So What is this “Mission” Anyway?

Ralph Airport SFO

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

I’m a wreck today. Partly because I’m fighting through a head cold, but mostly because the whole family woke up at 3:30 this morning so we could take Ralph to the airport and send him off with a giant family hug. He’s flying to Mexico City today for six weeks of training and then it’s on to Bogota, Colombia. His mission assignment is 24 months, and we won’t see him again for two years. (I’m absolutely crushed to write that sentence). He can call us on Mother’s Day and Christmas, but other than that, the only communication we’ll have with him is a weekly email, or maybe an actual written letter now and then.

Though we’re delighted he has such a huge adventure ahead of him, we are all feeling pretty heartbroken to see him go. There are lots of tears and lots of tissues at our house. And sweet surprises too. After we returned from the airport and went back to bed for a few hours, we woke to find that Ralph had left a personal letter for each sibling and each parent. Really thoughtful, lovely letters. I already treasure mine.

Lots of cryfests happening. There was one last night when Ralph was officially made Elder Blair by one of our church leaders. Another as we drove to the airport this morning. A big one as we said goodbye at security. And another one this morning as we read his letters. Those are the family cryfests, but really, I’ve personally been a big teary mess at random times — grocery store line, driving kids to school, doing dishes — since we got home from France. It’s not just the mission, it’s also the very real fact that this marks the end of an era for our family.

While I’m dealing with the tears, I thought this was a good day to write up a few notes about missions for those who are curious. I need to start by saying that I’ve never been on a mission. So I’m going to tell you what I know, but I can’t pretend to be an expert.

What a mission is:
Missions have been happening since the Mormon church was established. But they’ve changed over time. Back in the pioneer days, it was often married men with young families who were sent off all over the world. But a century and a half later, it’s mostly young men and young women in their late teens and early twenties. Beyond that age range, there are also couple missionaries that head out when they retire — for example, my parents and Ben Blair’s parents both served a mission in retirement. There are currently about 74,000 LDS missionaries. Here’s a list of the trivia that I think you’ll find the most interesting:

– Young men can go on a mission beginning at age 18. They must be single. They are asked to serve for 24 months.

– Young women can go on a mission beginning at age 19. They must be single as well. They are asked to serve for 18 months. There are lots of theories about the different age requirements, and time requirements, but I haven’t heard any official word on why it’s different for men and women. Also, these ages are relatively new. For most of my life the age requirements were 19 for young men, and 21 for young women. But that changed about 4 or 5 years ago.

– You don’t get to choose where your mission will be. With the exception of a few countries where they don’t allow missionaries, it could be literally anywhere. My siblings did missions in Cambodia, Brazil, Japan, Colombia, and South Dakota. My dad’s mission was on the Navajo reservation. In retirement, my mom and her husband went on a mission to Ykaterinburg, Russia (so cold!).

Being able to speak a second or third language doesn’t necessarily affect where you are asked to serve. Ralph is fluent in French, but has been asked to learn Spanish. There is a spot on the application where you can indicate your language skills and your willingness to learn a new language. But still, you get assigned where you get assigned.

– You have to apply to go on a mission. It’s not an automatic: YES, you can go. A mission is hard work, and you have to be up to it physically. So just to apply, there are doctor visits and dentist visits and blood tests and immunization records — with the goal of making sure that anyone heading out on a mission is as healthy as possible.

– Mission applicants are also interviewed by their church leaders to make sure they are living the Mormon lifestyle — no drinking, smoking or drugs, no sex before marriage. That sort of thing. If they have done any of those things, but still want to go on a mission, then they work with their church leader to repent/recommit, and then they can apply for a mission.

– Missions start at a training center. Typically for 2, 6 or 8 weeks. If you are not learning a language, training is for 2 weeks. If you are learning a language, training is for 6 or 8 weeks (Ralph is training for 6). There are training centers in many places, but I believe the biggest one is in Provo. Ralph was originally asked to go to the training center in Colombia, but then they switched him to Mexico City for training. From the training center, missionaries fly to their mission destination — there’s no stop at home first.

