When I think about missionaries I think about my own experience being called to serve in a foreign country (I went to Ecuador!). It took dedication, faith, an adventuresome spirit and preparation? The very first time I read the Book of Mormon through start to finish was three days before I entered the MTC in Orem, UT (I’d been reading it my whole life, just not all the way through). I thought that the Laminites were anyone with black skin (I was taught this was not the case in the MTC, a very humbling experience), didn’t know that Joseph Smith had polygamous wives and knew virtually nothing about other religions and their theology. I didn’t even know how to speak Spanish, even though I was going to a Spanish speaking country (That made it even more exciting).
My reasons for going were: I thought it must be true, I had a desire to serve God, I wanted to give back to the church I grew up in, it was expected of me by the LDS culture (my parents didn’t pressure me), and it was exciting to think I could go somewhere else in the world for two years. Not once did I think about if I was prepared with the knowledge I needed to answer peoples’ questions.
When I talk to missionaries in my ward, I find that they are much like I was. Occasionally there is one that is knowledgeable about the church history or other faiths, but that is rare. Most of that learning comes while you are on your mission and afterward. So what should missionaries know before leaving for 18 -24 months to serve God? Is spiritual knowledge enough? Would missionaries be more successful if they were trained to assist those that are kept from the LDS Church because of misconceptions about LDS doctrine?
FYI, I loved my mission. It truly was the best two years of my life. It made me see the world in a totally new way. I appreciated family and country more. I grew enormously from the experience spiritually, physically, and mentally. I don’t regret going. Yes, I continue to learn, but my mission was a time of “accelerated”, real world learning.