09242017

Early-returned missionaries thrive with acceptance, love

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Thomas Ferrin served a full-time mission in Virginia for 10 months before coming home to receive treatment for depression. (Photo courtesy Thomas Ferrin.)

Thomas Ferrin served a full-time mission in Virginia for 10 months before coming home to receive treatment for depression. (Photo courtesy Thomas Ferrin)

Thomas Ferrin of Provo knew serving a mission would be difficult.

He had a history of mental illness, which he indicated on his mission papers. For 15 months, Ferrin went to interview after interview while professionals and Church officials assessed his mental health and gauged his likelihood of success in the mission field.

In the end, he spent more time waiting for his call than he spent in the field.

The anxiety that had troubled him in his teens amplified in the mission environment. He was cut off from communication with his family, which was one of the things that had helped him successfully manage anxiety in the past. He also struggled serving in the Bible Belt where his belief system was constantly challenged.

“After 10 months of being in Virginia in three different areas, I was finally so debilitated that just getting up and studying was terrifying,” Ferrin said. “I was just broken.”

Chad Eckersell, third from left, in the MTC with fellow missionaries Elder Larsen, Elder Burtis and Elder Footracer. Eckersell came home for medical depression two weeks into his mission. (Photo courtesy Chad Eckersell.)

Chad Eckersell, third from left, came home for medical depression two weeks into his mission. His first week in the MTC was a happy one with fellow missionaries (from left) Elder Larsen, Elder Burtis and Elder Footracer. (Photo courtesy Chad Eckersell.)

Chad Eckersell of Rigby, Idaho, also struggled with anxiety and depression in his teen years. He and his leaders were confident he was successfully managing the problem and was prepared to serve. In 2005, he put in his mission papers at age 19 and was called to serve in the New York Rochester Mission. He entered the MTC in a strong mental state.

“I felt really good,” Eckersell said. “The first few days I didn’t feel at all anxious or depressed. I didn’t feel any type of homesickness. I was made a district leader the first day in and had a really good experience with my district and my companion. And then at the end of the first week it just hit me. I was feeling super anxious, getting all those symptoms back again. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Eckersell’s MTC teacher was the first to ask him what was wrong. Then he met with the MTC president, who brought Eckersell’s parents into the conversation. Ultimately, the MTC president suggested Eckersell pray about what to do.

The day before his district flew to New York, Eckersell went home.

“I came home and I was like, ‘This is super weird,'” Eckersell said. “I hadn’t had the whole two-year experience by any means. I felt out of place. It was difficult seeing my family because I don’t think they understood what I was going through, what depression and anxiety were or how I was dealing with it.”

Gathering data

early-returned-missionariesDr. Kris Doty, assistant professor of social work at Utah Valley University, is the mother of two early-returned missionaries. When one of her students, who also came home early, told her about his experience, the two of them decided to do some research on the little-understood topic.

They started by interviewing 12 young men who came home early from their LDS missions. Then they used the responses from those interviews to generate questions for an anonymous survey that garnered 348 responses from both men and women.

The study revealed that despite social stigma, most early-returned missionaries don’t come home because of unresolved transgression. More than a third — 36 percent — came home because of mental health concerns, 34 percent for physical health concerns, 12 percent for unresolved transgression and 11 percent for disobedience to mission rules. Of the total respondents, 39 percent reported that coming home was their personal choice.

The length of time served also varied widely. Of the early-returned missionaries who took the survey, 40 percent served for longer than a year before they came home. Fifty percent said they “loved their missions.” Nearly two-thirds — 62 percent — reported they had strong spiritual experiences on their mission.

Despite success during their missions, however, 73 percent of early-returned missionaries in the survey experienced feelings of failure. A third (34 percent) had a period of inactivity in the Church when they came home, and one third of those missionaries stayed inactive and never returned to church activity.