– Missionaries are assigned a companion. They are with them pretty much non-stop, and they don’t get to choose their companion. New companions may be assigned every 3 to 6 months, although some pairs work together for longer periods. From what we can tell, most missionaries in Ralph’s mission are from South American countries. Very few are from the U.S.. Which means most of his companions may be native Spanish speakers. I’m sure this will really help speed up Ralph’s Spanish skills.

Many men and women who have served missions gave Ralph advice, and almost every one of them said dealing with companions — learning to be patient with them, to work with them, to love them — is the hardest part of the mission.

– Missions generally cover a large area. I think Ralph’s mission covers about half of the geography of Colombia — including the coldest and hottest parts. Missionaries don’t get to choose which area within their mission to work in. It’s assigned to them, just like a companion, and can switch around just as often. This can be challenging — just as they are getting to know an area and making good friends, they may need to pack their bags, say goodbyes, and start all over again hours away.

– Often, it’s two missionaries in a small apartment, but sometimes there are 4 or 6 missionaries sharing a bigger space.

– Missions are not paid, and they are not free. Missions actually cost $400 per month for the whole 24 months. Many kids save up for their mission for many years. Or their parents or grandparents might pay the cost. Other times, a congregation will sponsor a missionary and cover his or her costs. The fee covers housing, food, toiletries, and transportation. If the missionary wants to buy clothing or souvenirs, those purchases come from personal funds beyond the $400 per month. Also, cost of living ranges around the world, but missionaries all pay the same rate — the idea is that it’s an average cost of all missions. (It didn’t used to be this way. If you were assigned to an expensive part of the world, then bummer for you, your costs were simply higher. The average cost makes so much more sense.)

In addition to the monthly costs, prepping someone for a mission is also an expense. Luggage, suits and wardrobe, sturdy shoes, and other supplies can add up to $1000 or more easily.

– Missions are very strict. You can’t go to movies, or to concerts. You can’t use the internet (except for sending a weekly email), you can’t have a cell phone or any internet device. You can’t date. You’re not supposed to read anything beyond the scriptures and a very short list of approved church books. You can only listen to uplifting music (think: Mormon Tabernacle Choir). You get up every morning at 6:30 AM. As I mentioned, you can’t call home, except for twice a year — on Christmas and Mother’s Day. Your energy is supposed to be concentrated on the mission and nothing else. No distractions.

– The dress code is also very strict. Missionaries are supposed to look professional and well-groomed. Ralph will be wearing dark suits with a white shirt and tie. Shoes need to be polished daily. Hair must be worn very short. No beards allowed. Women have more flexibility and don’t end up looking so matchy-matchy with their companion, but they must wear long skirts or dresses (that hit below the knee), and blouses with sleeves. They can’t dye their hair unusual colors, or wear extra piercings beyond a simple set of earrings. Missionaries wear name-tags from the moment they enter the training center.

– So what do missionaries do all day? The main goal is to find people who want to learn about the gospel and teach them. They get up early, study the scriptures, pray, get ready for the day and then head out to work. They may have back-to-back appointments to teach people about the gospel. Or they may set up a street board and try to engage passersby in conversation. In many places, they are discouraged from knocking doors because it’s invasive and generally not effective, but depending on the area, sometimes they may choose to knock doors anyway. A portion of their time is reserved for service — they might volunteer or help someone move. In some places, missionaries hold English classes. They may head home in the evening to make dinner, or a family in their assigned congregation may host them for dinner. They are always with their companion.

– Once a week, they have a P-day or preparation day. On this day, they can do laundry, buy groceries, maybe play a pick up game of soccer or basketball. They don’t have to wear a suit or typical missionary clothes on P-Day.

