Wednesday, March 19, 2008

BYU as a Source of Missionary Converts

Each year more than thirty-five thousand students attend Brigham Young University. Approximately 98 percent of Brigham Young University students are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with the remaining 2 percent representing more than 20 other faiths.Of that number between seven hundred to one thousand are not members of the church in any given year.

When I was a student there myself in the 1980s I knew many students who were not members of the church. A few of them I saw converted to the gospel. Many times they were a boyfriend or girlfriend to a member.

I remember dating a young woman once who was very attractive with blond hair and green eyes. I was a new convert at the time and very iron rodder. I joined the Church when Spencer W. Kimball was president and he encouraged us to date only members so that we wouldn't marry outside the faith. When I asked her out I didn't know she wasn't a member of the church.

On our first date she announced that she wasn't a member and had a non-member boyfriend. I really had conflict because she was so darn cute but I told her I couldn't get serious with her because she wasn't a member and I wanted to marry in the temple and would only date a person who was worthy to go. She declared then I guess I can't date you.

Several months later I ran in to her again. She told me she was now a member of the Church. I told her that was great and asked her out. She told me anyone as arrogant as me that wouldn't date her when she wasn't a member wasn't good enough to date her now. After that I learned a little tolerance but I still didn't date too many non-members.

That incident got me to realize that there must be missionary work going on at BYU since some her friends set up missionary discussions and she was baptized.

Jason Swenson a reporter at the Church News in January 2008 published an interesting article about just how productive missionary work is at BYU. He wrote:

"Sister Jessica Neifert has been mistaken for a missionary who has lost her way.

Sometimes students here at Brigham Young University spot Sister Neifert and her companion, Sister Kristell Nguyen, walking across the Provo, Utah, campus and guess the sister missionaries have wandered from the Missionary Training Center just up the road.

But Sister Neifert's no "greenie." She's a 17-month missionary veteran and, yes, BYU is right where she belongs. The Church-owned university is not only an institute of higher learning, it's a vibrant spot of gospel instruction where people are being fellowshipped, taught and baptized.

"It's the mission field," said Sister Neifert, who serves on campus with Sister Nguyen and six other full-time missionaries from the Utah Provo Mission.

Even BYU students may be surprised to learn the work of finding people to teach is happening here every day. An engineering student from, say, Nepal, may be learning about the Plan of Salvation even as an undergraduate from Texas is accepting the missionaries' invitation to be baptized. Discussions in English, Spanish and other languages are being taught in married student housing, in student lounges or inside on-campus meetinghouses.

One campus benefit? Finding members to assist with the missionary discussions is always easy, said Sister Neifert, laughing.

"BYU is one of the best baptizing areas in the mission," said Utah Provo Mission President Harold Brown.

Of course the vast majority of BYU's students, staff and faculty are members. But visitors won't find a single sign reading: "Welcome to BYU — you have now left the mission field."

But it's a common misconception. A native of St. Louis, Mo., Sister Neifert assumed her 18 months in the Utah Provo Mission would be spent reactivating fellow members.

"I was surprised to see how much missionary work is being done," she said.

President Brown points to the missionary success at BYU as proof that opportunities to share the gospel can be found anywhere. If Sister Neifert, Sister Nguyen and her colleagues can find people to teach and baptize at BYU, folks living in other predominately LDS communities can do the same.

It's no mystery why missionary work at BYU is thriving, added President Brown. "There is so much influence for good here."

Church leaders have long taught that scripture study, prayer and a missionary zeal are preparatory steps for sharing the gospel. At BYU, students of all faiths follow an honor code and enroll in religion and Book of Mormon courses. Classrooms are filled with young men and women who have served missions themselves. Prayer is stitched into the day-to-day campus fabric.

Sister Neifert said it's the Spirit that guides missionary work at BYU. She often asks her investigators why they chose to enroll at the Church school. Some say they were drawn to specific academic programs — "but a lot more say they felt prompted to come here, and they didn't know why."

LDS students at BYU are no different than members in any other community, said President Brown. They are examples to others — for good or ill.

"We are noticed. We are watched."

Personally when I was a student was so immersed in to my school work that I didn't really push religion on every non-member I ran in to. Many expressed downright hostility toward you when you tried so I tried to be friendly without forcing my beliefs on them. I am glad to hear that there is greater success in missionary work at BYU. I wonder what the rate of conversion is at BYU. It would make for an interesting study.


S.Faux said...

Very nice post. When I went to BYU I think it was often the students themselves that needed the most missionary lessons. In any case, I do wish a study could be undertaken to examine the missionary process at BYU and in the local region.

By the way, if you don't mind my asking: you get a lot of hits; how do you do that? I am just starting my blog and hope to get more readers.

Thanks for your missionary-minded post.

Dr. B said...

I pick topics and titles to my posts that are interesting. My missionary slide show was good for a couple of thousand hits. When you start out you need to comment on other peoples blogs and you email the aggregators to get on their sites. I get most hits from them. In addition you make some controversal comments so you get thrash canned or snarked. I have as many as four people from the Church who read me daily. It is nice to have a comment or two.

Dr. B said...

When I say Church I mean GA types. I actually emailed them so they could check on me regularly. I figured out their emails. They were none to happy I even got a letter from a bureaucratic type saying not to bother them but a few started reading me anyway.

S.Faux said...

Heehee. Well, maybe the GAs will read this comment and start reading me too.

Well, anyway, thanks for the hints on how to succeed. You have a very interesting site.