Zelophehad’s Daughters

When Bad Missions Get Worse: A Request for Advice

Posted by Eve

As I said in response to Galdralag’s post, my mission was a very positive experience overall, a sea change in my spiritual life. (It was also hard and unremitting, as missions are wont to be, and I’d never want to go through the daily proselyting slog again.) But in spite of my own positive experience I feel a little terror when I think about my children serving missions. I know people whose missions inflicted lasting damage on them–spiritually, emotionally, socially, even physically. I’m acquainted with a couple of men whose missions destroyed their testimonies, and more than a couple of men and women who endured emotionally abusive companions.

There’s much that could be said, and has been said, about how the missionary program could be altered to make such experiences less likely. But today I’m interested in a more immediate and practical question. Those of you who encountered serious dysfunction on your missions–problems greater than medium-level homesickness, culture shock, and run-of-the-mill personality conflicts, problems that cannot be solved by injunctions to “forget yourself and get to work,” problems like faked baptisms and companions who scream at you for the smallest rule violations and control all the money and mission presidents who express their hatred of sisters–what would you recommend that a missionary in such a dire situation do? What do you wish you yourself had known, or done, when you found yourself in such a situation?

31 Responses to “When Bad Missions Get Worse: A Request for Advice”

  1. 1.

    I had a “screamer” as my second senior companion. When it was announced that we would work together the other members of my mission zone offered sincere sympathy. Our time together was brutal. But toward the midpoint I realized that while I still believed in inspired callings and the usefulness (at times necessity) of a chain of command, sometimes all those things mattered much less when the leader was practicing unrighteous dominion. D&C 121 helped me struggle toward understanding that. And once I did my companion suddenly seemed like a petty young man with a black name tag. That didn’t excuse me from trying to love him and work with him. But I no longer stood in awe of his senior companion/district leader position. And I no longer feared that the Lord would be mad at me for not submitting to my companion’s abuse. They say dictators fear nothing more than the people. Well, once I made clear I would not be dictated to but kindly led or else I would report him to everyone I knew (both in and outside the mission) the nonsense began to lessen, although it never fully went away.

    I don’t know if this helps. I don’t believe situations like mine are the norm, but I’m certain they happen more than we admit. However, to any who were like the excellent companions I wrote home about, thank you. People like you saved my testimony.

  2. 2.

    Having “babysat” 3 comps in a row over a four month period, one of which didn’t even want to go to Church. I later babysat another guy for 3 hellish months. My advice is be honest with the Mission Prs. tell him what is going on, he can’t help you if he doesn’t know what’s going on. I wasn’t about to get into trouble for any antics anyone did, I just didn’t put up with it. If the comp. got bent outta shape so be it. One guy I think turned around and we worked hard together so he wasn’t messing around when we had appt’s and baptisms and he wasn’t as tough as others. Splits also helps a lot!

  3. 3.

    My last 6-9 months were kind of hell. I had a mission president who couldn’t stand me (and made no qualms about letting people know all about his disdain for me), and companions who used that vitriol as their personal hierarchal stepping stone. It took me at last 3 years to talk about my mission openly with people as it left such a sour taste in my mouth.

    When I was going through it, I think my saving grace was knowing that there was only a few months left. I did a lot of daydreaming about my life once I was done with my mission. As someone who had many of his friends leave the state to go to school (while I worked and went to a community college before my mission, and was planning on going to Idaho afterwards), that was what my hope was in. “I have to get through this or those things won’t happen.” Not saying that was a rational way to look at things, but for 21 year old brandt, it worked. Couple that with the fact that I was the first missionary in our entire family (both parents were converts), my father never served a mission, and all my extended family were non-Mormons, I had no context for what was happening. I just didn’t have any framework to conceptualize why someone would want to, for example, extend their mission, as I was exhausted at the one year point. Oh, you mean people just say that, and they don’t really mean it? Oh, you mean it’s kind of an unwritten rule to not talk about how excited you are at going home? Things like that…

    I’ve been pretty public in my advocation for the necessity for professional counselors/therapists in missions, if anything, for an objective sounding board. I’d love to see a “debriefing” type program for missionaries coming off their mission as well, in case there’s anything that they need to talk about without the fear of not living up to a cultural standard of publicly and proudly advocating your undying love for your mission.

