Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Missionaries’ “Little White Bible,” 1941

Missionaries’ “Little White Bible,” 1941

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 01, 2011

Do they still call it the “Little White Bible,” or is my slang 30 years out of date?

In any case, here are the instructions given to missionaries in 1941:


“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;

“For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.

“And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance;

“And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth.

“Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto his people;

“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father?

“And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me?” – Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 18:10-16.

Dear Brother:

Every missionary Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is endowed with the Holy Priesthood and is sent forth as a minister of the restored Gospel of our Lord and Savior. He is expected by those who send him to be of upright conduct and morally clean; and he should keep himself pure, sweet, and unspotted from the sins of the world. He should avoid the very appearance of evil, so that, when honorably released, he may return home with clean hands and a pure heart.

Among the items of counsel given by the authorities of the Church to missionaries before departure for the mission field the following should be indelibly stamped upon the mind and heart of every Elder:

Traveling to Mission Field.

1. From the time that you are set apart for your missionary labors, ever bear in mind that you are a special representative of the Church and its work and never forget that the Church and its members will be judged by your actions. A thoughtless disregard of the simple rules of conduct is often responsible for positive injury to the missionary and the great cause he represents,.

2. While in cars, ships, hotels, or other public places, never indulge in loud speaking, heated discussions, inappropriate singing, games of chance, vulgar stories or in any conduct whatsoever that is rowdy or boisterous and not becoming a gentleman.

3. The journey to the mission field often affords excellent opportunity for study. You will do well to avail yourself of this opportunity.

4. If you have the privilege of “sight-seeing” within the larger cities, you should refrain from visiting the “districts” of bad reputation. If you cannot assist in correcting evil, avoid it entirely.

In the Mission Field.

5. When you reach your field of labor let all your talents, affections and powers be centered on the work of the ministry.

6. Carefully observe an perform all instructions given to you by those in authority.

7. Get an understanding of the Gospel through prayerful and careful study and teach it as the spirit directs. Study the scriptures with care – the Jewish, the Nephite, and the latter-day revelations. Store your mind with knowledge of the truth, and the Spirit of the Lord will bring it to your remembrance in due season.

8. Live near the Lord so that you can approach Him and appeal to Him on all occasions. Do all things with a prayerful heart; pray vocally morning and evening, oftener when necessary, and pray secretly every day. Prayer should be appropriate to the occasion, and the Spirit of the Lord will direct the one who prays if he be responsive to the divine influence.

9. Seek learning by faith as well as by study. Try to acquire proficiency in the use of the language, but do not depend upon fine words or upon the learning of the world for the effectiveness of your preaching.

10. Remember that you are sent out to preach the first principles of the Gospel and to call men to repentance; not to pose as expounders of mysteries, either spiritual or otherwise. Do not enter into debate with fellow missionaries nor with anyone else over obscure points and passages; and do not seek to advance beyond what the Lord has revealed.

11. Portray the excellencies of the Gospel, but never ridicule the religious beliefs of others. Impute sincerity of mind and purpose to other men as you claim it for yourself.

12. Do your best at all times. Your duty to yourself and to your God demands this constant effort.

13. Be appreciative of every act of kindness shown you and leave your blessing with the deserving.

14. Bless, but do not curse.

15. Be charitable to the unfortunate, and sympathize with the afflicted.

16. Lodge, eat and pray with the people as opportunity may allow and accept their hospitality with gratitude.

17. Seek to learn the will of the Lord and then do it. when success attends your labors give God the glory.

18. Observe the word of wisdom in all strictness, refraining from the use of tea, coffee, tobacco, and intoxicants of every kind.

19. Care well for your health, remembering always that your life is precious. all excesses are wrong and bring ill results. You should not walk too much, talk too much, fast too much, eat or drink too much, nor attempt to do without needful things. Remember that wisdom in all things is one of the greatest gifts; therefore, cultivate it.

20. Be cleanly in your person, clothing, and habits. Be of genteel deportment and pattern after the best manners. Do not engage in undignified games, sports, or pastimes.

21. Be candid and sincere; be pleasant and cheerful, but do not indulge in nonsense, ridicule, or unseemly jesting.

22. Guard against undue familiarity with persons of the opposite sex. Any departure from this rule may lead to immorality, and a fallen brother not only condemns himself but brings misery and woe to the kindred of both parties concerned. Sexual sin is a heinous offense: there are few sins more enticing and none more dangerous and deadly.

