Suggestions for Missionaries in Lockdown

I have a young friend currently serving a mission in Norway, who is confined to her apartment except for groceries and cabin-fever prevention walks. She asked me to send her some reading, which prompted this post.

Missionaries tend to be out and about. Being in an apartment with minimal internet or personal connection can lead to feelings of wasted time and lack of utility. But it’s also a real opportunity for missionaries to dedicate time they wouldn’t otherwise have to some intensive and important study, about our own scriptures (especially the Book of Mormon), scripture we share with other Christians (especially the New Testament), or Church history and doctrine. In all of this, I’m keeping my suggestions mainstream and relevant to basic knowledge relevant to missionary work. No Three Nephites folklore, no “deep doctrine” (which is rarely either deep or doctrine), no Hebrew lessons.

Here are my suggestions.

  1. Do an intensive 24-hr reading of the Book of Mormon. Do it in English, or mission language. Or both, reading a chapter in one language, then the other.
    1. This gives you a real overview of the structure and plot of the BoM. If reading one chapter a day is walking a slow path through the trees of a forest, a 24-hr blitz read is flying a drone overhead.
    2. I read my BoM seven times in French on my mission; the first few times through, I marked up words I didn’t know, wrote them in the bottom margins, which helped me learn the language.
    3. They could read through the Maxwell Institute’s Study Edition. Story below.
  2. Do an intensive reading of the New Testament, either in the KJV, mission language, a modern study Bible, or all three!
    1. I read through my Louis-Segond New Testament three times on my mission. It was my first exposure to other translations, and it was often clearer than my KJV.
    2. For modern Bible editions, you could start with Wayment’s Deseret-Book-published translation with notes. Or this, if you’re slightly more adventurous. See here for my full recommendations, and below for three relevant articles from Religious Educator.
  3. Read through the missionary library, or Saints, or the Gospel Topics essays. These are all available in the Gospel Library app missionaries should have access to. There’s also a podcast associated with Saints and a Joseph Smith Papers podcast on the First Vision.
  4. Read through the best Ensign articles. Older articles in particular used to be very informative, in-depth, more meaty. Those below are drawn from a larger list and discussion talking about the best Ensign articles for missionaries, here.
    1. Bruce Hafen, “Dealing With Uncertainty” Ensign, August 1979. Really an excellent one.
    2. James Allen, “Line Upon Line.”  July 1979. Another really excellent one. I love that his examples are not common. He talks about Adoption and rebaptism, for example.
    3. Hugh Nibley 4-part on Atonement, starting July of 1990.
    4. John Sorenson “Digging Into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture” Sept 1984, October 1984. Precursor to his book.
    5. Stephen Robinson, “Believing Christ” April 1992. Precursor to his two books Believing Christ and Following Christ.
    6. Gerald Lund, “Countering Korihor’s Philosophy” July 1992. Introduced me to “epistemology” and “axiom.”
    7. Russel Rich “Nineteenth-Century Break-offs” Sept 1979. All about early conflict over who would follow Joseph Smith.
  5. Depending on the mission and the missionary, they may find it appropriate to expand their reading. I read an unusual amount on my mission (see here and here) and it has made a huge difference in my life and choices. So I’ve been sending my Norway friend copies of my blogposts, transcripts of podcasts (like this one), and missionary-relevant articles from BYU’s Religious Educator, which is on the Church’s third-party-approved list. We had our local pair of Elders over last night, and I laid out Rough Stone Rolling, Wayment’s New Testament for Latter-day Saints, some Stephen Robinson, some Terryl Givens, etc.
    1. Three articles in one from BYU’s Religious Educator on the nature of the KJV, Bible translations, etc. I’ve removed images from these to make them smaller files.
    2. Missionary-oriented podcasts like this one I did, talking about how other religions understand the Bible and authority, and how that can help us more in talking to them.
    3. Copies of my Sperry Symposium paper on reading the Bible in Context (video here)
    4. Two different collections of my posts, put into pdf format. #1, and #2.

We had our Elders here last night, and read some of Jacob 5. One of them said he’d never understood that chapter.  I pointed out, using our MI Study Edition, that Jacob 4 and 5 had originally been one “chapter,” and you could understand chapter 5 by understanding the question it was an answer to (context!), which is at the end of chapter 4.

15 And now I, Jacob… perceive by the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation. 16 But behold, according to the scriptures, this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build. 17 And now, my beloved, how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner? 18 Behold, my beloved brethren, I will unfold this mystery unto you;

Chapter 5 is an answer to the italicized question.
The missionary then asked what it means by “head of the corner.” I pointed him again to the footnotes in the study edition. This is a Biblical allusion to Psalm 118:22, which reads in the KJV

22 The stone which the builders refused Is become the head stone of the corner. 23 This is the Lord’s doing;It is marvellous in our eyes. 24 This is the day which the Lord hath made;We will rejoice and be glad in it.

And then we turned to a study Bible (the New Oxford Annotated), and read the modern translation and notes there, with the references to where this passage gets quoted in the New Testament.

22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 

The Elders were a little blown away. “…uh, wow. I never knew that!” Well, missionaries need tools, and they need knowledge. Good information leads to good inspiration, deeper understanding, and better teaching. And this time of apartment restriction is a great opportunity for them to dive deep, and gain some of those things.

7 thoughts on “Suggestions for Missionaries in Lockdown

  1. I love all of your suggestions. I am going to save this someplace where I can actually find it. And I bet those missionaries slept well that night after that Spackman feast!!!


    1. We don’t want to go home! My husband and I are serving a mission right now and none of the missions even those who are close to being done, want to go home.


  2. Ben–Great timing once again! My missionary in Texas was informed just this morning that he is quarantined. I have now shared a Google Drive folder with him containing PDF’s of this post and many of the articles you referred to. Thanks for this gift to the missionaries.


    1. A lot of money is being spent to have missionaries move away from home to study in a confined apartment. Maybe time to shutter missions and do a restart later.


  3. I wish all missionaries were encouraged to spend an hour or two each day studying the truly international languages of MATH and MUSIC. This would connect them to their local cultures, give them something wholesome to do (and struggle, and succeed with), and result in a generation of more well-rounded return missionaries.

    What do you think of this idea?


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