    But a missionary on a mission is tough. I think the first thing is allowing that missionary to know that they can use you (whether you are a parent, friend, teacher, whatever) as a sounding board. That they don’t have to just ‘suck it up,’ and that you can talk about those things.

    Secondly, and this might not be the most ethical thing, but I would encourage them to take a look around at their situation and critically analyze solutions. Is it just a crazy companion? Start trying to advocate for a bit of change, whether that be talking with ZL’s, DL’s, AP’s, or the mission president about personality conflicts. Is it a mission president? A bit tougher. Is it issues with how mission “things” are being run? Is that coming from the president, or the mission leaders? Could you offer alternatives? And lastly…if all else fail…I would encourage that missionary to look beyond the Mormon side and to the humanist side – you can serve people. Help people. Find meaning in yourself. Etc etc.

  4. 4.

    It took me about 20 years to work through the stuff on my mission that was hard for me to cope with. The thing that finally made the difference was that I recognized that I had a sincere love for the people I met and taught. I developed that love for others while I was serving my mission. In the end, it matters far more who I was than what happened to me.

  5. 5.

    Tough question. I honestly don’t know that there is anything to be done about a misguided mission president except to avoid him. Sometimes that is more possible than other times. You probably just have to decide if it would be better for you long term to put your head down and ignore him or to go home with your spirit in tact.

  6. 6.

    I just wish I would have had the guts to be myself regardless of what anybody else thought. I had an emotionally abusive companion just one month after leaving the MTC. I was a shy, quiet person, and I lacked the self-confidence and communication skills to stand up and say “You will not treat me this way”and “What we are about to do is not OK, and I will not participate in it”. My experience in that companionship led me into clinical depression that last for most of the remainder of my mission. There was a lot of rebellion in the mission as a whole as well, and I wish I’d had the guts to tell my mission president what was going on, because it was utterly ridiculous and completely unbecoming of people who were supposed to be representing the Lord. There was a lot of pressure for baptisms, which led missionaries to push people who were not really ready to be baptized. I wish I’d had the courage to just say “no, I will not be part of this”. I didn’t engage in that kind of pushing (except for the time with the emotionally abusive companion, who did direct some of that type of stuff), and I never got attention or accolades from mission leadership… which is fine with me now, but at the time it was hard because the mission seemed to be all about “success”, and I wasn’t “successful”. I want my kids to serve missions because of the growth they will obtain, but I sure worry that they will have to endure what I experienced. I want to raise them to be happy with who they are, communicate in healthy ways, and stand up for themselves when they need to. IT took me years to be able to integrate my mission experience into a positive self-concept rather than a negative one.

  7. 7.

    With the current system of how missions are set up, and the age of the people involved there is nothing that can be done on an immediate and individual level. There are just too many gaps in the mission where these problems can fall through.

    Ten years after my mission I am still daily struggling with what happened.

    If someone was struggling, I would encourage them to be completely honest with their parents or another trusted person. In my case, neither of my mission presidents could be trusted. The honesty of what you’re dealing with with someone outside of the self-reinforcing environment of the mission can give you a powerful check on what is OK and what is not.

    That means, call home, even if it’s against the rules, early and often and stand up for yourself even if it causes problems for you in the mission. Way to much is pushed under the rug just to keep things going.

  8. 8.

    I wish I had felt like I could go home if I wanted to. More than social pressure, though, I worried about losing my BYU scholarship if I went home early, so I never seriously considered it. And my mission was pretty miserable a lot of the time.

    This reminds me of a psychology study that I only half-remember so I’m sure I’ll get some details wrong, but I think I have the gist right. Participants had to do some kind of challenging task while people made loud noise right outside. The loud noise was blamed on something else (construction, or something like that). The treatment group was told they were told they could have it stopped if they really needed to, but it would be best if they let it continue. The control group wasn’t told they could stop the noise. The participants’ performance on the task was rated, and even though none of the participants in the treatment group had asked for the noise to be stopped, they did better on average on the task than did participants in the control group.