(Photo courtesy Chad Eckersell)

Chad Eckersell was called to serve in the New York Rochester Mission. (Photo courtesy Chad Eckersell)

Coming home

“The wording in the missionary call is interesting,” said Dr. Geret Giles, a psychologist at Giles & Associates Family Psychology. “It says, ‘It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of (18 to 24 months).’ I think that’s an interesting way of wording the call that helps early-returned missionaries understand that regardless of the length of time they serve, the important things are their desires and intentions.”

Missionaries who return before their anticipated release date usually do so after counseling with their mission president, parents, and ward and stake leaders. Sometimes they also talk to therapists from LDS Family Services or doctors. It’s a difficult decision, and another important question often follows: Will the missionary return to the field?

“Sometimes people assume that when a missionary comes home, they just need to fix something so they can go back out,” Doty said. “But that’s not always possible or even appropriate. A lot of the young people we surveyed said people applied pressure for them to go back. It was embarrassing and difficult for them to say, ‘I don’t know if that’s what I want to do.’ Some therapists have even approached this with a goal date of when the missionary can go back out. It’s counterintuitive to what they’re supposed to do. They need to allow the client to drive the process.”

“Sometimes people assume that when a missionary comes home, they just need to fix something so they can go back out. But that’s not always possible or even appropriate.” —Dr. Kris Doty

 Instead of focusing on why the missionary came home, Doty says Church members should focus on the service the missionary gave.

“Only in the Church do we get excited when we send somebody out for full-time service, then mourn if they serve for only eight months,” she said. “What about the eight months he gave? That’s eight months of his entire life! We gloss over it like it’s not important.”

Social challenges

Giles has worked extensively with early-returned missionaries. He says most of them experience three significant challenges: how coming home early has changed the missionary’s view of himself, how it has changed his relationship with God, and how it has changed his relationship with others.

“I know I was kind of recluse when I got home because I felt like if I were to see people, they were probably going to question why I was home,” Eckersell said. “Maybe they’d think I wasn’t worthy to be out there, or maybe they’d stereotype. I was apprehensive about going to church, too. No one wanted to approach or talk to me at first.”

Eckersell’s fears of being judged are common among early-returned missionaries. In some cases, their concerns are valid. But in many cases, people just don’t know what to say.

“The most common problem is that people don’t know what’s going on, so they assume the worst,” Giles said. “Ward members, even friends, often don’t know what to say to someone who’s come home early, so they don’t say anything. That’s probably the worst thing that they could do. Early-returned missionaries often feel judged even if other people aren’t judging them, because they’re judging themselves pretty harshly.”

Doty’s research shows that missionaries who don’t feel welcome at church are more likely to experience a period of inactivity. Conversely, if ward members receive missionaries with warmth and friendliness, the adjustment is easier and missionaries are more likely to remain active in the Church.

“Greet them,” Giles says. “Say ‘It’s good to see you! How are you feeling?’ Be warm and solicitous. Early-returned missionaries often don’t get a chance to share positive experiences they had on their mission. They have stories of conversion and personal experiences with the Spirit, but a lot of them don’t get to share. Asking about their mission is really helpful for missionaries.”

Spiritual challenges

For some early-returned missionaries, social problems are less significant than the spiritual challenges that come after a difficult mission experience.

“I’d never lived in a liberal Christian community before,” said Ferrin, who served in Virginia. “I was not familiar with the mainstream Christian culture. So the way they talked about Christ and explained the gospel was so foreign to me. I couldn’t give answers, especially because I didn’t feel like I could hear the whispering of the Spirit. I was basically left to my own reasoning, which wasn’t very good. Questions added up until I was so full of questions I didn’t know what the reality of life was. When somebody said ‘Jesus,’ it was like the most controversial topic anybody could talk about. I still knew in my heart that Jesus was my Savior, but giving details of that, or what it meant to me, was a black hole.”

Ferrin worked hard, was obedient to mission rules and saw great success on his mission. The mission president was genuinely surprised to hear of Ferrin’s struggles. But even with so many positive experiences, Ferrin’s feelings of inadequacy persisted when he came home.

Giles said those feelings can have a negative effect on early-returned missionaries’ ability to move forward when they come home.

