You know those moments when you feel like running away from something you know is going to be hard, maybe a bit uncomfortable and potentially life changing? This was one of those moments.
I nervously pulled at my skirt and wondered what the heck I was doing as I waited for the BYU North sisters to open the door to their apartment. I was there to document a “day in the life” of missionaries serving in Provo, and to be completely honest, I was terrified.
I had always wondered what missionaries in Provo do. After all, I thought, isn’t everyone in Provo already LDS?
Sister Megan Nielson greeted me at the door, and there began perhaps the longest, most eye-opening day of my life.
I suppose the daily activities of a missionary serving in the Utah Provo Mission aren’t unlike the daily activities of a missionary serving in any other mission. They wake up at 6:30, exercise, prepare for the day, attend district meetings, plan appointments for the week, attend the temple with recent converts, eat meals at members’ homes and teach lessons. They pray a lot; they counsel with each other about the people they are teaching; and they dedicate themselves to the Lord’s work, just like any other missionary would.
What’s striking about missionaries serving in the Utah Provo Mission is not only the way they go about their work but also their disposition.
I attended a district training meeting that morning with Sister Nielson, from Richland, Wash., and Sister Rachel Lyle, from Mercedes, Texas. Both are part of the influx of younger sisters who were 19 when they received their mission calls. They now serve on the mission leadership council.
We arrived about 30 minutes before the training meeting. As elders and sisters trickled in, I was struck by how focused they all were. Rather than chatting, horse playing or wasting time, the missionaries quietly sat in their seats, intently watching Mormon Messages or reading their scriptures.
“There must be something to this missionary work thing,” I thought as I sat there, shocked at what I saw. “Because there would be no way you can get 19- and 20-year-old kids to behave this well without supervision unless it really was the Lord’s work.”
The Provo missionaries’ dedication to the gospel became crystal clear as I observed Sister Lyle and Sister Nielson throughout the day. They prayerfully considered the needs of the people they are teaching and carefully planned the week ahead of them. They attended the Mt. Timpanogos Temple with a recent convert to do baptisms for the dead for the first time. They connected with a member family new to the area over dinner. They networked with members striving to bring less-active members back to church. They met with investigators, testifying of the words of Christ and His living prophets.
And when an appointment fell through, they didn’t sit around for an hour waiting for the next appointment to start. Instead, they went to work visiting a less-active church member and reading scriptures with Primary children who clearly looked up to them.
It quickly became clear that these sisters don’t waste time. In a mission where the population is just over 80 percent LDS, it wouldn’t be surprising if missionaries did waste a bit of time because there “isn’t much work to do,” as one of my friends put it.
But the Utah Provo missionaries don’t waste time, because there is work to do.
“There is so much work to do here,” Sister Nielson said, recalling the time she opened her mission call and was initially disheartened to read she would be serving in Provo. “We’re just blessed with people coming out of nowhere. They just call us and say, ‘Hey, I want to be baptized,’ or, ‘Hey, my friend is interested in learning about the gospel.’ It”s just amazing how many nonmembers there are in Provo.”
Sister Lyle and Sister Nielson cover 85 wards in eight stakes. And what makes their assignment interesting is that they rely “pretty much 100 percent” on members for referrals.
“We can’t knock doors, because we’ll find like a billion members and then one nonmember who just isn’t interested,” Sister Lyle said. “But there are a ton of members and nonmembers who need the gospel, and are really prepared for it, but since we rely on members so much, sometimes they don’t understand that it’s up to them to reach out to these people because there’s a lot of things that members do that we can’t, as missionaries.”
As my day with the BYU North sisters concluded, it was evident to me that they need members’ help. These missionaries — and all other missionaries in Provo and throughout the church — need the help of members to push the work forward. When prophets and apostles preach about the need for member missionary work, they mean it.
“It’s almost impossible for the work here to go forward without the members,” Sister Nielson said. “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, you know, it’s almost impossible for us to find them.”