    What I get from this is that knowing you could go home if you needed to would help missionaries, or might have helped me, even if they (I) don’t actually exercise the option.

    Also, I like canadiancynic’s suggestions. The mission is a total institution, trying to control every aspect of your life. If it’s horrible, a missionary needs to know that they can ask for and get help from outside that institution. This would require preparation beforehand, but thinking about my own kids serving, I want to drill into them that the mission leadership isn’t everything, and just because a petty tyrant of a district leader has power over you in the total institution doesn’t mean they do in the real world, and that they can reach out to the real world if they need to.

  9. 9.

    Thanks to all participants for their experiences and suggestions. I’m finding them very useful. In my experience the emphasis on missionary obedience makes no discrimination between large rules and small ones, and that plays very hard against missionaries in bad situations who often feel too guilty to call home even if a mission president, ZL, or companion is making life hell. (There’s much about missionary culture that plays into abuse of power, and it’s easy to think you wouldn’t be suffering so much if only you were more righteous.) I agree with Ziff’s point that the mission is a total institution–total as in totalitarian–and that missionaries should understand there’s a point at which they need help from outside.

  10. 10.

    A number of years ago I was in a book club where we read Ellie Wiesel’s “Night.” It was amazing that towards the end of our evening’s discussion, three of us found the whole concentration camp comparable to our mission experience. From leadership and chain of command to the work to the dress code and food, there were many similarities. I’m not sure whether men would find that same comparison.

    I wish I would have broken the sleeping rule. If I could talk to my 21-year-old self I would say, sleep in! and take naps.! Being a missionary is exhausting work–there is no sin in health. And being a sister missionary was lonely. With cruel companions and often immature, macho, calloused, ladder-climbing elders to socialize with it, it was a time of nurturing a big inner life. Self-compassion and mental health could use some serious attention on the mission.

  11. 11.

    One suggestion that helped me is to realize that my one and only loyalty was to the Lord. To the degree the DL, ZL, APs, and even MP lined up with the Lord, i was obliged to follow them. If they were out of line, no deference was required.

    If found this concept useful post-mission as well, and have found elements of it in temple covenants.

  12. 12.

    That said, a mission can be tremendously difficult. My first area was a tiny Mexican village where there was no phone and when my native companion got dear johned and refused to work, I really had no idea what was going on.

    I would strongly advise setting up a system so that foreign-speaking missionaries have someone with whom they can discuss issues.

  13. 13.

    I can’t believe I found this post! I was searching various things on google about bad mission experiences and came across this.

    I don’t know if I can offer much help, but here goes.

    I returned from a mission nearly eight months ago and am absolutely haunted by what I saw and endured. A mission, hands down, was the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my life (and both of my parents died and this STILL trumps that).

    My mission president was like how most MPs that are called today are: rich, power hungry, an aggressive CEO, and made my life hell. I was eager to please, super obedient, and followed every ridiculous numbers-oriented push (cause it’s ALL about numbers, numbers, numbers), so imagine my surprise when I went in for a regular interview with him at 5 months in and he ripped me to shreds. Not for breaking any rules (since I hadn’t), but for my very personality and character. He told me I was not a humble servant, that I was too independent, and that God had ONLY sent me on a mission as a last-ditch effort to “fix” my personality. He ended the interview by saying, “Lehi loved Laman and Lemuel, so I can love you.”

    I was destroyed.
    I couldn’t even get out of bed for two days after. I wanted to kill myself, I wanted to go home, I wanted to no longer exist. Your MP is like the prophet of your mission. You think he’s inspired, that he loves you, and that he’s a father to you. When he’s corrupt, numbers-oriented, and abusive, it shakes up your whole world.

    And, the fact is, you’re stuck. Who can you report him to? The white handbook says any letters to church headquarters about MPs will be returned, unread, to the MP. Plus, he’s got his APs and ZLs who are often just as bad as him. I wish members knew how bad missions can be. How it is ALL numbers based. How if you are different, expect your life to be ruined. I was an “older” sister missionary (older than most the sisters), I had a Master’s degree, I had worked professionally in DC, and I had a very compassionate view of human nature. That doesn’t work in a very strictly conformist place like a mission.