“One of the things I hear all the time is that spiritual things remind them of their mission,” Giles said. “Reading the scriptures and praying reminds them of when they did that on their mission, so they develop an aversion to the very things that could be spiritually helping or healing them.”

As Ferrin found answers to his questions and sought treatment for his mental illness, things came back into focus for him and his testimony grew.

“I took a class called LDS Perspectives in Psychology at BYU,” Ferrin said. “That class is what opened the door to understanding who Christ was. I saw that there is only one way for us to really be healed and that is through the atonement. As I started to learn and experience that more, I started to see Christ as a living, breathing, caring, acting person.”

With permission from the mission president, Eckersell joined his friend Travis Schatt for the last few weeks of his mission. In this way, Eckersell had a short mission experience in England. (Photo courtesy Chad Eckersell.)

With permission from the mission president, Eckersell joined his friend Travis Schatt for the last few weeks of his mission. In this way, Eckersell had a short mission experience in England. (Photo courtesy Chad Eckersell)

How to help

Church members can help missionaries who come home early by making the Church a safe, accepting place for them to go, Doty said. Church leaders, families and friends can welcome early-return missionaries home with the same love and enthusiasm they would if they had served the full anticipated time. As people around early-returned missionaries assure them that their missions were acceptable and beneficial, missionaries will be able to overcome their own feelings of inadequacy more easily.

“We just need to love these kids,” Doty said. “I am amazed at the early-returned missionaries I’ve met. They are so strong and so faithful, but they feel shamed. We need to stop shaming people when they come home early from their missions. Shame has no place in this church.”

Eckersell said the support of his friends and family was a great strength to him when he came home from his mission.

“When I first got home, it was kind of difficult to be around friends and family,” he said. “But my family was really understanding after I talked to them. They were really loving and supportive. Whatever I needed — even if it was to not go back out into the mission field — I knew they would love and support me either way. I also have some of the greatest friends in the world. I would write them on their missions and they were all really supportive.”

“When I first got home, it was kind of difficult to be around friends and family. But my family was really understanding after I talked to them. They were really loving and supportive. Whatever I needed — even if it was to not go back out into the mission field — I knew they would love and support me either way.” —Chad Eckersell

 For some early-returned missionaries, a church-service mission can be a good option.

“If the traditional knocking-on-doors mission won’t work, there are service missions, temple missions, stake missions — lots of other ways to serve,” Doty said. “Those options should be considered thoughtfully and prayerfully with the missionary’s bishop.”

Serving a church-service mission didn’t occur to Eckersell at the time, but now that several years have passed, he wishes he’d explored the option.

“I felt at the time like that wouldn’t have been a ‘real mission,'” Eckersell said. “If I knew then what I know now, and if I had had the understanding that I could be a service missionary, I totally would have done it. Just to be able to say I had some type of experience where I was serving other people and helping them that way.”

As difficult as it can be, Doty said it’s important for parents to look beyond their own feelings and focus on their child’s.

“It’s not about you,” she said. “And I get it — I’ve had children who have come home early. But don’t focus on your pain, as legitimate as it is. We need to focus on them and what their needs are and how we can help them adjust, get treatment and care for whatever their needs are.”

Preparing youth for a mission

Meeting children’s needs comes into play long before they “grow a foot or two” and put on a missionary tag. Ideally, this begins in childhood and becomes essential as youth near mission age.

“We need to remember that when President (Thomas S.) Monson announced that male missionaries could serve at 18, he said it was an option,” Doty said. “Eighteen is not the new 19. It’s amazing how the culture — the culture, not the Church — is pressuring boys to go out at 18 and girls at 19. It’s only an option. For some, that means leaving right out of high school. They might not be prepared to cut off all contact with family and friends for two years. If they’re ready to go at 18, they should go! But I’d advise parents to back off. Don’t be helicopter parents. If your child wants to go on a mission, he can schedule his own doctor appointments and priesthood interviews. Let your kids have some ownership in the process.”

Giles also said preparation for a mission should include learning to take care of themselves.

