During my True Blue Mormon days, I was shocked to hear a woman gripe about a suggestion that the Church, rather than parents, provide financial support for missionaries. “I’ll pay for my own son’s mission,” she said. “Why should I pay for someone else’s kids? They’re going to get the benefit, not me.” Boy, did she have it wrong, I thought. Missions aren’t primarily to give young people growth experiences. Missions benefit the whole Church by bringing in new members, so why shouldn’t the whole Church pay?
After sending two daughters on missions, I am now more aware of the personal benefits of missions—and perhaps less convinced of their benefit to the Church, statistics notwithstanding. Our oldest daughter, Lolly, served in the Wisconsin Madison Mission. Not a lot of converts during her mission, but one family seemed to be the reason she was sent to that place. She and her companion found and taught a Lutheran pastor, his wife, and son. Baptism was an enormous step for this family as it took away the husband’s employment. The couple were both hearing impaired and their only son was intellectually handicapped. Lolly has a gift for relating to handicapped persons and this is probably what drew this family to the gospel.
The family hung onto their Church membership even though the husband received a ward calling as Scout leader—not always a strong testimony builder. Although she had been transferred, Lolly was allowed to accompany the family to the Chicago temple a year later for their endowments and sealing. She kept in touch with the family after returning home. Within a couple of years, disappointment with the Church, and perhaps other reasons, caused the couple to return to their original faith.
While the Church didn’t experience much long-lasting growth through Lolly’s mission, she did. Her authoritarian personality and commitment to following rules to the letter caused her to be known as the Nazi-sister. Having to work and live closely with people less understanding than her family caused some introspection and a change of tactics which has served Lolly ever since. Her mission was worth every cent we paid.
Our second daughter, Jaycee, served the in the Marseilles France Mission. Investigators were scarce, baptisms almost non-existent. As far as Jaycee knows, Church membership in France was not increased by her mission. But the personal benefits she received have been long-lasting. Jaycee’s mission opened her eyes to goodness in the larger world outside the Mormon community—and, of course, she learned French.
I do know that, in general, the Church does increase membership through missionary work. A side-benefit to the Church is the personal growth in missionaries like Lolly who mature and become stronger members on their missions. A lesser benefit to the Church may be missionaries like Jaycee who experience growth that takes them away from Church affiliation. In my book, personal growth trumps institutional growth, and the world is a better place when people develop and live up to their full potential. From our experience, missions are a good use of parents’ resources.