– There is a culture of shame for missionaries who come home early. This is an awful thing and as a church it needs to be worked on. Prevention efforts are made — the interviews with the church leader when someone applies for a mission are partly to make sure the missionary is serious about wanting to do the mission. But still, sometimes a young man or young women heads out there and finds that it’s just not the right fit at all. Or maybe they are breaking some big mission rules (like no dating) which means they have to go home, or maybe they’re having unexpected medical problems. Whatever the reason they come home, as church members, we need to work harder to make sure they can change directions and come home without making it a big deal. We need to make sure these kids know they are loved with or without missionary service.

– An advantage of missions is that they often become a crash course in adulting. Missionaries are given a specific amount of money each month and they have to budget it for food and other expenses. If they haven’t already before they go, they have to figure out laundry, ironing, cleaning, cooking and shopping for themselves. They have to learn how to get along with others (specifically their companions). They have to keep a strict schedule — get up early and go to bed early. They have to be responsible with their time and resources.

A disadvantage to this, is that many missionaries feel compelled to jump into serious adulthood — marriage and parenting — as soon as they return. As someone who married at 21, I know marrying young can work out, but it’s not okay with me that many missionaries feel serious pressure to marry as quickly as possible after they return home.

– Missionary work can be disruptive to a college education. Some missionaries like to go on a mission before they start college, but many like to do a year of college first and then return to school when they are done. As you can imagine, if you start college with a tight-knit freshman class, and then disappear for two years, and then come back and all your peers are seniors, while you are a sophomore, then that is really challenging.

Related, at the Mormon-church-owned BYU schools (in Provo, Idaho and Hawaii), having students leave for missions is commonplace and the schools accommodate those changes easily. But at other universities, students have to defer for a couple of years and make sure their university paperwork is in order before they go on the mission.

– There are exceptions to everything I’ve said. I’ve heard of shorter missions and longer missions. I’ve heard of missions being served at unusual ages. Sometimes there are non-proselytizing missions — missions to do service only, or missions where you are assigned to work in the mission office. I’ve heard of missions that allow movies at certain gatherings and parties. I’ve heard of missions that use iPads. But I think in general, what I’ve written here holds true. And you can definitely read more about this stuff on the LDS website.

– As I mentioned, Ralph received lots of advice, and one of the overarching themes seems to be that missions are really hard and that they are deeply formative. Also, that even though missions are difficult, there are moments that are so rewarding that it makes all the hard work worth it.

I think that’s it for now. If you have more questions, feel free to ask them in the comments. I know there are many Mormons who read here, and if I don’t know the answer, I’m sure someone else will jump in. : )

I also have some thoughts written up about why this particular change in our family life is causing me such angst — I mean, Ralph has certainly gone off on other adventures before, but this feels different. This post is already quite long, so I’ll keep working on my other thoughts and try to share them tomorrow. Oh parenting, sometimes you kick me in the butt.

151 thoughts on “So What is this “Mission” Anyway?”

  1. Wow so interesting! I love to hear about such topics!

    So close to $10K is spent and so much is sacrificed (and personally gained too I gather) in the ultimate goal of simply hoping to promote the church? Do I have that right? I feel like maybe I don’t get what they actually DO.
    Being away from home in a new strick schedule with lots of new rules in a foreign place with one companion will change anyone; whether they are flipping burgers or handing out religious material.

  2. Thank you for sharing Gabrielle, this post has been especially fascinating. Despite living in a large Canadian city-center I’ve often had various religious missionaries knock on my door (so frustrating!) and it has certainly made me more curious to know what international missions entailed.

    I hope Ralph has a safe journey.

  3. I just want to say how much I appreciate you as a fellow unorthodox Mormon mother about 10 years further down the path than I am! I too have deeply conflicted and complicated feelings about missions, and feel a great anxiety when I think of sending my kids off. Less because of the separation than making sure they would be going for the ‘right’ reasons…to serve and help others, with zero savior complex! But I also feel anxious when I think about them *not* going, or being blind to the ‘right’ reasons that I believe do exist. Thanks for sharing your (and Ralph’s!) journey – it gives me hope!