    I made it through that horrible 18 months because I started avoiding the MP (though he abused me in every single interview I had) and laying low in the mission. Though, looking back, I stayed only because I thought God would revoke blessings if I didn’t push through. What a mistake.

    I think if I had a kid go on a mission (and I’d be hard pressed to ever let one go), I’d tell them not to buy into the culture, to CALL HOME even if it goes against the rules, and to know if they need to go home, THEY CAN. The culture of the shamed early RM is awful.

    I’m, obviously, not over what I went through. I’m in therapy, have PTSD, and feel like my mission ruined my life which used to be so mentally, emotionally, and professionally sound. Was it worth it? PLEASE.

  14. 14.

    Reading this, I’m concerned about the 18 year olds whose psyches are still developing. Makes me very sad.

  15. 15.

    escc, that’s a horrifying and heartbreaking story. I also was an “older” sister missionary, with an MA and some teaching experience (of people roughly the elders’ ages), but I was fortunate to have two MPs who were mostly benevolent in their sexism, and didn’t find me challenging or threatening. (For example: I asked one of them once why sisters couldn’t be zone leaders, since it’s not a calling, sisters in some missions do hold that position, and it doesn’t carry any priesthood responsibilities. He wouldn’t quite believe that I wasn’t asking because I secretly harbored fantasies of being a ZL — crazy talk; who wants to join middle management?? — and his answers were totally insupportable and ill-considered, but it didn’t seem to worry him that I’d asked).

    This really highlights, for me, a huge problem that I was lucky to dodge, but the church as a whole needs to address:

    Your MP is like the prophet of your mission. You think he’s inspired, that he loves you, and that he’s a father to you. When he’s corrupt, numbers-oriented, and abusive, it shakes up your whole world.

    And, the fact is, you’re stuck. Who can you report him to? The white handbook says any letters to church headquarters about MPs will be returned, unread, to the MP. Plus, he’s got his APs and ZLs who are often just as bad as him.

    A structure where authorities have no accountability to those under their authority — where there’s no legal recourse for the governed — is by definition a tyranny. You might be luck y to have a benevolent tyrant, like I had, but structurally, he’s still a tyrant.

  16. 16.

    escc, thank you for adding your perspective. Your experience sounds absolutely horrifying. I’m so sorry.

  17. 17.

    escc,

    My heart goes out to you. I had an abusive companion for 6 weeks and still had PTSD years later. I can’t imagine how much more I would have been affected by an abusive MP. I think what compounds the problems you describe is that missionaries are geographically isolated from friends, peers, and family. When there are difficulties in a relationship it is often helpful to get an outside perspective in order to ask questions like: “Is this normal?” or “What do you think I should do?” We all need support groups and sounding boards and the mission strips most of them away. Not that this will be able to undo anything that happened to you, but I wonder if you saw my post on missions and mental health. http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2012/09/05/missionaries-and-mental-health/ Your words confirm to me why missions tend to put individuals’ mental health at risk.

  18. 18.

    Thank you for your responses. My therapist recommended trying to find a sympathetic group (or the like) that could relate to or also had some painful or bad mission experiences.

    The problem I’ve found with that is that the ones I find tend be run by anti-Mormon websites. I certainly have a few issues with the church right now after what I’ve experienced (especially with priesthood, leadership, and an almost-blood oath to keeping things quiet, plus I’ve always been a feminist, liberal, and independent Mormon otherwise), but I do believe the gospel is true. I’m really grateful I stumbled across this site.

    I’ve been reading the link provided by Beatrice, so I’ll go comment over there on that post, but I agree. Missions are most definitely a risk to mental health. I had never experienced any major mental health problems prior. I had certainly gone through a mild or moderate depression when my parents died, but nothing too severe. I think my mission certainly set me up for a mental health breakdown.

    It’s obviously very stressful to be on a mission. You are so incredibly deprived of basic life functions (adequate sleep — we could only nap if given permission by the mission nurse) and you are cut off from anyone that can give you perspective. Mission culture is severe, judgmental, and so obedience/sacrifice based that it is ridiculous. I’m sure we all know missionaries that “sacrificed” core parts of themselves to be ‘worthy” or that felt a lack of baptisms must be directly related to sleeping until 6:40am or skipping personal study one day. It’s just rather hard to have a real perspective when you are in the trenches.

