Since its earliest days, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a proselyting church, sending out missionaries to all parts of the world. Missionary work is a fundamental principle of the Church, and has become one of its most readily identifiable characteristics.
The role of the Mormon missionary is to teach and share the beliefs of the Mormon Church with people throughout the world. Most missionaries are young men between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one, although young women and older couples serve as well. Male missionaries serve a time period of two years and women serve for a year and a half. Missionaries are rarely seen alone. Missionaries live and serve with a companion. Serving a mission for the Mormon Church is completely voluntary. The Church calls missionaries to serve throughout the world. Missionaries learn language and teaching skills in one of the Missionary Training Centers located around the world, with the largest in Provo, Utah. Missionaries dedicate their time to preaching their religion to those who are interested. They also participate in humanitarian work and volunteer within the community. Their main goal is to share the message of Jesus Christ and provide the opportunity to join the Mormon Church for those who are interested.
From 1955 on, Wendell B. Mendenhall institutionalized building missionaries on a larger scale with skilled tradesmen called as supervisors of the missionaries. Most of the supervisors were Americans, while most of the workers were young men indigenous to the areas of the South Pacific and Latin America where the work was carried out. Often, trainee or assistant building supervisors would work under the leadership of an experienced supervisor in preparation for an assignment as a fully-fledged supervisor of some project or group of missionaries.
Most building missionaries had had little or no building experience prior to their call. This, however, rarely prevented them from gaining experience and learning in every aspect of the building work involved within the project. The only exceptions were with regard to laws that required that in certain aspects, such as with electricity and plumbing, for instance, the work had to be carried out by registered tradesmen.
Although there were many specific rules that proselyting missionaries were expected to live that building missionaries were not, and some building missionaries were called as young as 17 years of age, many expectations - such as the expectation for a commitment of 2 years' service, for instance - and requirements for worthiness, as well, were the same, and prospective building missionaries were interviewed with regard to such matters prior to their call. Formal letters from the First Presidency re such respects were also eventually sent out to building supervisors for missionary reference and compliance. The prime differences re the conditions for building missionary service were that such missionaries were to reside for short time periods at the homes of different members from the congregation of the building upon which they were working. During the early 1970s, in Australia, such host families deemed it an honour and were offered just $5 per week to assist. As the missionary's role was one of service, a building missionary was offered $3 per week for basal living expenses. Thus most missionaries needed to use personal savings to cover any of the rest needed, or to receive from their parents or friends any extra needed. Fundamentally, however, the host family looked after the missionary and it was his part to blend in with and help the family during off-work hours.
Building missionaries were also assumed as part of the wards and stakes in which they resided, and were expected to be examples of support for local leaders, programmes and Church involvement. They were to live all the standards that were set out by Church leaders for young members of the Church, and as service missionaries, were not expected to be involved in 'free-lancing' after hours, or going to parties or non-Church dances and activities. As their call was one of a full-time missionary, they were not generally called to other positions in the Church while on their missions, although they could quite readily accept interim assignments from time to time. There was also ready opportunity, depending on precise circumstances, for building and proselyting missionaries to work together on one another's programmes, which very often occurred. The responsibility for, or prime authority over, any proselyting missionary was vested in the mission president of the mission to which he/she was called. However, with regards to the building missionary, such was vested in the stake president of the stake within which the missionary resided at the time in question. When it came to the actual work of the site itself, the set-apart authority was the building supervisor, who worked under the instructions of regional or General building authorities of the Church.
Although building missionaries were expected not to date, nor engage with intimacy or familiarity, they were, nevertheless, encouraged to "build meaningful relationships" with members of the opposite sex, but were expected to do so only in group settings and within the propriety of their calling.
Many such Church missionaries, unlike proselyting missionaries - who generally remained within the one mission - were moved around a country or over a large area to wherever their work was required or the next project commenced. This could also mean that they worked under multiple supervisors and multiple stake or district presidents over the period of their mission call.
The building missionary program was phased out in the 1970s.[citation number and information may be needed]
Over most of the course of the building missionary program, opportunities were also made available for the general membership of the Church to also provide service to or be directly involved in the actual building work itself on the chapels and Church structures being erected, by putting in personal "service hours", which were also recorded. Many of the local women also involved themselves in assistance by providing food and drinks during breaks. Others assisted in various other at-hand labors at the site.
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