Connecting with people is crucial for Tyler Brown and Levi Johnson.
The two young men — Brown is from Georgia and Johnson is from Wisconsin — are elders serving missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Up until March 2020 the two-year commitment required sitting down for face-to-face discussions with those that have expressed more interest in finding out about their faith or making essentially cold calls for the Lord by knocking on doors.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed that.
After recalling missionaries from around the globe due to the rampantly spreading coronavirus, the church regrouped. Missionaries are still sent to serve away from home but they are doing by primarily utilizing social media.
Instead of texting, Zoom encounters, Facebook, and other social media inventions making it more difficult to connect people willing to hear their message, the opposite has happened.
“People are looking for answers due to the pandemic,” Johnson noted.
Both elders indicated exchanges over social media with those they have been in contact have led to extensive conversations.
“People are more open sharing on social media, “Brown said. “. . . They are (more intent) on the importance of our purpose here on earth or what happens in the afterlife (due to the pandemic).”
To that extent the work of missionaries still remains focused on what it has always been as the only thing that has been modified is how they reach out to others to share it.
“The pandemic hasn’t changed the Book of Mormon,” Johnson said. “The message of the Book of Mormon is the message of hope as we have faith in Jesus Christ and repent in him.”
LDS officials have indicated the effective ways that social media has been in reaching people through missionary work will likely be incorporated in a more robust approach wedded with personal interaction once the pandemic fades.
Brown doesn’t have to be sold on the importance of the two-year mission that he volunteered to undertake. He converted at age 18 after having his life changed.
Brown could have passed for a typical teen male. But something was missing.
“My lifestyle was pretty careless,” Brown said of being a teen in Wisconsin. “My purpose in life was all about having fun. I didn’t have a lot of goals in life.”
That started changing after his encounters with LDS missionaries. At first, what they were saying didn’t make sense. But as they talked and shared activities such as playing Ping Pong, Brown said he started to understand the message.
Brown, like Johnson, sees his purpose being driven by doing good on earth.
It is what some have reference as being analogous to a three-part play. It starts as a premortal existence as having dwelt with God before this life. That is followed by a mortal life on earth focused on learning, testing, and growth. Then, depending upon the degree they accept and follow Jesus Christ, it will determine where they go after this life.
Johnson credits a LDS missionary that reached out to his grandmother in Peru for making a difference not just in her life but ultimately his life as well.
“My grandmother was living in a house with dirt floors in Peru,” Johnson said, adding committing herself to being a “child of God set in motion a change for better in her life.
In Wisconsin as a teen Johnson was into jet skiing, four wheeling, soccer, tennis, and photography. He happily left all of that behind for a two-year commitment serving as a missionary.
It brought him to California to initially serve in Stockton. Being assigned to the Manteca Stake founded 40 years ago gave Brown the opportunity to meet the man that was the missionary who served in Peru and who had reached out to his grandmother — Manteca residents Charles Eitelgeorge.
The two elders still follow the rigid days of pre-pandemic missionaries. They typically awake at 6:30 a.m. They prep for their day, have breakfast, and exercise incorporating prayer in every step along the way to help them stay focused. They spend an hour planning for those they will be in contact with. They will then engage those individuals mostly on social media now but also in person as conditions warrant.
It is intermixed with community service through such organizations as Tracy Interfaith Ministries.
After their missions are completed, both will resume their education. Brown hopes to go to school in Utah, preferably at Brigham Young University. His goal is be an entrepreneur.
Johnson — who attended a year at BYU-Hawaii before starting his mission — is aiming for BYU to pursue degree in business management.
As for what happens with lessons thousands of missionaries such as Brown and Johnson have learned by adapting to pandemic protocols, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles underscored its importance during an interview on June.
“We are continuing to learn of the immense good that comes from the righteous and intentional use of technology,” Uchtdorf said. “Sometimes we think of the Internet and social media as an enemy because there can be so much negativity there. However, the Internet can be a friend to us when we use it correctly.”
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