A time-honored tradition will soon become an erstwhile one, as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced that prospective full-time missionaries in some areas will now receive their mission calls—the formal letter stating when and where a missionary will serve and in which language—via the internet instead of in a large, ominous, white envelope as in the past. The announcement represents a significant, if inevitable change in the way the call to serve is done.
Missionaries receiving their call digitally will receive either an email or text stating that the call is ready. After clicking to open the message, the missionary will be asked whether or not he or she wishes to open the call, a smart move that will give excited families and friends time to gather before hitting that “Open It” button. But we imagine many sneaky missionaries will just click the button in excitement and then feign surprise when they do it again in front of their parents.
The call itself will be formatted just as others, with a letter from the First Presidency that states the area in which a missionary will serve, the timetable for the mission, any language considerations, and other information. In addition, just as with the traditional packets in the mail, the call will contain supplemental material about the area where one will serve, clothing requirements, visa documents (if applicable), and potentially even a letter from the mission president.
Elder Brent H. Nielson, director of the Church’s Missionary Department, described the apparently facile effort involved in actually sending the calls:
“Technology is there, and it’s so easy to do…. We just put it online and they can read it in a matter of minutes.”
Yes, readers, the on-demand economy has made its way to missionary calls.
Elder Nielson spoke of a sister in Brazil who participated in the pilot program. In the past, it would have taken approximately three weeks for her call to arrive. Now, it takes only three minutes.
That pilot program has been in the works for many months globally, but the live program will start immediately to all missionaries in Utah and Idaho, because evidently the internet respects state boundaries, before going worldwide to all areas with a decent enough internet connection before year’s end. So basically, all you Comcast subscribers will continue to receive your calls by mail. Zing!
Naturally, this is a great progression of the work. Kids will get their call fast and have shorter turnaround times for any additional paperwork. The Church even says it will save on postage costs.
There is, however, one glaring downside: while people in the above video said that holding the iPad was no different than a call from the mail, a tangible mission call is a prized keepsake for many missionaries. It is a physical representation of those 18 or 24 months. How will that be represented in the ensuing decades? With digital photos, email for weekly letters to the mission president, email home, and now a digital copy of a mission call, there will be less of a paper footprint than ever to show one’s time in the field; nothing to frame or put in a binder to reflect on years down the line. Heck, it even means you won’t have a piece of paper with the actual signature of the Prophet.
But it’s not as if all is lost. The Church dabbles extensively in secure documents, and the mission call is one of those. A missionary can presumably download the file as a PDF and then print it for posterity. That’s not quite the same as the smell of envelope glue and toner, but it’ll work.
In addition, the iPad use represents a best-case scenario: a device similar in dimension, weight, and thickness to the entire packet that used to come in the mail. Slightly less dramatic will be the holding of a smart phone, or even worse, making everyone gather ’round the ol’ HP tower sitting at a desk in the basement. Because what Kaedyn wants is the entire family looking over his shoulder as he opens the call on the screen, depriving him of the opportunity to lie about where he’s going just to mess with people.
The next level, of course, will be to have Alexa or Google Assistant just read your call to you. “Hey Google! Tell me where I’m going on my mission!”
“I’m sorry. I can’t help with that yet.”
These are minor quibbles, of course, and this is a welcome development that embraces technology to do the Lord’s work. Those of us that served back in “the day” will forever remember the impatience as we awaited the arrival of that envelope on a given day of the week. Waiting longer meant you were likely to go foreign, after all. Now, the youngsters around the world will get to wait for a notification on their phones, a fitting response to the Snapchat generation.
What remains to be seen is whether calls sent via text will include emojis.