The texts in this week’s lesson have a common subject: mission calls directed to dozens of people, some with familiar names like Hyrum Smith and some who subsequently fade from church history. There are no women mentioned in our reading. In those first decades of the church, women were not formally called to be travelling preachers or proselytizers, but women and missionary work do have a long and influential history within the church, one that is the subject of ongoing research. For a glimpse of some of this groundbreaking female missionary work, including stories of the first women set apart as proselytizing missionaries in the 1890s, read this series published by the Church History department.
In LDS missions today, the training and daily routine for men and women is nearly the same. With the change in age requirements, the percentage of women missionaries has increased, though their numbers are still far behind the young men. The Mormon Newsroom reports that single women are currently 26% of the missionary force, single men between the ages of 18 and 25 make up 66%, and older couple missionaries make up the remaining 8%.
Having more significant numbers of female missionaries gives me hope for increasingly informed and confident Mormon women. I think of what a mission taught me: A working knowledge of how wards and branches function. Opportunities to learn how to take authority with a grain of salt while still remaining loyal and supportive. Listening skills for the frequent times I was called upon to be a confidante. A recognition of the need for consistency and discipline within the church, tempered by a recognition of the need for flexibility and forgiveness within that same church. A strong dose of humility, balanced by a confidence in my own talents. The ability to persist in the face of rejection, criticism, and doubt. Appreciation for diverse people. And most importantly, a witness of the liberating effect of the gospel in people’s lives.
A crucial asset of missionary service is that it helps foster an ecclesiastical empowerment — the feeling that the church is run by us, not by some confusing bureaucracy made up of people who know more than we do. This is the kind of confidence that every woman in the church needs to feel.
In the Doctrine & Covenants, nearly all of these mission calls contain a familiar metaphorical image: the white field, ready to harvest. Missionaries are called upon to thrust in their sickles and join the “great and marvellous work,” urged to act with haste, to seize the day, to preach while the people were ripe for listening. These mission calls were issued in 1829 and surrounding years, so for these long-dead missionaries, their field is already harvested. But there is also a timeless relevance to this call. Every woman has an individual mission, one particularly suited to her talents and situation. Whether within or without the church, whether in formalized missionary service or in everyday good works, there is a particular urgency to begin now, not to procrastinate.
Queen Esther was given a similar admonishment, called upon to act quickly on behalf her imperiled Hebrew countrymen. Although she was a queen, Esther felt uncertain and insecure about her potential to do good. Responding to her doubts, her uncle begged her to speak for her people, “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esth. 4:14).
What time was her uncle talking about? Esther straddled two worlds, one the vulnerable world of covenants and family, one the confusing world of state affairs and political maneuvering. She was privileged to be favored by both, and she was possibly the only person who could have achieved peace between the two. Her mission call was pointedly personal, but it affected many. Our own contemporary calls to missionary work may not be as life-or-death as Esther’s, but our time shows a similar need for peace, and our calls will inevitably serve similar purposes: to build bridges of peace, to share knowledge and resources in the hopes of giving people a better chance at life and happiness, to serve outside of one’s comfort zone and be enriched in the process, and to make the gospel relevant for our own time.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
School, Sacrifice, and Service, Rachel Esplin Odell
“The Church is present in China. It is growing through a limited amount of proselytizing, family to family, and all very much legal and above the board. I think that I still see myself as being able to play a role in that as a faithful member who is involved in China issues. I think I can have a positive impact on the way the Church is perceived in China and by Chinese officials. We have to realize that missionary work happens differently in different places. I think China is a good example of that. My membership and desire to be a representative of the Church and to get to know other cultures is part of my missionary work.”
To Always Serve and Love, Berengere Doby
“During my mission, I learned more about myself. And I learned who I didn’t want to be once I got married. I learned that I have a special nature. I learned that could be a very good friend and have very good friends. One of my companions came from Mongolia. The customs and the relationships between people are completely different there, I realized. I saw this during one little experience. We took photos all the time on my mission, and one day I was looking through some photos. There were some of the two of us, but my companion didn’t think she looked pretty. The next day, I found my photos all cut up and I said, “Sister!” I was so angry that we had a fight. She explained to me that for her, in Mongolia, her picture and her body belonged to her, so she had the right to cut up the photos. I was so angry that I yelled. But then I said to myself, “Oh my, I don’t want to ever to that again, especially when I’m married.” That experience was an enormous help in understanding how to try to change from the natural man and truly be someone more humble, submissive, and closer to the Spirit.”
Other Related Women’s Voices
Defenders of the Family Proclamation, Bonnie Oscarson
“I recently read the story of Marie Madeline Cardon, who, with her family, received the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ from the first missionaries called to serve in Italy in 1850. She was a young woman of 17 or 18 years of age when they were baptized. One Sunday, while the family was holding a worship service in their home high in the Alps of northern Italy, an angry mob of men, including some of the local ministers, gathered around the house and began shouting, yelling, and calling for the missionaries to be brought outside, I don’t think they were anxious to be taught the gospel—they intended bodily harm. It was young Marie who marched out of the house to confront the mob. They continued their vicious yells and demands for the missionaries to be brought out. Marie raised her Bible up in her hand and commanded them to depart. She told them that the elders were under her protection and that they could not harm one hair of their heads. Listen to her own words: ‘All stood aghast. ….God was with me. He placed those words in my mouth, or I could not have spoken them. All was calm, instantly. That strong ferocious body of men stood helpless before a weak, trembling, yet fearless girl.’ The ministers asked the mob to leave, which they did quietly in shame, fear, and remorse. The small flock completed their meeting in peace.
“Can’t you just picture that brave young woman, the same age as many of you, standing up to a mob and defending her newly found beliefs with courage and conviction?”