Being Totally Honest About Our Mormon Mission Experiences

Yesterday (Saturday), I attended a session of the SLC Sunstone Symposium titled:  “Sin of Omission:  Spinning the Missionary Experience.”   The presenter, John K. Williams, had gone to Bolivia on his mission.  According his Sunstone abstract:

An LDS mission is commonly called “the best two years’ of one’s life.  Most missionaries understand the difficulties, pressure to perform, mission politics, boredom, depression, emotional demands, and physical hardships of a mission.  However, there is an unwritten rule to never speak negatively about one’s mission.  Consequently, homecomings are typically uplifting pep talks, and candid discussion of one’s mission often provokes hostility.

Williams, who has a self-published memoir of his missionary experiences title:  Heaven Up Here, didn’t really discuss the specific frustrations from his mission, other than his extreme problems with health which were aggrevated by physical hardships.  He mainly stated that he was frustrated by the lack of candor among returning missionaries.  And he read a series of comments he had received from other returned missionaries who had had similar thoughts.

Williams, who felt that the LDS Church was not going to change, had two suggestions for the parents of children going on missions:

  • Before they leave, be honest about your own missionary experiences, and be as honest as you can about the experiences that are in front of them.
  • When they return, in addition to having a physical examination, have a psychological evaluation.

Toby Pingree, a former missionary and mission president (both in developing countries), was the respondent.  He tried for a more upbeat appraisal of the missionary experience.

My thought during the whole presentation was that there is an important secondary purpose in going on a LDS mission.  It is an important right-of-passage or coming-of-age ritual.  Living in a foreign environment is important; young Americans and Europeans frequently get a misplaced conception of the true nature of “reality.”  Having said that, in the 1960s, I went to Belgium and France on my mission, so clearly I did not suffer the same physical hardships as Williams (who said at one point that his weight dropped to 114 lbs., clearly a serious problem).  But still, I think it is important that young church members get an understanding of an “alien” part of the globe.

My real problem with my mission was not living conditions, it was the silliness of: mission rules, mission paperwork, giving the 6 discussion verbatum, the lack of cultural education, earlier “swimming pool” baptisms, the lack of a real vacation from missionary work, etc.  And these were largely ignored in Williams presentation.

The entire session had a cathartic effect on nearly everyone in the audience (about 30).  Each had their own frustrations about being in the mission field.  Several said they had recurring nightmares about being recalled to their missions.  (I haven’t had any of these.)  One said he had a terrible mission president, and another remembered being yelled at by GA during a missionary conference.  I’m not sure what Williams’ mission president was doing when Williams’ weight dropped to 114 lbs, but he was surely asleep as the switch.

When my sons got their mission calls, I was happy to see that one was going to the Philippines.  To the best of my knowledge, he enjoyed his mission and had wonderful experiences.  He has returned twice to the Philippines to visit.  My son-in-law served his mission in Colombia.  My other son and his wife, both served their missions in south Florida, almost a foreign mission.  None of them seem scarred from their mission experiences.

One of the Sunstone participants indicated that after his mission, he went backpacking for 8 days in Europe.  He felt that those 8 days of talking with other travelers were more productive than his entire 2-year mission.  He asked Pingree if there was any hope for a much less structured missionary experience?  Pingree just smiled.

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27 Responses to Being Totally Honest About Our Mormon Mission Experiences

  1. Allen says:

    I served my mission 56 years ago in West Virginia and Tennessee, and missions then were quite different than they are today. The minimum age was 20 not 19. I had completed two years of college (Electrical Engineering) so I was used to being away from home and “on my own”. We had six lessons, but they wern’t given verbatim. We learned the basic logic and used our own words in giving them. My first companion wanted me to start giving lessons two days after I arrived at his apartment. I told him I wasn’t ready and would let him know when I was ready. He thus gave all of the lessons until I told him a few days later that I was ready. We alternated the giving of lessons, and the person not giving a lesson did the talking at the door step. All of our mission work was via door-to-door tracting. I only baptized one person, but I always considered my mission a success since I was there to teach. Decisions to be baptized or not were made by the investigators and thus weren’t under my control. I’m glad that my Mission President didn’t put a lot of emphasis on getting baptisms. I only saw my Mission President two or three times during my two years. All of my relationships with “superiors” was with the District Supervisors who traveled their district and spent a couple of days with us each month. My companion and I were the only missionaries in the cities we lived in, and the only interaction we had with other missionaries was at the monthly District Conferences. The only mission rules we had were to stay within our assigned areas, if possible be in bed by 10:30, when outside our apartment, always be with your companion, don’t commit adultery because you’ll be sent home if you do. I’m glad I didn’t go on a mission at age 19, because at that age I was still behaving like a high school kid and was still making adjustments to being in college rather than in high school.

