A new handbook, a new policy allowing missionaries to call home weekly, two new video series — one of the Book of Mormon and the other of missionary safety — and a rare increase in monthly payment costs are among the highlighted missionary-related storylines from 2019 for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its 65,000-strong force of full-time volunteers.
For the first time in nearly a decade, the Church released a new missionary handbook of instructions, “Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Available both in print and digital formats, the title itself underscores the handbook’s move from a rules-based manual to a principles-based one, and the tone is set from the introductory message from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Released to missionaries as well as to the general public in November, the new booklet is seen simply “a manual on becoming” and a guide to lifelong discipleship in following the Savior, and not just a guide for mission service of 18 months or two years.
After years of missionaries communicating home via emails, letters and twice-a-year phone calls on Mother’s Day and Christmas, the First Presidency announced the allowance of phone calls, video chats, text messages and online messaging as added mediums for missionaries to use when contacting parents and family weekly on preparation days.
“One of the major purposes of this adjustment is to encourage families to be more involved in their missionary’s efforts and experiences,” said the First Presidency in their Feb. 15 statement.
Missionaries are to initiate the communication home, to only do so on preparation days, to use good judgment in determining the length of phone calls and video chats and to be considerate of their companions.
Book of Mormon videos
The long-awaited Book of Mormon Videos series began its release in September, with a trailer kicking off the weekly offerings of the first 15 episodes from two years of filming, editing and production. Additional videos will be available during 2020 and 2021.
The collection of videos from the multi-year filming project in Utah and throughout North America is similar to “The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos” project, which was completed in 2016.
In addition to missionary work, the videos can be used in Church classrooms and in homes for personal and family viewing and study.
The SafetyZone videos
From safety on the street to fighting germs and avoiding the criminal intent of others, a new video series emphasizing missionary safety was released beginning March 1 to help not only those currently serving missions but those yet to serve.
The 12-part video series features “The SafetyZone” — a fictitious TV show mirroring the highlight videos and back-and-forth banter of an in-studio sports show. To emphasize safety principles and practice, the videos combine entertainment, humor and repetition along with the more serious retelling of real-life missionary experiences.
Increased monthly contributions
For the first time in 16 years, the monthly payment to help cover living costs for the Church’s full-time missionaries is increasing, from the current $400 USD a month to $500 USD (or its equivalent in foreign currency).
The change was announced in a June 27 letter from the First Presidency but won’t go into effect until July 1, 2020, giving current and future missionaries and their families, wards and branches a year to prepare for the increased donations.
The monthly payment policy was created in 1991 to equalize donations; prior to that, monthly missionary costs ranged from $100 to nearly $800, depending on the missionary’s assigned location throughout the world. The last change in the monthly cost came in 2003.
A dozen new missions were announced in 2019. The first four came in early January, along with the realigning of boundaries resulting in the dissolving of 12 missions, with those changes taking affect July 1. Eight more new missions were announced in November, to begin operations July 1, 2020.
The eight new missions announced for 2020 — four in Africa, two in South America and two in the state of Texas — will bring the Church’s global total of missions to 407. The new missions will be Brazil Recife South, Cameroon Yaounde, Ecuador Guayaquil East, Ethiopia Addis Ababa, Mozambique Beira, Tanzania Dar es Salaam, Texas Austin and Texas Dallas East missions.
The four new missions created in 2019 were the Democratic Republic of the Congo Kinshasa East, Guatemala Antigua, Peru Limatambo and Philippines Antipolo missions, with the 12 closed missions located in California (three), Florida, Georgia, Idaho, New York and Virginia and the nations of Argentina, Canada, Japan and Korea.
The Church closed four international missionary training centers in 2019 — the Spain, Chile and Dominican Republic MTCs in January and the Argentina MTC in July — and in September announced the January 2020 closure of the Guatemala MTC.
That doesn’t mean a resulting decrease in the number of missionaries being trained at international locations nor a decrease in missionary numbers overall.
In fact, more missionaries have been trained outside of the flagship Provo Missionary Training Center for several years. That trend is expected to continue, as the Church’s Missionary Department looks to increasingly utilize the larger-capacity international MTCs — specifically the Mexico, Brazil and Philippines MTCs.