  4. I am really enjoying this thread…thank you Gabby for sharing your family with us. I’d love some information/discussion about reasons kids have for going or not going. What is it like for kids, especially boys who don’t want to go on a mission. Guilt? Pressure? Is it hard for a family when a child declines? Also, I was surprised by the limitation things to do: no newspapers, no books (except for the few you mentioned). I would be crazy without having books to read. Sounds like soccer is okay on a P day. What about games–Uno , Scrabble etc? Why do they have the kids change companions (which would be good if you if you didn’t get along so well with one, but hard if you had a close friend) and locations.

    1. It is not at all unusual to decide against going on a mission. Church-wide, only about 30% of eligible young men choose to serve a mission. (This figure may be outdated now, but in general the vast majority do not go). There is some guilt and pressure in certain families and/or in small close-knit Mormon communities to go, but deciding to go on a mission is definitely the exception and not the rule.

    2. Lissa:

      When my husband served his mission, one of his companions was often sick, and they had to stay home. (This was 15 years ago, mind you, and his companion might have been sent home now because he was so sick so often.) While they stayed home, they played a board game they found called The Farming Game. It’s based especially on the area they were serving in, and they played it so much that they made up their own rules to expand the game. They also played lots of Uno. They might have played other board games/card games, but I wasn’t there. :D

    3. (Dang, my well-crafted comment got dropped.)


      My husband played lots of a specific board game called The Farming Game when his companion was sick and had to stay home. It’s based on the area they were serving, and they even made up extra rules to expand it because they played it so much. I’m amazed that his companion was not sent home because he ws sick so often, but this was 15 years ago. They also played other games like Uno, and my husband got really good at throwing cards into a hat across the room. They probably played other games, but I wasn’t there. :D

  5. I have read your post with interest and all the comments. Thanks so much for such an open and honest discussion.

    I am surprised at how many comments have been about the limited contact with family. It doesn’t seem far off what life was like awhile ago. I was an exchange student to the Netherlands for a year back in 1976 and I only spoke with my family on the phone once during the year — at Christmas (and it made me so homesick) –and we otherwise communicated by letters.

    I’ve always wondered how the poor American missionaries feel that get posted to somewhere in the States. I’d feel totally ripped off to have to spend two years in Illinois while others get to go to Peru or somewhere exotic. I’ve never heard anyone mention it though.

    1. Oh that’s for real. I don’t know how missionaries in other countries feel, but for sure some U.S. missionaries are very disappointed to get a stateside assignment. If they were picturing an overseas adventure, an assignment to their own country can feel like a let down. They may even be asked to work in a state or area they’ve been to before — so they don’t even get that “first visit” experience.

      Then again, there are also many who are relieved to get an assignment where they aren’t required to learn a language. Many Americans are quite intimidated by new languages (myself included). And then there are some missionaries who know they’ll be assigned to the U.S. because they have a health circumstance that limits travel.

      I can tell you that for those who are initially disappointed, they seem to get over it quickly and embrace wherever it is they are asked to serve. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone who finished their mission and wished they had been sent somewhere else (though I’m sure that’s happened). I should add: missionaries are told that their assignment has been prayed over, and that this is where God wants them to work. If they are a faithful sort of person, it’s hard to argue with an assignment-from-God, and it also feels like a true mission — that there is something that needs to be done in that place and they are the perfect one to do it. So you can see how acceptance of the situation can come more easily.

  6. Wow. What a thoughtful and well-written post. I sure appreciate your honesty and transparency about such tender feelings. The discussion in the comments has been so interesting! Sending love to your family through this transition.

