Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why Mormon Missionaries and Mission Presidents Should Blog

I am entering new waters by choosing this subject and it will be a highly controversial subject. Every week throughout the missions of the LDS Church missionaries whether an elder, a sister or a missionary couple all of them email their families and friends. Missionaries spend one or two hours of their P-Days letting their loved one know how they are doing. Since there are two missionaries in every companionship it takes two to four hours. Most things missionaries share have to do with how they are doing on their missions such as who they are teaching and what they have been learning spiritually. Missionaries are instructed to be upbeat in their emails to families and so they stay with subjects like who they met and taught or somewhere they went and visited. A few talk about how awesome their companions are and if they moved up in the missionary ranks to district leader or zone leaders. Sometimes they attach pictures. An interesting thing is that missionaries are instructed not to dwell on negative things so mostly their emails deal with people and places they encounter. They follow the admonition to speak kind word of each other.

With two daughters on missions this last year I received emails from missionaries in the Korea Daejeon Mission and the Italy Rome Mission on a weekly basis that I posted to my Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord blog. These were some of my most popular posts and drew a few thousands visitors to my blog. By serendipity I also discovered that both their mission presidents and their wives had started weblogs. One of my daughters was smart enough to place all her people in a contact list and wrote one email to everyone while my other daughter was writing individual emails. I told the second daughter to quit wasting time and to have one email for everyone. She smartly took my advice. The church has an email address for all the missionaries at @myldsmail.net which uses some convention like their first initial and last name if no other missionary has that name or their full name if there are multiple John Smiths or variations of their name if there are multiple people with the name.

Since missionaries are already occupying one hour a week on communicating I don't see why they can't all have a Blogspot or Word Press blog that way if other people in their ward or friends from school can know how they are doing. The Church could also use their Technology CIO Joel Dehlin's department to set such blogs on the myldsmail.net site if they wanted to be in control of the missionaries blogging. When I was a missionary my mission president M. Russell Ballard used to lament that I didn't send him a weekly report of what I was doing. Mission presidents would have a better idea of what their missionaries were doing if they posted pictures and shared their happenings. I think it is better to get the story from the horse's mouth since District Leaders and Zone Leaders many times haven't got a clue of what a missionary is really doing. They think they do but we can't all read the minds of every sister and elder out there. If your companion doesn't like you or zone leaders, district leaders or senior companions have a problem with you they color the lens for the mission president. He would have multiple perspectives. I think for the most part many missionary leaders try to be honest but I can say from my own personal experience never did any of them ask me my perceptions in the two years in which I served. Maybe they are more sophisticated today but I think there are always going to be a few rebellious types that don't report each and every week. Blogging would solve the problem if every missionary had their own blog place. The LDS Tech department could create special forms to track investigators that could be password protected. I see a whole range of possible positive outcomes from every Mormon missionary and mission president blogging.

Another benefit is that it would give other prospective missionaries a clue about what a mission is really like. They would be able to see best practices for the successful missionaries and what not to do from the more lackadaisical missionary. I didn't have a clue of what I was doing on a mission for the first several months. You could pick up new techniques for proselyting and see what concerns other missionaries face. You even learn superior techniques like missionary pranks or what missionaries eat or other cultural lingo and practices from missionaries. It would give new meaning to ethnographic research even. Scholars could do field research and know what LDS missionaries really do on a daily basis.

Also former companions and investigators can follow the lives of their missionary friends. I think it is better than parents forwarding on emails to multiple people. It would also bombard the google search engine and drive missionaries blogs to the top of the search engines since there were be hundreds of thousands of hits every week. People investigating the Church could also get a truer sense of what we believe since missionaries would be sharing brief thoughts on missionary related subjects. Elder Ballard would also get his wish that members share the gospel on the Internet.

M. Russell Ballard has asked members to use the new media to get our message out. There are currently over fifty-five thousand people serving as missionaries throughout the world. Recently I have hunted in some very sophisticated ways using tools like Blog Pulse and blog sites like a Soft Answer or LDS Blogs or Dave's Mormon Inquiry to find mission related blogs. I have found about five mission president blogs and thirteen missionary blogs using all the information retrieval tools I could. If I have missed any and you know about them let me know. I will add them to my new aggregator Mormon Blogosphere. These are the ones I found:

Mission President Blogs

Missionary Blogs

In addition missionaries and mission presidents blogging would be a way for the LDS General Authorities to know who the real future stars were. The Jeffrey Hollands and M. Russell Ballards would rise to the top of the blogging world. The General Authorities could get a sense of who the good mission presidents and missionaries really are. They could track them in such a way so they wouldn't lose track of them. When they came and visited the missions they could discuss specific cases about new converts and potential converts just by consulting the blogs. They could design programs and have a special team from the missionary department track the blogs to see if missionaries were suffering from depression or had health problems. You could even tell from their blogs if the missionary was burning out in an area or might be prone to violent behavior or not getting along with their companions. It could be an early warning detection system or a spiritual blast or both. It would be a very sophisticated and a revealing exercise.

I even think if a few rogue missionaries posted some nutso stuff you could better help them to answer their concerns. I read lots of blogs from former disgruntled missionaries who think they fooled their mission presidents. By blogging it would be more noticeable who needed some answers or didn't know much about the gospel. I think converting missionaries is a great by-product of missions.

In terms of family history it would also be a great chronicle of the lives of the missionaries. They would have all their weekly posts and the numerous pictures in one place. Later when they go home they could consult their former blogs to see if they had progressed in their lives.

Missionary blogs would also be great since people in their areas would get to know the missionaries are and contact them about teaching them. The blogging world is really small. Who know some missionaries might even decide they like writing and go on to do academic work.

The only negative thing I can see is if a missionary or mission president doesn't know what they are doing. You could be unsure of themselves and guard what they write. I think that is a good thing as the Mommy Blogs attest to. People like to see all of us are human and suffer from the same doubts and insecurities. We could actually trace the development of the individual by seeing how they progress over a one and half to a two year period. We would also raise the educational standard of missionaries and their mission presidents. I can tell you my two daughters despite both being juniors in college couldn't spell properly if their life depended on it. Even mission presidents would become better gospel writers if they had to blog each and every week. The greatest thing I have had to do blogging this past seven months is to respond to commenters. It makes you intellectually more refined as you have to answer questions and learn not to offend people. I am a better person and know more about being a future missionary and a member missionary by blogging.

A blog would also clarify in the minds of missionaries many of their ideas and beliefs. When you have to write about what you are experiencing it is a reflective practice that makes you analyze what you are doing and why you are even doing it. Mission presidents would be able to better interact with their missionaries since they would have a weekly post filled with some great experiences and concerns. I suggest the positives outweigh the negative. I suggest that the LDS Church jump fully on the blogging bandwagon and have all missionaries and mission presidents blog. I even think a few General Authorities should comment from time to time just to let us know what they think. Blogging would then become a great source for communicating our LDS beliefs and people could see just how mainstream we really are or they will see the opposite and give us something as non missionaries to blog about.


Erin said...

Interesting article. My brother happens to be Elder P. Tanner Williamson and my cousin is in Korea now in the Daejeon Korea Mission. Thanks for the post!

Dr. B said...

He actually has one of the better blogs. My daughter just returned from Deajeon and I posted her weekly letter here for eighteen months. I wish more missionaries would blog it actually improves the bloggernacle. Thanks for your comments.

John D. said...

My name is John and the blog "A Mormon Missionary's Blog" follows me. I'd like to thank you for taking the time to write this article and I'll be sure to mention and quote it furiously in my next post. Very good ideas and an excellent presentation. Kudos

gwen said...
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