Hastening the Work Through Technology

Ok, so my Sundays and Mondays are insanely hectic, so I am going to try to make posts for those days ahead of time. Those posts will most likely be shorter messages and words of inspiration rather than the editorial-type posts I normally create, simply because of time constraints.

Anywho, so I have received some emails from family members who are curious as to what exactly how we use technology to spread the gospel in the Salt Lake City West mission. I had answered such questions before with short answers, but I decided to make a comprehensive explanation about this during my email time yesterday. Here is what I wrote.

Okay, so my mission (Salt Lake City West) is one of two missions in the world that are fully incorporating technology into the mission field. The other mission is Santa Rosa California. Basically, we use Facebook, iPads, mormon.org chat, and blogs to share the Gospel. Specifically, it gets a little bit more complicated. I am going to call the different technologies “Hasteners.” For sake of clarity, I am also going to split up the four different ways we use the technologies and how they are connected. I will start with the iPads.
iPads
When I was told we were getting iPads as missionaries, I almost didn’t believe it. It was my first day in the mission and I honestly thought my trainer was just playing a joke on me. Lo and behold, two weeks later we were all armed with a new digital storage of Gospel material to share.
 
How do we use it?
We use the iPads primarily as mobile gospel libraries. We have access to an advanced version of the church-sponsored Gospel Library app that includes many extra categories of manuals and missionary-specific help. We use the iPads during personal study to take notes, read the scriptures, and study Conference talks. Our notes sync with our lds.org accounts, meaning we can access them digitally on any computer, even after our missions. While studying is awesome, they are even more useful with the Areabook app. We are beta-testing an application created by a third-party programming team that consists of 6 guys from the church. I believe they worked with Go-Daddy to set up the program framework and server-side nuts and bolts, but I am not completely sure. The Areabook app allows us access to area-specific information, giving us investigator information and basic member information such as addresses, callings, and phone numbers. We use it at night to plan for the next day, which we then sync with our companion’s changes. It comes with a calendar, investigator list (replete with color-coded dots to specify different types of people), task list, and goal-setting feature. The program automatically updates our lesson numbers when we input the lesson info, such as principles taught, invitations extended, and commitments keeping. We also use the iPads as communication devices amongst missionaries using iMessenger. We also use the iPads to post to Facebook.
How on this good Earth did the Church come to the conclusion that we needed this?!
Well, we were told that a group from the missionary work committee of the Church presented the idea of iPads to the Twelve. They immediately voted on it with Elder Perry standing up and announcing that this was the next big step for missionary work and he saw no problem with it. They unanimously voted, without counseling among themselves, that the presentation be given to the First Presidency. At the end of the presentation, President Monson turned to President Uchtdorf and President Eyring and said, “I see nothing wrong with this. Do you?” The other two of course agreed and that was that. They decided that our two missions would be the test-beds of the project, working to iron out the problems and streamlining the process. We were told in the meeting where we received the iPads that if we did not use the iPads to plan study, etc, we were actually holding back the hastening of the work. I had no problem with this of course.
What kind of restriction is placed on this?
Well, because of various OS Profiles the Church has placed on the devices, we are not allowed access to the app store, cannot download any unapproved applications, have a white-list of websites we are allowed to access, and are of course limited to internet access by where wifi is located.
So how does this connect with the rest of the Hastening the Work Initiative?
We use the iPads to connect to Facebook and chat with people through Skype. Out of the four Hasteners, this is the least connected, primarily due to the restricted nature of the device. Technically, I can use my iPad to post to my blog through email, but it certainly a little tedious to do so.
Facebook
Facebook is the most readily-visible change in missionary work. While we were the first mission to have Facebook access, many more missions are able to access it now (primarily missions in the US). Feel free to add your local missionaries if they are on Facebook!
How do we use it?
We use Facebook to post inspirational messages and communicate with investigators/less active members who are interested in the Gospel. We also use Facebook to coordinate events such as baptisms. Facebook is a high-visibility way to spread the Gospel.
How on this good Earth did the Church come to the conclusion that we needed this?!
I don’t know the story about how it came about, but I do know that the Church has been testing missionaries on Facebook for quite some time, especially service missionaries. If you think about it, Facebook is a great way to share Gospel principles with your friends and family. The Internet has been provided to us as a gift from God, a miracle in ability to spread information and learn eternal truths. It just so happens that we are now taking advantage of the gift.
What kind of restriction is placed on this?
We are given 1-2 hours a day to access Facebook. We may use that time to teach an investigator or two and post an inspirational message. We are encouraged to post once a day. We are advised to Like Gospel-related topics and Share inspirational messages from other missionaries. We are not to post anything that is not Gospel or missionary work related. We can only Friend other missionaries who are in our district. We are allowed to be Friends with people back home as long as they are not active members or family members. This is for the purpose of teaching people back home one-on-one. Elders and Sisters cannot be friends on Facebook if they are in the same mission, but are allowed to Follow each other. Additionally, family members and such can Follow the missionaries (no friend requests please!). We are to deactivate our old Facebook accounts from before our missions in order to assist people in finding the new account better.
So how does this connect with the rest of the Hastening the Work Initiative?
I use Facebook primarily as a visibility platform for my blog. I have used it before to contact a friend back home to try and set him up with a missionary visit, but haven’t had many chances to talk to him. Really, Facebook is the nucleus of our online efforts. We try and get members to share our messages with the people who we are not friends with. I know of many missionaries who have received friend requests from people interested in speaking more with the missionaries because of such a message.
Blogs
Blogs are the least-visible of the Hasteners and require quite a bit of effort to maintain and grow. This means many missionaries do not have a blog. Through the use of tags and commenting on other blogs, blogs can be a powerful tool to share longer, more meaningful Gospel messages..
How do we use it?
Because there are so few, I can’t really give a general idea of how blogs are used, but I can tell you what I use mine for. I am partial to the blog medium because of its potential to reach a worldwide audience within the blogosphere. There are tons of people who spend their time on the internet to just look at other people’s blogs. Through tags and categories, as well as careful cultivation of comments and likes on other blogs, you can get people who are interested in specific subjects to visit your blog. It helps if the blog is funny and interesting. I use mine to describe what I learned that day from my mission. It is a daily blog, which not many people choose to do because of the amount of work it takes, but I am a pretty fast typer, so I enjoy it. I have already had my blog linked to on a prominent Mormon blog that is widely-viewed. I use WordPress, which I have been very pleased with. It has a very comprehensive connectivity feature, allowing it to link to Facebook and other social networking sites. Additionally, it provides useful stats such as: views per day, geological location of viewers, tags that have gotten the most views, and much more. Very helpful stuff for someone trying to get his blog known as much as possible.
 
