Editors Note: This article appeared originally on The Huffington Post.
Five to Nine Things You Maybe Didn’t Know About Mormon Missionaries
(All prefaced by the phrase “Believe it or Not,” spoken or sung)
1. They Are Not All the Same Person
Sure, you know in theory that every human being is a complicated piece of work, but in practice it’s always easier to lump together those who belong to a group a) we don’t understand, b) we don’t like, c) we do like, or d) whose constituent members dress almost exactly the same. Same-dressing is less of a problem for female missionaries than for male, since females are allowed a little variety, although for a time they too tended to blur together thanks to skirt-lengths that threatened to reach Antarctica. But male or female, there are serious differences in personalities, language-skills, social-skills, and bodily-hygiene-skills, not to mention beliefs, conviction, and motives.
2. The Male Missionary Outfit Wasn’t Always a Religious Habit
If you’re a male missionary, it’s not easy for people to see beyond your white shirt, tie, and nametag. The outfit has become something of a habit (in every sense), in that it started out (sans nametag) as the unfathomably ordinary look of a given place and time, but when the look went out of fashion the outfit was kept anyway as a sort of trend-defying badge-of-honor. Most males own around seven increasingly translucent shirts, a couple of stainless-steel suits that will last into the next Millennium even if you don’t want them to, shoes with a 60,000-mile warranty that you’d never wear in real life, and an assortment of ties. Origins of the look are vague, but circumstantial evidence points to a wardrobe-guy for Ward Cleaver.
3. They Aren’t Required to Go But They Get a Lot of Nudges That Way
Especially males do, both culturally and officially, but now females do too, only culturally and not officially (that’s another subject). So whereas about 80 percent of missionaries were for many decades usually young men, now about half volunteering to go are young women, who will no doubt soon be ubiquitous enough to have a musical made about them as well. The addition of all those women is the main reason the total number of current missionaries has jumped to a record-breaking 80,000.
4. They Don’t Choose Where to Go
You can certainly state your preferences here, and occasionally you go to one of them, but mostly you don’t have a clue as to which of the 400 or so missions in the world you’ll be sent to. This explains why the opening of the big white envelope containing your mission call is a gigantic ritual, replete with your 300 closest friends come to hear you read out your exciting place aloud. Although in theory all places are equally exciting, in practice the farther and harder the place then the more exciting it seems, as evident in the stunned silence and forced enthusiasm that usually follows the reading-out of something like “Bozeman, Montana,” which will actually almost certainly turn out to be a happier place to go than somewhere exciting like Stalingrad.
5. They Don’t Choose Their…
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