This article was originally published in The Universe. Below is an excerpt.
Every mission is unique, but as the Church expands, some missionaries are called to serve in ways that would have surprised their pioneer ancestors.
1. Online missionary
The companions typed out the closing prayer as they finished another day sitting in front of the computer.
Typing out prayers eventually became second nature for Zayne Callahan, a BYU student from Montana. He served in the MTC Referral Center Mission in Provo. His mission was structured entirely around online work.
There were only 11 missionaries when Callahan arrived. Missionaries usually had a health condition that prevented them from serving in the field. Callahan was born with spina bifida. “Everyone was there for different reasons,” Callahan said.
Callahan’s first priority as an online missionary was to answer chats from comeuntochrist.org. The exciting part, Callahan recalled, was when they were able to make return appointments, which were conducted via Facebook or Skype.
Callahan taught individuals from all over the world, and because the missionaries were online almost all the time they responded to investigators’ questions within minutes. “We had a lot of unplanned lessons that way,” Callahan said.
A large part of answering chats was figuring out the individuals’ intentions. Callahan laughed as he recalled dealing with “Internet trolls.” Some websites will get large groups of people to message at the same time, “and you have to answer everyone.”
Serving via online chatrooms meant Callahan did little searching, because people found him. “I learned how to really help people because they are coming to you for a reason; you have to really think about what that reason is and what they really need.”
No name tags, no proselyting and going to work five days a week is the normal routine for LDS service volunteers in Belarus.
BYU student Alex Farnsworth served in the Baltic Mission, which includes Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus. He was assigned to work in Belarus, where he worked as a volunteer for a native Belarus nonprofit organization. “Church relations (in Belarus) are tenuous,” Farnsworth said. The government prohibits the influence of non-recognized foreign religions; this makes proselyting and openly carrying religious material illegal.”
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