An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Mormon Missions’

Every Young Man a Missionary–Not

We have two sons and three daughters. When we tell people two of our children served missions, we look like successful Mormon parents. If we reveal that two daughters and zero sons served missions, we are perceived as failures.

In our defense, we did follow the rules. We talked up missions while our kids were little and invited the missionaries for dinner frequently. We attended relatives’ missionary farewells whenever possible. Still, by the time our sons reached age 19, they were free thinkers who could not honestly urge others to join a church about which they had serious doubts.

“You should make Wort go on a mission,” one friend counseled. I doubt there is any righteous way to force a 19-year-old to act against his personal beliefs. And it’s best for the Church that we didn’t try unrighteous means—“You’ll break my heart if you don’t serve.”

I could imagine Wort engaging contacts in philosophical discussions that discounted reliance on warm, fuzzy feelings as a guide to making decisions. Techie would have turned the discussions into stand-up routines: “The Apostasy. That’s when God gave up on the human race and said, ‘To hell with you. I’m taking a break for the next 1600 years.’”

No, it was best for themselves and the Church that our sons did not serve missions.

There were downsides. Wort found few Mormon girls were willing to date a non-RM. Techie didn’t want to date Mormon girls, so he didn’t care.

A big advantage to our sons not serving missions was that it took them from the established Mormon pattern of completing a mission then marriage, family, education, and career—in that order. Both married after age 30 when they were established in their careers. Their children are a joy to them and not a financial burden.

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Mission Benefits and Side-Benefits

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.

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