Finding a Better Way
I clearly remember the first time I ever stood in front of a door (that appeared to me to be larger than life), my knuckles matching the white paint that marked it as the entrance to someone’s home; indeed, behind it was someone I had never met before. Heart pounding, knowing that I was about to come face to face with my worst nightmare, it was now my turn to do my first door approach as a new missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The thought flashed through my mind, “There’s got to be a better way of doing this”. For someone who has had a fear of meeting new people for most of their life, I was now faced with the knowledge that if I didn’t succeed here, it could affect the rest of my mission experience. I really felt the import of this moment, which didn’t help allay those lifetime fears.
For most of us, our understanding of missionary work is limited to the traditional idea of face-to-face cold contacting. Lots of footwork and slammed doors, before being able to connect with that 1 in 1,000th person who is ready to embrace truth, and make the necessary changes in his/her life to ‘come unto Christ’.
So you can imagine my absolute astonishment (and excitement) when my daughter, currently serving in one of the many missions in Utah, explained that she had to get permission from her Mission President to travel down to Salt Lake (well out of her mission area) to participate in the baptism of one of her investigators. Why? Because her investigator wanted to include her online missionaries in this special event.
Online missionaries? What did that mean?
As a student of the Internet myself (soon to complete a BA in Internet Communications), the issue was not that I didn’t understand the term online, nor the term missionary, but it was that the two were spoken synonymously. It just didn’t fit with my understanding of the traditional model of missionary work. My experience as a missionary, some 30 years ago, never included an online responsibility. In fact, even today the only online aspect of missionary work that I knew about was the weekly email that I received from my daughter. So the whole concept of missionaries being allowed to be online for more than one hour a week was unheard of.
In my daughter’s case, the investigator she had so carefully taught and prepared for baptism had actually had her initial contact with missionaries through the church’s online chat service at mormon.org. It was only once she had felt confident enough, and ready enough, to receive a face-to-face (f2f) contact with missionaries, that my daughter and her companion were invited to meet with with her and continue her teaching. But this online contact didn’t finish there. On many occasions, while my daughter and her companion were teaching her f2f, she would also connect with the online missionary/s. Thus establishing a connection and dialogue that suited her style of learning.
In several locations throughout the world, a small group of LDS missionaries are called and assigned to staff the chat room services of the Church’s websites. This is the work they are called to do full time, and it is another way that the church is working to meet the needs of every child of our Heavenly Father. In a recent article in the Deseret News, Scott Taylor reports on the objectives of this new missionary program.
What a most amazing and inspirational program. From where I sit, I can so clearly understand that this new face of missionary work is inspired, and for some, is a better way.
As I reflected back on my first experience as a new missionary, I connected with the idea that there are many of God’s children who would never have the courage to express their inner most spiritual desires, and fears, to a stranger who randomly knocked on their door. So to provide a means of finding answers to some of life’s most important questions, without the fear of revealing that to a total stranger f2f, was a revelation to me. This was certainly a better way for me, and for many other people.
I would love to hear from any mums (or family members) who have missionaries serving in this field of work. Or have you had an experience where you have chatted online with some of these missionaries?