  7. so I completely get it.. my oldest just returned from his mission in Colorado and my 2nd is on his last week in the Mexico city CCM heading to Provo Utah to teach the gospel in Spanish..(they missed each other by about 3 weeks)
    when my oldest went i definitely felt the SHIFT, i felt compelled to have lots of LASTS.. our last vacation as a whole family of just us.. knowing full well when he came home even if he was home from school breaks he would soon be off to start his new life as an adult and soon there would be NEW folks added to our family.. I felt the very REAL possibility that it would be the LAST time our little family would all be MINE!!!
    when 2nd son went I was still teary but it wasn’t so so bad.. with oldest back (he’ll be back 2 weeks tomorrow!) he’s working (yes already found a job!) and waiting for winter semester to start he’s learned so much and grown in ways I could have never imagined! I find myself just staring at him wondering when this MAN arrived… its a great thing!!!
    be kind to yourself let yourself feel it all.. I promise the blessings of having a missionary out far outweigh the tears now…
    you got this!!!

  8. In 1966 as a university graduate, I returned home to CA and attended a gathering of HS friends, now college graduates, too. The only Mormon, these friendly, decent, wholesome kids welcomed me back as we celebrated the end of college before going our separate ways.

    What struck me was the difference between these very nice college graduates at the party and the returned Mormon missionaries I had known at school. Despite still being undergrads, the boys who had served missions seemed more mature–no disrespect intended to the others in the least.

    Did the Returned Missionaries have more self-discipline? Were they more compassionate and aware of others, less self-conscious? Had they gained more wisdom, more purpose in life? I don’t know, but it left my 21-year-old self with the lasting impression that Mormon missions really do help boys grow into men. Undoubtedly, similar growth comes to Mormon women RM’s, too.

    LOVE to the Blairs in this tender transition time.

  9. I’m curious about how you had siblings that went on missions, and that you didn’t go on one-what the factors were around that and the conflicted feelings you said you had about it? (It just seemed like there was a story there too.). Thank you!

  10. I read the comment about the mission possibly being “programming”, which I guess means some kind of mind control. Actually, it’s the opposite.
    These young people are sent out into the world, and they interact with all kinds of people all day long. They are always out in the streets. They speak with everyone, from the homeless to the affluent, in all kinds of situations. They experience great kindness from strangers, friends and members of the church, but they also experience lots of insults, rejection, hardship and misunderstanding.
    They discuss life, love, family, death and faith. They help in soup kitchens, at the hospital, with youth groups of other faiths, and in nursing homes as service volunteers. Many people try to convince them of the error of their ways, and try to convert them away from their youthful faith. People often share their life stories, their struggles, their problems, and open up to missionaries in ways they don’t often do with other people. Missionaries have time to listen.
    All these experiences expand a missionary’s world view, experience, compassion and tolerance. And the food from their mission area is something they will love for the test of their life.
    My husband and I had the opportunity of leading a mission for three years. Observing both those who were arriving and those who were leaving after their missions were complete, I was struck with the difference in maturity, self-confidence, understanding, wisdom and compassion in the two groups. Honestly, sometimes it seemed like the difference was not two years, but twenty.
    It was touching and beautiful to behold. Love and appreciation for their own families at home had grown also.

  11. Wow! Thank you for sharing this experience so openly. I hope his experience is all he hopes it to be and more. As a non-Mormon I had no idea what missions entail and was interested to learn more. Wishing you solace in the knowledge you’ve raised a good and self-reliant child!

  12. Ralph’s experiences in France like making new friends, learning the culture and social norms, attending school in a new language, and eating unfamiliar food will all help him as he lives and works in Columbia. As parents you’ve done so much for him. Best wishes to all of you.

  13. Big, big hugs to you. Wow, what an emotional experience for all of you, and especially for you, mama. I’m looking to your next post….