23. Keep a brief daily journal of your life’s (missionary) labors. Elders should be especially careful to make record of all their ministrations as bearers of the Priesthood, such as baptisms, confirmations, blessings and naming of children, ordinations, etc. Manifestations of the power of the spirit in relief of suffering, healing, etc., should be recorded by missionaries who are witnesses thereto, and should be reported to the respective Mission Presidents.

24. Do not let your ambition to bring new members into the Church lead you to baptize those who are unworthy. never baptize a married woman without the consent of her husband, nor minor children without the consent of their parents.

25. Be punctual in duty, that the Spirit of the Lord may not be grieved by the unseemliness of tardy attendance.

26. Never say in public or in private that you do not know the Gospel is true.

27. Hold sacred and do not make common use of the names of Deity, or of such titles as Apostle, Prophet, Seer and Revelator. The ordinary titles for bearers of the Melchizedek Priesthood are Elder and Brother.

28. Honor the laws of the country, the state, and the community in which you labor.

29. Spend as little money as possible. Let the world and your fellow-members of the Church assist you in the things that are needful, thereby affording them opportunity to prove that they are disciples of the Lord.

30. Take good care of your money. guard against loss and robbery.

31. Do not borrow money from members of the Church or others.

32. Write your given name in full or abbreviate specifically, as “Geo.” for George, “Wm.” for William. Initials fail to indicate the sex or to make clear which person is meant.

33. Do not engage in long sightseeing trips during your mission.

34. Get the spirit of your mission and keep it. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.”

Returning Home.

35. Upon your release, or prior thereto, do not make promises to write or render other personal service when you return home. Wait until you do return and then do all you reasonably can to keep alive the good and pure acquaintanceship you have formed in the mission field.

36. The conduct of missionaries on their homeward journey should be circumspect, and in every respect compatible with their high calling and their ministry. If there is opportunity for sight-seeing, it should be enjoyed in the spirit of learning and righteous pleasure. Let it be repeated that no good will come to you or others from witnessing evil sights.

37. Your ministry in God’s service does not end with your missionary release.

38. In the zeal which comes of missionary experience caution should be observed not to obtrude your views upon others. Every proper opportunity, however, should be sought to explain the Gospel.

39. Upon your arrival home and the resumption of your home associations, do not become discouraged in the service of the Lord, if you seemingly fail to find the same intense devotion to the work of the gospel that you discovered among your missionary associates.

40. Be charitable in your judgment of others.

41. Be diligent in your Church duties at home. Accept willingly any appointment that may be given to you which you can, in reason, perform, be it ever so humble. Let the beneficent spirit of your mission be infused into all your subsequent associations and work.

42. Remember that consistency, stability and fidelity to principle are qualities essential to a great character.

In behalf of Council of Twelve Apostles



  1. Fascinating. I wish the rules had been like that when I served. However, this handbook presupposes pretty high levels of maturity, which probably explains why the current handbook is written as it is.

    Comment by Latter-day Guy — February 1, 2011 @ 7:00 am

  2. “Bless, do not curse.”


    Comment by Paul — February 1, 2011 @ 7:21 am

  3. Somewhere in my family history files I have the printed instructions given to my grandfather (don’t recall whether that was for his 1911 mission or the one in 1921) — will have to dig those out to give us a perspective from still farther back.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 1, 2011 @ 7:40 am

  4. I love the focus on principles, rather than specific rules. And vulgar stories are only inappropriate for missionaries in public places.

    Wasn’t this about the same time your aunt served? I did notice that the instructions were directed to elders, so I am wondering if the sisters had a different set of guidelines.

    Comment by kew — February 1, 2011 @ 8:03 am

  5. Impute sincerity of mind and purpose to other men as you claim it for yourself.

    Not a bad idea even today, even on the blogs.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 1, 2011 @ 8:51 am

  6. Yeah, about then (she went in 1946). I pulled this from the church’s handbook, and haven’t seen a separate set of instructions for sisters there or anywhere else at any time (my aunt’s things don’t include any form of missionary instructions).

    I suspect it’s another typical case of obliviousness to any distinct needs women have and of expecting us to figure out when we’re included and when we’re excluded from the masculine words.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 1, 2011 @ 8:54 am

  7. Somehow, I was tickled to know that missionary life could be summed up in “42” statements.

    (That is why a copy of this is being sent to my missionary son right now!)

    Comment by Coffinberry — February 1, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  8. While a few of those are missionary specific, most of them are just good advice in general. “Bless, do not curse” is fantastic.

    Comment by Doug Hudson — February 1, 2011 @ 10:23 am

  9. never indulge in … games of chance

    Like Chutes and Ladders or Parcheesi?

