Throughout the history of the Church, missionaries have been called from homes and families to serve in a great cause - that of preaching the everlasting gospel.
While each call rightfully has always been regarded as from the Lord, and the call's impact upon the receiver has always been lasting and significant, the way the call has been issued has changed dramatically over the years.The Church's first missionaries were notified of their mission call by a revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Later, missionaries were notified simply by an announcement over the pulpit.
About the turn of the century, future missionaries received a letter from "Box B," the postal designation of Church headquarters.
In those days, even heads of households were called, having about a month to report to Salt Lake City for duty "should there be no reasonable obstacle to hinder you from going," as the letters stated.
Today, usually only young single members, older couples or older sisters are called as full-time missionaries. Their families eagerly await the call. Todd H. Johnson, 19, of the South Jordan (Utah) 10th Ward, a BYU student, described the arrival of his mission call on a recent Friday.
"When I arrived home from BYU, I was asked to go out to the mailbox and get the mail. The letter was there. We went downstairs to open it. My mother had my grandparents on the phone before I got the envelope open.
"I was kind of surprised when I saw my mission - Uruguay Montevideo. I had thought I was going to Europe. My parents were so excited they called everybody before I had a chance to."
Todd - now Elder Johnson - soon warmed to the idea of going to Uruguay. He also paid attention to the rest of the letter, which included a list of items he would need before reporting at the Missionary Training Center in about 21/2 months, in May. Second and third lists arrived later from the Church's travel agency and from the Missionary Training Center.
"We're just trying to buy things for me to take on my mission," he said. "We're watching for sales. It surprised me how much it cost to buy all the stuff."
Elder Johnson said that while attending BYU, he was employed at the Missionary Training Center, in food services.
"I'll be on the other side of the counter now," he said.
Before a young man or woman receives a mission call, long years go into preparation. Adam Thunell, 18, of the Ft. Collins, (Colo.) 3rd Ward is looking forward to a mission call when he reaches 19.
"I've always wanted to go on a mission," he said. "I guess it started in Primary when we sang the song, `I Hope They Call Me on a Mission.'
"I always saw missionaries as potentially being me," he said. "My parents taught me that Heavenly Father wants me to serve a mission. I also know by praying and gaining a testimony.
"Teachers and advisers also play a major part in influencing us to serve missions - probably a greater part than they realize," he said.
According to the Missionary Department, "only those who sustain general and local priesthood authority, are morally clean, have faith, are truly converted to the gospel, and desire to serve may be recommended."
When such young people approach mission age, they are invited into the bishop's office and the process of the call begins.
Elder Scott A. Charles of the Medford (Ore.) 1st Ward, who will soon enter the Missionary Training Center, remembers an interview with his bishop, L. Larry Nielson.
"I was pretty nervous. I didn't know what to expect," said Elder Charles, who will be serving in the France Paris Mission. "But my bishop is really a spiritual man. We really had a good time _ it was really a spiritual event. My interview with the stake president, Parley C. Hamblin, was even more spiritual."
His leaders filled out a missionary recommend form, and a health and dental record that was also signed by a physician and dentist after thorough examinations. Pres. Hamblin then sent the forms to the Missionary Department.
At headquarters, the forms are received, sorted and the information logged into computers. From there, the names are taken to the Missionary Assignment Committee. In this committee meeting, members of the Council of the Twelve assign missionaries according to the inspiration they receive to fill the mission needs.
Next, letters are sent to the missionaries from President Ezra Taft Benson's office informing them of their call, and notifying them when they are to report to their various missionary training centers.
Elder Chad B. Stilson of the Granite 10th Ward, Sandy Utah Granite Stake, described his feelings about entering the Missionary Training Center:
"The new missionaries had a nervous look on their faces, and didn't know where to go at first," he said. "But everybody at the training center was really helpful.
"You go into an orientation meeting," he said. "[Missionary Training CenterT Pres. Ed J. Pinegar tells you exactly what to expect, and comforts your parents. Then, the missionaries go out one door and the parents go out the other.
"It was kind of hard. My mom was crying and I could see my dad was trying not to.
"We went to our rooms and unpacked. Then we went to dinner and to a meeting."
Elder Stilson arrived in the California Santa Rosa Mission about three weeks later, on March 7.
"The mission field is a lot different than I thought it would be," he said. "I had visions of tracting from door-to-door for hours. I thought we would baptize the world. But we don't do a lot of tracting. We ask members to prayerfully consider their friends, and set a date when we can meet with them."
He said he and his companion study three or four hours a day, but it is never enough to learn answers to all the questions that non-members ask.
"It is pretty much a trial of your faith at first," he said. "The Lord wants to see if you are really serious about wanting to be here."