“Three important things for the missionary are to live away from home, have experience with hard work, and know how to care for themselves,” Giles said. “And obviously, testimony is important. Elder (David A.) Bednar said a few conferences ago that we should make our homes pre-MTCs, complete with study of ‘Preach My Gospel.’ Anything we can do to approximate the demands and requirements of a mission will help prepare young men and young women to go.”

Ultimately, the end goal for all Church members — whether they serve a full-time mission for the anticipated amount of time or not — is to be missionary-minded and serve others daily.

“We’re supposed to love one another, bear each other’s burdens, and lift up children of God,” Eckersell said. “That should be each of our missions. There are people sitting by us at church who are struggling. How can we reach out to them? That’s where we’re tried and tested the most — with the people we see most often. When we’re judged and given our eternal reward, we’ll need to know that we did something to help benefit others. We can be missionaries daily. Each one of us is a missionary, no matter our situations.”

Doty will be giving the keynote address about early-returned missionaries in Pleasant Grove (North Field Stake Center, 1800 N. 105 West) on Sunday, April 27 at 7 p.m.

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29 Responses to "Early-returned missionaries thrive with acceptance, love"

  1. Shawn says:

    I have bad anxiety and I served 2 years, which was hell. I should have come home. Of course my only fear of coming home early is how I was going to be looked at by others. So we should make our homes a pre-MTC elder bednar? Even if my child has anxiety or may not want to serve a mission? How about I make sure that’s what they want to do first. This church hurts as many people as it helps.

    • Teri says:

      I think I must respectfully disagree with your statements. The church doesn’t hurt people. It is the people in the church and their misconceptions and misunderstandings that hurt others. It is the “culture” of members who decide things should be a certain way. I am sorry if you felt pressured into serving, but that wasn’t the gospel that was doing that.. that was how you feared how everyone else would see you. But if God knows your heart and your struggles, what difference does it make what other judgmental people may or may not think of you? Frankly, I think we think others judge us way more than they actually do. I have two boys mission age who have not chosen to serve and at first I wrongly and selfishly thought it would reflect on me as a parent, but you know what, no one cares… everyone else is too busy worrying about their own kids or situations to worry about what mine are doing.
      As far as our homes being mini mtc’s… I think you have the wrong idea there too. I don’t believe we are supposed to have our kids knocking on doors. I think that just means our home should be a place of gospel learning and application and of love and service. Then when our kids are of age to make the choice to serve, at least they understand the principles they will be teaching. I served a mission, so I am not just talking about stuff I don’t know about. I am just saying, maybe you need to reflect on where any blame needs to be placed or why any blame needs to be assigned at all.
      A lot of the judgement people feel is only what they THINK others are thinking about them. If someone in the church hurt you, I am deeply sorry, but it was not the church or the gospel of Jesus Christ that hurt you, it was some person with weaknesses and failings of their own.. so consider the source.

      • mariann says:

        Dear Teri
        Thank you so much for your comments, shows deep understanding and love and concern for the gospel and the people in the church! Thanks again:))

    • Rory says:

      Shawn,

      I chose not to serve a mission. This was an alien concept to everyone I knew, as my decision was based solely on the fact that I found serving two years in a foreign place distasteful. It had absolutely nothing to do with worthiness. I was berated by many people for my decision, and even attracted some negative comments from my family.

      I believe the Church is inherently good and that they do help people. However, there is a subculture of fanatics that try to pressure young men to serve missions and quite honestly, it sickens me. They think that serving a mission is this holy grail of Church participation, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. They glorify returned missionaries at the expense of those who can’t serve, or choose not to. I completely agree that this practice is deplorable and should be discontinued.

      It pisses me off that those fanatics’ opinion of you made you stay in the field and suffer like that.

      Apologies,

      Normal LDS people everywhere

    • kate says:

      Shawn, the Lord loves you for the desires of your heart. Heavenly Father has a plan that we are missionaries for a lifetime and your experience will give you much added perspective in the Lord’s work. Bless you for being honest and sincere in your dealings.