    My wife and I were Stake Missionaries in Washington, DC in 1964-1965 (at that time Stake Missionaries were teaching missionaries). We had different lessons and had to give them verbatim. Other aspects of that mission were similar to the full-time mission I had served. My wife and I had more baptisms than the full-time missionaries because we lived in the ward and the people trusted us.

    Years later, my wife and I lived in Massachusetts, and had the full-time missionaries to our home frequently. Those missionaries were really frustrated by all of the mission rules (6 pages, single spaced) and the strictness of the rules.

    I considered my two years of full-time service as the best two years up to that time, but certainly not the best two years of my life. I served the best I could, but I looked forward to being released and returning to college. As I look back on my two-years, that was a good period of growth for me. My years of college and two masters degrees in engineering were also good years of growth. My years of marriage have been years of growth. Now, my years of retirement are years of growth. Life has been good to me, and I’ve tried to be good to it.

    What would I consider the best two years of my life? The past two years. In another decade, my answer will be the same: the past two years. If it weren’t so, I wouldn’t be progressing forward as a child of God.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Thanks Allen for your comments.

      During my grandfather’s mission to England (early 20th century), the missionaries were given a week off each year for a vacation. My grandfather traveled to Wales, Scotland, and London. He also did quite a bit of sightseeing in the areas where he worked. He learned a lot about the areas where he worked. My grandfather served as mayor of Smithfield, and I’m sure some of the things he observedd while on his mission had a positive affect on his political ideas and decisions.

      On my mission (in the 1960s), we were taken on a temple trip to London, but except for the temple, we were never allowed to leave the bus. From a distance, someone pointed out Big Ben and Canterbury. We were not encouraged to learn anything about the area where we worked, Belgium and France. It was work, work, work.

      The missionaries used to joke. “These are the two best years of my life, too bad I had to spend them in France.” Actually, my mission was 2 and 1/2 years, foreign-speaking missions were at least an extra 1/2 year. Me, I loved Belgium and France. Missionary rules and work, I was a little less excited about.

      • Allen says:

        Because the Church was small compared to today, I was interviewed and set apart by members of the Twelve. I was released by my Mission President. My mission home was in Louisville, Kentucky, and because some of my ancestors came from Kentucky, after I was released, I took a bus 100 miles south and spent a couple of days poking around the area for relatives. I did talk with a man at the local radio station who was an amateur historian, and I did take a picture of our family house, but I found no living relatives. I found that the people who had the same surname as my ancestor were very cool towards strangers. The guy at the radio station said this was because local people didn’t like strangers coming into town and digging skeletons out of their past.

        We had no days off or vacation time, and we had no prescribed time for cleaning, shopping, etc. We just took time as it was needed for those things. Basically, we managed ourselves without interference from “superiors”. I think that one-year difference between being called at 19 vs. 20 makes a big difference in the ability of one to manage himself (or herself) as a missionary. Of course, some people are irresponsible regardless of their age.

        In looking at the past, I think the biggest mistake Mission Presidents have made is the emphasis on baptisms. The scriptures tell us missionaries are called to teach. I gave 8-10 lessons per day, six days per week. So, I did plenty of teaching. I had no control over the decision of an investigator to be baptized or not. I was not held responsible for that decision. As soon, as a MP emphasizes baptisms, he is making the missionaries responsible for something they can influence but not control. That isn’t fair to the missionaries or to the people. MP need to recognize that missionaries are called to teach, and the people being taught are responsible for their decision to be baptized or not. Missionaries who teach are successful as missionaries, regardless of how many baptisms they have.

