04/14/2012 01:57 pm ET

Study Abroad, Mormon Style

As one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States, with 14 million followers; with a hit Broadway musical about two 19-year-old Utahns in Uganda; and with a member, Mitt Romney, poised to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency, Mormonism is basking in the mainstream spotlight. The church gained nearly 400,000 members in 2010, about 70 percent of them converted by college-age missionaries like Elder Dangerfield.

Missionary work is not just a fundamental tenet of the faith; it is also a well-oiled operation. An army of 52,000 young Mormons proselytize around the world, from Boise, Idaho, to Mozambique, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In modern-day Mormon culture, men are expected to take up evangelism on their 19th birthday and serve for two years; less commonly, women enlist when they turn 21. Missionary work is not mandatory, but it is popular.