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Are Sisters Better Missionaries Than Elders?

Rusty - June 22, 2005

We all know that elders make fun of sister missionaries while in the mission (Guatemala). I did it. The AP’s did it (Rob…). My companions did it. I even knew some sisters that did it. And this phenomenon was not isolated to my mission. Every mission, all over the world elders celebrate this tradition with fervor and enthusiasm.

Looking back on it, I don’t really know what we were making fun of.

Proportionally, they didn’t baptize any less than the elders. They didn’t break any more rules than the elders (quite the contrary). They didn’t give any more headaches to the leadership than the elders. There weren’t any more crazy sisters than there were crazy elders. For the most part, I think it was just a bunch of 19 year old boys finding reasons to make fun of girls.

I see two reasons we did this:

1) Sisters didn’t have to be there (of course neither did we, but that’s a post for a different day). If someone decides to make that kind of a sacrifice you’d hope they would be much more prepared. This, of course, ignores the fact that we were all growing there, all at different levels.

2) Because sisters didn’t have to be there they were always labeled as someone who couldn’t get married. Looking back at this I find it hilarious (and offensive): a 21-year old not married has no other choice but to serve the Lord (a 21-year old as an old maid is another post for another day).

The funny thing was that I had an example of a (nearly)-perfect sister missionary in my own sister (who was serving at the same time as I in neighboring Honduras). Whenever I was making fun of the most recent freak of a sister, in the back of my mind I knew they were the exception, not the rule.

But of course, to admit that would dampen my fun. And I avoided fun-dampening at all costs.


  1. Generally, sistrs make much better missionaries.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — June 22, 2005 @ 7:31 pm

  2. Maybe it was just my experience, but more often than the Elders I remember the Sisters as being the ones I found taking 3 hour lunches, being sick for days at a time, and teaching the least amount of discussions. Maybe it was the Australian sun.

    Comment by jjohnsen — June 22, 2005 @ 7:56 pm

  3. I had mixed impressions on my mission, but now that I’m 49 and long past it, and have been a ward missionary or ward mission leader and dealt with countless missionaries, I think the sisters are better.

    On average.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — June 22, 2005 @ 9:15 pm

  4. Rusty, for you your sisters were better missionaries than you! (I’ll take my tongue out of my cheek) but seriously both your sisters were awesome missionaries. They were there for the right reasons, worked hard, were successful in all the right ways.

    You’re lucky to have them as great examples, not just for you but for your kids someday too!

    Sign me a proud Dad….proud of all of the missionaries in our family.

    Comment by don — June 23, 2005 @ 12:39 am

  5. I think all Elders secretly think they are better than the Sisters, and all Sisters not-so-secretly think that all the Elders are terribly immature.

    In my mission, the Sister areas were picked because they were the safest places in the mission. Invariably, this meant they were better off economically, and thus harder to proselytize.

    My father, when he was a mission president, strongly preferred sisters over men. He wanted as many as he could get. Then again, he had a lot of problem Elders.

    My mission president didn’t really seem to care for the sisters, probably because he was a numbers man, and they didn’t bring in as many as the Elders.

    Comment by NFlanders — June 23, 2005 @ 4:44 pm

  6. Oh wow!
    All KINDS of memories and thoughts pop into my head in regards to this topic.
    Personally, I don’t know if there is a thing about sisters being better or worse (in general) then elders. I knew good ones and bad ones, but mostly from my experience and from the many MANY stories I’ve heard (and get an overall feeling from) is that sisters (in general) are more headache then help. In fact I rarely, if ever, encourage girls I know who are considering going.
    A couple examples:
    My old roommate had a sister tell him (in Hawaii) as a Zone leader that since sisters “chose” to come they didn’t have to work as hard.
    In my mission (L.A.) I knew of at least three sisters who hooked up with elders…ON the mission! (not physically, but called each other and made future plans) One of them was one of my senior companions who got ENGAGED to a sister in our district.
    So yeah, I’m a little biased even though I know of a few excellent sisters.

    Comment by Bret — June 23, 2005 @ 5:37 pm

  7. Ummm Bret, that last example incriminates as many elders as it does sisters – unless all of the sisters you mention were “hooked up” with the same elder..

    Comment by Carolyn — June 23, 2005 @ 7:14 pm

  8. The proportion of bad sister missionaries to good sister missionaries is the same as bad elders to good elders. We didn’t have to many sister missionaries in my mission because it was a pretty rough place (Tijuana) and none of them were Americans. The only difference that I saw between the sisters and the elders was that the sister seemed to cry more when things went wrong. I remember many a phone call as a ZL that consisted in the sisters telling me there problems with their invesitigators or house while sobbing uncontrolably.

