New leadership roles for women alters LDS mission culture, hints at deep, long-term ramifications

Published: Friday, April 4 2014 10:50 p.m. MDT

The sister training leaders in the Las Vegas mission also look up to President Neider's wife, Rosemary, who under the changes made a year ago has added responsibilities. Several of the missionaries said they now hope someday to serve as the wife of a mission president, too.

"Exchanges are the best place for training," said President Neider, who served as second counselor in the church's Young Men General Presidency from 2004 to 2009. "One exchange can change a missionary's mission."

Companion exchanges

On Thursday, one hour into a companion exchange, two sister missionaries in the Utah Provo Mission stop at the end of a driveway to gather themselves after one appointment falls through and three efforts to contact other people fail. At the end of a driveway, they check out Sister Aubrey Allen's iPad and decide to drop in on Kira Amann, a young newlywed who lives nearby.

"Should we say a prayer?" asks Sister Ricelia Magaña, 21, a sister training leader who has brought a bag of clothes and a pillow to spend the night in Orem with Allen, 20. Allen agrees, and the two fold their arms, bow their heads and stand in their brown, leather boots on a pockmarked sidewalk five feet from a large, black garbage can. Allen asks Heavenly Father for the opportunity to speak with and serve Amann.

The sisters finish praying, then walk past one house to the corner. There they find Amann in an oversized blue coat, jeans and white sneakers raking leaves in her yard. Magaña can't help herself, and she asks Amann if she heard them praying.

She hadn't, but she smiles at the missionaries. Allen asks if they can help with the yard, but Amann protests, calling it a big job. Magaña insists, and Allen says service creates some of her favorite times as a missionary. Eventually, they settle on a time Allen can come back with a total of eight missionaries to tackle the chore.

"Go back inside," Allen says. "We got this." All three women laugh happily. They hug, and the missionaries move on.

Allen, a self-described go-getter who has dealt with anxiety in the past, tells Magaña she will write about the moment that night in her journal, where she keeps a "miracle of the day" entry.

"When I'm having a hard time, I look really hard for miracles," she says. "Seeing all the miracles helps. I think to myself, 'You know, I'm doing a good job!’ ”

Magaña asks Allen what things stress her out. Appointments falling through, Allen says, or she and her companion teaching people who aren't progressing toward faith. Later, she'll confide in a reporter that it's nerve-wracking to have a sister training leader come to her area, because she feels responsible to have appointments in place and to stay busy to represent her companionship well.

"I always want to go to the training leader's area so the pressure's off me," Allen says.

Magaña senses this on her own and reassures Allen consistently and gently.

"I want her to know she's my priority," Magaña says. "A leader serves. I want to be there when she needs me. This week in mission leadership council we learned it's important to assume the best about missionaries. They've given up their time to serve the Lord, so he trusts them. We should love them and trust them, too. We fulfill our responsibilities as sister training leaders because of our love for the Lord and our love for the missionaries."

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com

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