    As for myself, I think my experiences hit me as hard as they did because I had never had a bad priesthood leader before. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t have bad interactions with the church; I did and many times over, but I had never had a bad Bishop or Stake President. So, when my “trusted priesthood leader” made me the target of his abuse, I was shocked. It shook up my core beliefs on priesthood and inspiration. I initially tried to defend myself, but he beat me to a pulp and I was left to internalize it and assume it really must be my fault.

    I think the other part was that my companion at the time was the mission’s absolutely crazy sister. She had to be screened for over a year to even go and was as crazy as a cucumber. So, I was glued to a mentally unstable girl and then was abused. Not a good situation.

    Shortly after my initial interview of abuse, my crazy companion called the MP and told him that I had been sad about the interview. He came back to my area a week or two later for an “emergency interview” with me and ripped me apart for three hours. He said that I was so hurt by his last interview because he had told me hard things about myself that were true and there was no place in the mission for someone like me with my independent personality. He said every problem in the mission could be traced back to me. I laugh at that now. Yes, the AP making out with the 14 year old girl MUST have been my fault!

    Obviously, had I known then what I know now, I would have walked out of the room and taken a cab to the airport. But, I felt very trapped. I felt it must be true what he said about me. He was “inspired”, right? And, most of all, I figured my life would be judged very harshly by the members if I left. So, I stayed.

    I wish I would have known or been taught about abusive leadership so I would have not been so blown away when encountering it. I also wish the church could provide a way for their bad leaders to be held accountable.

  19. 19.

    Hey! I’ve been lured here by my friend, escc. I’m happy you’re all having this conversation, and I wanted to add a few thought-nuggets.

    I didn’t serve a mission. Neither did my brother, my dad, or anyone else who was close enough for me to write to, so when I was corresponding with escc during her mission, I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know everything that was going on, but I knew a lot, and as far as I remember, I never directly counseled her to go home (did I, escc?). I had never been in a similar situation, and had received all of the same messages over the course of my life about the importance of serving a complete mission, etc. I was afraid that I would give the wrong advice, so mostly I just tried to be supportive and offer the occasional letter-shaped distraction.

    I don’t know if I did the right thing–mostly I think I didn’t. What I want to say is that sometimes the people at home are just as unprepared for dealing with bad missions as the people who are on them. In the same way that escc was afraid to leave because she thought she would lose blessings, I was afraid I would cause her to lose blessings if I told her leave.

    If I could do it over again, when I received that first heartbroken letter, I would tried to offer her a way out. Gee, if it had been an abusive romantic relationship, I would have told escc to bail and fast! “Forget yourself and go to work” is excellent counsel for overcoming homesickness and culture shock, but if someone you love is facing abuse, please don’t be afraid to advise them to leave. Missionary work is a lifelong endeavor, and preserving mental and emotional health is far more important than serving out a full term in the institution.

  20. 20.

    Anon for know, I’m particularly haunted by your point about the stigma of coming home early. I imagine a lot of missionaries stick out terrible missions simply because coming home early is so unimaginable in our religious culture (if you didn’t contract a terrible illness, that is–the conclusion is that you must have done something really, really terrible like Had. Sex.). I know of one man who really wanted to come home–in his case to escape a seriously abusive leadership structure–but like Ziff he feared the loss of his BYU scholarship. When he wrote his father about wanting to come home his father, who had had a great mission experience, encouraged him to stay. So he stuck out his two years and everything looked right and in the meantime his relationship with the church and God was destroyed and has never really been the same. It’s a terrible price to pay.

    And missions are such a crucial rite of passage for Mormon men that if they don’t go, they’re marked for life, or at least for the next decade or two. A few years ago, the ward I was in had a change of bishoprics, and I was so struck by the new second counselor’s talk: he was in his mid-forties, introducing himself to the ward and telling us something about his life, and he was so apologetic about his failure to serve a mission. It was obviously a wound, an inadequacy he still felt all those years later. That haunts me. On the one hand, I fear my son will go on a mission simply because of the social pressure or endure a terrible mission to avoid the stigma of coming home early; on the other, I fear he won’t go and will consequently find himself outside of the normal male Mormon trajectory. It would be very hard to keep being active under such circumstances.

