Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Sacrifice of Serving a Mission: Should You Go?

One recent commenter said he was just asked to go on a mission. Being 21 and having just completed four years of military service, he wondered how he could do that, being behind in his education already. "Books of Mormon in Indy" gave some great advice, emphasizing that it's a personal decision that he must make for himself, prayerfully. I agree.

My second son is about to go on his mission. He leaves next week for the MTC, and will then be serving in Nevada. He just went through the temple - a very positive experience for him - and is pretty much ready to go. We'll miss him so much, as we missed our first son when he went to Argentina. I appreciate his willingness to make this sacrifice to serve the Lord and serve others.

For those of you who are pondering missionary service and worry about the magnitude of the sacrifice required to go, let me admit that it can be a great and painful sacrifice, depending on your circumstances. It can result in lost opportunities, broken hearts, financial burdens, acquired parasites, stress, illness, and possibly death (sort of sounds like the warning label on a prescription drug or the warning they should provide for some rides at Six Flags). But I think most of us who served will agree that the blessings of the experience far outweigh the risks.

For me, when I went to serve in the Zurich, Switzerland mission in 1979, I thought it would be a real sacrifice. It meant losing two years of education and might also mean losing my high school sweetheart, whom I really hoped would be around when I got back. I might have panicked if I had known how many outstanding guys did try to pursue her while I was gone, but I am happy to report that she became my wife and still is, after all these years - I'm a deliriously happy husband. (So now you know why I seem delirious sometimes - it's not from too much fasting or overdosing on popsicles.)

As for my education and career, what looked like a sacrifice proved to be a real blessing. I feel like my mission helped me move along faster in the long run than if I had not gone. It was a two-year delay, yes, but those two years gave me an intense education about life, cultures, and many other things. I got to know people from six continents and over 50 countries, learned German and a little Italian, came to understand some of the perspectives of Europeans vis a vis Americans, learned how to get along with jocks and other companions who had almost nothing in common with me, learned how to work hard and sacrifice, learned to see the goodness in others even when they fail or don't progress or fall away, learned about the challenges of immigrants, experienced the joy of real bread and real cheese, experienced Fasnacht in Basel (!!), saw how chocolate was made, learned a few things about cooking and spices, encountered the strange world of Rudolf Steiner and the Goetheanum, learned a few things about art (including why one should not touch the frames of paintings in museums with sensitive electronic alarms), got to see first-hand the ravages of drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness in several forms, learned to trust the Lord, learned not to trust butchers or anything made with raw ox or raw horse meat, learned that Mormons don't have a monopoly on truth and goodness, and found out what it's like to be a young, naive Yankee trying to teach a "ridiculous American" religion to sophisticated Europeans. You don't get that kind of education listening to a professor ramble on for a couple hours a week.

Almost every moment of my mission was worth it (well, let's say 84%). It changed my life and my attitudes (for those of you think I'm a self-righteous SOB, believe me, I would be even worse without that mission experience! - thank God for the painful experiences that helped me chill out a bit). It gave me skills and confidence and strength that I think have made it much easier to move ahead with my life and move forward in my career and education. I count it as the best part of my education (apart from the education of marriage and fatherhood) rather than just a two-year delay. And on top of that, I think I made a difference in the lives of a number of people, some of whom became converts to the Church. Yes, that's the real reason we go, to bless others, but for me - and perhaps I'm an exception - the blessings my mission brought to me were just unreasonably great.