    • Ben says:

      Shawn-

      I know you posted several months ago so I’m not sure if you’ll see this, but I hope you do. I don’t know that Teri fully understands what you’re saying. I served for a year and a half and came home six months early because of severe anxiety. I resented and even hated my mission for a very long time. Certain aspects of the gospel to an anxious mind can cause feelings and thoughts that can only be described as hell.

      When I came home from my mission I swung in the exact opposite direction of what I had taught people for the last year and a half. I didn’t want to go to church, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I felt that I had been set up for failure by the church by going on a mission. I considered myself to be a very confident and outgoing person before the mission. I perceived that the mission had destroyed my desire to talk to people and my very self worth. I felt worthless.

      What made matters worse was that I felt that the only thing that could have helped me through managing my anxiety, the Gospel/The church, was the very source that caused my anxiety in the first place. I felt helpless and alone.

      To me, I had every reason in the world to hate the church, hate the mission and leave the church feeling completely justified.

      It came to a point for me where I was either going to use my anxiety/mission experience as a reason to leave the church or I was going to examine my perceptions of the situation and verify that my thoughts were a realistic representation of the situation or if it was my anxiety that had warped my perception of the mission as well as my perception of the church.

      I chose to reexamine my thoughts and perceptions. I went to counseling off and on for the next two years. (I had been in counseling on the mission as well.) With the help of a counselor I was able to reexamine my perceptions and found that my anxiety had warped my entire reality.

      I had to fight with every ounce of mental energy I had to help combat the anxiety and build realistic perceptions of my world again. The mission had been such a high-stress environment that in the same way that metal warps under intense stress from heat, my mind had warped from the intense stress of the mission. I had to CHOOSE to work to get my life back.

      That was three years ago in January. Since then I’ve gained an intimately strong testimony of the atonement and of the restoration. I’ve been married in the temple and have gained greater confidence than I had before the mission. These are all blessings that I would have rolled my eyes at three years ago.

      All I want you to know is there is hope. Anxiety warps our perceptions of who we are, and how we relate to others. It feels like a prison. You’re not alone, despite how you may feel. Certain aspects of the gospel cause an anxious mind endless torment, but other aspects can bring peace and joy as we work/learn to channel our perceptions correctly. Fear can be overcome through faith, despite what anxiety tells you.

      I know you can find love, peace and joy as you choose to see hope in life.

      All the best-

      Ben

  2. Debi says:

    This is a good article. I am glad to see someone addressing this. My concern is that there is so much that you did not cover. Families and missionaries are being harmed when they come home early. I know more missionaries that have come home than I can count and I don’t know of any that have had a good experience from supportive wards. I am still shocked at common comments from members in regards to missionaries that come home early. I understand that there are even more young men coming home early now that the age has been changed. I support and was excited as others were about the changes and the huge force of missionaries we have out. But I believe it is irresponsible to ignore the side affects of the changes. I love Elder Hollands talk fall of 2013. We need some serious direction and instruction on the falsehoods the exists about early return missionaries.

  3. Heather Hayes says:

    Im just wondering if Doty has a web site or an email where we can contact her with questions or support. Im also wondering if there are support groups available for those who come home early as well as their families? We don’t live in Utah where her talks are being given.

    • Breanna Olaveson says:

      She does have a website, actually: http://drkrisdoty.com. There is a contact form there that you can use to contact her. I know there are support groups for early-returned missionaries and their families online, though I’m not an expert on which are most helpful. Dr. Doty would be a great source for pointing you in the right direction.

    • Kirsten says:

      Heather! Anyone who has returned early from a mission is welcome to join The ERM Initiative! It is a group my best friend (who returned early) helped form to assist those who are struggling since their return! There is no pressure in this group to remain at home or to return to the mission field. It is simply a place of healing! This group meets every Thursday night in Pleasant Groce, Utah. The Facebook page called The ERM Initiative has all the information! If you have any questions, you can call or text me, Kirsten at 801-420-8284! I’d love to give you more information!

    • Kirsten says:

      Oh, and there is a group specifically for parents of ERM’s that meet every Thursday night in Pleasant Grove as well! They discuss what they can better do to help, support, and make their son or daughter feel loved!

