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Dear Gramps,

I am 18 years old and have been serving in the Army for a little over a year. I have been told by some that military service can be substituted for a full-time mission. With the President’s new plan for the Iraq conflict, it is very possible, even probable, to spend up to two years serving in the Middle-East. As soldiers, we form a close bond and become very involved with each other’s personal lives, including religion. While at Basic Training, I gave out two or three Books of Mormon and had several discussions with non-member soldiers concerning the gospel. In a way, I think that what I was doing is much like what a full-time missionary does in the field. Is there any insight on this from our general authorities?





Dear Travis,

There is no doubt that much very good missionary work can be done while in the military service–both among the fellow soldiers and the local civilian populations. Members of the Mormon Church, in whatever occupation or circumstance that they may be in, should always take every opportunity to invite people “to come unto Christ” and become participants with the saints in living the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ and preparing themselves and others to receive the blessings that come to those who love the Lord and who keep His commandments. However, that essential activity, although valid missionary work, does not count as a full time mission, and is not recognized by the Mormon Church as such. As mentioned above, people in all walks of life should be doing what you are doing in the military. This is what the phrase “Once a missionary, always a missionary” means. But that activity is not full-time missionary service. That can only be achieved as a set-apart missionary who would serve full time for two years, with no distractions or other activities.

Your service in the military can be a very good preparation to serve a full time mission when your term of service is over. This was the experience of a great many youth following and preceding World War II. In my case, for instance, during my first year of college the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I finished that year of school, worked during the summer on a construction company helping to build the Farragut Naval Training Station, and in the fall of 1942 enlisted in the Army Air Corp. I served a little over two years overseas and was discharged in January of 1946 and immediately applied to go on a mission. The mission call came and, beginning in July, 1946, I served for two and half years as a missionary in Argentina. Then I returned to college in 1949 and graduated with an MA degree in 1953 and began my professional career when I was 30 years old.

What may be surprising to some who have not had this experience, is that I value my 2 ½ years as a missionary much more than my five years of university training in my professional activity as a research physicist. What would missionary work have to do with physics research, one may ask? My ability to meet people, to speak in public, to organize my time, to focus my energies were all derived from my missionary service, not from my college training. As a matter of fact, the class material that I learned in school did me practically no good at all in my professional activity. I specialized in atomic physics and did my Master’s thesis in measuring radioactivity in the atmosphere, and I was hired by a research organization doing research in semiconductor physics. When I arrived at my place of employment I didn’t even know what the word, semiconductor, meant.

So, again, although one may do missionary work while in the military, or during any other occupation, it can never replace the great benefits and blessings that are associated with full time missionary service.





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