Returned Missionaries Need a Friend, a Responsibility, and Spiritual Nourishment
By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer
In private, they talked about the growth he had experienced, about the skills and habits he had developed. They talked about future plans and discussed rules to live by. The young missionary felt good about the service he had rendered, and he felt he had learned what really matters in life—that happiness and holiness go together—and how to work hard.
“It is heartbreaking to leave the people you love,”
Just under a year and a half ago, President Thomas S. Monson announced a change to the age requirement of men and women participating in missionary service. According to a recent report issued by the First Presidency of the Church, there are 80,000 missionaries serving in 405 missions around the world. Never before have there been so many missionaries out serving, which will cause the number of recently returned missionaries to grow over the next year.
Although missionaries know the gospel and have exhausted their days sharing it with others, sometimes their return home can be an adjustment, with the “new and improved” version of them returning home to oftentimes the same situation that they left.
A PARTING GIFT
For many, a mission is a time of spiritual growth, filled with gaining knowledge, good habits, and skills. Missionaries have been taught by their mission president and have learned how to serve the Lord and dedicate their lives.
Before missionaries return home, they have an exit interview with their mission presidents. While each experience is different because of the personal nature of the interview, it is a time for mission presidents to share their “parting advice” and counsel their missionaries one last time. It is also an opportunity to reflect with the missionaries about the changes they experienced and how their conversion to the Lord has deepened and to talk to them about their future.
“Throughout their missions, I talk to the missionaries frequently about their future roles as fathers and mothers, husbands and wives,” said President Jordan Clements of the Minnesota Minneapolis Mission. “For example, … during a [recent] zone conference in which I addressed goal setting and planning, I described the vital role these skills play in their future success as husbands and wives and as parents.”
Whether he is talking about work plans, education plans, or goals for the future, President Clements said that with some of his missionaries the guidance and counsel he shares is very personal and specific.
“During our interview, I’ll also discuss weaknesses that the missionaries may have struggled with prior to the mission and how they will build appropriate fortifications in their lives to ensure that they never go back,” he said.
In general conference of May 1999, President Gordon B. Hinckley gave the counsel that every new convert needs three things: a friend, an assignment, and to be “nourished by the good word of God.” Just like new converts making commitments to progress in the gospel, returning missionaries can apply the same principles they used with the people they taught on their mission as a guide when they return home and adjust to their new schedule.
A FRIEND---Not all missionaries have the immediate transition to school with an opportunity to quickly meet new friends and welcome a new social scene. And drastically cutting ties with old friends isn’t always the best option. However, missionaries must recognize and constantly evaluate their surroundings—including people, situations, and influences.
A RESPONSIBILITY---Depending on where missionaries return home, they may head to a large singles ward or to a small family branch. Sometimes it takes time to receive a calling. Sometimes the calling is something they have never done. No matter the situation, a willingness to serve will help returning missionaries keep their testimonies strong as well as help in their units. “I’ve seen [newly returned missionaries] in positions where they have opportunity to work with young men preparing for missions, [some] are able to continue with missionary work by being a ward missionary or in the elders quorum, and, in a few instances, we have them serving in leadership capacities,”
NOURISHED BY THE GOOD WORD OF GOD---“He made us promise that we would read the Book of Mormon at least five minutes a day,” the returned missionary said. “Beyond anything else, if we keep reading the Book of Mormon every day we will be OK.” When asked if he has kept that promise, he quickly answered, “Absolutely.” Just as a new convert finds strength in diving into the scriptures, one of the most important transitions for missionaries to make after coming home is making the scriptures a part of everyday life.
The missionary is a different person than he or she was before entering the mission field, “becoming” something much more than they were before they arrived. He also recognizes that the counsel might not be easy to follow, but as they follow the teachings, every effort they make will be worth it. The transformation that takes place in a short year and a half or two years can be life altering and can set the stage for the rest of the missionaries’ lives—if they let it.
“We love the missionaries with all our hearts and see them as sacred instruments through whom the Lord has worked many mighty miracles,” President Clements said. “We feel blessed to serve with them. We are eyewitnesses to the miracles the Lord works in their lives as they faithfully serve Him. The greatest miracles I’ve observed in my life have been the transformation over two years or 18 months of a halting, hesitant, yet faithful young teenager [or young adult] into a powerful man or woman of Christ.”
As missionaries apply the skills and counsel given to them on their missions, they are able to stay faithful as they make the transition home and establish habits for the rest of their lives.