Sister Nemrow and Sister Woolley — their official titles as missionaries in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — are living a life that few women in their 20s would tolerate, much less enjoy.
But enjoy it they do, and they consider their time spent in Oklahoma as a very special blessing.
Nemrow, 24, of Provo, Utah, and Woolley, 22, of Sandy, Utah, have answered separate calls to serve 18-month stints as missionaries assigned to the western two-thirds of Oklahoma. They are moved around according to the needs of the Oklahoma/Oklahoma City Mission, and can stay in one place sometimes as little as six weeks or as long as several months. A mission president, under the guidance of the LDS Church, oversees the group of young men and women ranging from 100 to 150 at various times, making the assignments and handling day-to-day needs of the missionaries in order to allow people in the field to concentrate on their mission.
Other mission presidents in more than 300 such missions worldwide do the same for the young people with whom they work. Each new missionary (or his or her family) contributes an offering — usually around $10,000 — to a general fund that is later divided among the missionaries in the field to pay for housing, utilities, food and other needs.
Perhaps better known as “Mormons,” members of the denomination prefer to be referred to as members of LDS. The word “Mormon” was once a derogatory term, and is sometimes used as such even today.
Young women can become “sisters” at the age of 21. Their male counterparts, called “elders,” can begin serving at the age of 19. The young people submit applications to their church headquarters, and through inspiration and revelation, leaders of the church choose who will become missionaries and where they will be assigned, usually according to their talents and abilities, and the languages they speak.
“That doesn’t always hold true,” Nemrow said. “I took eight years of French, and here I am in Oklahoma!”
She is nine months into her mission, and Woolley has been in the mission field for 11 months. The state mission president assigns who will become “companions” in the field, and the two young people then become acquainted as they serve their mission together. It is similar to college students being assigned as roommates by computer, with no allowance for individual tastes or personalities. The companions then live together on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week, throughout their assignment.
What happens if their personalities conflict?
“We pray a lot!” Woolley said with a laugh. “I’ve always been able to connect with different people. I know how important the Gospel of Jesus Christ is, and we concentrate on our purpose of helping others come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored Gospel of Jesus. We don’t let occasional personality conflicts interfere with our mission.”
Nemrow agreed, “Everything works out when you serve the Lord.”
Nemrow taught junior high school for a year before beginning her mission. Woolley plans to complete her college education when her mission ends. She is a musical theater major. Because their church doctrine encourages them to become wives and mothers, young women are usually not permitted to serve multiple missions consecutively. It is not unusual for older women, who have raised their families and perhaps been widowed, to volunteer for mission work, however. Couples, too, can be missionaries together.
After a young person is chosen as a missionary, he or she spends three weeks at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, learning rules and doctrines of the church. Missionaries being sent to foreign countries are trained for nine to 12 weeks to become proficient in the language and customs.
“Basically, we are taught how to teach at the MTC,” Nemrow said. “That is what we do — teach and provide service to the communities to which we are assigned.”
The lives of women on missions is strictly regimented. They are not allowed to date and cannot watch television, listen to the radio or read newspapers. They can e-mail family and friends once a week, and can call home only twice a year — at Christmas and on Mother’s Day. They must dress “modestly,” in conservatively colored blouses and skirts at least calf-length or longer, and are required to wear nylons on a daily basis — a requirement that can require additional self-discipline in the heat of an Oklahoma summer, they admit.
“We represent Jesus Christ, and must look the part,” Nemrow said.
“We love packages from home. We love it when the mailman brings packages. They’re exciting to look forward to,” she said, pointing to a new blouse she was wearing that she had received in this week’s “care package” from her mother.
They rise at 6:30 a.m. each day, and exercise until 7 a.m. From 7 to 9 a.m., each carries out personal study, dresses, eats breakfast and prepares for the day. They spend 9 until 10 a.m. together in companionship studies, then are out the door by 10 a.m., talking and teaching until 9 p.m. They get a one-hour break for lunch, and another hour for dinner. From 9 until 10 p.m., they prepare for the next day. Lights-out is at 10:30 p.m. They are required to be within sight and sound of each other at all times.
They are not allowed to have pets, cannot go swimming, horseback riding or participate in “dangerous” activities, not that their busy schedule would give them much time to do so anyway. Each Tuesday is their “Preparation Day,” on which they clean house, do laundry, buy groceries and write letters. They can visit museums and other cultural attractions, if they wish, and play games to pass whatever time is left after their weekly chores are completed. They have a car, and often walk or ride their bikes to appointments.
They attend the local LDS church at 4210 W. Beech on Sunday mornings, then return to their chosen work of talking to people and spreading the Gospel for the rest of the day, as usual.
Instead of going door-to-door to find people with whom to visit, the young women simply talk with everyone who crosses their paths in the course of each day, inviting them to learn more. They always ask for referrals to their new acquaintance’s family and friends, should they, too, be interested in hearing what the missionaries have to say. No one is forced to listen to their message, and if someone with whom they come in contact is not interested in talking with them, they simply move on, they said.
The message they present as LDS missionaries of one of a “restored” Gospel, prophet and apostles. They believe that Jesus Christ established his Church on Earth, and chose 12 men to be his apostles. After the death and Resurrection of Christ, they believe he continued to guide those apostles through revelation. Upon the death of the original apostles, however, their priesthood authority ended, and the Great Apostasy began, during which men and women sought the truth, but were unable to find it, and different churches with conflicting teachings arose.
In 1820, LDS doctrine goes, God chose a new prophet, Joseph Smith, to restore the Gospel and priesthood on Earth. It is the story of the restoration of the priesthood and the restored Gospel that missionaries teach.
The LDS Church is guided by 96-year-old Prophet and President Gordon B. Hinckley, two counselors, and a group of 12 Apostles who gather to fast and pray and come to unanimous decisions regarding the Church, its mission and message. Under their guidance, seven quorums of 70 men each look after affairs throughout the world.
“Our mission is to teach and clarify. We don’t want people to think ill of us by trying to force our message on anyone,” Nemrow said.
“We try to be disciples and representatives of Christ in everything we do,” Woolley added. “When I share the message, I am being blessed. I meet new people every day and get to know them. I enjoy that. In Duncan, especially, everybody has a love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. There are some really nice people in Duncan. When we have a chance to talk to them, our message of restoration doesn’t take anything away. It only adds a deeper understanding to what they already believe.
“It’s the greatest thing in the whole world. ‘Gospel’ means good news, and the restored Gospel is great news. We are so blessed by being able to share it with everybody we meet.”