YSA missionaries go above and beyond in Provo

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Elders Jared Pepper and Brayden Pierce teach Katherine Cantos, who came from Ecuador and became interested in learning about the church after attending for the first time. (Gianluca Cuestas)

LDS missionary Sister Jessica Sonntag was shocked when she was called to serve in the Utah Provo Mission, located just an hour from her hometown in West Valley City, Utah.

Sonntag, who is currently serving in the BYU central area, said she is happy to serve in Provo now, but it was a bit hard to accept at first.

“I love it here, it’s really great. But more than excited for where I am, I’m excited for what I’m doing,” Sonntag said.

She serves within the boundaries of seven Young Single Adult stakes and one family stake. The elders in the BYU East area cover six YSA stakes and one family stake, 76 units total. This makes it difficult to get to know the members of these units.

“We could meet a lot of people and it’s hard to remember sometimes,” Sonntag said.

These missionaries receive a lot of help from YSA members in their areas, despite the difficulty they face with getting to know them, according to Elder Jared Pepper, who is currently serving in the BYU East area.

“They’re always fired up,” Pepper said, “That’s how we find most of our investigators.”

The people the missionaries teach typically know a great deal about the church because of their friends. Usually, the people they meet already want to be baptized, according to Sister Emi Wainwright, Sonntag’s companion.

Missionaries in the Utah Provo Mission are directed by the church leaders to work mostly on finding people to join the church because of the high amount of people who want to be baptized, Pepper explained. They do not visit less active members of the church as often as other missions.

“We are to teach repentance and baptize converts, so that’s our main focus,” Pepper said.

However, the bishops will ask these missionaries to assist with reaching out to less active members. Pepper said they are more than happy to help when they are asked to visit less active members.

Despite the help they receive from members in teaching and helping people, the missionaries face some BYU-specific challenges.

These challenges include making sure investigators go to the right ward, helping members realize that there are non-members to teach and encouraging members to introduce their friends to the missionaries, according to Pepper, Sonntag and Wilson.

The missionaries have been told by church leaders that they will be able to use Facebook for missionary work by the end of the year. Members in their wards are very enthusiastic for online missionary work, but the missionaries face some challenges with the members’ enthusiasm at times, according to Sonntag.

“That runs into another issue,” Sonntag said. “We have some people who are focusing on that…and they’re starting to neglect the people right here that we could find.”

Pepper feels there is not a danger in online missionary work, as long as the members do not forget the missionary work to do in Provo.

Another challenge missionaries face is running into people they know, which can be distracting. Wainwright said her family will write to her before General Conference and ask to meet up with them.

“I get emails from my sisters that say, ‘Oh we’re going to come to Conference, we’re going to find you,’ and I’m like, ‘No,'” Wainwright said.

Elder Brayden Pierce, Pepper’s companion, explained he loves his family but doesn’t want seeing them to distract him.

“It’s great seeing your family, but it’s just a little strange because you have a purpose…and your family doesn’t really fit into that purpose,” Pierce said.

These missionaries also run into returned missionaries from the Utah Provo Mission who now attend BYU, Wainwright said.

Wainwright feels that going to a different university would keep her mission sacred. Sonntag wants to become an interpreter for American Sign Language and feels that dream will not take her to BYU. Pepper wants to return to Georgia, his home state, and attend a university there.

Pierce stands alone in this group of missionaries as the only one who is sure he will go to BYU.

“I’ve been accepted and I deferred,” Pierce said. “After serving here, I am really excited to go to BYU.”

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