  2. rogerdhansen says:

    “Winchester” commenting on an interview in CityWeekly with Williams made the following observations:

    “It would be nice if the church started including real charitable work for its missionaries. The door to door stuff is just salesmanship for the church, not charity. At our most charitable on my mission we got to clean up some schools and hospitals. That’s nice, but we did nothing for the poor. Seniors are sent out and basically provide free work for the church, but they’re doing things like running for profit game farms. It would be nice if mission work actually accomplished something good in the world. Even if you’re still a believer, most of your converts ARE going to fall away, especially in an overseas mission. So really it’s two years of stress and emotional manipulation for nothing.”

  3. Allen says:

    Thanks, Roger, for posting Winchester’s comment in CityWeekly. I don’t read that newspaper and would have missed Winchester’s comment.

    Winchester, thanks for sharing your views about Mormon missionaries. We need to keep in mind that missionaries are called to teach the message of the restoration. They are not called to serve in a pseudo Peace Corps. I am glad, though, to see that missionaries are becoming involved with charitable work. During my mission in the mid 50s, we did no charitable work. We spent all of our time doing door-to-door tracting and teaching about the church. It’s different today. I have a friend who is currently serving as a missionary in Texas. His dad recently told me that for six months after serious storms a year ago, his son did nothing but help clean up and repair damage from the storm.

    “Seniors are sent out and basically provide free work for the church”

    That’s probably true in some cases, but it isn’t true in all cases. My brother-in-law and his wife are currently serving as senior missionaries in Australia. They are involved 100% in missionary work. I know two other couples who served as senior missionaries, and they were also engaged in 100% missionary work.

    “So really it’s two years of stress and emotional manipulation for nothing.”

    There are missionaries who waste their time and show their immaturity by not doing much on their missions, but there are thousands of men and women who learned a lot and grew a lot during their missions. As I mentioned above, missionaries are called to teach the message of the restoration. They are not called to get lots of baptisms, although some Mission Presidents seem to thing that baptisms are the primary reason missionaries are called. As you indicated, many of the converts will fall away. That’s the way life is. There are several factors involved with this: whether or not the people were really converted via the Spirit of the Lord, the reception provided by the branch/ward members towards the new converts, the flexibility required of the converts to adjust to a new way of life that is drastically different from their past, social and peer pressure against the church by family and friends of the new converts. It’s pretty obvious to me that most of these factors are beyond the sphere of the missionaries themselves. As I said above, missionaries are called to teach. What happens after they teach depends on the converts themselves, branch/ward members, family and friends of the converts, and so on.

  4. rogerdhansen says:

    Just a couple of comments. I think missionaries can lose perspective if they don’t occasionally have outside activities. While my son was on his mission in south Florida, hurricane Andrew plowed through the area and the missionaries were involved in some recovery activities. I personally don’t see anything wrong with missionaries being involved in pseudo-Peace-Corp work. I suspect that this type of activity might actually help the conversion efforts.

    I agree with you, the senior missionaries I have encountered have been doing office work in a mission home, missionary work, and humanitarian work. I’m sure some have aided commercial activities, but I think the vast majority do not.

    I think that to keep new converts active two things need to occur. First, they must be actually converted. Second, there needs to be infrastructure in place to encourage their participation. Myself, I place a high value on education, so I would like to see the LDS Church more active in this area, particularly as it relates to developing countries.

    I would like to see more activities beside procelytizing available to young Mormons (ie humanitarian, construction, teaching, etc.). Let the youth have the option of showing their commitment in a variety of ways, with none being valued above the others.

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  6. Thanks for the review of my session. I was hoping it wouldn’t come across as downbeat, so maybe I failed. I didn’t hate my mission, and it was a good experience in many ways. I just thought that it was interesting how many people who read my book responded by saying they felt they couldn’t talk about their missions honestly. As for my losing weight, i was far from the sickest person in my mission, so I don’t blame my mission president at all. When I worked in the mission office, we determined that between 1/4 and 1/3 of the missionaries were too sick to work at any given time, meaning that between 1/2 and 2/3 of companionships were not working.

