: our Mormonism makes us more interesting to other people. People like inviting us to social events and chatting with us because we have that one weird thing that makes us distinct—a built-in conversation starter. “This is my friend Kyle…he’s a mormon!”

Of course, the chatting is easier lately, what with the “Mormon Moment” we’re enjoying. The stranger who just found out I’m mormon has a million ways to break the ice—BYU’s newly improved football visibility, the Broadway musical, the presidential candidate(s), the crazy polygamists, The Jimmer. The conversations can start in any number of ways, but they always seem to follow the same well-worn path:

  1. “Why aren’t you drinking?”
  2. “My best friend in high school was a mormon.”
  3. “What’s it like?”
  4. “I went to church as a kid but…”

[Read more…]

I am a terrible member missionary

We’re on summer holiday, but I dropped by the school to check on something. In my mailbox I found a gift from a student. It was the eighth bottle of wine I received this year. Clearly I have failed to make my status as a Mormon known to my students. It’s not their fault: the only clues to my Mormonism are a BYU diploma on the wall and what they perceive as an eccentric interest in herbal teas, neither of which signify any meaning to my international students.

I’m afraid this is not an isolated incident. A few years ago, I had a former student email me, a bit out of the blue. She had graduated about six years before, but I remembered her well. She had been a stage manager when I directed the school play, and we had a fair number of quite serious conversations. In this email, she explained that something had happened to her that she wanted to share with me. As you’ve already guessed, she had joined the LDS church, and she wanted to share her testimony with me. She wrote that the gospel would help me find the answers and (I remember the quotation very well) ‘leave my confusion behind.’ I sheepishly returned her email, explaining that I had been a member of the church when she knew me, although perhaps not very deeply involved with the church at that time.

So: please share your failures as a member missionary. Think of this as the anti-missionary moment.

O that I were an angel!




I was thinking today about Alma’s little wish:

O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
Alma 29:1

We all know that Alma self-smacked himself down soon after writing this, but let’s say, for argument’s sake, that he (or, you) got this wish. Then what? [Read more…]

Europe on a Shoestring

Early in my teens, my mother and her sister got the idea that they should take ship to England and pick up my aunt’s daughter who was serving a mission in Scotland. I got drafted as guardian, being a robust youth. Not really. I think Mom worried about my fate in the hands of my brothers and father in her absence. Wise woman. There are many tales of this trip and I won’t bore you with most of them, but I will offer you a few.
[Read more…]

Thoughts From Last Night

I guess I could say that I’d prefer someone else baptize her, but that wouldn’t be true. I want to baptize her, and she wants me to baptize her, too. She’s been part of our family pretty much since she came to visit. No one else really knows her, except some of the old women. Still, all we have done is give her a ride to church every week and talk a little bit. Why did she agree to be baptized? I didn’t think she’d taken me seriously when I told her that I wanted to baptize her as soon as she believes that I won’t let her drown. No, there’s no one else that should do this if I don’t. Maybe Bishop. No, me. I just don’t think that baptizing visitors who are leaving soon is a very good idea. In fact, I think it’s almost uniformly a bad idea. I think it’s an even worse idea when that visitor is 82 years old. And when her knees don’t bend. [Read more…]

Outreach, ur doing it wrong

Yesterday I attended a meeting at which Gary Lawrence spoke about the research he conducted which forms the foundation of his book, How Americans View Mormonism.  His firm contacted 1,000 randomly selected Americans and asked 55 questions.  The answers given by the respondents clearly demonstrate that we are doing a poor job of communicating.

[Read more…]

Going Back, III: Gossip

Yet another installment in my series about returning to Argentina, 2 years after my mission. Previous installments here and here. Yes, I’ve changed the names for privacy reasons.

Behold my bi-monthly, post-mission ritual: I’d be strolling across the BYU campus, minding my own business, when suddenly I’d bump into a returned missionary from my mission who’d returned home after I did. I myself had only been back for 6 months, but this was long enough for me to view each RM as a potential gold mine of information and updates about my old areas. So I’d make the predictable inquiries … about my baptisms, my investigators, my favorite ward members, my mission companions. Interesting tidbits of information were few and far between, but the potential was always there, so I never stopped asking. Occasionally I’d get some morsel of gossip, but nothing to write home about. Until one fine afternoon – as I interrogated a recently returned elder about each of my junior companions – I participated in the following bombshell exchange:

RM: “Dude, did you hear about what happened to Elder Sorenson?”
Me: “No, I didn’t. What happened to him? He was my comp, you know.”
RM: “Yeah, he got sent home a few months ago. Something to do with homosexuality.” [Read more…]

Missions and the British Mormon Male

Armand Mauss has recently written on the costs of membership in the Mormon Church for European Mormons. They are high. Read any of Wilfried’s old T&S posts and you will have this view confirmed. I would like to note another way in which European Mormons shoulder a heavier burden than do their American co-religionists generally: missionary service.