    I wonder too if the age change for women won’t inevitably make a mission more of an implicit requirement for them and if the same sorts of social dynamics won’t inevitably develop.

  21. 21.

    I am blown away by this web site. I had no idea that there were so many missionaries expressing their horror stories from their days of service.
    Yes, I had my share of trauma in my mission. My companions were jerks. My mission president was a saint. The fights I had with my fellow missionaries did serve a purpose though. It caused me to engage in introspection and find why they felt about me the way they did. I then went to work to assiduously change the impression I was having on others. At that, I think I was successful. My very “in tune” mission president was a literal “godsend”. The gross offenders were transferred the very next morning after the most traumatic night of my career. He could not have known about what happened except that the spirit told him to move those elders. I was jumping for joy on the inside while remaining calm on the outside.
    I also knew that my son, when he returned from his mission, did not have the positive experience that he should have had. He has never told me yet what happened but I know that all was not well.
    I suppose that each of us has different challenges to face and part of our personal growth is how we handle it. First and foremost, we must rely upon the Lord in mighty prayer. Then we must go about doing what we are asked to do. Then the Lord will bless our efforts in His own way and in His own time. I know that is easier said than done and I cannot place myself into your shoes except to say that I sympathize and pray that all of you may find peace in the Gospel. People are flawed, the spirit is not. I am distressed that there might be numerous leaders abusing their leadership. If that is the case, they will have to answer to the Lord for offending His “little ones”. Finally, in closing let me say that being humble, accepting a certain amount of chastisement, practicing introspection, can be a building experience. Remember Brigham Young, when Joseph openly chastised him without cause, as a test, simply asked Joseph, “what would you have me do?”. Joseph then embraced Brigham and said that he had passed, that he was humble enough to accept the word of Joseph without fighting back. May we be similarly humble and allow our trials to make us stronger.

  22. 22.

    On the one hand, I fear my son will go on a mission simply because of the social pressure or endure a terrible mission to avoid the stigma of coming home early; on the other, I fear he won’t go and will consequently find himself outside of the normal male Mormon trajectory. It would be very hard to keep being active under such circumstances.

    Great summary of the dilemma, Eve. It’s a risk if you go that you’ll have tyrannical leaders or difficult companions, but it’s pretty much a certainty if you don’t (as a guy) that you’ll be an outsider in the Church.

    And like you said, it will be unfortunate if women start to face this dilemma too.

  23. 23.

    And like you said, it will be unfortunate if women start to face this dilemma too.

    I’m really hoping that one of the positives of the influx of sisters will be the opposite – that instead we will experience a seachange out of the hierarchical, militaristic, heavily rule-bound “no questions asked” elements of modern mission culture, including how mission service is perceived. I’ve got a post in the works about this.

  24. 24.

    My mission was horrific. I was also older, more mature, and very happy, independent, and excited when I went.

    Then the reality. Numbers, disobedience, and working inaffectively (we were not aloud back at our houses until 9:30–but everyone went to bed around 8pm in the winter and would not let us in–so we just drove and walked around trying to kill time.

    There was serious ostracism from the Elders as well. We only had about 7 sisters in a mission of 200–so they pretty much just put us out in outer darkness and forgot about us. We never could do trade offs, no one would invite us to do things during our P day and so I was with just that one person, without any relief for months.

    Yeah, I advise everyone I meed to NOT go on a mission–but they think I’m the devil for saying so!

    (sorry, in a rush, wish I had time to be more eloquent!)

  25. 25.

    [...] By Eve [...]

  26. 26.

    I am way late with this comment. I appreciate everyone who has shared their bad mission experiences on this site. I am certain there will be others who will be helped by knowing they are not alone.

    I did want to say though, that I do not agree with the idea of trying to discourage someone from pursuing missionary service. It may be easy to think that because you had a bad experience, your friend/son/daughter will have a bad experience. I served a mission and it was and continues to be a tremendous blessing to me every day of my life. Because of that, I hope all of my children will serve. I think when people refer to their missions as “the best 2 years” or “the best decision I ever made” etc, they are almost always expressing their true feelings.