    Comment by Clark — February 1, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  10. I enjoyed coming across this part:

    The journey to the mission field often affords excellent opportunity for study. You will do well to avail yourself of this opportunity.

    Yes, I agree — I would love to see what Ardis’ grandfather’s mission instructions from even earlier look like.

    Comment by David Y. — February 1, 2011 @ 11:35 am

  11. I just dug out Grandpa’s missionary instructions. They aren’t dated so I can’t tell which mission they came from … but it turns out it doesn’t matter, because they are identical to these issued in 1941! They are issued as a letter with an original signature, and the wording is just the same.

    Elder Clawson was ordained as an apostle in 1898. I don’t know when these instructions first appeared (that would be possible to determine, I think, if it were of enough interest to be worth the time — I don’t think so, not at the moment), and evidently they were used for a considerable period.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 1, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

  12. Very interesting — so, these instructions were used all the way back into 1921 and possibly as early as 1911. Wow!

    Comment by David Y. — February 1, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

  13. I have copies of a few editions of the Missionary’s Handbook (if i remember the title right) from the mid-40s and earlier (a nice little cloth-hardbound book, with cover colors seeming to maybe correspond to the edition). There are slight changes from edition to edition, but they all have lists nearly exactly like this.

    They’re unfortunately in storage right now (pending buying a house with reasonable shelf space), or i’d check to see if this is in them word for word.

    Comment by David B — February 1, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

  14. I wonder if Clawson wrote these instructions for the missionaries, and if so, how much it was influenced by his service in the Southern States Mission.

    The conduct of missionaries on their homeward journey should be circumspect, and in every respect compatible with their high calling and their ministry.

    Very interesting in light of the fact that when Rudger Clawson returned to Utah from the Southern States Mission, he was accompanying the body of his companion, Joseph Standing, who had been murdered by a mob.

    Comment by Researcher — February 1, 2011 @ 1:12 pm

  15. A post by J. Stapley from some years ago comes to mind:

    Rules and regulations in the Southern States mission (1903): here.

    Comment by Justin — February 1, 2011 @ 2:02 pm

  16. There is nothing new under the Sun. Splendid. Just splendid.

    Okay. The Bloggernacle can officially close now.

    J.’s research does suggest that my grandfather’s instructions came from his 1921 mission, since a slightly different set was in use in 1913.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 1, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

  17. This is great. Thanks for that pointer, Justin. I had forgotten about that post. Since then I have done a lot more work with the various missionary instructional publications.

    The first centralized publication was published in the 1930s- the Handbook mentioned above. As I remember they are all the same except for the 1946 version, which was revised. Anyway, before this publication, it was all regional publications, which all relied on each other for content. A letter from the President of the Q12 was invariable among the documents included.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 1, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

  18. Another early handbook was the Elders’ Manual (ca. 1918) (advertised for sale here in the Liahona of April 29, 1919). Like the Elders’ Reference, the Elders’ Manual had a predecessor published by the Southern States mission.

    Comment by Justin — February 1, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

  19. That’s great additional information, Justin and J. Thanks for the links.

    Comment by Researcher — February 1, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

  20. I have a 1940 ed of the handbook. I find several of the items in Chapter 2 “Mission Regulations” to be amusing including:

    “Let the functions of your body be regular and natural.”
    “Do not sleep in stuffy rooms; open the windows and let in fresh air.”
    “Venereal diseasesare universally present, and can be innocently.
    contracted by careless use of towels, clothing, toilets, etc., that have been
    used by infected persons.”

    It also advises Elders to keep their feet dry and in case of stomach ache use an enema but never laxitives. One more fun bit of period advice is to make long distance calls after 7:00 pm when the rates have gone down.

    I also have a missionary guide from the 60’s that states that “Beatle style” haircuts are a violation of mission rules.

    Comment by Andrew Hamilton — February 1, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

  21. Well, Catherine Hurst (advice columnist of the Young Woman’s Journal) would approve of the regular body functions as a preventative to “stomach ache” — ha! Those are great, Andrew, thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 1, 2011 @ 10:33 pm

  22. “If you cannot assist in correcting evil, avoid it entirely”.

    Great advice for us all!

    I served my mission from 1987-89, and still have my “little white bible” in a box somewhere which I’ll have to look for. I know it is quite different from this version, so somewhere along the way things were updated considerably. As I recall, it included some specific advice to Sister missionaries.

    A very fun post! Congrats on being spotlighted in the BBB.

    Comment by Mormon Soprano — February 21, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

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