    • roger hansen says:

      I enjoyed your session, and I’m sure the majority of the attendees did also. It was very cathartic for everybody. You came across as frustrated more than downbeat.

      I agree that more honesty would be a great improvement. I wonder if it would have helped stop the “swimming party” baptisms of the 50s and 60s?

      I wonder about why so many of you in Bolivia got sick. One of my sons went to Mindanao (southern Philippines) on his mission. He didn’t report any serious sickness during his two years (hopefully he was “honest” in his letters). After his mission, his twin brother and I toured with him for a month. My son was in very good physical and mental health when we arrived on Mindanao. It would seem like if they can keep missionaries in good health on Mindanao, they should be able to do it in Bolivia.

      About 20 years ago, I spent 2 weeks in Bolivia (I’m a serious vagabond.), most of it on the Aliplano. I have always wanted to go back. I’m particularly interested in visiting the southern areas (salt flats, etc.).

      I totally agree with premise of your presentation. More (or total) honesty is needed.

    • Allen says:

      John, thanks for your session and for giving us a different view of missionary work. You mentioned that 1/4 to 1/3 of the missionaries were sick. That is a very high rate of sickness. I’m just wondering if the church had any idea why there were so many sick missionaries? Were there differences between the Elders and the Sisters in the amount of sickness? Was the sickness due to differences between the food there and the food the missionaries had before they arrived? Problems in the sanitation being observed by the missionaries? Any patterns of sickness during the two years (or 18 months) a missionary was there? Any patterns due to the age of the missionaries (young missionaries vs. Senior missionaries)? Has the high rate of sickness continued to the present time? If I were a Mission President and had that much sickness among my missionaries, I would be very concerned.

      In my case, the main difference between the food in West Virginia and at home was the amount of grease used by the West Virginians. I remember one good sister who served french fried hamburgers to us for dinner. When she started cooking the burgers were almost covered with liquid grease. When she finished the pan was dry. My mission mother told us when we first arrived at the mission home to eat a lot of wheat to help our bodies handle the grease. I was raised on wheat and easily complied with her counsel. I didn’t know of any sickness among the missionaries.

      I’m not a doctor or a health-care person and am just curious about the amount of sickness in your mission.

      • Most of the missionary illnesses came from parasites, which are pretty unavoidable in Bolivia. When I was at my sickest, I had 4 kinds of intestinal worms and amoebic dysentery. At another point my companion and I both got salmonella. We boiled our own water, tried to make sure our food was safe, but if you were offered food by members or investigators, you would likely get sick. Some people had more serious health issues. My wife got Chagas Disease, for example.

  7. Allen says:

    Thanks, John. I knew that some missionaries had problems with parasites, but I didn’t realize that problem was so wide spread among missionaries.

    Back to your original thesis. Have you heard comments from PH leaders (either general or local) about not speaking negatively of ones mission, or is it more of a social custom that has developed over the years and is propagated by individual members?

    • runtu says:

      Sorry this has taken so long to get back to. No, I never had any priesthood leaders tell me not to speak negatively about my mission, but a few friends from my mission told me they were told explicitly by our mission president to tell only positive things. One friend told me about being chewed out by an angry bishop for not being “uplifting” enough in talking to a group of young men. I don’t believe it’s an institutional requirement, just sort of an unspoken cultural thing. I don’t know.

  8. roger hansen says:

    John, I’m not a doctor or a nurse, but it would seem like serious problems with parasites, amoebic dysentery, and salmonella are concerns that could and should have been addressed in a timely manner. Even if it meant not eating with members or investigators. I think there was a serious leadership problem here, at all levels. But I think this proves your point, more disclosure of the problem would have helped.

    • runtu says:

      I guess I never thought of it that way. We all lived in pretty bad circumstances without access to clean water, and often without electricity. My mission president requested that the church send a doctor to work specifically with missionaries to help improve their health. Initially, he was told by the church that he was not allowed to do any medical procedures, no matter how minor. Our mission president insisted, so he had his son (also a doctor) pack his medical bag and send supplies. But one doctor for 270 missionaries is obviously inadequate. I don’t know what the leadership could have done differently, so I don’t blame them.