My insight is largely anecdotal and Britain-specific. It may not elicit any sympathy (after all, Zion is a city of sacrifice). However, some realisation of the specific challenges of international Mormons is useful for an American audience, I hope. [Read more…]

Musicals and the Church’s Work in Africa

I find it interesting that the new Broadway show THE BOOK OF MORMON throws a freshfaced missionary into Uganda, where the setting is supposed to show the ludicrousness of mormon faith and idealism when confronted with the hellish realities of man’s cruelties to man.

The reality is that Mormons are already in Uganda, and we’re doing just fine, thanks. [Read more…]

Speaking of ghosts…

Let’s hear your ghost stories. Here’s mine: [Read more…]

BCC Papers 6/1: Hardy, The King James Bible

You can read the full paper here.

Grant Hardy, “The King James Bible and the Future of Missionary Work”—Synopsis

The King James Version of the Bible has a long and storied history, but the LDS Church is entering a period when the drawbacks of that 400 year old translation will become more and more apparent, for several reasons: [Read more…]

BCC Zeitcast 63: Tuesdays With Berto

In this episode, Scott B. listens in while Aaron Brown tells a story from his mission that probably should have stayed in his mission.


Links for your convenience:
[Read more…]

How to create a fake investigator

In my mission, they were called investifakers; I preferred inventigators, but the name is immaterial. At certain times, companions and I deemed it necessary to report that we were teaching an investigator who did not exist. I built up considerable talent in this creative endeavor, and now I would pass my experience and knowledge on to any who might find it useful.

Before I begin, I need to acknowledge those who gave me so much. Of my four companions who were ‘older’ than me, three described having created investigators. (My trainer, a steadfast fellow who went on to become AP, never mentioned having done so: he was merely willing to round any segment of an hour up to the full hour and was generously inclusive in the definition of street contacting [including playing chess in the park and video games in an open arcade]). Truly I stood on the shoulders of giants. [Read more…]

BCC Zeitcast 60: The Cyber Elders

And now for something completely different!

In this episode, Scott B. interviews the Cyber Elders–a pair of missionaries who have been called to serve in an experimental mission devoted solely to online missionary work. And no, we are not making this up. [Read more…]

Missionary Mistaken Identity

The second area I served in was Burlington, Vermont. Our mission was referred to as the New England Mission. It no longer exists. Huge by today’s standards, it has long since been broken up into many smaller missions. I was in Burlington during the winter months. Our apartment was the attic of a building very near to Lake Champlain. Down below was a rest home. The apartment had no provision for heating or cooling and that is the beginning of a number of fun stories, which I will not go into here.
[Read more…]

Going Back, II: Shame

This is part 2 in a series of posts about my post-mission trip back to my mission in Argentina. Part 1 is here.

The Bandar family loved me like a son. At least that’s how it seemed to me. And I really loved them back. A pleasant, unassuming married couple with two teenage girls, the Bandars were baptized 3 or 4 years before I served in their area, and they remained stalwart, committed members of the faith ever since. They were not high-profile members of their ward, and they didn’t serve in any notable callings. I never taught any missionary discussions to them. But they were beloved by many missionaries who’d known them, much more than most other member families in the ward. The obvious joy they derived from every waking moment spent with the elders was the reason why. Typical evenings at the Bandar house consisted of the four of them plus two of us, sitting around the dining room table, eating and drinking, chatting about everything under the sun into the wee hours. They often liked to break out the family atlas. They’d ask us where we’d lived, where we’d traveled, and my companion and I couldn’t seem to say anything that wasn’t treated by the family as absolutely fascinating. Our visits were long, but we were never made to feel we’d outworn our welcome. And in truth, we really hadn’t. We could have stayed all night with the Bandars, and they undoubtedly would have remained chipper as can be. As a missionary, it’s really hard not to love a family like the Bandars.
[Read more…]

Missing It

A brief list of things that I missed because I was on a mission from 1994-1996:

* Steve Young (and the 49ers) winning the Superbowl.

