The church currently uses three manuals for the Young Women Sunday lessons. Each manual contains a unit labeled “Being Involved in Missionary Work” with either two or three lessons. The titles of those lessons, along with their objectives, are as follows:
Young Women Manual 1
Lesson 20: Reach Out to Others
Each young woman will extend friendship to young women of her own age and encourage them to take part in Church activities and meetings
Lesson 21: A Righteous Example Influences Others
Each young woman will set a righteous example for others
Young Women Manual 2
Lesson 19: Preparing to Teach Others
Each young woman will prepare herself to share the gospel with others
Lesson 20: Sharing the Gospel
Each young woman will commit herself to fulfill the commandment to share the gospel with others
Lesson 21: Sustaining Missionaries through Letters
Each young woman will learn ways to encourage and support young men and young women in the mission field
Young Women Manual 3
Lesson 20: Understanding a Missionary’s Responsibilities
Each young woman will understand a missionary’s responsibilities
Lesson 21: Learning to Share the Gospel
Each young woman will understand her responsibility to share the gospel and gain confidence in doing missionary work
Lesson 2:21 acknowledges that young women as well as young men may be missionaries. Lesson 3:20 discusses the missionary’s daily schedule and the universal missionary rules, providing the girls with some idea of what is expected of a missionary; however, the purpose of the lesson seems to be not that Young Women may soon be following those rules as missionaries, but rather that if they know what rules young elders must follow, then Young Women will not cross behavioral boundaries in their contacts with the elders.
Otherwise, missionary work is presented as something teens do among their peers in the routine activities of school, social life, and church activity. There is nothing in the current lessons to discourage Young Women from future full-time mission service, but neither is there anything to encourage those plans. The focus is on here and now; missions are not presented as an option for discussion.
Contrast this attitude toward women’s missionary service with that from 1925:
“Are You Preparing for a Mission?”
When President Young organized the Retrenchment Association, which was the beginning of the Y.L.M.I.A., he said, among other things, “there is need for the young daughters of Israel to get a living testimony of the truth. Young men obtain this while on missions, but this way is not opened to the girls.”
If President Young were here today, we are sure he would voice the same earnest desire that the “young daughters of Israel” shall obtain “a living testimony of the truth,” and doubtless one reason he would give is that they need this testimony in order to bear it to the people in the mission field. For today, the privilege is open to our young women also carry abroad the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Such a calling, at once a privilege and a grave responsibility, is worthy of the most thoughtful, earnest preparation. Our girls who sense its importance will give to it their best efforts. They will value it as among the greatest of blessings; their entire lives will be a preparation for it. The faith that has come to them through their early training will be cherished and nourished through prayer, through study, through activity in the Church, that they may be spiritually prepared should the call for missionary service reach them.
“We Stand for Divine guidance through individual and family prayer –” [the M.I.A. slogan] what young girl can afford to be without this safeguard? It will keep her spirit pure, her heart buoyant with faith and hope and happiness; her whole being susceptible to spiritual influences. Success is more than half secured to the missionary girl who has formed and kept the daily habit of sincere praying.
The Church works setting forth the Gospel plan as revealed to the Latter-day Saints, are within easy access of all of our Mutual girls. Those who are looking forward to a call to the mission field will study this divine plan and become informed on the doctrines of the Church. It should not be necessary to spend six months of precious time in the field in getting a first knowledge of the Scriptures; all this should be done and could be done before leaving home. The first principles of the Gospel at least should be thoroughly understood and passages pertaining to them should be in possession of the young missionary. We recall one sister who came into the mission field who was better versed in the Scriptures than most of the elders and she was able to say that she had not had to learn one new passage; she had mastered them all at home in the M.I.A. and the Sunday School.
The prospective missionary will also prepare herself by actively working in the church. The inspiration obtained through prayer and the knowledge gained from books become vitalized as they are transmuted into action. Not to many does a testimony of the divinity of the latter-day work come suddenly – through one prayer or the reading of one book – but through long years of service. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine” was the formula Jesus gave for obtaining a testimony.
At a session held with the Presidents of Missions it was learned that only a few, comparatively, of our sisters who enter the mission fields understand the work of the auxiliary associations and can begin at once to assist in the organizations in the various branches. We believe that our girls need only to have this called to their attention to overcome it. Careful observation, conversations with presiding officers, a study of handbooks and outlines, and some practice in teaching or rendering other assistance in these organizations will qualify them to give at once intelligent service along these lines when they arrive in the mission.
Will you as Mutual Improvement girls consider these matters and make yourselves in every way possible worthy fellow missionaries of your brothers? There is a place for many of you in the mission field; we have full confidence that you will measure up to your high calling and be prepared.
Young Woman’s Journal, April 1925, 238-239.
If you support the option of full-time mission service for young women as I do, it will be easy to be critical of the modern church, I think, for omitting serious consideration and discussion of that option. I’ll be interested in seeing whether we can go beyond that easy criticism, though, and suggest ways in which parents and youth leaders can incorporate the possibility of full-time service into normal gospel discussions, without lessons dedicated to such service.