  9. bret says:

    I was in Denmark at the end of the 1970\’s. I have a hard time calling it the best two years of my life. I remember a lot of boredom as we mechanically knocked on door after door for 8+ hours each day with very little success. Weekly and monthly reports were to be filled out which detailed our time spent and goals obtained (lessons taught, etc.). My companionships and districts seemed to be always a little below average in the stats. I attribute this mostly to my refusal to pad my numbers; fudging numbers seemed to be rampant. I notice that currently missionaries are doing service work in addition to proselyting — this would have been a much better use of my time I think. I made some close friends while there among the investigators and members. I regret not maintaining those relationships after coming home. I came home from Denmark with an appreciation of a different culture and language, fearlessness in front of people (hard earned from constant rejection) and an improved work ethic. I am glad I went but it seems like the experience could be improved on to the benefit of both the missionaries and the people they are called to teach.

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  12. George S. says:

    As a parent of a missionary, but never having served myself, I would have really liked to know more about the reality of mission life. I think a “heads-up” and reality check on daily life would have been extremely beneficial for both of my child and me.

    For example, I find it extremely frustrating the extra sacrifice which takes place because of what seems from an outsider to be poor leadership and decisions from a MP and those who train and serve above him.

    One clear example of this is the prolific problem of assigning too many missionaries in too small of an area. For my missionary, there are 20 missionaries assigned to a single Stake. In my home area too many assigned missionaries is also a large problem. There is ***clearly*** not enough meaningful work available to all the missionaries. They often can’t go out of their ward boundaries and no amount of extra member work will make a noticeable difference. Excitement is felt if there is ONE active investigator taught in a week. In my missionary’s area, they do all of this when it is regularly over 100 degrees and they are on bikes. Often times it is over 110 degrees and local shelters are rounding up homeless people because of the exposure danger, but our missionaries are out on bikes doing what could be viewed by many as almost nothing productive. How many people would do this week after week?

    I have noticed a huge increase in medical release missionaries from all over and I wonder how much of this is due to a desperately bored and unfulfilled missionary trying to escape the fact that they know they aren’t doing anything in a politically correct way but feel pressure to only speak positive. I think this lack of candid speaking is problem which creates obstacles for leadership who still care enough to fix problems, but I also think the leadership often choose to ignore obvious problems. It seems there are too many examples of where they either know of a significant problem and do nothing, or they don’t know of them problem, but clearly should if they were practicing effective leadership.

    I am concerned my missionary, and many missionaries who serve in areas like this, will never raise children who go on missions because they know the reality of daily mission life and the useless extra sacrifices which come with it because of poor leadership decisions and a bad feedback loop. It concerns me that there is pressure to only speak positively and many of these people are unknowingly creating additional problems with this supposed nicety.

    • runtu says:

      I do think there’s a reluctance to “return and report” honestly, and again I think it’s a cultural thing. I was raised to not make waves and listen to my leaders, and it took a long time for me to overcome that.

      Funny story from my mission. I met a Bolivian in my first area who had just returned from his mission. While he was serving in a branch in a smaller town, the church decided it needed to rent a larger building for meetings. Without consulting local members or leaders, the Presiding Bishopric’s Office in La Paz sent someone there and found a building. Once the branch moved services to the new building, attendance went down to almost zero. The missionaries soon found out why: the building had previously been used as a brothel. This missionary wrote to the mission president, the PBO, and the area authority, to no avail. Eventually, he sent a letter to the First Presidency, and an angry mission president called to have him locate a new building. At the next transfers, he was sent to one of the “punishment” areas, the small branches in the middle of nowhere without telephone access.

  13. Dave says:

    I served a mission in Quebec in the late 70’s. My oldest son didn’t serve, but has remained an active member and is currently the 1st counselor in his Bishopric. My second son served in France and my third son is currently serving in Denmark. I’m no authority, but I have seen a variety of situations.

