Mormon Missionary Work
The Mormon Church is the most active proselyting church in the world today. Relative to its size, approximately 12 million as of 2005, the Mormon Church has one of the fastest growing memberships in the world and a constantly rotating missionary force of approximately 55,000 Mormon missionaries, both men and women, of varying ages who serve from eighteen months to two years. This commitment and drive to share the message of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ has been with the Mormon Church since its founding in 1830. Early in his life, Joseph Smith, the founder and first Prophet of the Mormon Church echoing the final charge of the Savior (see Mark 16:15) said, “After all has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel” (History of the Church 2:478). Within days of the Church being organized, Joseph Smith’s own brother, Samuel Smith, became the first Mormon missionary.
Since that day in April, 1830, when there were only 6 members, the Mormon Church has continuously grown and the number of Mormon missionaries has grown as well. By the time of Joseph Smith’s murder in June of 1844, the Church had over 25,000 members, many in Europe. Joseph Smith saw the need to preach the message that God had restored His church here on earth with prophets and Apostles and that Jesus Christ was again speaking to men. By 1837, the Church was sending missionaries to Europe where, by the time the Mormon pioneers began their historic trek from Illinois to Utah across the Great Plains, there were actually more Mormons than in America. By 1850, Mormon missionaries had gone to most of Western and Southern Europe, including parts of the Ottoman Empire, as well as South Africa, Hawaii, the islands of the Pacific, and India. In the following decades missionary work began in earnest in Central and South America, as well as Turkey and New Zealand. In 1901, the first Mormon missionaries reached Greece, Palestine, Russia, and Japan.
Though in some places, like Russia, Turkey, Japan, and Palestine, the Mormon missionaries were later expelled, as were missionaries of other faiths, the Mormons showed their determination to spread their divine message and their faith in God to lead them to all the nations. This faith, which bewilders and amazes outsiders, impels tens of thousands of Mormon missionaries to leave school, work, and even family for up to two years, though in the past some have stayed for as long as three years. They do this at their own expense and often with little or no training, just a burning faith in Jesus Christ and in His work to restore His Church to the earth.
By the 1920s, the Mormon Church had over 600,000 members, most of whom lived in the western United States. Up to this time, most converts had been encouraged to immigrate to America and help strengthen the Church. Many, especially in Europe, faced discrimination over their new faith and so moved to the United States. Beginning in the twentieth century, converts to the Mormon Church remained in their homelands where possible and the Church experienced rapid international growth. In 1925, there were a mere handful of Mormons in Central and South America, by 2004 there were over 4,000,000.
The rapid growth of the church required more missionaries better able to assist in diverse regions of the world quickly. To accelerate language training the Mormon Church established in 1961, the Language Training Mission, which evolved into the Missionary Training Center of today. While the Missionary Training Center, usually abbreviated MTC, in Provo is the largest and most well known, there are seventeen MTCs worldwide on nearly every continent. In April 1974, then President and Prophet to the Mormon Church, Spencer W. Kimball, issued a call for every young man to serve as a Mormon missionary. Prior to that time the number of missionaries had fluctuated widely depending on circumstance and usually numbered in the thousands, but since that time, the missionary force of the Mormon Church has grown into the tens of thousands to the point that today there are nearly 55,000 Mormon missionaries preaching in any given year. In recent years, the Mormon Church has stepped up the call for young men and women to be spiritually and mentally prepared before they embark on their missionary service.