HOUSTON, Texas — While Latter-day Saints consistently, quietly and faithfully work alongside their fellow citizens through JustServe and a multitude of other community projects, full-time missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have become an easily identifiable and compelling symbol of joyful service.
Case in point: At a recent backpack and school-supply giveaway at Tuffly Park in Kashmere Gardens, a historically African-American neighborhood of Houston, Texas. The missionaries were there by invitation — from Houston City Hall. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner had asked for the missionaries to help at the event, reported Texas Houston Mission President Jordan Peterson.
To have the mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city specifically reaching out to and inviting the missionaries to participate in important city activities is a credit to the service they provide and how they present themselves, President Peterson said.
“The missionaries were asked to come and help because they know we will show up, they know our character,” he said, “and so we were very honored to be asked to help,” President Peterson said.
At the event, Kashmere Gardens Super Neighborhood #52 President Keith Downey said: “The missionaries have been a blessing. We thank them for all that they’ve done. We appreciate them. … Y’all are game-changers!”
Missionaries from the Texas Houston Mission have a developed such a reputation from years of service in and around the community. They have helped with senior citizen home repairs, the See to Succeed and Saving Smiles programs of the Houston Health Foundation, massive and ongoing Hurricane Harvey clean-up and numerous neighborhood events.
“I call it the ‘Ammon Model,’” said President Peterson, referencing the Book of Mormon missionary. “I was at lunch at City Hall and was told that we are known and are so appreciated for all we do. Other groups talk, but they can count on us to show up.”
The missionaries are recognized as organized, dedicated, hardworking, ideal volunteers, he added.
Missionaries have a goal of 10 service hours each per week and serve in many different ways. Often the service is individualized, helping teachers set up classrooms, or mowing lawns and hauling junk. On the other hand, collaborative effort can monumentally impact the community.
Over the seven months this year of the Saving Smiles program, which provides free dental care to school children, missionaries will provide at least 1,000 hours of devoted time, President Peterson estimated.
Houston Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Jerry V. Davis, a third-term City Councilman of District B that includes the Kashmere Gardens community, noted the selfless, cheerful service of missionaries over the years he has worked in the district. “Please keep doing what y’all are doing,” he said. “We are very appreciative for the support and love you have shown the people of District B. We know we can call on you.”
Relationships of trust often begin with a simple first step. The recipient doesn’t know what to expect, with those missionaries coming to help, arriving with smiling faces and diligently offering service with no expectation of reward. What the recipients then see and experience is often different from what they expected and from what other volunteers provide. Over time the missionaries become a valued and trusted partner in important community work.
When Davis was asked about having missionaries serve in other neighborhoods in the city, he responded, “Don’t take my missionaries.”
The community, however, is not the only beneficiary of this service. “Missionaries are learning as they serve,” said President Peterson. “To take teenagers and have them focus on other people on a consistent basis helps prepare them for a life of service.”