      • Kirsten says:

        Also! There is a fireside being held for the ERM Initiative this Sunday, April 27th at 7pm in Pleasant Grove! Kristine Doty will be speaking as well as members of the ERM Council who have all returned early from missions and want to help others! As mentioned above, for any questions, call or text, or email me at kirstenchaseg@gmail.com

  4. Bobbi says:

    The Young Church Service Missionary Program is a great way to welcome the missionaries home and have them feel accepted. http://www.lds.org/ycsm This program is saving lives.

  5. Frieda says:

    My son wanted to serve a mission and went through the process of submitting papers and he disclosed he was on anti depression meds (lowest dose possible). He had to meet with a “counselor” who was an employment counselor for the church and not a family therapist. The counselor told the Stake President what his opinion was and when my son met with him, the Stake President told him that the First Presidency would probably honorable release him. My son served in the Primary as a teacher with a very difficult class and was amazing. He also met with a real family therapist in our Ward who supported him completely along with our Bishop. The Stake President did not check with any of them or the Primary President. My question is – when did Stake Presidents start making decisions for the First Presidency? He has been attending college and doing fantastic, but now has no desire to serve. It is too bad, because he would have been a powerful missionary. His testimony is rock solid and his knowledge of the gospel of deep. What we have come away with is a better understanding of the Atonement and that the Gospel is true no matter what, but men are flawed.

    • hismom says:

      I am so sorry that your son had such a negative reaction from a leader who may be well-intentioned, but has potentially done great harm to your son by denying him the chance to serve a mission. My son was wrongly accused of having mental problems by our bishop who was a physician (not a psychologist), and everyone in the bishopric believed him. Church Services was even called with the “diagnosis” from this doctor which they agreed to before he had had any psychiatric evaluation, and I am worried that there is still a record somewhere that will affect him as he tries to pursue his career. The bishop actually forced my son to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after he had called LDS Social Services. When the evaluation came back and he was pronounced “normal”, the bishop would not accept that diagnosis, but insisted that my son had to go through several sessions with a psychologist. We did that, but on the first session, the psychologist told me that he did not see any abnormality in my son. He was just a norman 17 year-old. The psychologist also said that we would go through the next few sessions to make the bishop happy. So we did, and my son was declared normal again. In the meantime, people were spreading gossip and rumors like wildfire at church. The bishop had told my son he could not attend church, so we wouldn’t go as a family until this was settled. Everyone thought that my son had a mental problem and was “scary”. This was not true at all, but things got very out of hand, especially since the whole bishopric and their wives were freaking out. One of the counselors who had ties to the Boy Scouts even had my son’s membership in Boy Scouts revoked! This whole episode was the result of a bishop, who had no children of his own, “diagnosing” my son, who had had a bad dream and had shared it with a friend.That is what actually started the whole thing. It was reminiscent of the Salem witch trials, and in the end the whole bishopric were released because of their behavior. My son’s membership in Boy Scouts was reinstated, and he got his Eagle. The stake tried to turn things around for my son, and I think they did their best to restore his good name at church. He is now on a mission and will be returning home soon. Your attitude in this time of struggle is commendable. You and your son will be stronger for it and the Lord will bless you. If you know anyone in your stake that you can talk to, I hope you will do so . It may not be too late for your son to serve a mission. You just need to find someone who might can help you. May God bless you and your family.

  6. Maraea says:

    Thank you for your article. It was disturbing yet not surprising. My sons were ready to serve and are doing good out on the field and they are only 18 years old. They are in a different country, experiencing a foreign culture, speaking a different language and away from their twin for the first time in their lives. If at anytime I felt they were not okay – I would bring them home in a heart beat! They have been taught to be honest – especially with how they are feeling and about the importance of mental agility…. One of my sons however, has had the experience of being ‘stuck’ with a companion that suffered from a mental illness and who should have gone home. Why? Becayse his illness kept my son from leaving the house for days on end. It impacted on my son’s experience.

    So my point is – send boys that are ready and can handle it, and if they can’t, then accept it and either keep them home to live a fruitful and fulfilling life, or if they do make it out there and need to come home – then bring them home to live a fruitful and fulfilling life.

