Best & Worst of Mormonism: Mission Experiences

AdamF missionary, missions 34 Comments

Right up there with primary, this is a sacred cow for me – perfect for this series. I’ll list off my own best and worst experiences, and you can do the same in the comments!

Worst:

  1. The MTC: For the first few weeks I didn’t want to be there, and for the last few weeks didn’t want to leave. Something about that doesn’t sit right with me. I also loved singing in groups in the dorms, but the men in charge routinely banned singing in the halls, which I never understood. People also got into arguments over vending machine use on Sundays (really). A few Elders also nearly got into fights playing basketball (really).
  2. Getting into an argument with an inactive member. I still feel bad about this one.
  3. Developing a near phobia of women. We generally were not supposed to proselyte to women, so I got used to avoiding them. It took me 5 months after I got home to feel comfortable enough to go on a date. I loved the elderly ladies in Japan though. Especially those that would deflect the conversation by offering us something to eat.
  4. Arguing with my second companion about why my first companion and I got along better.
  5. Seeing people get baptized and then disappear the following week, and then refuse to answer their door.
  6. Not being able to baptize an investigator because he was “homeless.” (He had been coming to church for years.)

Best:

  1. The MTC: singing in the choir, learning a new language, being around so many like-minded people, and the ice-cream sandwiches. I also really enjoyed most of my teachers. They really seemed to care, and they understood the challenge we were facing learning the language, but they pushed us anyway.
  2. Living 24/7 with 15 plus other guys who for the most part were all working every day to be humble, patient, and hard-working. I really learned a lot about living with people, and came out of it a lot slower to be annoyed or upset. Many of my companions taught me valuable lessons just by their example. Even the companions I didn’t always get along with were great missionaries. Not a bad seed among them. I was blessed in that department.
  3. Finding a testimony of Christ – It took wearing His name on my shirt, reading Jesus The Christ two times (I love that book, even though Craig hates it, haha!), and nearly two years of teaching, but it finally happened.
  4. My mission presidents. They were very different from each other, but great men that I still admire today. I also learned valuable lessons about church leaders, such as: they often differ in opinions.
  5. Learning a new language and getting to know a new culture.
  6. Seeing people change their lives for the better. Seeing them still doing well two years later when I went back.
  7. Making one of the best investments of my life. The personal growth and experiences of my mission were greater than any years of college and graduate school I have had (7 so far, although my marriage and having my kids has been better!).

What are the best and worst experiences of your mission?

Comments

comments

Comments 34

  1. My worst was wasting time teaching a family that kept inviting us back and listening to the discussions but never committing to baptism. Then we stumbled on to their membership records and realized they were inactive members who just loved the missionaries coming over so much that they lied to us, pretending to be non-members so we would come.

  2. Best: The great relationships with members and other missionaries; learning to operate under the influence of the Spirit; witnessing amazing spiritual experiences and outpourings, that feeling you get stepping off the plane in US soil at the end and seeing loved ones for the first time in a long time.

    Worst: Companions that you just couldn’t connect with (for whatever reasons); witnessing missionaries doing damage by their conduct, words, and example; stress and anxiety; teaching amazing people and having them eventually choose to not continue the discussions (often unexpectedly). But all these things gave me experience . . . .

  3. Worst: Being told by the MTC presidency that I didn’t have a testimony because I didn’t believe that everything in the Bible was literally true and that I should be sent home.

    Best: Being told by my mission president that not seeing success in the mission field had nothing to do with my personal righteousness (this seriously changed my life) and that I was the right blend of work and fun.

  4. Worst:
    – Being told in the MTC that I would never be able to be a good missionary because I had a college degree, and the gospel is supposed to be preached by the weak and simple. (I never waved my degree in anyone’s face, but we were constantly being asked what we did before our mission, and college was what I did.)
    – My first companion in the field was verbally abusive. Since it had been drilled into our heads in the MTC that we’re never supposed to complain about our companions and we’re supposed to just keep loving them, I put up with her garbage for 5 weeks before telling my mission president about it. (To his credit, he transferred me immediately, and my companion went home two weeks later.)
    – One time, my companion and I were riding the bus, and some punk teenagers thought it would be fun to harass us with the lewdest language imaginable. My companion sat there meekly, unsure of what to do. I told them off. They stopped bothering me, but they kept bothering my companion until another passenger intervened.

    Best:
    – I learned that I can make it through almost any challenge life throws my way as long as I rely on the Lord.
    – I really improved my ability to recognize personal revelation.

  5. I don’t know about best and worst.

    Worst
    There were a few missionaries who always wanted to teach single women. I don’t think they had any unsavory intentions, but single women always had a listening ear.

    I was in a mixed language mission. Some missionaries, mostly English speaking sisters, would find and then keep people who should probably be handed over to one of the other language missionaries, Spanish, etc. Really. Once the zone leaders (Spanish speaking) discovered that the sisters were teaching a family and having the ten year old translate the discussions. Another set of zone leaders found a mother who didn’t speak English very eager to know what the missionaries had been teaching her teenage children. The kids had told the sisters that the mother wasn’t interested, so there was no reason to get the foreign language missionaries.

    Arguing with people, I should have been more humble, and just left it at that.

