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For week ended November 21, 1999 Posted 24 Feb 2001

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Preaching to the choir

Summarized by Eric Bunker

Preaching to the choir
Deseret News 21Nov99 D1
By Jeff Call: Deseret News sports writer

PROVO, UTAH -- Though there's nothing really unusual about Elders Mark Tonih and Markus Kollmeyer, they are an unusual pair of missionaries. They are such because their area consists of 9 of the 20 student stakes at BYU and one normal ward in Provo. What a fishbowl life it is for them. They can't get away with any infraction of the rules.

The BYU community probably has the highest concentration of LDS membership than anywhere in the world. Of the 28,000 students who attend BYU, about 98 percent are LDS. Leaving 600 students who are not. From a quick glance, it may seem that they are just, "Preaching to the Choir".

"It is weird," Elder Kollmeyer says. "Everybody's a member of the church here."

"It's a surprise for some people to see missionaries on campus because they think everyone's a member," Elder Tonih says.

These elders are two of six full-time missionaries assigned to BYU, which means there is roughly one missionary for every 100 non-LDS students. It seems like they wouldn't have much to do and would have a difficult time scarring up contacts, but it is not. Because of the efforts of the member-missionary efforts from students and faculty members, BYU missionaries don't have to knock on doors looking for investigators. Nor do they have to find creative ways to introduce themselves to strangers. "Everyone knows who we are, so it's very easy to bring up the church," Tonih says. "There's no beating around the bush. We keep very busy."

BYU missionaries are also very successful. They work with ward and stake mission leaders and receive a steady stream of referrals. There is no shortage of work. When they're not teaching discussions to nonmembers, they work the member-missionary program. At any given time, most BYU companionships have a pool of about 15 to teach and generally they baptize anywhere from two to five people a month. About 75 to 80 non-LDS students at BYU join the Church every year.

The BYU campus is part of the Utah Provo Mission, staffed by 200 single missionaries and 38 couples. The mission covers the 175 stakes in the Utah valley area and in southern Utah down to the Grand Canyon in Arizona with a few stakes in Southwestern Colorado. It is one of the highest baptizing missions in the church, says mission President Hugh S. Gregson. "There are only 100,000 nonmembers in our mission," he says. "We have to turn over every rock."

There are even a few missionaries in the Provo mission that have been students at BYU. But such does not preclude them from serving on campus. "We don't look at that," Pres. Gregson says. "If they attended BYU, so what? We tell our missionaries, 'If you see friends, you just walk away from there. We have no problem with missionaries serving on campus."

Some times the Provo Utah Mission missionaries get confused with the MTC set and the "The 'MTC police' have stopped a few BYU missionaries, asking them to go back to the MTC," Elders Tonih says with a laugh. "That's why we carry a card saying we're from the Utah Provo Mission."

There are also missionaries stationed at Utah Valley State College in Orem, Southern Utah University in Cedar City, the College of Eastern Utah in Price, Snow College in Ephraim and Dixie College in St. George.

The Provo mission has a distinct international cross-section, with missionaries coming from 16 foreign countries. "Parents here send their kids to foreign countries," Pres. Gregson says. "And the kids of LDS parents (who live in foreign countries) are sent back here to Utah."

Such is true for Elders Tonih and Kollmeyer. Tonih is from Slovenia, and Kollmeyer is from Germany. Elder Tonih speaks English as well as Slovenian, Croatian and Serbian. With students representing 40 different foreign countries at BYU, every once in a while, the elders teach discussions in languages other than English.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information