    I think rather than telling your experience as the universal “truth” about missions, it would be far more helpful to share it as your experience only. Your children/friends would then have a more realistic picture of missionary service. Most missionaries and mission leaders are wonderful people who are doing their best, but some can be inept, sexist, mentally ill, or even evil. Being open about that gives permission to someone who may be in a bad or difficult situation to acknowledge it and seek help.

  27. 27.

    That’s an interesting take, E, because I see things precisely the opposite way. You say that when people say a mission was the best two years, or whatever, they’re “almost always expressing their true feelings.” Given the large amount of social pressure in the Church to both serve a mission (if you’re male) and to talk about it in glowing terms, I suspect that a large fraction of people who say things like that are merely saying those things because they know it’s expected, because it’s how they can signal they’re members of the group.

    I think it’s perfectly appropriate to discourage people from serving missions, particularly if they’re people most likely to be harmed by the experience (e.g., neurotic, anti-authoritarian, perhaps). I think it’s fine if people want to share positive experiences of missions, but given how dominant this narrative is in the Church, I think it would be better if people sharing such experiences emphasized that these are their experiences only, and shouldn’t be generalized to everyone having a good experience on a mission. Teens will already hear hundreds of positive mission experiences through church lessons and talks and General Conference and whatnot. We need to encourage more people who had negative experiences to speak out, so that young people have a more realistic idea of what to expect when they go.

  28. 28.

    E: I really appreciated your comment as I really enjoy having both sides of a topic addressed. I can see your point on many things. I do wonder, did you serve a mission or is your opinion based off interactions/conversations with those that did? If you did serve, then you definitely are allowed your opinion and I am glad your experience was like that. However, if your opinion stems from a spouse’s or other relative’s experience, I’d simply suggest that there really is a difference when one experiences something on their own.

    I also have a bit of difficulty with this part of your comment: “Most missionaries and mission leaders are wonderful people who are doing their best.”
    I simply don’t agree with that generalization. We obviously don’t have numbers to support that. While every mission experience is very different, I’d say the opposite was true in my mission: *most* missionaries and leaders were not wonderful people. Matter of fact, it was the minority that were living the real gospel out there: the love of Christ, love of people, etc. as opposed to love of power, love of numbers, and condone those that are different.

    Finally, I see nothing wrong with discouraging a mission. I think if encouraging a mission is allowed, discouraging is, too. The fact is that the culture of the church will always encourage and glamorize missions. People going have the right to know the realities of what they are getting themselves into. I can’t help but look back and wish that someone would have told me — warned me even — what a mission would be like for someone like me. I don’t think it would have stopped me from going at all, but I think I would have been far better prepared to deal with what came.

  29. 29.

    My brother’s mission president just made this announcement: “The church has adjusted the email policy for missionaries worldwide. …you may communicate by email with friends, priesthood leaders and new converts…Due to this adjustment, you may have an extra 30 minutes of email time; therefore, the maximum time spent doing emails on P-Day is now 90 minutes.”

    I assume the motivations are unrelated, but more communication with friends should help with these issues a little bit.

  30. 30.

    Thokozile: Wow, thanks for sharing! I knew there was an email announcement coming — some of my old companions and Elders I was friends with have mentioned in some recent letters they were expecting an announcement about emailing. They were all actually really worried as they expected it to be some new, restricting rule (in my old mission, they’ve gotten a LOT of extra rules lately), so this is great news!

    It’s kind of funny though because most missionaries were taking well over an hour emailing time when I was on my mission. You just can’t help it. You’re required to write a long, weekly report to your mission president so you have to go over your day planner and include a bunch of info, then reading emails from family or friends and replying to them. Plus, if you like the missionaries in your district and you all email together, you often get chatting. I swear we were taking 90 minutes every week, so what this new rule really means is they can now have, unofficially, two hours.

    Good! I think it’ll help at least a little bit.

  31. 31.

    [...] (which is certainly necessary for some forms of abuse). Recent discussions on the problems of  abuse in missions have taken place over on ZD. Both the Catholic and LDS churches have sometimes given the appearance [...]

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