Larry A. Hiller, "A Century of Missionary Work," New Era, Jan. 2000, 28
The missionary message has not changed since the time of Joseph Smith. But missionaries and missionary life have changed a lot—especially in this century.
Elder Scott DuVall, of Taylorsville, Utah, serves in Hyderabad, India. His maternal grandfather, Joseph Cummings, served in the Northwestern States Mission. The differences between their mission experiences are more than those between India and Montana, or between the years 1999 and 1946. Go back to 1901, and the changes are even more remarkable.
The numbers: In January of 1901, there were only 1,739 missionaries serving. In 1946, when Elder Cummings served, about 2,400 answered the call. Today, his grandson Scott is one of about 60,000 missionaries serving around the world.
The training: In 1925, the first organized training for missionaries was conducted in a mission home established in Salt Lake City. Newly called missionaries spent a week there receiving instruction in Church policies and doctrine, learning etiquette and other practical skills, and hearing messages from General Authorities.
In 1961, the Language Training Mission in Provo began teaching Spanish (and, later, other languages). Before that, missions in non-English-speaking areas were six months longer to allow missionaries time to learn a foreign language.
In 1978, the Missionary Training Center, with its state-of-the-art teaching and preparation programs, opened its doors.
The conditions: In the early 1900s, popular opinion was still very much against the Church. Missionaries in Europe were sometimes persecuted, jailed, or expelled.
Until the early '70s, wars often prevented or delayed large numbers of military-age LDS men from serving missions. The Great Depression also took a toll due to financial hardship. Earlier in the century, married men were sometimes called to help fill the great need for missionaries. In fact, one of Elder Cummings's companions was married.
Until midcentury, missionaries—and mail from home—reached overseas destinations by ship, a process that could take weeks or even months.
Today: Modern transportation and communications, growing religious freedom in the world, the growth and reputation of the Church, greatly improved training—all make this perhaps the most wonderful time in history to serve a mission.