Many missionaries write to friends and family who may not be really familiar with some of the more peculiar language or processes associated with missionary work in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Owing to the focus that missionary work demands, missionaries themselves usually have very little time to go into sufficient detail to explain things that might not be clear to all readers.
- Organization and Personalities:
At the very top of the organization is, of course, The Lord Jesus
Christ, who directs His work through His mouthpiece on the earth, our Prophet
and the President of the Church, Thomas S. Monson. There are a few administrative levels between
the President Monson and President Richard D. Hanks, the current Mission
President of the Alabama Birmingham Mission, but for practicality sake, we’ll
focus on the Mission itself. As is the
case with every single missionary, President Hanks and his wife were called to
serve by The Prophet, joining forces with the more than 80,000 other
missionaries, organized within the 405 Missions around the world – each of them
operating in virtually the same way, preaching and teaching The Gospel of Jesus
The Alabama Birmingham Mission, just like every other organization in The Church, is led by a three person “Presidency:” the Mission President and his two “Counselors.” It is comprised of nearly 300 full-time missionaries, the bulk of whom are between the ages of 18-26 (young men) and 19-26 (young women) respectively Elders and Sisters; the remainder consists of Senior Couples, husbands and wives who are also drawn from around the world to serve in specific capacities within the Mission.
- Mission President:
The Mission President and his wife are called by The Prophet to serve for a
three year period, usually fairly far away from family and friends. The Mission President usually, but not
always, has served as a full-time missionary himself as a young man;
subsequently, he has typically held quite a few lay ministry positions in The
Church prior to his current calling. The
couple places their entire lives – professional, social and even to a certain
extent family – on hold throughout the period of their service. In this respect they are leading missionaries
who are doing the very same thing, with that intense focus on purely spreading
the Gospel of Jesus Christ for whatever the length of their calling. Similarly, just as the missionaries they
lead, they are not paid for their service either. Essentially, the Mission President performs
all of the Executive functions one would expect from a large organization
covering the majority of two states.
Yet in addition to those managerial functions such as administrative, logistical, and operational oversight, he is much more involved in the spiritual direction and leadership of the work of The Lord. In this latter domain, he himself provides counsel, training, development, assistance, communication with all the missionaries, maintaining contact with them as well as their families on a weekly basis. He is also the primary contact with local leaders of the 60-plus congregations of The Church in the Mission area.
- Counselors: Unlike the Mission President, his two counselors usually reside within the boundaries of the mission. Counselors, like the Mission President himself, have usually held a variety of leadership and missionary positions and responsibilities during their lives in The Church. Further, while the Mission President essentially puts his professional life on hold for those entire three years, many counselors continue in their full-time occupations and assist in the operations of the mission as their schedules allow and as the Mission President requires; others are retired and can devote larger blocs of their time to working with their mission responsibilities as delegated to them by the Mission President.
- Assistants to the President (also referred to as AP’s): Called by the Mission President and drawn from the ranks of the full-time missionaries, this pair of Elders have served well in a variety of responsibilities within the mission already as senior companions, trainers, district leaders, and zone leaders. They serve as both executive assistants as well as staff connection to the missionaries through the zone leaders and others. Additionally, they organize, conduct and/or lead training and other meetings that are held throughout the mission on a regular basis. Even while intensely engaged in these duties, they retain their proselyting responsibilities as well. Some APs have this assignment as the last one in the mission field while others serve for a period and then are released after a certain period back to being engaged solely in finding and teaching.
- Zone Leaders: Called by the Mission President to lead the efforts of the Elders and Sisters in the largest geographical areas, Zone Leaders supervise (at present) 11 Zones throughout the mission, each consisting of approximately 30 missionaries. Zones are subdivided into Districts which are then further subdivided into Areas, with most areas represented by two to four missionaries working within the geographic area of a congregation. Zone Leaders are responsible for a variety of leadership, administrative and training activities within their respective areas. They, along with Sister Training Leaders, serve as members of the Mission Leadership Council which meets monthly to receive instruction and training that is then passed along through Zone Training on a monthly basis. Typically, Zone Leaders have previously served at least once as a District Leader.
- District Leaders: Also called by the Mission President, and like Zone Leaders and AP’s, District Leaders have also been selected on the basis of their maturity, judgment, leadership and experience as missionaries. Districts may range in size from six to ten missionaries and represent the place where weekly coordination and training meetings occur under the supervision of the District Leaders, with training being further refined for local implementation of that received at the Zone Training. District Leaders also serve as the first line supervision for administrative and training requirements.
- Sister Training Leaders: Owing both to the great expansion of Sister Missionaries since October 2012 and to the difference in leading men and women in missionary environments, Sister Training Leaders have also been called by the Mission President. Starting in April 2013, these Sisters have been called based largely on their experience as senior companions, trainers, and proselyting missionaries and are responsible for the training and welfare of female missionaries assigned to them. As above, they also assist in providing training at the monthly Zone Training meetings as well as on one-to-one basis with individual missionaries and companionships.
- Trainers: As may be easily seen, much of the non-proselyting time spent by missionaries is spent in training in groups ranging from Districts to multiple Zones. Yet, individual missionaries, most often those who have just arrived from the MTC, work directly with – and are assigned in two person companionships to – specially selected, experienced missionaries who have demonstrated their capacity to lead, teach, uplift and inspire. Often, though not always, Trainers are AP’s, Zone and District Leaders who are in the concluding months of their two year period of missionary service and have developed a broad range of experience that maximizes the impact of their training.
- Senior Companions: As the Apostles of Christ’s time, missionaries go forth, “two by two” and are together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, teaching, preaching and inviting all to come unto Christ. Senior companions can be so designated solely on the basis of their longevity in the Mission or other similar criteria and they have ultimate responsibility for the work they do together with their companion.
- Junior Companions: As the name suggests, out of each companionship, one has lesser responsibility, although both may actually be of equal tenure in the mission field. Junior companions may have completed their training period, or may still be in training if recently arrived.
- Senior Couples: As mentioned above, Senior Couples come from diverse locations and backgrounds to serve missions of diverse characters and duration. Typically retired from their professional lives – and often serving multiple missions either as individual younger missionaries in their earlier years or in other Senior Couple assignments elsewhere – these mature couples bring years of Church experience to the mission field. Some provide the skill and experience to serve in the Mission office in administrative, logistical, medical, vehicle fleet (think 90-plus cars assigned to 250 young Elders and Sisters), housing (consider finding, negotiating and contracting apartments for nearly 300 missionaries) and financial capacities. Others serve in such areas as Membership and Leadership Support capacities, assisting in wards and branches as adjuncts to the overall proselyting efforts of the younger missionaries. They are often critical to serving in places and with people that are not easily served by younger missionaries (e.g., retired military couples can provide non-proselyting assistance to members on military bases).
- Mission Leadership Council: As explained by Elder David F. Evans executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department, in April 2013, the Church created the mission leadership council and the role of sister training leaders. The members of the mission leadership council “meet together monthly and counsel together about the needs of the mission. They discuss problems, and we are observing, just as in every other level of the Church, that when men and women of faith counsel together, there is a much better result than when we do it any other way.”