A BYU-Idaho alumna has a new book and will be in Rexburg this month for a book signing.
Sweet is the Work, written by Breanna Olaveson, features 12 early sister missionaries in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ history before 1899.
“I really was intrigued to know how women started serving missions because our church has a pretty patriarchal history,” she said. “But somehow, women made (their) way into the missionary force, and I wondered how that happened. (…) I discovered that there were about 200 women called as missionaries prior to the official change in policy.”
According to Mormon Newsroom, there are currently more than 19,500 single sister missionaries serving around the world.
Olaveson said some of the early sister missionaries were their husband’s companions, and they cooked and maintained the home while the men were at work. However, some women “had taken the heart to magnify their calling,” and such women stood out to Olaveson.
“Some (women) proselyted, and when they did, miracles came hard and fast,” Olaveson wrote on her blog. “Mission presidents were begging for more women. One thing led to another, and with a policy change at the end of the 19th century, women were called as full-time missionaries just like the men were.”
One such sister missionary Olaveson features in her book is Elizabeth McCune, who “debunked a lot of rumors that were going around” about LDS women during a trip to England in the late 19th century. Upon McCune’s return to the United States, the mission president in England had sent a letter to the First Presidency of the Church asking for sister missionaries, according to lds.org.
Olaveson said her book is not only for women, but also for men because they will be the ones who serve and marry sister missionaries.
“A book about women is a book for everyone,” Olaveson said.
Writing books was always something Olaveson wanted to do, and she said bringing her book to Rexburg holds significance for her.
“BYU-Idaho is where my career began, it’s where my family began and it just seems kind of fitting to bring back the fruits of those labors back to where it started,” she said.
Olaveson has a longer history with Rexburg than the average BYU-Idaho alumni.
When Olaveson was little, the school bus driver did not drop her off at home at the end of the day, but instead dropped her off behind the Jacob Spori Building.
She would start her walk from the north end of Ricks College and continue south past the Eliza R. Snow Center for the Performing Arts and into the Spori Building each day after school to work on her homework while she waited for her father to finish his work day. After her homework was done, Olaveson wasted no time. Free time was her opportunity to nourish creativity.
“When I was a little girl — 5, 6, 7, 8 years old — I wrote books on our old Apple Classic computer, and I printed them out and illustrated them,” she said.
She continued to read, write and grow in the Spori Building. When she was 10 years old, she had her first chance to be published.
The editors on Scroll one semester asked her to write a column about Ricks using her 10-year-old perspective.
“I wrote about going to the bowling alley and eating at the Nordic Landing, but I wrote this little essay about what it was like to be a kid on the Ricks College campus because I was there every single day,” Olaveson said.
Seeing her face in a published newspaper not only made her believe she was going to be famous, but she said it also helped her “get the ink in (her) blood a little bit.” She quickly realized she wanted writing and publishing her work to be a bigger part of her life.
Olaveson said she was worried about “being in a dying field” because newspapers were starting to come off the racks and technology was quickly advancing. She said she had to learn things such as WordPress, Google and how to blog throughout her time at BYU-I, things she now uses regularly.
When Olaveson interned at the Church Magazines for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she said she had “found some interesting tidbits of Church history” that she wanted to write about. Her main goal was making that history something people wanted to read but “didn’t know they wanted to know.”
These tidbits of history brought her enough interest to write her first book, Mighty Miracles, which came out in May 2015.
At the end of the day, Olaveson hopes to make Church history more accessible in order to create interest in it.
“There are hard things in our history, and it’s hard to think about polygamy, and it’s hard to think about race in the priesthood, and it’s hard to think about some of these things,” she said. “But the more we know about them, the less scary they are, and the more resilient we’ll be when we hear about Church history items that trouble us.”
Olaveson will be signing her new book at the BYU-Idaho University Store Friday, March 24, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.