When the Saints settled throughout the Intermountain West, the assigning of mission calls switched from a call from the pulpit or a personal conversation to correspondence by mail. One large collection spanning the presidencies of John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, and Joseph F. Smith (1877–1918) has been digitized by the Church History Library, and most of the letters have been linked on the individual pages of the Early Mormon Missionaries database.
These letters are often written directly by the prospective missionaries outlining details of their lives and the sacrifices required with accepting missionary service.
Joseph Mitchell became very ill with a severe throat infection during the winter of 1896. He couldn’t eat or swallow and could barely talk. Fearing where the rapidly worsening illness would lead, Joseph sent for the elders to give him a priesthood blessing. While waiting for them, he covenanted with the Lord that if he were healed he would do anything the Lord required of him.
He was miraculously healed. Before the elders left, he could talk and swallow, and the illness was gone by the next day.
The next spring, Bishop Harrison Sperry called Joseph to serve a mission.
Joseph’s written response reads, “I know of nothing at the present time that will hinder me from endeavoring to do my duty in responding to this call and relying on the assistance of the Lord will endeavor to make all necessary arrangements to start at the time appointed.”
There were, of course, great difficulties. He was 36 years old and married with one child and another on the way. When he received the call, he thought he couldn’t serve, but his faithful wife, Susan, reminded him of the covenant he had made and encouraged him to keep it, saying that she would find a way to care for their family while he was away.
He reported for missionary service in August of that year, as requested, and served in his native Scotland from August 1897 until July 1899. He was a companion to David O. McKay, and together they had significant success and many remarkable spiritual experiences.
Julia Samuelson Curtis had been married for only four short months when her husband, who was preparing to serve a mission in Samoa, died unexpectedly in his work herding sheep. Julia was pregnant, but their son was stillborn six months after his father had died. Julia wrote a letter to President Joseph F. Smith, saying “He [her husband] said so many times, ‘The Lord is so good to us. I will not content myself until I am in Samoa.’ My beloved companion was not permitted to fill this mission. Our little son soon followed to the great beyond. And I now am alone, ready and anxious to fill this mission and take my husband’s place.”
She was called to serve in the Western States Mission and served faithfully. Throughout her service, she heard members and other missionaries speak positively of Elder George Handy, who left the mission just as she had arrived. He had to finish his mission early because his wife died as the result of complications giving birth to their son. They were introduced over letters, and at the conclusion of her mission they met in Salt Lake City. Julia and George were married three months later.
Edward Hunter Snow served a mission to the Southern States Mission at the age of 20, but he was again called to serve at age 33, this time to the Eastern States Mission. He wrote a letter saying he was willing to serve, but since he had already done so in the United States he’d rather go to England. The letter was even endorsed by his stake presidency, which included, as second counselor, his half-brother Erastus B. Snow, who had served in the British Mission.
We don’t have the official response denying this request, but whatever it said, Edward found “the explanation . . . perfectly satisfactory.” He wrote back that he was still ready to serve in the Eastern States Mission.