Understanding a lot of things about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be an uphill battle. Here’s some help to sportswriters seeking to understand missionary service.
I know Mormons are a little different. I don’t expect every person everywhere to understand a religion and its culture so well to be experts in everything they say or write.
However, Mormon athletes in college have been around for a long time, and so has the idea of those athletes serving missions. A recent article from NBC Sports about top basketball prospect (and Mormon) Frank Jackson highlights several points that typically make members of the LDS Church groan in the missionary-athlete discussion.
I’m not here to pile on the writer. After all, some of the mischaracterization seems to come from Jackson himself. But nothing about a two-year mission would constitute “working on your game.”
So in an effort to help sportswriters everywhere understand missionary service (okay, some sports writers who will hopefully read this), as well as other sports fans and interested parties, I’d like to paint a picture of what a mission is, both in a broad look and a very detailed sense.
Let’s start by talking about the term “take a mission trip.” I couldn’t detail it better than Greg Wrubell did on Twitter, so that’s a place to start.
Simply put, the reason LDS folk groan at “mission trip” is that it doesn’t quite paint the picture of what an LDS mission entails. A “trip” usually implies some degree of brevity: Your family trip to the Grand Canyon, for example. Many members of other churches do embark on mission trips: 2-3 weeks, perhaps 2-3 months to give service to a third-world area, teach English, and teach about the faith.
Such trips are awesome, and it’s fantastic anyone would invest any amount of time and money to give to others and try to make the world a better place. None of this is meant to belittle those efforts.
The LDS mission is a full-time way of life for two years. A young man or woman leaves home and makes missionary service their life, called to and living in a part of the world not of their choosing.
LDS missionaries are set apart as ordained ministers and are directed to teach anyone who chooses to listen, and invite them to “join the fold,” if you will. This does involve the typical picture of knocking on doors and meeting in the homes of those interested in hearing their teachings. It also includes helping build up local church congregations and supporting local leaders, organizing and carrying out service efforts, and, in many areas, teaching English classes.
This calling is taken very seriously by the Church, its leaders, and the missionaries themselves. Quite literally, a missionary wears the name of Jesus Christ on his shirt every day and is expected to do as he would do. I don’t recall scriptural accounts of Jesus going off by himself to put up shots or squats. So at the very basis of what a missionary is, he or she represents something greater and is meant to forget self in the process.