    I’m sorry that some of you had such a terrible experience on your missions. I’m sure they are not all the same. I hated certain aspects of my mission and loved others. I grew from them all. I was fortunate to have never been seriously ill on my mission, but there were other hardships. In my young life I couldn’t have done anything else that would have laid such a solid foundation for the rest of my life.

    If you feel that a majority of missionaries are not being honest about their experience, then you’ve not been involved much with youth in other things that challenge them, like sports.

    I’ve been coaching my kids various sports teams for literally decades and I’m currently the assistant coach on a college team. I have participated as an athlete as well as a coach on teams that have won championships and others which were lucky to win games at all, but almost universally my players and I remember the good times and the great experiences we grew from. It’s the same with a mission for most missionaries.

    Sports involves a lot of practice time. Some players don’t like to practice, they just want to play, but to get better as a team and an individual you have to do the mundane and repetitious if you want to improve. Sometimes there seems to be favoritism and politics at a grand level. Injuries can occur and dealing with disappointment and discouragement is part of the game. it’s what you signed up for as part of the great blessings that come from participation.

    Certainly, like mission presidents, not all coaches are created equal and some are better than others. Nevertheless, it is what you make of it.

    The vast majority of kids I played sports with and have coached in sports look back on their seasons with pride and fond memories. We all tend to forget about the failures and hardships when we have successfully completed something challenging. It is usually the kids that complain about the difficulties and moan through the hardships that eventually quit and look back on their sports experience as a glass half empty. That isn’t always the case, but it is more often than not.

    I have a son-in-law who experienced difficulties and who came home early from his mission. He didn’t love his mission, but he recognizes the good that came out of it and often relates those uplifting stories when the topic of missions comes up. i think he would agree that in hind sight he became a stronger person from his mission.

    I also have a nephew who served in a mission where persecution was severe. He was beaten and jailed. He hated his mission and became inactive when he returned home. This happens, but it doesn’t happen often.

    There is no universal experience on which one can rely and judge, but for the majority, their time in the mission field as a full time servant of the Lord was fulfilling. We can second guess the best way to do missionary work, but our ways our not His ways and I believe we are called to serve where and using methods that will best help us and help those we serve.

    • runtu says:

      I didn’t have “terrible experiences,” but I certainly self-censored. My point isn’t that a mission is a good or bad thing, just that we tend to ignore the difficult stuff and present only the positive.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      I went on a mission when foreign language missions were 2 1/2 years. I’ve never regretted going. I learned french, studied history, studied religion, studied french existentialism, etc. But the information that I got before leaving was hardly accurate. During my mission, the stats, the “spiritual experiences,” the goals, were rarely accurate or meaningful. Tracting, our only real proselyting experience, was never successful. We frequently lost perspective. Few were baptized, and attending at church hovered around 10 percent. Obviously in France and Belgium I didn’t have the health worries that those serving in Bolivia have.

      Your sports analogy doesn’t work for me. Sports is generally a very part-time activity that is very social in nature. Missionary work is supposed to be 24/7 immersive and for the most part is fairly solitary (just you and your companion).

      In a top-down organization like the LDS Church it is very incumbent on leadership to provide a mentally and physically healthy environment for missionaries. I think involving them in humanitarian work is a great start. The missionaries start to become more involved in the communities where they reside. This activity would also improve their stature in the community, and perhaps improve proselytizing work.

      Both my sons went on missions, and so did my son-in-law and one of my daughters-in-law. I think they all had good experiences. But I personally think that LDS missions could be greatly improved.

  14. stackrock says:

    “He asked Pingree if there was any hope for a much less structured missionary experience? Pingree just smiled.”

    Brother Pingree is a lot more patient than I am. I would have said something like, “Mission Presidents don’t interrupt their professional careers, pack up their families, and move to the other side of the globe for three years just so some young kid can get a ‘study abroad’ experience.”

    If a ‘study abroad’ experience or a ‘student exchange’ experience is desired, there are many avenues for that.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      I think you are missing the point of the blog entry. First, many proselytizing efforts waste a lot of time. Our tracting in France and Belgium certainly wasn’t productive. The missionaries would have been better off providing some regular community service. In addition to providing a useful public service, this activity would have improved our proselytizing efforts. Second, missionaries–particularly those going to developing countries–need to be better prepared for their upcoming living conditions.