In the early part of my mission, I had a few particularly painful experiences. There were times when I wanted to scream and wondered if this was all in vain. Yet we had some surprising success, and this made it seem worth it. But one experience in particular made me realize that if the rest of the two years was hell, I would be willing to count it an honor to have served. That experience was the baptism of Sophie R. This beautiful girl from French-speaking Switzerland was the prototypical "golden" convert. The Gospel rescued her from despair and hopelessness. When she read the Joseph Smith story left at her door one day, it resonated with her soul - she was sure she knew that story already, that it was somehow already familiar and true to her, though there was no explanation for that. She dug into the Book of Mormon with great vigor and insight, and almost taught us more than we taught her. In spite of some serious opposition from some of her family, she chose to accept the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and became a strong and valiant member, rescued from despair and the captivity of a treacherous Adversary. There was something so special, pure, and unusual about this woman, that it was a great honor to just be there as a teacher and friend. After I saw her baptized, I told the Lord that if the rest of my mission was pain and anguish, that one experience would stand as a pearl of great price to make it all worth everything I might suffer. Hyperbole, perhaps, but I really meant it. I accidentally ran into her and her husband in the Swiss temple about a year later (he was the French-speaking returned missionary who gave the closing prayer at her baptism - we were delighted to that relationship blossom so quickly) - and was again thrilled at the progress she had made in the Gospel and the happiness that I think was hers. I met her again in Switzerland in 1990, about a year or so before a tragic death. But I think I know where she is, and am so grateful that I could have been an instrument in the hands of the Lord to help bring the joy of the Gospel into that marvelous and previous life. Sophie's story alone made my mission more than worth it.

For those of you contemplating missionary service, don't go because I said it's worth it. Don't trust us mortals, but do trust the Lord: He is there to guide you and help you make the right decision if you turn to Him sincerely. Seek His will first.

15 comments:

Shadow Spawn said...

I remember walking down the streets of Budapest after an amazing teaching experience, and it finally dawned on me; I wasn't sacrificing to be here! This whole experience is for me! After being there for one year I realized that a mission isn't a sacrifce. . .it's an amazing opportunity, and privelage that I'll never forget.

Anonymous said...

Budapest! I'm jealous.

SRA said...

Having walked away from my Catholic family, my last year of college (and being able to go to school cheaply 'cuz my dad wasn't married yet & so my aid package was quite large up until then), my friends, and my quiet and successful life to that point...I will say that, even though I came home early from my mission due to illness, I learned so very, very much while I was gone. I never felt closer to the Spirit...I never had that much "courage" to talk to people I didn't know in a language I struggled with...I was never so respected by so many people, LDS and otherwise...I never imagined my perspective on tolerance of religious and ethnic differences could change so much...overall, I was never so happy or so honored in all my life. It's been a hard road since then...coming home early really challenged my faith in my need to serve at all...but I'm still standing & still pleased to be able to say I served a mission & that it changed my life.
But it is not for everyone. I prayed for six months before I finally came to understand it was what the Lord wanted me to do. It is not something one should do for their parents or their significant other. Do it for the Lord...and only if He tells you to go, after you have prayed and fasted for knowledge of his will. If you go under false or wrong pretenses, you will be the worse for wear and misery will accompany you in a lot of ways. Missions can have eternal impacts on those who serve them--for good or for bad. It all depends on why they decide to serve & how much of themselves they are willing to commit. ~~

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with SRA, Be careful, thoughtful, and prayerful. It is a huge and difficult committment. Rewarding---yes. But at what price? You need to decide that.

Anonymous said...

2 years in Buenos Aires, great years. Loved the people, and the food. Not for every one though. Many guys I knew from the MTC could not handle it. We also had a US Marine in our district. He did not fit in, to say the least.

Anonymous said...

I am soon to be baptised and I just wanted to say I love my missionaries! I have been in and out of church for a long time and missionaries are always some of the friendliest happiest people you meet. My missionaries helped arrange rides to church for me introduced me to other members and even sit with me in church they truly made me feel welcome.

Anonymous said...

And those missionaries that cared so deeply for you are blessed. They are truly doing His work. that they were chosen to do so is of the greatest blessing.

Stephen D. Robison said...

Ah, memories of Zurich in the Springtime...

You won't remember me Elder Lindsay. I was in your first district when you were with Elder Jarvis. We tausched a couple times.

I'm wondering, though. Did you get to go through the chocolate factory after Sister Huber was baptized? If so, you had wonderful fortune...I was transferred from Zurich a week or two before that tour was arranged.

I've read your on-line writings for quite some time. Thanks for all your insight. It's been fun to see how other missionaries from the mission have fared, learned and grown in their testimonies.