    When I was pregnant with my son (my first baby of two) 16 years ago, two lovely Mormon missionary girls paid us a visit one beautiful Saturday in mid-October and offered to help my husband who was raking leaves. I was inside dealing with first trimester nausea while grading papers. We were, admittedly, a little taken aback and curious about their gesture, but also pleasantly surprised at their eager willingness to help. They helped him for two hours, chatting a bit here and there, and then had to go, wishing us a good day. I will never forget it, and it gave me such hope for the world we were bringing our baby into to have these kind young women stop to lend a hand.

    Here where we live in northwestern, rural NJ (or while away at college in VA, or even while traveling), I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet or really get to know many people of different faiths, so the missionary experience was something I knew little about. The girls left a couple of books for us to consider, and I did read them. As a social studies teacher who (lightly) covered religious history, it was especially interesting to learn. What struck me the most, though, was the spirit of selfless service and kindness they showed. I will never forget their help that day.

    I wish Ralph a wonderful adventure and you and your family the comfort of knowing that while you’ll miss him terribly, he’ll be touching so many lives and sharing your family’s gifts with that area of the world. I am inspired.

  14. Thank you for sharing. Very informative. I’m curious how the LDS handles safety issues for missionaries abroad. Columbia isn’t necessarily the first place I would visit as a tourist and I think many South American countries may have similar safety concerns due to drug trafficking. Is there anywhere missions do NOT go? Whether due to safety issues or regulation by the home country’s government?

    1. My little brother was assigned to the Bolivia Cochabamba mission, but after he finished in the MTC, he was flown to Peru. His mission area was closed for awhile because of war or drug trafficking or political unrest. I don’t remember. He served in Peru for several months until whatever closed the mission was resolved or ended and it was safe again, and then he was allowed to go to where he was originally called.

      Missionaries relocate because of dangerous circumstances, and it happens often, all over the world. I’m so thrilled that the missionaries are supported by lots of other people who are not their parents: mission presidents and zone leaders and area presidencies and senior missionaries and other people that I don’t know what their church titles are.

    2. Also, there are several places that missionaries can’t go. North Korea, China, and Afghanistan are some that I can think of off the top of my head. Some governments do not allow missionaries of any faith to proselyte in their country, and we honor those laws and regulations.

  15. How I long to experience what you have experienced these past few weeks. I want to shed tears of joy of sending a son off to serve and love God’s children. I want to feel the pain of saying goodbye for 2 years.

    My son is 19 and has cystic fibrosis. He’s trying to decide if he can even attempt a mission. There are many different mission options for kids these days, (i.e. Service missions), but if he does serve a mission, he wants it to be a proselyting one. He is very outgoing and loves everyone and can easily speak to strangers. He understands the worth of every soul.

    The other day we sat down and wrote out what his schedule would need to look like if he were to serve, and there would have to be many accommodations made for him. As badly as I want him to serve, I’m not sure it’s the right thing for him and this kills me. Right now I am shedding tears of pure sadness, that he might not be able to have this opportunity. There have been a lot of hard things we have had to deal with in regards to CF, but this is for sure has been one of the hardest for me.

    I served a mission and feel so strongly that everyone on the planet should be required to serve a mission in some way. I don’t care what religion or non-profit organization it is, just get out and serve. If everyone forgot about themselves for a while and served others, this world would be full of understanding, tolerance and love.

    I am so excited for Ralph and you and your whole family to have this experience. You will all be in my thoughts and prayers. God Bless.

    Thank you so much for sharing such a special event.

  16. Oh my, what a year of changes for you all! I hope you’re able to navigate the change and the re-balancing act. Hugs to the entire family!

    I’ve always thought that having a required year of service before college would be a great way to have a gap year. There are so many things that need doing in this world.

    Re: only calling twice a year, this may be to equalize the homesickness experience among missionaries no matter where they go? I’m sure it’s easier in some places to call than others, but it makes it more equitable if everyone is held to the same standard?

