This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
They first connected in Italy, Brazil and Japan. Now, they are reconnecting in cyberspace.
With tens of thousands of Mormon missionaries across the globe, and exponentially more among the returned ranks, social networks are proliferating to bring these former preachers back together.
The premier gathering spot: Facebook.
Missionaries are posting pages for LDS missions ranging from Hawaii to Hong Kong with photos, reunion plugs and plenty of chatter about bygone days.
Mary Jane Rogers created a page for her parents, who shepherded more than 400 missionaries during their years overseeing the Vienna, Austria, mission in the early 1990s. So far, the couple have reached close to 90 of their missionaries online.
That matters to Janet Reber the self-described mom of the Vienna mission during that time who has used that social connection to send Christmas cards, announce reunions and peek at the personal happenings of past missionaries.
"I seriously love every missionary as if they were my own child," said Reber, who lives in Sandy but recently accepted a call to serve at the South Africa Missionary Training Center. "There are bonds there that can never be broken."
Facebook isn't the only place former missionaries are going to get a glimpse at past companions. Before the world had ever heard of "friending" someone online, prospective missionary Mark Smith started LDSMissions.com to keep in touch with buddies while they were serving abroad. That was in 1997.
Smith now has more than 20,000 missionaries registered on his site. With a simple name search, missionaries can connect with colleagues who have served anywhere in the world.
Sure, there's a social element to it. But there's a spiritual one, too.
"Whatever we can do to keep those relationships strong is beneficial," said Smith, who served as a missionary in Portugal more than a decade ago. "We are weak at various times in our lives. If we can draw back on those moments that were important to us, and reconnect with friends that gave us strength, hopefully that can help us in the future."
Smith's site is primarily a friend finder, but he is considering adding a reunion component to it as well.
Some mission sites already do that or provide an online portal so missionaries can glean it elsewhere. The Italy Milan Mission website, for instance, recently posted a reunion reminder for its 1971-74 alumni. Mark Scoville said the site, started in 1993, has brought generations of missionaries together.
Personally, Scoville has connected with most of the companions he served with more than 30 years ago.
Scoville hopes his website not only will draw missionaries together, but also Italian families with the missionaries they befriended. Anything that helps bring the LDS faith to the Italian people, he said, is something he considers valuable.
The Italy Milan Mission site, and 365 more, are accessible online through http://www.mission.net.
On the Web
O For starters, Mormon missionaries and returned ones can turn to LDSMissions.com and http://www.mission.net.