    It’s time to get truthful and accepting that there are far worse things than not serving a mission…. there are crimes and sins in the world with more serious and far-reaching impact on the planet than someone coming home early off their mission…

    We need to keep talking about it – and it needs to be addressed.,.. starting with parents of eligible sons and daughters… make those calls right then and there! Be honest, get real and let’s get moving….

  7. kate says:

    Thank you for writing this. We need to be more compassionate in dealing with our youth and our fellow saints. Bless these young missionaries for trying to fulfill the desires of their hearts. Bless them for wanting to serve…. bless them for serving for a week, 3 months or trying to serve the full duration. It is not lost for them, it is a wonderful experience of trials and learning so they too can become more compassionate towards others. I have worked with youth for 44 years and each year is like a new year. They have so much to offer so we must let them offer ‘what they can’. If that be 2 weeks – so be it!

    Serving the Lord is not for the farewells, homecomings, open houses and expectations. Perhaps if we stopped doing these ‘showery’ events, it might not be so difficult for the missionaries to say, “it didn’t work”. It is not the Lord they are letting down…it is the temporal celebrations. How many times do we read articles that say. “All family members served full time missions” ! Sure, that is wonderful! Enough said…….

  8. Chad says:

    Interesting article. I think the Church should widen the scope of “missions” that men and women can serve and I think young men and women should have more say in where they serve and what type of mission (foreign language, service, or proselytizing) they go on. Personally, I think it would be great if the Church had more service oriented missions for young men where there is less expectation of proselytizing. I would have probably more appreciated 2 years building houses for the homeless or serving in a Church sponsored food kitchen over the 2 years I spent teaching nobody in Spain. Young men and women seem pigeon holed into missions where going door-to-door is the norm, and that kind of thing just isn’t for everyone. There are so many other ways to serve our fellow man and spread the gospel.

  9. Thomas Ferrin says:

    I’m the Thomas Ferrin who was written about here. I want to clarify some things:
    1. I am 100% glad that I served a mission, grateful that it was difficult, grateful that I suffered, grateful that the Lord kept me spiritually safe even while I became psychologically broken. Because of my experiences, I have wrestled with some deep questions and really come to know my Savior in a way that I didn’t before. I know that for me, serving a mission was the right thing to do. My experiences with suffering have taught me (retrospectively) a depth of compassion and understanding of the atonement that I don’t think I would have gained otherwise.
    2. I now have a strong temple marriage and a wonderful toddler. My testimony is solid and I am very active in the Church. These things are not in spite of my difficult mission, but because of the way that the Lord, through my difficult mission, was able to help me grow as I strived to do what He wanted me to. I know the Lord takes good care of His missionaries. Even when we can’t see His hand, it is there. If we are willing to give up our selfish will and follow His perfect will, He can heal us and make even the most dark experiences become blessings in our lives.

    • Mary Ackerman says:

      Thomas, Thanks so much for sharing your feelings in this article, and especially in your comments. What you have been through, and the way that you express it, is inspiring and helpful to me, and to many others I’m sure. Thank you for sharing your experience so courageously, and also for your example of faith in Christ and His healing power. I also know that with faith in Him we can be healed, and that our difficulties will become blessings.

  10. Kevin says:

    I didn’t read all the comments but I did like this post alot. This was certainly an eye-opener. Yeah, I think there are many members who just assume the majority have ‘unworthiness’ issues. 70% have some sort of physical/mental issue, which honestly is very human.

    I love the part of being excited that the elders made it 18 months or 8 or even 2 months! That is great!! I think even a young man who can prepare, save the money, and serve for a whole month and give it their best….we have to be way excited about that!

    And yes, from what I understand, it has been a commandment from the prophets that every able young man should serve a mission. Church culture or no church culture, yes, we should all make the effort. I, personally, had to work out alot of issues before I left and I’m so glad I did. But I do realize that 730 straight days of missionary work is tough for alot of guys. Probably all of us.

    No shame in coming home early. No shame in not going at all.

