Humans of New York has raised over one million dollars for a disadvantage school in Brooklyn. #JeSuisCharlie connected us as a human family in the wake of a terrible tragedy. Time and time again, the power of social media has proven itself as one of the most effective tools to support a cause in the 21st century.
Now, a small group of LDS members passionate about sharing the gospel online are ready to ignite a powerful movement to share the Book of Mormon with the world through social media. Known as Discover the Book, the Facebook group and it’s leaders set out the following task:
“On Friday, January 30th, post a selfie posing behind the Book of Mormon on your favorite social media platform. Include #discoverthebook with a simple explanation of how you discovered the Book of Mormon AND this video link explaining what the Book of Mormon is.”
It all began over a year ago with a struggling LDS mission in Florida and one of it’s missionaries, 21-year-old Jenessa Hutchins from Alamo, California.
“We were trying to be more effective online,” Hutchins said when describing the task of sharing the gospel through the internet. After giving a training to other missionaries and gathering ideas, the idea of creating an event on Facebook to encourage other to share their testimonies was presented.
“My mission president said, ‘Alright, get to work, figure it out,’” Hutchins explained.
Discover the Book was born and the first event was created. Members joined in droves to share their own selfies, all of them holding the Book of Mormon and sharing personal experiences. The result?
“Baptisms quadrupled in the mission,” Hutchins said. She also described being able to teach a woman who lived just a mile away from her missionary apartment, who requested a copy of the Book of Mormon when one of her friends posted their selfie online. The event even got attention from LDS celebrities Lindsey Stirling and Alex Boye.
“It was a brilliant way to do missionary work,” Hutchins continued. “It’s not in your face and is much more approachable. It’s just the way the world works today, that’s how people feel more comfortable. It’s opened up so many more doors to people who would be interested in the gospel.”
The experience was powerful and impacted Hutchins and her mission in a major way. But no one could have imagined what would happen when Hutchins returned home.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Hutchins said. Home from her mission for less than a month, she went in to speak to Journalism Professor Robert Walz at BYU, where she was trying to get into his Introductory Writing class after switching majors. Little did she know, Walz was the first counselor of the Provo YSA (Young Single Adult) 18th Stake Stake presidency, the YSA stake chosen to pilot an online missionary program. In fact, leaders from the stake had been meeting every week for the last year and a half with online missionaries from the Provo MTC to try to figure out how to help young single adults share the gospel online.
Hutchins just happened to be a member of that stake. When she told Walz about her experiences as an online missionary in Florida, he quipped “my spider sense got out.”
“She told me about this project, and I asked her if she had a calling. She said she didn’t and I said, ‘You are now a ward missionary,’ even though I had no authority to call her. I just thought that was funny.”
The meeting between Hutchins and Walz was on a Thursday. On Sunday, Hutchins met with the stake’s online missionaries and the team decided to set out a program to organize the new Discover the Book event.
“She’d already been down this road one time,” Walz said. “We got all our missionaries to start advertising it, met with the President of the Provo Utah Mission, sent the info out to three home ward stakes that surround Provo, and tried to get the reach as far as we could.” Led by sister missionaries in Florida, Hutchin’s old mission is also joining in.
The event, set for Friday, January 30, 2015, has over 24,000 people committed to sharing their testimonies of the Book of Mormon and the number is quickly growing.
To those who are hesitant to share something about their faith online, Hutchins says, “It all comes down to how you present yourself. There is a way to be pushy with your post and there is a way to share what you love without trying to tell someone they are wrong and they have to be like you are. There is a way to to share, “This is what makes me happy and I love it.” It’s having the perspective that this post is an invitation than something forceful.”
Walz adds it’s just about getting people talking.
“We hope these inquiries will lead to conversations with members, those conversations will lead to relationships, and those relationships will lead to gospel-based discussions.”
Both Hutchins and Walz hope that the event can become so big that it trends on Facebook and Twitter.
“We’re praying for it,” Hutchins said, noting the reach a trending topic has to those who are not of the LDS faith.
“The members play a critical role here,” Walz said. “They have the knowledge and ability to use social media. If the members can find people and then just use the missionaries to teach, then we’ve got a really good successful model.”
So, how can you get involved? Visit Discover the Book’s Facebook page and join the movement. All the instructions on how to share your selfie are provided, along with how you can use the #discoverthebook hashtag to share the effort. For Hutchins, being part of such a movement has changed the way she sees the world.
“In general, it has helped me turn outward and look at other people and realize the world isn’t all about me. The best way to share the gospel, my favorite way, is online. It’s helped me to want to help other people.”