Bookslinger said...

Here's the link to my comment on this topic in the other thread, so I don't waste space.

One more point I'd like to make.

To the 21-year old just off of a 4-year hitch with the Marines, check with your local mission president and see if you can be a 3rd companion to a set of missionaries for a weekend, say from Friday after work through curfew Saturday night, or whenever your day off from work is.

Plus maybe spend a P-day with them. That way you might get a feel for how well you'll fit in with missionaries. Perhaps ask to tag along a companionship of at least one difficult elder, or an elder who is struggling, so you don't get a best-case situation.

You might not need a suit, but at least a white shirt, tie, dark slacks, and dark shoes.

Who knows, you may even have a positive effect on them just for a 1 day deal.

Mormanity said...

To the person getting baptized soon, congratulations! But don't depend too much on the missionaries - they come and they go. More important will be your friendships with the members of your ward - be sure to get to know them, and give them a chance to get to know you. If you're sitting with the missionaries all the time, that might not be happening very well. Just a though! But welcome!!

And great to hear from you, Brother Robison! I think I remember you, but probably wouldn't recognize you on the street. Send me some e-mail sometime to let me know where you are, what you're doing, etc. (Jeff at jefflindsay.com.)

I toured the Lindt chocolate factory in Kilchberg (suburb of Zurich) on a preparation day with a couple other missionaries. Their formal tour was an amazing experience - surprisingly Wonka-like for me. The technology impressed me, as did the many free samples.

Would love to tour a Swiss chocolate factory again.

Kim Siever said...

Because of having to have the MMR vaccine to serve a mission in the United States, I have suffered from arthritis for the last 12 years. The arthritic pain and joint deterioration increases as time goes one. I agree that the sacrifice is great and painful. Just remember that for the majority, the sacrifice is short-lived. A handful of us still sacrifice long after our missions are done.

Anonymous said...

I served in Singapore and Malaysia from 82 to 84, and all of my companions were locals - some entered the mission field a year to the day from their baptism. Upon their decision to serve, many were completely ostracized by their families, and a couple were dis-inherited from not insignificant wealth. And all of this was AFTER they had already served at least a couple of years in the military! (I trained one companion who was almost 30 years old, and who had resigned from his position as a military officer just to serve the Lord!)

Those of us who have enjoyed the blessings serving from where the stakes of Zion are established and with the support of family and friends have no concept of what true sacrifice really is.

Anonymous said...

it can be a great a painful sacrifice

Amen. Nevertheless (and I use that word as Elder Maxwell did), I wouldn't trade my mission experience for anything. And I don't say such things naively.

This may sound strange to some, but while on my mission, I learned more about the sanctifying effects that pain can have. I had the not-so-pleasant adventure of having claims laid against me that were exaggerated to say the least. While I was at it, I was also called upon to learn another mission language (Hmong, incidentally--I'll still speak/read it well). But the experience was singular, one that taught me beautifully about the Atonement, compassion, and common sense.

I was not a stereotypical "Stake President-in-training." I never did any of the stereotypical things that the "effective" missionaries did. No one has ever asked me how many converts I had (nor would answer "just myself"). Most mission stories make me roll my eyes (as a lot of them are self-serving). But to deny the benefit of missionary work, for me, would be to deny reason itself

Patience said...

YES! If you love the Lord God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength, then it would behoove you to go.
The sacrifice of not going is too great to contemplate.
If you're trying to decide, pray, and then ask yourself, "do I have a testimony?" If the answer is yes, then I ask you, Don't you want to share your love for God with everyone in the universe???

Anonymous said...

Hey guys I have an LDS teammate on my swim team who is trying to decide if going on his mission is really worth it. He he a testimony of the gospel, but he is also an amzing athlete and knows that swimmign is the kind of sport that if you take two years off...you proably aren't coming back to it. I know that going on a mission has to be his decsion, but I was wondering if anyone knows some stories of mssionaries that faced a similair choice so that I can share them with him to help him in his decsion. Any help you can give would be appreciated, thanks!