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Mormon missionary approaches may change, but still based on personal testimony

Published: Sunday, March 6 2011 11:02 p.m. MST

PROVO — Although some of the materials and training for Mormon missionary work has changed over the past few decades, the main purpose remains the same, presenters said during the annual Church History Symposium at BYU on Saturday morning. Classes were held in the Brigham Young University Conference Center.

"We are going to change missionary methods over and over again, but there is one thing that will never change," said Dennis Wright, a BYU professor of church history. "And that's the power of a personal testimony."

This year's symposium, with the theme "Go Ye into All the World," focused on the growth and development of missionary work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than 30 presenters shared insight on a variety of gospel themes — all related to the topic of missionary work.

The overall theme of missionary work allowed presenters to explore topics such as the history of missionary work, the evolution of Missionary Training Centers and missionary work in relation to specific areas of the world.

The presentation titled, "The Training of Missionaries" walked through the different teaching plans and materials the church has published over many decades to help in missionary efforts.

From the early "tracting" pamphlets to the current missionary guide "Preach My Gospel," creating a guide for missionaries was a heavily detailed process, but one that has helped in missionary work throughout the world today — for both members and set apart missionaries alike.

One presentation looked to the women involved in missionary work in the early days of the church. Presenters explored the lives of both women acting as missionaries through sharing their testimony vocally with their family and friends, as well as some of the unsung hero's who continued to be faithful while their husbands were away serving a mission.

"These women felt a responsibility to share the gospel, …" said Janiece Johnson, a doctorate student at the University of Utah, in her presentation. "Despite any personal fear, they moved forward valiantly. …

Despite the hardship that came with church membership, these women did not shy away from very difficult things. But along with the difficulties they explained the benefits they have received."

Chad M. Orton, archivist with the Church History Library, shared personal writings of many women in the church who were left to run the home and raise the children when their husbands were called to serve a mission.

"They were honored to be married to an honorable man who was called on a mission, but realized the sacrifice that came with it,…" Orton said. "They had to learn new tasks and take over for their husband."

The keynote speaker was R. Lanier Britsch, former professor of history at BYU. He spoke of the boldness of the Mormon missionary enterprise and the growth of the church.

"Although policies and procedures change, and teaching methods are changed, developed, refined and modified, all of the changes occurred within the bounds of revelation from the Lord," Britsch said.

The annual Brigham Young University Church History Symposium is sponsored by the BYU Religious Studies Center in an effort to bring historians together to share their research on a specific topic or special interest in the history of the church.

e-mail: mholman@desnews.com

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