Missionary work is essential to the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Any member of the Church can do missionary work or share the gospel with other people, but missionaries are officially called to serve the Lord and assigned a field of labor.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about missionary calls in the April 2017 General Conference of the Church. He reminds us that there are thousands of missionaries called each year – young men, young women, and senior couples. Each new missionary receives a “special letter” postmarked Salt Lake City.
The letter is signed by the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the first two sentences read as follows: “You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the ___________ Mission.”
Please note that the first sentence is a call to serve as a full-time missionary in the Lord’s restored Church. The second sentence indicates an assignment to labor in a specific place and mission. The important distinction expressed in these two sentences is essential for all of us to understand.
Some members of the Church believe that a missionary is called to a certain place to labor as a missionary. This is not the case as Elder Bednar explains above. He continues his explanation of the differences between a call to serve and an assignment to labor.
Each mission call and assignment, or a later reassignment, is the result of revelation through the Lord’s servants. A call to the work comes from God through the President of the Church. An assignment to one of the more than 400 missions presently operating around the world comes from God through a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, acting with the authorization of the Lord’s living prophet. The spiritual gifts of prophecy and revelation attend all mission calls and assignments.
As further explanation, Elder Bednar shares some verses of Doctrine and Covenant 80 to show how the call to serve works. This section contains the missionary call to serve of Stephen Barnett given by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Elder Bednar continues by explaining why he chose to speak on this topic.
… My answer to this question is quite straightforward: my experience has taught me that these principles are not well understood by many members of the Church.
The single greatest reason for addressing this matter is what I have learned over time about the concern, the worry, and even the guilt felt by many missionaries who for various reasons were reassigned to a different field of labor during their time of service. Such reassignments sometimes are necessary because of events and circumstances such as physical accidents and injuries, delays and challenges in obtaining visas, political instability, creating and staffing new missions, or the evolving and ever-changing needs around the world in the work of proclaiming the gospel.
When a missionary is reassigned to a different field of labor, the process is precisely the same as for the initial assignment. Members of the Quorum of the Twelve seek inspiration and guidance in making all such reassignments….
One additional reason I have felt impressed to discuss this topic is my personal experience assigning missionaries over many years. For the Twelve, nothing affirms the reality of ongoing latter-day revelation more powerfully than seeking to discern the Lord’s will as we fulfill our responsibility to assign missionaries to their respective fields of labor. I witness that the Savior knows and is mindful of each of us one by one and name by name.
Elder Bednar concludes his talk by discussing the need for the personal preparation of each missionary to receive a call to serve the Lord. He counsels every young man to fulfill his Aaronic Priesthood duties and to live worthy to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. He continues by emphasizing the importance of worthily going to the temple to be endowed with power from on high. Receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood and being endowed in the temple are essential steps to preparing to serve in the mission field. All three areas – priesthood, temple, and mission – require worthiness. In order to be a true instrument in the hands of the Lord, we must be clean and worthy to do so.