    Comment by Brett with two t's — June 24, 2005 @ 8:53 am

  9. The population of sisters I knew was high variance. I couldn’t say if they were better or worse on average, but there were not as many just-ok sisters. They tended to be either quite good or rather difficult. Moreso, anyway, than the elders I knew. Perhaps the median sister was better than the median elder, but I really don’t know.

    Comment by Frank McIntyre — June 24, 2005 @ 11:16 am

  10. I once heard it said that the worst missionaries out there are sisters…and that the best missionaries out there are sisters.

    So Bret, I DO encourage young women considering a mission to serve — but I mention this comment to them and encourage them to fit the latter category rather than the former.

    Comment by Amy — June 27, 2005 @ 5:20 pm

  11. As a sister, I am biased but sisters do indeed view elders as incredibly immature. There were several areas in my mission that were sisters only areas because Elders could not handle the temptations in them (electronics and red-light zones). As an MTC teacher, we rejoiced when getting a district with sisters–. As a member, the sisters seem much more focussed on the work than on the food.

    Comment by ESO — June 30, 2005 @ 4:18 pm

  12. I am surprised that is is the first time I have seen this topic come up in the bloggernacle. I know I’ve had this conversation with people in the flesh more than once.

    The first year of my mission I rarely interacted much with missionaries outside of my companionship and my house-mates. I saw sisters once a month at zone meeting. I had no opinion on them, other than that I was probably a bit intimidated by the sisters from the US that had completed or nearly completed college. Basically I was working in isolation with my companion and it was great. I didn’t know anything about the rest of the mission.

    I spent the entire second year of my mission working in the office, with the exception of a two month period during which I lived in the apartment attached to the office (rather than literally sleeping on the floor of the mission office, as our office elders did). This greatly widened the scope of my interactions with all of the missionaries. I saw a variety of sisters and elders nearly every single day, and became very informed as to what was going on all over the mission.

    Based on those interactions I arrived at some generalizations. I will admit that the sample size for the elders was much larger than that of the sisters, which makes all of this even more suspect than it already is. In any case…

    Most elders are merely “ok”. There are doing a reasonable job and they are sincere. There are also outliers. The bad elders were REALLY bad. I don’t want to go into details here. But if there was a problem that the office heard about with the elders then it was a bad problem. There were some really good elders as well. Ones that the other missionaries looked up to, regardless of where they sat on the mission heirarchy.

    Sisters are in an interesting position. They didn’t go on a mission “by default” as many of the elders did. They tended to actually have a reason to be there. Of course some of them had better reasons than others…

    I can honestly say that the office spent as much time dealing with problems with the sister missionaries as it did with the elders. The interesting aspects of this are that the problems were never as serious and there were about eight times more elders than sisters in the mission. The problems were usually minor health issues and companionship spats. Things that missionaries of either sex can be expected to resolve on their own.

    There were also outstanding sisters. I think that the best sister missionaries were better missionaries than the best elders. They taught more effectively, they had better interactions with the wards, and they learned the language faster in the case of those that were from the US. They were also mostly free from the burndens of mission politics.

    As a percentage I think there were more great sisters than great elders, and that the great sisters were even better than the great elders. I also think that as a percentage there were more bad sisters than bad elders, but the bad sisters were bad in that they were lazy or perhaps their parents were visiting them in person once a week, bringing “care packages”. The bad elders were doing things that were much worse.

    What does this mean? There were more middle of the road elders than there were so-so sisters. Lots of guys that were there, doing their duty, without any extraordinary motivation. If there were from the US they had a 50-50 chance of being fresh out of high school. I really felt the elders that had already been away from home for a year were more prepared for a mission than those that had not. Within several months this didn’t matter, but it made a difference in the MTC and for the first few months in the field. Sisters come in with much more “adult” life experience. This is especially visible in the sisters that are really motivated to be there.

    One other difference that I noticed was that elders had the extra burnden of getting caught up in mission politics and who got to what position and how fast. The sisters seemed almost immune to this disease. It was amazing to see how riled up some guys would get over stupid political games that nobody in the wider world cares about at all and that the missionaries themselves won’t care about once they return home.

    Comment by a random John — July 2, 2005 @ 10:07 pm

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