Derek Williams hopes to be a dentist. But just one year into college, he put those plans on hold to serve as a missionary.
Williams is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He and Lan Whitaker recently arrived in Houston as part of the church’s rotation of missionaries in Texas County. They are the newest faces in the church’s prominent presence in the area.
Mormon missionaries spend two years of their lives in the mission field. They stay between six weeks to six months in a particular area under the supervision of a mission president.
Williams previously served in Arkansas and Tulsa, Okla., and is halfway through his second year. Whitaker is beginning his first mission.
“We really love what we’re doing and the message we share,” said Elder Williams, a native of Salem, Utah. “I saved money for most of my life to be able to support myself these two years.”
Mormon men are eligible to submit their names for a mission when they turn 19. Females are eligible at 19. Williams is 21 and the oldest of seven children. Whitaker, a Powell, Wyo., native, is 19 and the fourth of five children.
Mormon leaders, including the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, consider where missionaries are needed and what applications they have. They then assign each person to a particular mission.
Houston has a Mormon Church congregation that makes it an ideal for sending missionaries. There are also churches in West Plains, Mountain Grove, Winona and St. Robert that host missionaries. Worldwide, there are more than 56,000 missionaries to approximately 330 organized missions.
Williams said missionaries are rotated based on their success in a certain area.
“Many of us have different personalities to try to connect with more and different people,” he said.
A normal day for Williams and Whitaker begins with a 30-minute run at the track, followed by two hours of studying. They then hit the streets to share their message.
Williams said a majority of the people he comes in contact with are friendly and willing to talk. He estimated 5-10 percent want to learn more about the religion or pray.
“I love Houston,” Whitaker said. “Everyone has been really friendly.”
Williams said anyone with questions about the Mormon religion can visit www.mormon.org or call him at 417-693-6861.