Thousands of young Mormons go on missions each year.
The BBC filmed it with permission to cover a Mormon Missionary Education Center in the UK. It is a place where doctrine is taught as well as potential convert approaches through social media.
Rebecca Cooper, 19, of England, says that during her missionary career, she had to give up her name, talk on the phone with her friends, and even give up time alone other than in the bathroom or shower.
Cooper, who was only called “Sister Cooper” at the time, had a very strict routine. Every day from 6:30 a.m. to curfew, her prayers, studies, exercise, community volunteering, and search for potential converts were repeated.
In addition to the usual Mormon rules against premarital sex and the consumption of tea and coffee, missionaries are not allowed to stay out late or even watch TV or movies. Typical Gen Z entertainment, such as games and TikTok, is also banned.
In addition to Cooper, there are tens of thousands of young Mormons who volunteer as missionaries around the world each year. It is to recruit new people to become Mormons.
Most of them are under the age of 25 and will be living out of town for up to two years.
The education center visited by BBC reporters this time is the largest Mormon youth missionary education center in Europe and is located in Chorley, Lancashire, England.
We got permission to film the documentary ‘The Mormons Are Coming’ here.
Mormons, officially called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), believe in Jesus, but are separate from other Catholic and Protestant groups.
Meanwhile, the Mormon Church’s regular missionary force, which currently has 16 million followers worldwide, is the largest in the world.
These young missionaries are especially well known to the public thanks to the musical “The Book of Mormon,” which swept Broadway in the U.S. and the West End in England.
Meanwhile, Cooper said the austere life of a missionary was “completely different” from the life of a typical Mormon.
“As a Mormon since I was a child, [life as a missionary] was very different.”
President Ostler, who supervises prospective missionaries at the education center here, said, “The life of a missionary is very different from that of ordinary young people. And the young people (who come here) are ready to live this life.”
‘Sometimes I feel like an influencer’
Cooper described his childhood growing up in the Mormon church as “tough” at times and “very different from his friends.”
However, it is said that religion helped him overcome a period of anxiety and depression after one of his classmates made an extreme choice.
“(The death of a friend) triggered a number of problems, like depression, that I didn’t even know I had in my life.”
Cooper, from Tring in Hertfordshire, England, was at odds with his faith while undergoing various types of treatment for about a year. Then one day, while crying and praying, he said, it occurred to him that he needed medication, which he had stubbornly refused to do until then.
Afterward, “everything was better and much more settled,” Cooper said. “It may sound a little strange, but there were a number of little spiritual stimuli that helped me get through the situation.”
After he had this experience, he wanted to serve as a missionary.
However, friends who applied for his missionary work together were sent to foreign countries that seemed interesting, but Cooper ended up in Lancashire. It wasn’t the place he most wanted to go.
When he first learned that he wasn’t going overseas, Cooper turned away from his cell phone and didn’t want to look at it. It’s because “the few days were a bit bitter.”
Rebecca and her fellow missionaries spent two weeks here at the educational center alongside the church building. Here he learned how to evangelize through the book Preach My Gospel, which explained the basic doctrine.
I also learned how to live with a tight schedule by carefully planning my day minute by minute through the app.
Meanwhile, the center also teaches missionaries how to find potential converts through social media content, such as Instagram videos and Facebook posts. Missionaries are encouraged to send at least 50 social media messages a day, focusing on people who have responded to related posts.
“It felt a bit strange,” Cooper said. “I had to publicize my life and get a response from people. Sometimes it feels like being an influencer,” he explained.
Cooper explained the downsides of creating and posting social media content on a regular basis. In addition to being the subject of ridicule online, he explained that he felt “angry and lonely” when someone shared a post by Cooper and wrote, “Some crazy kids are doing this again.”
“I was saddened [by the whole experience],” said Cooper, adding that “those little things were hard.”
While you are a missionary, your internet usage records are monitored and can only be used for missionary purposes. Cooper also noted that “during my time as a missionary, cell phones were no longer entertainment, but work.”
The missionaries are then assigned a mate to live with and spend most of their time at the training center here. And later, while carrying out missionary activities, they may be assigned with other colleagues.
Cooper’s first assignment was in Wrexham, north-east Wales. I lived here with two colleagues, and the apartment I was assigned was so small that it was almost filled with two beds. So one of my colleagues lived on a mattress on the floor.
“It was very cramped. So when I was first assigned, I struggled to find my space. It wasn’t easy to adapt.”
Cooper also said that being a missionary, talking to passers-by on the street or calling strangers can be challenging.
Most people think that missionaries are “pretty nice,” but there are people who hate missionaries and argue with them and end up being called crazy.
And there are people who give out other people’s numbers as a joke. Afterwards, when the missionaries call the number, the other person yells or curses at them.
But Cooper remembered the day she was approached by Josh, a 19-year-old auto mechanic. At the time, they thought it was a fake phone number, but it was actually Josh’s, and that’s how the two “talked about ‘The Book of Mormon.'”
Josh, who “wanted to learn more afterward,” returned to church five weeks later and was even baptized.
life after missionary life
Meanwhile, Cooper said that not being able to connect with her hometown friends was the hardest part of her missionary life. She also explained that she thought about how to spend her personal free time, even if it was brief, and usually stayed at home and played computer or games.
But she added that it was nice to be away from the news for a few months, saying, “I’m very grateful to be able to spend some time away from the world.”
Besides, she is said to have gained a lot of self-confidence by living as a missionary.
“It gives you a lot of confidence to be thrown into situations where you have to swim hard to not sink.”
Elder Peter Johnson, director of the Mormon Church of Manchester and who directed prospective missionaries like Cooper, explained that these strict missionary rules “help them live productively.”
“The life of a missionary boils down to discipline, dedication, and focus,” Elder Johnson added. “But these elements are also necessary throughout life, whether at work or at school.”
Meanwhile, Cooper, who has now returned to his normal life after his missionary career, has revealed that he wants to major in psychology and child development in college.
In his days as a missionary, he spent most of his time with his colleagues, but now he is alone again.
Regarding this, Cooper said, “It’s still hard if someone isn’t by your side all the time,” adding that he is adjusting to life after the mission.
“I still feel weird when I go to the store alone. It’s a strange life change that you have to get used to again.”