* The Atlanta Braves winning the World Series (this has made me indifferent to baseball, when I used to be passionate about the Braves)

* The University of Florida football team becoming National Champions under Steve Spurrier (note: these were my three favorite sports franchises at the time of my mission)

* The Arrival of Jim Carrey (I missed the first Ace Ventura movie, Dumb and Dumber, and the Mask)

* The Death of Grunge Music (I heard Nevermind, Ten, a couple more singles and that’s about it)

* The entire O.J. Simpson trial (I heard about the day he was chased and the day he was acquitted, nothing else)

* Laserblast *snif*

For a while, when I got home I felt a real need to catch up on pop culture. I watched Apollo 13 and Forrest Gump in one sitting. But some holes got filled in whether I investigated them or not. I now know who Judge Ito and Kato Kaelin are. However, when I’ve watched the early Jim Carrey stuff, it’s never caught on. Maybe you had to see it with friends in a theater for it to make an indelible impression.

So, what did you miss? Do you feel the lack? How did you catch up?

Going Back

This is the first in a multi-part series of posts on this topic. Sorry for the length.

Like most American elders in my mission, I promised countless investigators and churchmembers that one day I would return to Argentina to visit them. Unlike most American elders in my mission, I actually made good on that promise. Roughly 16 months after I returned home, I travelled back to Argentina with a friend who’d also served there — once-a-year BCC commenter John W — and together we embarked on a whirlwind tour of La Mision Bahia Blanca. Our trip was intended as part mission visit, part tourism, but once we arrived, we quickly jettisoned all touristic ambitions, and spent every day retracing our old stomping grounds, looking up every memorable person we’d ever had any meaningful interaction with. (We’d eventually hit 5 of my 7 areas, and 3 or 4 of John’s). It was quite the adventure…. in more ways than we ever anticipated.
[Read more…]

BCC Zeitcast 57: What’s Really Happening In China

Although I swore that this podcast would never see the light of day, public protests and private threats helped me change my mind. In this episode, Matsby and GST join me for a (short) discussion of the Church’s recent talks with Chinese officials.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Sort of.

You see, GST’s microphone didn’t work, so we had to get his commentary over instant message.

Download this episode here or subscribe to the BCC Zeitcast in iTunes. (And don’t forget to leave a rating/review in iTunes!)

Links for your convenience:

[Read more…]

The Sacrament of Grief, Part 2

This is the second in a series from BCC Guest Nicholas S., known to many of you as Latter-day Guy. Part 1 can be found here.

Iuste iudex ultionis, Donum fac remissionis Ante diem rationis.[6]

The sun is bright for the graveside service, and most of us are melting. Beneath the layers of cotton and wool, my body attempts––unsuccessfully––to cool itself. Whatever heavenly engineer thought up the idea of perspiration must not have considered the effects of high-humidity. The discomfort is not entirely bad though. Like attending a Portuguese Mass with my Spanish-speaking ears, it has a certain blunting effect. I make brief eye-contact with some of the familiar faces around me; a few offer wan smiles. Several of us are surprised that the graves will not be dedicated, but the cemetery is owned by the parish. Their turf, their rules. A brother tells me in a near whisper that the dedication will happen later, very discreetly. The revelation is strangely (and inappropriately) amusing. There is something gothic and Van Helsing-esque about the thought of this genial, balding elder’s quorum member breaking into a graveyard to exercise his ninja priesthood in the dead of night, dispatching a zombie for good measure on the way to a home teaching appointment. Like sawdust on running water, the crowd moves away en masse, slowly separating into smaller and smaller companies. One of the more gregarious young women (her dad used to be our ward mission leader) greets me and Elder Latu, and we talk for a moment. All I can remember now is her confidence that God would mete out justice, and the hard set to her jaw and the gun-metal glint in her eye that this conviction gave her. She is probably right, but the thought is not comforting. Despite the heat, something inside feels cold.
[Read more…]

BCC Zeitcast 55: More Topics Than Usual

The BCC Zeitcast returns from a short summer vacation! In this episode, Scott B. is joined by DKL and a random John for a discussion of too many topics to list, including Glenn Beck, Church block programs, thinking evil of your fellow saints, chocolate, and a fractured [BLEEP]. Download this episode here or subscribe to the BCC Zeitcast in iTunes. (And don’t forget to leave a rating/review in iTunes!)

Links for your convenience:
[Read more…]

Female Leadership in LDS Missions

Recently a friend expressed some anxiety over the possibility that his daughters might serve missions for the LDS Church.  He was concerned that such an experience might lead them to internalize too much of the intensely sexist rhetoric and behaviour that is observable among some LDS missionaries.  The following day, while meandering on Temple Square, two sister missionaries intercepted me and began trying to obtain a referral.  In that conversation I learned something so obvious that I am ashamed it had never occurred to me before, but which I think could influence the ‘missionary culture’ if it was universally adopted: Sister missionaries, in that mission, hold leadership positions. [Read more…]