Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Walking a mile (or more) in their shoes…

There is an old proverb of the Cherokee tribe of Native Americans that says: “Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”  This was stated a little differently by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird when he said: “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”


Well, the 14-18 year old youth in our Stake this past week spent some time walking around in the shoes and in the skin of some of their actual or adopted ancestors – the Mormon Pioneers.  They spent three days in the mountains east of Cedar Hills re-enacting portions of the pioneer’s westward trek from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah during the 1840’s and 1850’s.

The youth spent some time before their “trek” researching their ancestors and finding stories of how these ancestors joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and learned of the difficulties they faced in their life.  On the first day of Trek, the youth participated in building a replica of the Church temple in Nauvoo.  The replica was 24’ x 16’ and was nearly 30 feet tall.  Many of their ancestors had assisted in building the original temple at great sacrifice.  Then, just as happened in the 1800’s, not long after the temple was completed, the mobs came and they were forced to leave their city and their temple.  The youth loaded their belongings in handcarts and, over the course of the three days, pulled those handcarts 16 or 17 miles through the mountains above Heber.  It was not all drudgery though, as the youth ate well, made friends, and of course deepened their appreciation for what their ancestors must have experienced.


Through it all, the youth realized what it must have meant to build such a beautiful city and temple and then have to see it destroyed and have to leave it.  And, although the youth only pulled these handcarts a small portion of the 900 miles the real pioneers pulled them, they definitely came away with an appreciation of the conviction and testimony these early pioneers must have had to endure the trials they did so faithfully.

Please see an article written about this experience and view a time-lapse video of the building of the temple at this link

The Nauvoo Temple replica built by the Cedar Hills Utah West Stake stood 27 feet high. The Angel Moroni — which was donated through a miraculous connection —  was 6 feet tall. (Evening Photo by Matt Bennett) (Photo of construction Jeremiah Daniel McLerran)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

How to Set Up a Digital Mission





On May 14th the Deseret News published an article about this blog and our digital mission to find individuals interested in The Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is a humble "how to" from the Cedar Hills West 10th ward.  The steps and techniques we share is not an exhaustive list or a complete manual but they are a start to a system that can be followed to start your online digital mission.

First let's cover the spiritual aspects and responsibilities of the digital mission.  The biggest secret to success in a digital mission is obedience just like in a regular full-time mission.  This starts with strict obedience to modern revelation given to us on the why, the what, and the how to do online missionary work, and following your bishop’s counsel as he directs the digital mission. Your bishop is the head of missionary efforts within a ward, therefore all ward digital efforts should be coordinated through him; in addition,  all posts and approval of posts should follow an outline prescribed by the bishop, ward mission leader and the ward council.  
Obedience to the promptings of The Spirit, who will lead the work in your ward just like in the full-time mission, is imperative. Remembering back to the day when the idea of starting a blog was introduced we thought "this is crazy", but we knew that it was The Lord's will and we went forward not knowing before hand what we would do.  It took faith to believe He really wanted us to start this mammoth undertaking and do it right and stick to it. 

This is hard work and THE WORK in a digital mission comes in many forms; from "knocking digital doors" to preparing a plan for when those doors will be opened.  The more we knock the more elect and prepared individuals we find.  Consistency and regular effort can never be underestimated just like in a full-time mission.  Faith without works is dead and so it is with your digital mission.

Every digital investigator needs certain things to progress and it always requires multiples not just one person to provide that support.  Not unlike a full-time mission will include efforts like we have with companionships, district leaders, zone leaders, and mission presidents.  In the digital missionary world, it will include every resource the ward has.  The resources are in charge of many moving parts including in our case Google Plus following (knocking digital doors), immediate follow up to engagement like a comment, a like, a plus, or a question on a post (an open door), multiple assignments for long term follow up and assisting the investigators (discussions).  Every good investigator needs good friends so finding people in your ward with like minds and interest for each digital contact should be considered. 

Something that does not work is posting on your social media time lines your testimony ad nauseam. Like in the real mission field where we do not set up podiums on the street and shout from those podiums to find the elect.  The same applies to social and online mission work we do not spam our testimonies on our personal facebook and other social platforms.   Our personal profiles should be used to amplify our efforts on the mission blogs and properties which are set aside for the "virtual discussions".  Again everything starts and ends with the blog.  If you want to help the digital mission then ask yourself how you can write or help with the blog.  The social media part is the easy part that includes "shout outs" or sharing of the work that goes into your ward blog.  A shortcut, but not always the most effective, is amplifying via your social media The Churches blogs videos and posts. People will be more interested to read posts from your blog when they are written by people in your ward sharing real life experiences that are simple yet meaningful to them. Blog posts do not need to be a completely polished and perfect presentation.  

