In a previous post, I have discussed my Mormon mission. In addition, I have second-hand knowledge of several other missions, including 4 involving my children (and their spouses), plus my father’s mission and my two grandfathers’ missions.
In a recent article by Daniel Burke and distributed by the Religion News Service (14 Jun 2012), the author discusses Mitt Romney’s mission and Mormon missions in general. He quotes Romney as saying: “On a mission, your faith in Jesus Christ either evaporates or it becomes much deeper. For me it became much deeper.” I think a better way to put it might be: “On a mission, your faith in Mormonism either evaporates or it becomes much deeper.” Perhaps Romney was trying to emphasize that Mormons are Christians.
Burke goes on to state:
More than a million Mormons have served missions since Joseph Smith founded the church in 1830, LDS leaders say, volunteering for a duty once described as “a mix between monastic life, a fraternity pledge and pest-control salesmanship.”
This description of the missionary experience is unfortunately more accurate than I’m comfortable with, so the question becomes: “Is this an appropriate mix?” Also quoted in the article was David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame who served an LDS mission in Illinois during the 1990s: “It’s not like going on a study-abroad program during college. It’s more like the military.” While this description may be accurate, again I ask: “Is this really the way we want to run our missions?” For me, the answer is a resounding “NO!” to both questions.
Also quoted is Stephen B. Allen, managing director of the LDS Church’s Missionary Department: “In a lot of ways, the missionaries’ first convert themselves. And that is life changing.” But for me personally, the reverse happened.
Like Mitt Romney, I served in France (but in a different Mission). And I sometime say, half jokingly, that “France converted me, I didn’t convert France.” On close examination, I related more to French existentialism, and particularly Albert Camus’ absurdism, than I did to Mormonism. Camus’ attempted explanation of the meaning (or non-meaning) of life made more sense than the Mormon version. And I related very well to the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament. Perhaps mission leaders shouldn’t have encouraged us to read the OT.
On my mission, we were encouraged to read only the scriptures and Mormon books. But I also read European history and philosophy books. We were told not to travel outside of our assigned area, but I did anyway. I made it to nearby Switzerland and Germany, and spent a week in Paris (not in our mission). In other words, I didn’t follow Mission rules very well. But to me, it was important to know the culture we were working in. In other words, I became a francophile.