For many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, going on a mission is a rite of passage and an essential part of being a good member of the church. As such, it is a huge part of LDS culture and has a large influence on life in Utah, where members of the church remain a majority of the population.

With that in mind, the Standard-Examiner, a newspaper based in Ogden, Utah, is attempting to document how the call to serve affects individuals and communities. We especially want to initiate conversations about the challenges and opportunities missionary work provides and examine how this important part of Mormon culture influences the broader community.

Our goal is not to promote or make the church look good, nor is it to attack the church, missionary work or Mormon culture. Our goal is to provide a safe, open place where people feel free to openly share their personal experiences and where we can examine the influence of this part of the church in a fair and objective way.

That’s why we’re asking for all sorts of stories. We want to hear from people who had great experiences on missions and who remain active members of the church. We equally want to hear from people who regret going on a mission. And from people who came home early from their missions. We want to know why some people choose not to go on missions despite the pressure to serve. And we want to know why some converts and other people who normally wouldn’t be expected to go decide to serve anyway.

We’ll use the submitted stories to influence our own reporting going forward as we have journalists talk to church leaders, researchers and other experts on missionary work for future articles, videos and other reports.

We are posting anonymous submissions because we recognize the stories we’re asking for deeply personal accounts — sometimes these stories have never been shared, even with close loved ones. But nonetheless these are formative experiences and they are, in many ways, widely relatable. The struggles and triumphs we all face help us understand each other better.

Frequently asked questions:

I’m new to this. What’s a Mormon? What’s a mission?

The terms Mormon, LDS and Latter-day Saint all refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Christian sect with about 15 million adherents around the world. Founded in New York by Joseph Smith in 1830, the church is now headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and about 55 percent of Utahns are Mormon, according to the Pew Research Center. Mormons believe church founder Joseph Smith restored Christ’s church after other churches became corrupt.

Within a short time of the church’s organization, Smith began sending out missionaries to preach and convert people to the new faith. Today, the church has 70,000 full-time missionaries serving in more than 400 missions — geographically based administrative units overseen by a mission president — around the world.

Most of the full-time missionaries are young, with men being eligible to go at age 18 and women at age 19. Men serve for up to two years while women can serve for 18 months.

Missionaries are volunteers who pay their own way, usually with help from family, friends and other church members. They are not allowed to choose where they serve, but are assigned by a church official at the church’s headquarters. Missionaries typically have limited contact with family and friends at home during their service and are expected to follow strict rules, work long hours and completely focus on the church and their work.

Why are people’s missionary stories so important?

For most “returned missionaries” — or “RMs” as they are sometimes called — time as a missionary has a huge impact on the rest of their lives, including sometimes deciding how devoted they remain to the church. It’s incredibly common for LDS meetings and lessons to include people telling stories from their missions. But not every mission experience is a positive one for every missionary, and it’s a lot less common to hear the stories about the shortcomings of the church and its leaders and the occasional health and emotional damage that some missionaries receive.

With such a large portion of Mormons serving missions and such a large portion of Utah being members of the church, it also has an impact on the community here, with many church, government and business leaders pointing to their missionary service as an important time for them to learn leadership skills and other qualities. And with many people serving missions in other countries, it impacts Utah’s ability to work with people from other cultures and the state’s relationships with refugees and immigrants, to point out just a few areas.

What’s so special about a black nametag?

Missionaries always wear the church’s iconic badge, which includes the missionary’s title, last name and the church logo. Male missionaries are referred to with the title elder — a reference to their priesthood office — and women are called sister. Church leaders sometimes remind missionaries that they represent the three names on the badge: their family, Jesus Christ and the church. The badges are what set missionaries apart from normal members of the church and from missionaries and other representatives of other faiths.

We’re using the nametag icon to help Mormons quickly identify the site as relating to missionary work and to have a visual way to summarize and share the stories on the site.

How do you edit submitted stories?

Submissions are reviewed by experienced journalists and are edited for Associated Press style, syntaxical clarity and to maintain the anonymity of all parties in the post. But we want to let you tell your story your way, so we won’t change the substance or tone of your submission.

This means we will obscure specific references to dates, locations or names if it means the poster or a person in their story could be identified. This is not a typical journalistic practice. This is specifically to build an open community and to protect the right to privacy of people who are mentioned without verification or corroboration of events, conversations or experiences.

Are the stories on this site all true?

While we have a team of experienced editors who review the stories before they are published and check for inaccuracies and red flags, there isn’t much we can do to verify the details of these deeply personal stories beyond asking people to tell us the truth. Church mission records are confidential and most of these stories are aren’t recorded in any sort of official documents anyway. We do the best we can to eliminate anything that is obviously false or misleading.

If the stories are anonymous, why are you asking for my name and email address?

We ask for emails and some basic contact information so we can let you know when your story is posted. We may reach out if there are any major questions or concerns, or to make sure we’ve made an accurate edit to your submission. We do not share any of this information outside of our newsroom in any way. We also provide an email newsletter so you can get occasional reminders to check out other stories. You’re free to subscribe or unsubscribe at any time.

Do you allow people to comment on the stories?

We do not allow comments directly on posts. Please join the conversation on our Facebook page.

This site is published by the Standard-Examiner/Ogden Publishing Company. © All rights reserved.

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