SALT LAKE CITY — As soon as the two missionaries logged into the system, a window popped up with a long list of people waiting on Mormon.org to ask questions. Sister Megan Pazos clicked on one and began an online chat with a Spanish speaker.
“Hola, como esta?”
“What brings you to Mormon.org today?” added her companion, Sister Kimeme Ackley, using Google Translate to convert the question into Spanish.
“I’ve wondered what a Mormon is,” the man wrote back. “I’ve heard good things about Mormons, but I want to know what their purpose is. I’d be grateful for an answer.”
For the next hour, Pazos and Ackley, each 20 years old, sat together at a desk in a spartan room inside the North Visitors Center on Temple Square and used computers to chat comfortably with the man, a 26-year-old Mexican native living in Denver, via their Mormon.org interface and Facebook messenger. He and the missionaries freely shared their feelings about God and life’s biggest questions.
Their conversation is one example of the many ways technology is changing Mormon missions from Temple Square to Tokyo. Today, more than 600 missionaries — mostly young sister missionaries — of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are manning 20 online teaching centers in the United States, Mexico, Europe and New Zealand.
“The world is changing, so the way we do missionary work is changing as well,” said Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, a member of the LDS Church’s Missionary Executive Committee. “We recognize our methods need to change with technology. Our missionaries are growing up with technology and are well-versed in it and comfortable with it. They are using technology to do missionary work more effectively and more efficiently.”
‘They reach out to us’
The man in there sent “a thousand apologies” because he speaks only Spanish, but that’s no problem for Pazos, who is from Puebla, Mexico, and Ackley, who hails from the Marshall Islands. Both are dual U.S. citizens and seasoned missionaries who serve as zone leaders in the all-female Utah Salt Lake City Temple Square Mission.
Last year, missionaries in the LDS Church’s online teaching centers taught more than 140,000 people online. They conducted 349,670 chats and 91,250 phone calls.
During this chat, Pazos and Ackley also connect with the man on Facebook and exchange cell phone numbers. “I’m glad to know there still are young people connected to God,” typed the man, a lapsed Catholic.
This is exactly the type of interaction LDS leaders want to generate. Worldwide, 68,000 Mormon missionaries spend the majority of their time finding people to teach, but “knocking on doors hasn’t gotten any easier,” said Gary Crittenden, managing director of the faith’s Missionary Department.
Meanwhile, Mormon.org had more than 21 million unique visitors in 2017. Many arrived there after a simple Google search.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Sister Megan Pazos and Sister Kimeme Ackley pray before working in the Temple Square Online Teaching Center at the Temple Square North Visitors’ Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 8, 2018.
“Rather than knock on 90 doors,” said Sister Oscarson, the church’s General Young Women President, “we can go directly to the one person who is reaching out to us. And they are reaching out to us.”
The man chatting with Pazos and Ackley is one of them. As they shared their beliefs, he told them, “I’d like to be a part of it.”
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