  17. As a non LDS person, I find this fascinating! And as a mother, my heart goes out to you Gabrielle…it’s hard to imagine having to say goodbye to my son for 2 whole years! But I would also echo what several other commenters have said – that it says a lot about Ralph’s character that he chose to do this! Having grown up with Mormon neighbors with children my age who were close friends, I’ve always been really curious about it…from the outside it can seem really mysterious, and I always love hearing your thoughts and perspective because you have such a balanced perspective and I appreciate that. So, hugs all around and thank you for this post, it was eye-opening!
    Laura xo

  18. Wonderful information. We’ve sent and welcomed home 5 sons from missions. The only thing I would add is that young men and women choose to serve because they love the Lord and want to follow the Saviors example of service. That’s why mothers send their babies out into the world too. This is the life changing component of a mission for a child and a parent. A testimony of the Savior and feeling His love is what makes a mission a mystery for those who haven’t experienced it yet.

  19. Love this post Gabrielle. I am just catching up on your family after spending the summer soaking up every second before my oldest twins left for their missions. I totally relate to the random and unexpected tears in weird places! Everyone tells me its temporary but I miss having all my babies under one roof. It’s the end of an era thats killing me, too! I also agree that we need to love and support all of our youth and adult church members regardless of their mission length or lack thereof. I feel like understanding and acceptance is growing more and more common (in my experience) which I am so happy for!

  20. Congratulations on Ralph’s mission!! I served in the Tampa mission in the early 80’s and my oldest daughter served in the Chicago mission peaking Spanish 2012-13

  21. Gabrielle! I haven’t been keeping up on your blog but was so happy to read through old posts today and find out that Ralph is on a mission. 6 years ago I sent my son to Paris, France and while he lived in Alencon, you and your family hosted him and his companions for dinner many times, including Thanksgiving! Last month we just returned from a visit to France (we finally visited the mission!). We thought of your family and talked several times about your kindness in welcoming Elder Cooper. That was an especially hard area for him with a very small branch and little success. As you might know, he was rarely invited to eat with a family throughout his mission. I hope and pray that there will be those in Colombia who will take care of your son. I now have a daughter serving in Brazil and the wonderful people there send me photos on Facebook occasionally. They feed my daughter and her companion EVERY DAY! Hoping and praying that you will have the same wonderful experience. I remember well those feelings when my oldest left home, and here you are with 2 at a time. As a matter of fact, the first thing I said to my hubby when my oldest went off was “we should have had more children!”. Just meaning that I wasn’t ready to start the “emptying of the nest” era. Now, all my children are adults and my youngest is a senior in high school. I’m still adjusting! Best wishes, virtual hugs to you and your family, and lots of prayers!

  22. A bit late to comment but I found this very interesting. I didn’t realise that the missionaries had such little contact with the locals and weren’t allowed to socialize with them. I must admit that this has changed my mind considerably – it seems rather rude to go to a country expecting to convert people but not want to learn anything about their culture. I hope Ralph’s experience is more positive!

      1. Maybe I misunderstood but I took “Your energy is supposed to be concentrated on the mission and nothing else” to mean that you are there solely to speak about mormonism rather than to find out about the country and culture you are in. Maybe I misunderstood!

        1. Yes, I think you did misunderstand… :-) The whole ‘mission’ and it’s purpose is to share what they feel to be ‘ The Good News’ (what the word Gospel means) – to every – and anybody who is interested and willing to listen to them. The underlying thought being that we are ALL Gods children, and having found the Gospel, they are under obligation and covenant to offer the same opportunity to all their brothers and sisters. I like to compare it to having the cure for cancer. If we did, wouldn’t it be considered selfish to just keep it to ourselves, and not let others know about it?

          Having a son serving in Colorado for almost a year now, I can totally relate to so many of the comments posted here. We live in Norway though, and so we are on the receiving end of a lot of American missionaries. I thought I knew a lot about missions and missionary life, having grown up in the church. But since my son left, I have come to realize and appreciate the enormous logistics behind the church missionary program. It is on the one hand, an extremely well organized and smoothly running exchange program for our youth – but on the other hand it is so, so much more. Like many others have commented – it allows for enormous personal development and growth – but that is just a bonus. More than anything, it cements their faith and testimony.