    @Chad, I agree that there should be more opportunities for church-service missions or at least make them a little more known. I can see alot of guys who may not be physical/mentally well enough (which is totally fine!) for a full-time proselyting mission but would contribute to building the kingdom and have wonderful experiences….

    What is the purpose of a mission anyway??? I would say 2 things:
    1. Spread the restored gospel/build the church
    2. Create stronger priesthood leaders.

    If we can do either with any type of mission….seems like a success to me!

  11. Bruce says:

    As a parent of two early-return missionaries, (for two different health reasons), it is interesting to see the challenges that face missionaries when they come home early. For example, if a missionary has received a deferral from BYU to serve a mission, that deferral is only valid if the missionary serves for the FULL mission period, no matter what the reason for the early return from the mission. Otherwise, the student must reapply for admission to the university.

    This makes it all the more vital that there is a good support network in place. A loving and understanding family and ward can make all the difference. My ward had several missionaries return early in the years before my children served, and I think that made a difference; we had learned that you don’t have to ‘tough it out’.

    A good mission president can make a difference as well. My son’s mission president made sure to point out that he had served a full time mission for the church, and it wasn’t the length of the service that was important, but the dedication to the work that mattered. In the future, if anyone asked, he could simply say that he had served a full-time mission.

  12. DG says:

    Interesting article. As a non-LDS Christian I find the concept of attaining “worthiness” to go on a mission disturbing. The grace I know teaches me I’ll never be worthy, but it is Christ who makes me worthy, even as I’ve done nothing to deserve it. When we realize what grace really is it makes us thankful, willing, and ready to serve. We don’t need to go through bishops or presidents to serve God and share His gospel. You just need Jesus.

  13. John Paul says:

    in 1994, my mom passed away 3 weeks before my mission. I attended her funeral but wasn’t at the internment so they let me out of the MTC for a day to go see the gravesite. I did struggle on the mission. I had many positive experiences and also some negative associations with my time there. I think the hardest thing was a mission leader who either didn’t understand or just didn’t address at all what I had just gone through. Not that it was his job to help me in the grief process but I don’t think he asked me a single question about it. I worked hard (too hard in my opinion, i wouldn’t even let my companions take the full lunch break but would pace after eating until we got out again) I suppose my workaholism masked the struggle I was having. I missed out on a lot of joy that other missionaries seemed to experience. At the same time the thought that my personal “mental health” struggles might disqualify me for service if I were a missionary applying today is scary. If I was sent home early or not allowed to serve I think the personal guilt or blame would have been worse than the extra burden I had to carry during the mission. i love my mission but I do also hate some of the feelings I had to go through during it.

  14. Michael says:

    Great article. I suffered a mental breakdown in the mission field and came home after 3 transfers. To this day, I felt like a failure. I now serve as the ward mission leader and am always asked about mission experiences. It gets tricky to answer some questions fully from the full time missionaries. But my experiences have helped me grow as a better person. Thank you for writing and sharing

    • Alexis says:

      A wonderful book has just been published to help the many with mental health concerns. I’m sure you will find this very helpful, whether you had issues, or are now sending out someone in your family. It is good to prepare for having a companion with issues as much as yourself. The book is called Mission Possible by L.Marlene Payne, M.D. a psychiatrist with many awards and a bunch of people she helped. She tells personal experience stories with answers for each one. I’m sorry you didn’t serve in her area, Michael. She may have been able to help you stay and feel successful, though I believe you already were. i hope you can feel that way some day.

  15. Lori says:

    As someone who served a full time mission to Illinois, (all 18 months!) I think what goes through my mind when someone comes home early is – “Dang it, we all wanted to come home- how come you get to?” 🙂 It’s kind of like having a really bad headache and not saying a word and then someone is like “I’ve got a bad headache” and they get medication and you are a little ticked because you suffered without saying a word and you think “They think their headache is the worst…mine was bad too!” I don’t know if this makes sense-I wouldn’t trade my mission for anything in the world. But it was NOT the best 18 months of my life- it was the best 18 months FOR my life.

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