How on this good Earth did the Church come to the conclusion that we needed this?!
I know very little about why we are allowed to have blogs, other than it is another outlet for missionary communication and the reasons I explained above.
What kind of restriction is placed on this?
I am not aware of any restrictions placed on blogs, other than to be careful about how many times we post a day and that WordPress and Blogspot are the only “approved” blogging sites. There is nothing that says we can’t use Tumblr or another type of blogging site, though I do avoid Tumble simply because of its distracting and often inappropriate nature. The same time limitations for Facebook are also placed on blogs.
So how does this connect with the rest of the Hastening the Work Initiative?
Blogs are used to provide more in-depth content than your average Facebook post. Where Facebook posts are designed to be read quickly and provide interest for the minimum words required, blogs cater to people who are more interested in editorial-length explanations and opinions. Facebook is a great platform to get your blog publicity. It doesn’t really connect with the iPad unless they allow us access to a blogging app (which I hope).
Mormon.org
So this one is kind of interesting. Mormon.org chat has been used longer than any of the other Hasteners. It is a platform designed to answer specific questions from investigators and members from around the world, catering to random people who want to know more about the Church. Missionaries in my mission have catalyzed baptisms in the US, Europe, Brazil, Russia, Taiwan, Australia, you name it. Mormon.org has arguably had the strongest impact on missionary work, as we teach online lessons that are pretty much the lessons we would give if we were face-to-face with the investigator.
I am not going to go into any more detail with mormon.org chat because it is fairly self-explanatory. People can talk to real-life missionaries who will answer their questions. It is difficult to do, especially if the investigator is bad at typing or has a question for something very tedious to answer through chatting on the internet. We get many people who just try to mess with the missionaries, but there are many people who are genuinely seeking knowledge. Those lessons are awesome.
Okay, that was long, but I hope it provides a bit of an explanation as to what we do with all this technology we have access to. If you have any specific questions, please ask! Like I said, feel free to share this with anyone you want. It is not an official explanation, but I spent some good time on this, trying to make it as comprehensive as possible.
Cheers!
Elder Dunford
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