          It is a paradox though. I’m sure there must be more efficient ways to convert others to the Mormon faith than sending out a bunch of 18-19 year olds to do it. Somebody once jokingly said ‘The church has to be true. If it wasn’t, the missionaries would have ruined it a long time ago!’ (Legrand Richards? )

          I rarely take the time to read through all the comments on these posts, but this one was great! thank you, Gabrielle, for such a well written and thoughtful, open and honest post.

          And today’s Monday – so email, right? :-)

  23. I studied comparative religions in college, so am fascinated by this explanation of a mission. But as a Jew I can’t fathom how it is a central tenet to proselytize, how Mormans (and others) can make the leap from “I am a person of faith” to “you should be a person of my faith”. I’m sure it must be very painful to the families left behind, so you have my sympathy. But I hope that part of the training is to determine who would welcome the Mormon faith and who would not.

  24. My daughter is currently serving a mission in Colorado, she also left in September. We of course miss her dearly, but I’ve been surprised how….easy?…it’s been for me. Don’t get me wrong, I have cried, I have mourned the change in our family (she is the oldest), but overall she is so happy and well in what she’s doing that I am happy for her. That being said I am counting down to our Mother’s Day FaceTime:)

  25. When I was moving from South Dakota to Arizona, my Mother had called the LDS Church in my City to ask if anyone was available to help, as I was auctioning off all my possessions as well as my home. I really didn’t like the idea of asking strangers for help, let alone a “Church”, when I did not even attend any Church. The next week was a profound learning experience, which remains with me today. 4 of the most gentle, kind, caring, sweet, humorous and loving souls showed up at my door. Smiles that radiated their entire being and a love for what they were doing completely amazed me. I just could not comprehend that 4 young men, just out of High School, could give up the experiences that most teens have when they are just starting out as adults, to live with so many rules and restrictions, just to serve others. They jumped in and helped out without hesitation, and made the entire experience of moving actually fun! We were so busy that we rarely even had time to talk, let alone teach me the Gospel. Apparently, they realized that, and the only praying we did was when I would hand them some prepared food to take back to their apartment(s) with them at the end of the day and we all said goodbye. The next day, we would begin again. They helped for 4 days in a row. When it was over, I cried. Not only because I missed them so much, and how easy they made my move, but because I now knew that it was not only “them” that I missed, but what they “had”. It radiated with every smile, every gesture, every kind act. It was a love for their Heavenly Father.
    Needless to say, I was baptized that same year.
    If anyone is arriving at the time when they have to say goodbye to their young one off to serve a mission, please know that they are changing lives and offering hope where there is little to none. What they give to the world is priceless. I know I will never be the same after meeting them. They introduced me to my Father and I didn’t even know it.

  26. I wanted to add a comment here even though this post is older. Several of the comments I’ve read here are people wondering why in the world people would spend 2 years of their life trying to convert people and proselytize to try and change people’s mind about what they believe. I think the #1 reason why I decided that I wanted to serve a mission (as a girl I didn’t feel any pressure whatsoever to go) and leave my family for 18 months with no contact, was because I had an overwhelming desire to share the Book of Mormon with people who had no idea what it was, or that something like that even existed. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ, and is a second witness, along with the Bible, of His divinity. It’s the most profound book I’ve ever read. If you knew that there was another account of Jesus Christ, and that he appeared to the people on the American continent just after he was resurrected, and that the people there knew the signs of his coming and fell down and worshiped at his feet, wouldn’t that be the most incredible news that you would want to share? It was for me, and made all of the hard and lonely times totally worth it! It’s the only reason why I am okay with my son being gone on his mission as well. If he can help one person to know their Savior more fully then it’s all worth it.

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