This is not to say that your facebook can't be used 100% for posting and reposting your testimony. We have not seen that be a successful technique.  However knowing this is empowering to many. The digital mission will provide everyone a platform to use that is not personal to bear testimony.  This allows so many who have the fear to tell the world how they feel and the blessings that have come from living the gospel.

First step, make a list of all the resources available in the ward or branch.  In each ward every member should fall into one or more of these missionary categories:
  • Bloggers including wordpress, blogger, and other CMS's
  • Social Media Influencers including people who know Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, SnapChat, Tumblr, Google+, and the list goes on.
  • Technical experts including people who know hosting and DNS. 
  • Writers including English majors, at home moms who love to write, and anyone willing to edit or help with collecting and soliciting new posts regularly.  
  • Individuals with testimonies
  • Video editors including those that have smart phones and are willing to use them to record and document activities
  • Doctrine experts
  • Journal writers who are willing to share their entries
  • Individuals giving talks on Sunday willing to share what they wrote addressed as a blog post
  • Scouting scribes
  • Youth willing to share the day in day out successes and challenges of life as a youth
  • Leaders willing to write epistles to the ward 
Second step, buy a domain or secure your digital missions name/URL on blogger, or wordpress and if you are super committed, a registrar.  The Blog is the heart of digital missionary work. Seldom should you lose focus on that.  When you write, you write for the blog.  When you talk about strategies and content, it should be to place that content on your blog and make it extraordinary.  

Third step, register with social media sites, such as Facebook, Facebook groups, Tumblr, Twitter, Google, Pinterest, Instagram etc. These social media sites, in addition to the primary blog site, will be the assets of the digital ward mission and primarily used as supplementary tools to direct traffic to your blog site. These social media profiles should tweet and post whenever the blog is updated and like, follow, subscribe, plus and pin anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.

Last step, get all your social media handles secured, with the same names if possible Don't be afraid to pick names that are not covered by all the digital properties.  It's only important you have them, not that the names are the same necessarily.

HINT You are always able to hide behind the handles of the digital mission social profile, but those handles are sacred and should be treated as such.
HINT Buy off on commitment by the entire ward is imperative and success will be directly correlated with the efforts of the ward, and the obedience to the ward mission plan.  Using full-time mission experiences and allegories are very helpful.  The closer you make this to a real mission, the more success the ward will have.  The great part about this is that most of us have had 18-36+ months experience to draw on.  The Digital Mission is very much a parallel to the full-time mission.
HINT Every person should be looked at from the lens of what can she/he do to help the Digital Mission?  Everyone adds something unique and special.  When everyone is committed and willing to help the work takes huge steps forward.
HINT Digital knocking doors is finding individuals in the world that already have like interests to Latter Day Saints and/or have been introduced to The Mormons already.  The best tool for searching and finding are using URL's like search.twitter.com https://plus.google.com/communities  There are many other tools we have not tested that you may find success with for example: http://www.social-searcher.com/ 
HINT The best converts are those already introduced to The Gospel previously or have a positive impression of the Church, so follow on your social media profiles people who use mormon keywords. The worst case scenario of doing this is expanding your digital mission network with LDS members who can provide you comments on the blogs and social posts.





Brother Wilhite, the ward mission leader, says:

 "At completion of the development of the Cedar Hills 10th Ward blog and the other social media platforms, we began to post articles and comments about the gospel and other personal thoughts and experiences.  In the spring of 2014 we one day received and inquiry from a person named Rachel from the country of Scotland. Our first thought was is she for real?  She asked about the Church and wanted to know if we could provide a pen pal her own age to answer questions of what the Church was all about.  We were concerned that she would be negative with one of our own young women if we provided one for her.  

We took the time to completely vet her and that was accomplished by two of our sister ward missionaries. They made several contacts with her through facebook and e-mail and concluded that she was sincere.  In prayer I was prompted to call one young woman to write to her and become a friend to her and answer her questions about the gospel and how it applies to a young teenager.  They developed a strong relationship which continues today through Skype and Twitter and Facebook.  Contact was made with the missionaries in Scotland and as she enrolled in LDS Institute classes they began to teach her the lessons.  She was baptized in February 2015.  Her friends and associates in the college there have fellowshipped her and she is now a solid member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  She is currently the 2nd counselor in the Young Women’s Presidency of her ward."


Sister Mitzi Robins says:

Making sure she was who she said she was and how we knew she was genuine?

Legitimacy was a big concern for us as we contemplated contacts we might receive from a religious blog.  We wanted the members participating to be safe and have positive experiences. Our blog is not open to public comment, which helped us feel that people who had to go a step further and email us might be more serious and avoid trolling.  When we got the email from Rachel we were still learning how to run things and since our blog was rather new we were slightly unprepared in this area. She had also asked for a pen-pal her age so that made us even more cautious about securing her legitimacy before turning her over to a young woman.  I sent her the first few emails and was really touched by her responses.  I became friends with her on Facebook and found nothing alarming on her page.  However, Lana and I felt a personal contact by missionaries would be the best, not only for us to make sure she was real but to help Rachel.  We emailed a friend of Lana's who happened to be serving in Scotland. We felt this was really the most appropriate course of action for any and all contacts we received.  With Rachel's permission we gave her email to the missionaries and they also began correspondence. Beth's parents were also highly involved in the beginning to make sure it was real and she was safe.

