Wright Words: Spending the day with the Baltimore Mormon missionaries on #socialmediasplit

Published: Tuesday, June 17 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, June 18 2014 4:47 p.m. MDT

Elders Herzog and Burrup meet Linwood on the pier at Fell's Point in Baltimore while Jason Wright was on a #socialmediasplit with them last month.

Jason Wright

This fall, the Maryland Baltimore Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will roll out a social media campaign to highlight the critical shoulder-to-shoulder work of its full-time missionaries and local LDS Church members. The campaign is called #socialmediasplit, and pilot efforts prove the program will work anywhere, not just in the Crab Cake Capital of the world.

The concept is simple: When church members work alongside elders or sisters, whether in a traditional two-by-two split or in a threesome, they are invited to use social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to document and share their experiences. Using the hashtag “socialmediasplit” allows friends and followers to track members and missionaries as they teach, perform service or engage in traditional finding activities like street contacting.

Think of it as an insider’s view of the phenomenal good missionaries accomplish each day, and just how easy it is to join them.

Originally, the idea for a member-missionary social media campaign was born in the Ohio Cincinnati Mission by inspired President John Porter. Earlier this year on May 10, members across his mission split or accompanied every companionship and documented their experiences teaching, preaching and serving alongside the full-time missionaries. The result was an unprecedented flood of positive media both online and with traditional media outlets.

Their original #socialmediasplit in Cincinnati occurred on Jan. 18. Members were so enthusiastic to participate, the mission set a new record for "member present lessons," and the success led them to repeat their efforts on May 10. (Learn more about Cincinnati missionaries' experience in this Storify post.)

Maryland Baltimore Mission President Mark Richards credits President Porter’s willingness to share so much of what they learned. “What we’re about to launch here in Baltimore simply couldn’t have been done without our dear friends in Cincinnati. Our program will not look exactly like theirs, but we’ll hit the ground running because of them. We’re so grateful!”

President Richards noted they hope to make #socialmediasplit an ongoing and permanent part of the work in his mission.

President Richards also added that because Baltimore is not a Facebook or iPad mission yet, the campaign will allow members and missionaries to get an early taste of how the coming changes can be a blessing in the hastening of the work.

Whenever praised for his leadership and forward-thinking approach, President Richards is very quick to defer to others. One of those he credits for developing their own unique approach is Michele Calderone, an LDS Church member and public affairs representative in the area. "We're hopeful that not only will increased member involvement enhance the missionaries' efforts," Calderone said, "but by sharing their experiences on social media, members will help others understand what missionaries do."

Recently, my own stake, the Winchester Virginia Stake, was selected by President Richards to pilot the program by educating members on the approach and value of the campaign. Eager to test it for myself outside of my comfort zone and to share the experience with my own predominantly non-LDS social media audience, and with the permission of President Richards, I arranged to spend a full day with Elder Anthony Burrup of Pocatello, Idaho, and Elder Logan Herzog of Austin, Texas. They are Spanish-speaking missionaries assigned to the Alameda Branch in the Baltimore Maryland Stake.

The experience was one of the most educational and spiritually satisfying I've had since I wore my own nametag 20 years ago on the streets of Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

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