Technology streamlines life in many ways. Families can now talk via the Internet many time zones away, businessmen can create businesses in foreign lands, and missionaries can teach people remotely anywhere with an Internet connection.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has increased its use of technology in the mission field by allowing missionaries to use iPads to help teach, prepare lessons and share the gospel. While this seems like an enhanced opportunity to share the gospel on a worldwide scale, some members expressed mixed feelings about missionaries’ increased use of technology.
“It’s a positive thing, if used correctly,” said Shelley Esplin, a recently returned missionary from the Illinois Chicago West mission, studying industrial design. “It has its benefits. You didn’t have to bring your area book with you or your scriptures, and you had so much access through the Church’s app.”
The feature Esplin enjoyed the most was the ability to take long notes during zone conferences and personal or companionship study. She was grateful for being able to save her notes to the Cloud to eventually have them back home when she returned from her mission.
Ashley Lancaster, who recently returned from the New York, New York North Mission, Spanish speaking, said she was required to post on Facebook five times per week.
“They couldn’t be just pictures of ‘look what I just found,’” Lancaster said. “But they had to be a lesson you were planning and prayed about. It had to invite others to come unto Christ through the main topics of faith, repentance, making and keeping covenants, using the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end.”
Elder Bednar emphasized sharing the gospel regularly, hoping not to create a flash flood of gospel topic messages but a consistent stream on social media. Lancaster suggested ensuring the flood by being consistent and by sharing what one is studying now on Facebook.
The Church envisions that by early 2015, 32,000 missionaries will have iPad minis in more than 162 missions. Esplin and Lancaster’s missions were pilot missions testing out the programs used on the iPads. Lancaster said she and her companion had to send in weekly reports about how they used the iPad and how the apps helped.
Both Esplin and Lancaster started their missions without technology. Esplin said her first companion alluded to having iPads eventually; that day came with an announcement from Elder James B. Martino in October 2013.
The missionaries also transitioned from the traditional tools of pocket planners, large area book binders and area maps, as all of those features were implemented in the apps on the iPad.
“If you had Wi-Fi access on the streets, you could pull up a map of where you were and see where less actives, investigators and members live,” Esplin said. “It made planning for lessons so much easier because you could have members join you on lessons without them having to travel very far.”
Some members expressed mixed feelings about seeing missionaries on iPads. Adam Ott, who teaches German at the MTC, helped pilot MTC instruction and teaching with tablets and said he was not impressed when he saw missionaries zoning out when he was teaching or when he saw them in his home ward.
“It was annoying to see them tapping away on their tablets during lessons, not paying attention,” Ott said. “The other week in my ward the missionaries spoke. They both had their iPads, and when one missionary was speaking the companion was zoned out looking at his iPad. It was weird to see. Overall, I think it’s excellent when utilized effectively, but it’s such a radical change.”
Ott appreciates the multimedia teaching and learning helps the iPads provide. “They (the missionaries) were able to use pictures, which helped visualize and understand their lessons better when they were speaking broken German,” he said.
Esplin also found many ways to be creative in using her iPad to help those she taught understand the gospel.
“There was one sister who was hard of hearing and had trouble grasping the concepts,” Esplin said. “Movies were especially helpful for her. Since she was hard of hearing, my companion and I would push the play button at the same time on our iPads, but one would hold theirs out in front to watch, while the other would hold their iPad close to her ears so she could hear the movie. It was really helpful for her to see and hear the movies to better understand.”
Not only are Church officials hoping the world will be flooded with gospel messages on social media, but mission fields will be flooded with technology too. iPads are slowly becoming a more common tool for missionaries, which helps in hastening the work, as described by Elder Bednar.
“Miraculous progression of innovations and inventions … have enabled and accelerated the work of salvation,” Elder Bednar said. “All of these advancements are part of the Lord hastening his work in the latter days.”