My unique experience in communicating with her online?

I was the first one to contact her through email. I was so impressed with her maturity and I could hear her sweet Scottish accent. She asked very insightful questions and it was such a testimony building experience for me to ponder on how I needed to answer. I let her ask all the questions and it was so interesting to see what was important to her. As we discussed different things I was so thankful the missionaries were there in person to support her. There were many times I just wanted to reach through the computer and give her a big hug. I was so impressed with her strength, courage and diligence. She did everything she could to build her testimony-she seized every opportunity and spent a great deal of time studying and praying. I learned what it really means to hunger and thirst after righteousness after watching Rachel's example. That was quite a lesson for me because I thought I knew so much having been a member since I was 8!

What was it like to do missionary work like this?

Digital missionary work is wonderful in that it reaches people all over the world with little physical effort. It also provides an opportunity for all members to participate. I have to admit it was nice to have the questions posed and then have time to deeply consider responses. In full time missions with face to face contacts that is completely opposite and I think a bit intimidating for many members.  I personally really wished for the opportunity to talk face to face because I feel I learn more about the person when I can observe their nonverbal communication. This kind of missionary work I believe is essential because of the number of people it can reach and the potential for involvement by every member. But I feel balance is important and kept reminding myself that there are still real people all around me and I can't be so involved with the computer that I neglect my neighbors.

What did you learn or take away from the whole experience? How did the experience strengthen your testimony of missionary work?

Not having served a full time mission, I was thrilled with the opportunity to serve as a digital missionary. It was a new thing so there was a lot of innovating involved as we set things up. We did struggle to get the members of our ward excited about sharing on the blog. It is something that takes time and evolves slowly as each person thinks about what they can contribute and how often. I learned that the Lord works in mysterious ways and I just need to keep on doing what He has asked and things can and will happen. None of us expected to have a successful contact so soon after setting up the blog. But that has greatly encouraged us to continue. I really believe that every member is an important missionary and has so much to offer others who are searching for the truth. We all have unique experiences, talents, insight and access to the guidance of the Spirit that help forward the work of the Lord. I learned that my offerings are significant and helpful and I didn't feel that as strongly before this experience.  Everyone has something valuable and important to share! And the only way to get better and feel more comfortable with it is to do it! I know the Lord helps us when we ask for it and then try.


Sister Stewart says:

I feel so blessed since I have had the opportunity to work as a digital missionary.  Prior to this experience I never thought Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Google +, or a ward blog as being an effective missionary tool.  I felt as we met as a committee we each had special interests that together were we able to combine to create an effective and successful missionary committee.  I remember as we discussed how we each felt we could contribute we understood that each person called had a special talent that would help launch our missionary project.   Some of our members were computer experts, some were eloquent speakers and some were excellent writers.

As we began our quest with direct guidance from our Bishop and weekly committee meetings to make sure we were each on task as to the goals we had set the previous week our ward mission began to come together.  We involved others in the ward that was artistically talented to help put together our blog.

I think our effectiveness really took off when we presented our goals to the ward.  For a few months we presented and discussed to each organization to get them excited and want to participate in our quest.  We prepared presentations for Elders Quorum, Relief Society, Sunday School and even the Young Men and Young Women wanted to participate.  We did a presentation explaining each site we had created.   Ryan was mainly responsible for the ward blog and discussed the overall numbers we were reaching with each new posting on our ward blog.   Mitzi and I each shared information about our Facebook pages, Cedar Hills 10th Ward and Youth Standing Strong and also our Pinterest account.

I loved how our ward grasped and became excited about the opportunity to write for our ward blog. Without everyone participating our goals could have never been met.  We have had several ward members’ author testimony bearing articles for our blog.

Through Google + and the blog we were able to reach a young 17 year old girl in Scotland. Rachel wrote seeking pen pals to share her interest when she was investigating the LDS Church. We began exchanging emails and through many miracles and divine intervention Rachel decided to be baptized. I feel that we had a small part in her decision to being baptized.  Our lives have each been blessed by knowing her and an eternal friendship has been built.  I have gained a stronger testimony of missionary work by being blessed with the opportunity to serve as a digital missionary.  I know that digital missionary work is the way of the future.  We have to each be committed to being a good example by what we write, how we act and by what we choose to say.  You never know when you can make a difference in one person's life.

Cedar Hills 10th Ward Mission