Now thanks to Professor Burton who has been kind enough to email me this brief history of the RC missionaries I know who is chatting with people:
For two years now there have been "Referral Center" missionaries -- not conventional missionaries who might spend a few hours in the MTC's referral center during their training stints, but full time online missionaries who serve their whole missions at the MTC, finding and teaching online (and coordinating with local field missionaries and priesthood leaders around the globe). There have been about 30 of these missionaries (down to just 10 right now). All of these Elders (no sisters as yet) are either injured or disabled. Some served time in the field but suffered injury or illness; others have cancer, cystic fibrosis, MS, and other handicaps. Frankly, they've been a gold mine, some of the sharpest Elders I've ever dealt with. They are not in the Provo mission, but serve under Pres. Smith of the MTC and more directly under President John Allen, who presides over their branch. Not long ago the branch was made into the Referral Center Mission, though its position in the MTC keeps it from being entirely independent. We anticipate the name of that mission will be changed when and if it scales up to become something more than the pilot group that this really is right now. In addition to these 10 missionaries in the MTC's referral center, there are perhaps 60 more sister missionaries at various visitor centers (mainly ) who also do this online proselyting. The main activity to date has been answering the incoming chat requests off of Mormon.org. However, they are now branching out into finding activities that work through social networking and members rather than just awaiting (and screening) the many incoming chats to Mormon.org.
As for me, Pres. Allen approached me about advising their online communications given my training in rhetoric and experience online. It's been a great experience to see how many genuine seekers are looking for what Mormonism has to offer, and to see how online teaching is both possible and highly productive. In two years there have been over 200 converts (they average 4-5 baptisms weekly, even though they are down to 10 missionaries), and the retention on these converts is nearly 100%.
You have not seen their blogs until recently because they were not approved to go public until a week ago (when Michael Hemingway gave them the green light for blogs and facebook accounts). We were anticipating this approval, so they'd all been blogging for a couple of months and had a lot of content ready to go right away.
Now we are working at balancing their various online activities: the ongoing need to take chats; the Mormon Mingles, and developing relationships with members who might wish to help in online sharing of the gospel.
Hope that answers your questions. If you have some constructive feedback for the missionaries regarding their blogs, please let me know -- or tell them directly.
The ten Referral Missionaries at the Provo MTC who work under Branch President John Allen all have both a blog and a Facebook page:
facebook) (returned home)facebook) Here's a link to a photo with many of the former and some of the current RC missionaries, with Elder Holland
I asked them each to do introductory posts, telling their stories. You can find them on their blogs (where they explain their health conditions or where they served in the field prior to coming to the RC mission).
If you'd like to get the written history of the mission (prepared a few months ago, focusing on their chat activities and before they began blogging or using social media) let me know and.
Gideon (You can contact him)
This last year Elder Jeffrey R. Holland met with the group to show the Church's appreciation for their fine service.
Last week the new blogging czar for the Church Michael Hemingway approved them as officially blogging missionaries in the new pilot program that consists of the New York Rochester Mission, Michigan Lansing Mission, Louisiana Baton Rouge Mission, Pennsylvania Philadelphia Mission, and California Santa Rosa Mission. Contact information for Brother Hemingway in case you want to offer suggestions.
One of the things you can really do is make them your Facebook friends and send your friends to chat with them. They can use all the referrals that you can give them.