      Additionally, more honesty in missionary reports would be useful. “And the truth shall make you free.”

      Your point about “young kids” seems unnecessarily negative. A big part of the mission experience is to cement a missionary’s bond to the Church. A “refiner’s fire,” if you will. So study is not necessarily a bad thing.

  15. Matt says:

    I was one of those who did want to go on a mission. Just days before submitting my papers, I was given my patriarchal blessing in which I was promised that, if I obeyed and sustained my mission president, that I would be a very successful missionary. I was ecstatic when I got my call to Germany.
    About 2 months in, I realized that it was a mistake. I was worthy, I had desire to share the gospel, but I was mentally incapable of being a missionary there. For two years, I knocked on doors and had no success. Mission wide, we averaged about 5 baptisms a month (with about 150 elders). It became harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning just to face another day of rejection. When the one man who my companion and I baptized left the church within a couple of months of joining, I wanted to go home.
    I knew my family would accept it if I did leave early but I was terrified that I would become a social pariah if I was one of those who “Came home early”. I was afraid that no good Mormon woman would want to marry a failed missionary so I toughed it out. It was a mistake. I have shared this sentiment with my wife who, ironically, would not have cared if I had served or not. On top of that, my last companion was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
    My last companion was fresh out of the MTC. He was a schizophrenic whose parents had believed that, since he was serving the lord that his condition would be taken care of. It wasn’t. After my first month with him, I was called in to see the mission president who excoriated me for being both physically and mentally abusive to my new companion. I had no idea what he was talking about but he insisted that I was making my new companion miserable.
    When I rejoined my companion, I asked him what was going on and he insisted that the mission president was lying and that nothing was wrong… The following month, I did everything in my power to keep my companion happy but, once again, was called into the mission president’s office. This time, I was threatened with being sent home early (with one month left to go), if I didn’t cease “Tormenting” my companion. As before, I rejoined my companion and was assured by him that he had no idea what the mission president was talking about. At this point, I knew I was never going to be a successful missionary as there was no way I could sustain my mission president. To my shame, I spent those last few weeks wandering around town pretending to street contact. I was done. It was about this same time I discovered that the Church also considered my mission a waste of time. They announced that the mission was not going to get any new elders as they were shutting it down. That just made the desire to give up even worse.
    During my last interview before going home, my mission president admonished me to consider how I had treated my companion when I got home. Basically, I was being called to repentance for something I had never done. He essentially told me that I was under condemnation for what I had done. I left, went home and felt like a complete failure.
    A few months later, I received a very apologetic email from my companion. His next companion had not been as tolerant of his behavior as I had. He had beaten him up and, once everything came out, he was put on meds and turned out to be a very good missionary. At no time was I contacted by my mission president to explain, much less apologize. Had my companion not sent me that letter, I would have never known.
    To this day, 23 years later, I still have dreams several times a week that I am back in Germany tracting. It is a horrible, gut wrenching feeling. I still love the lord but have no testimony of missionary work. It is so bad, in fact, that I am exceptionally grateful to God for only sending me daughters. While I would support them if they chose to go, I have always been very honest with them about my experience. I am glad that the same pressure to go is not placed on our young women. I don’t know how I could, in good conscience, send a child on a mission.
    It has affected my church relationships as well. I vowed many years ago to never allow myself to be coerced by anyone with spiritual authority over me. If they are wrong, I will never again smile and obey. That feeling of being under condemnation for things that I have no control over has stuck with me. It is something I don’t think I will ever overcome and, frankly, I wish I had never served a mission.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      My youngest brother asked about my mission and I was frank with him. He decided not to go. I don’t think it would have been a good experience for him. I didn’t recommend or not recommend. I just tried to explain the way it was.

      Both of my sons went on missions and they had good experiences. My daughter did not go. I was happy with the decisions made by all three. I tried to protect all three–particularly my sons–from peer pressure (I live in Utah Valley). I wanted it to be their decision and their decision alone. But I’m sure there was pressure. For example, I had to call off one of my neighbors.

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