    Sometimes I gave a cold shoulder to the members who just wanted us to come over and hang out. Some of them got really upset about that, I probably should have handled it differently.

    Best

    Discovering the Book of Mormon – over and over again.

    Learning the most awesomest language ever.

    Fishing at a secluded beach, yeah, we had permission 🙂

    There was something about teaching people in a shack made of plywood that was very satisfying. Maybe because as a kid I would build these kinds of shacks behind my house and that would be my own space.

  6. Best:

    1. Going to Romania on my mission. I was born there and had left when I was seven. I had many many holes in my childhood memories that I had wanted to plug.
    2. Visiting my great-grandfather in this little village in the middle of nowhere. He was 94 years old and still able to walk up to the cemetery on the hill to show us his father’s grave (to get some genealogy done). I remembered which house was his, which was how I was able to find it. Afterwards, my companion and I were stuck trying to walk back the long way to the closest big city to get a train/bus/taxi back to the city we were in.
    3. My father visited Romania while I was on my mission. My mission president gave me and my companion permission to go to my father’s side of the family and spend four days total away from our work. What a trip!
    4. The Bucur family. In one zone, my companion and I felt strongly about tracting a particular neighborhood, a particular street. We went to that street nearly every day to tract. One day, we came across a particular apartment block and started from the top down. At almost all doors, we were met with some form of persecution (go to Africa, we’re already Christian, etc), including this family. They were cold to us. But we asked them to read the Book of Mormon (at that time, just selections) and we’ll come back in a month. One month later, we knock on their door and they warmly invite us in. It seems that the wife happened to have prayed not the week before we first knocked on their door to find the true church.
    5. Train travel. I love trains, and traveling around Romania on the trains was fantastic.
    6. The beautiful cities. Even the capital, Bucuresti, has its beauties.
    7. Bucuresti. I love that town.
    8. Super cool summer thunderstorms.

    Worst:

    1. Street dogs in Bucuresti. As much as I love Bucuresti, I cannot stand the street dogs there. Bucuresti has probably 3 million people, and 300,000 street dogs. I am in the camp that has absolutely no problem at all killing every single one of those dogs.
    2. The Godmakers Part II. A family we taught watched that show while they were on vacation and told their father/husband that if he were to join our church, they would leave him.
    3. Not getting along with one missionary. He and I would not get along well. At one point we were eating chicken and I was eating it with my fingers. He looked disgustedly at me and said “ew.” The reason this was a worst moment was because we were teaching a really nice family, and this lack of getting along caused the mission president to split us, moving me into another area. I ran into the wife of this family on the street (in Bucuresti, on a super busy street!) and she lamented that I had left because she understood me very well, but could not understand the new guy hardly at all. Ugh!
    4. Cotton-Eye Joe and I Will Always Love You.
    5. Ankle problems from all the walking around, particularly on cobble stone streets.
    6. Humidity in the summer.
    7. Bed bugs, or maybe it was fleas. I can’t remember.
    8. Air pollution.

  7. Best: hearing my companion tell a room full of investigators: “like jesus said in the bible, ‘I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it,'”

    Worst:

    1. Having our numbers-focused (to put it mildly) area president roll out a test program called “Lost Sheep,” which was ostensibly all about finding the thousands of members who had gone inactive after baptism, only to be chastised for “wasting” our time trying to activate those we found because the program was really about getting new baptisms.

    2. Mission politics. I’ll admit I was naïve about missions, but to this day mission politics are among the more unseemly things I’ve ever experienced.

  8. I was called to go to Ireland in 1968 at the height of the war between the Catholics and the Protestants.

    Best. 1.I baptised one family -don’t think they stayed active and one female university student who I hope stayed active
    2. First area we lived in a boarding house in the off season- we had 4 fried meals a day and I put on 10kg in 6 weeks
    3. Mission rule to go home if we heard gunfire.
    4. Traffic roundabouts with fortified gun emplacements
    5. Catholic mormons and protestant mormons- if you lived in a catholic area and didn’t fight for the catholic cause your house could be fire bombed, likewise if you associated with protestants. The same applied to protestants.
    6. Had a companion who had a big sound system and a collection of, Beetles, Mammas and Pappas, Monkeys, etc
    7. Proposing to my wife by phone, a few weeks befor I was released so she could have the banns read and we could be married 6 weeks after I got back.

    Worst. 1. No MTC I was called from UK
    2. Mission president was reputedly called to reactivate him. I’m not aware of ever having an interview with him.
    3. Taking poor people on tours of the mission home, which was a mansion- could never find out the purpose of this.
    4. Sharing a double bed with a companion.
    5. Had a place where when we were called for breakfast there was regularly a cat on the table drinking the milk and shedding hairs in the cornflakes. and another where we had to walk through a room where 2 young women slept to get to our room.
    6. Tracted one area for 3 months and when we got in the woman thought we were catholic priests- my companion gave her a BOM but she couldn’t read.
    7. The baseball programe – some branches had hundreds of members who didn’t know they were members and didn’t want to be.
    8. Numbers- the only thing I ever got a mention for was, most hours tracted in a week which from memory was 84.
    9. Lived one place wher there was no hot water so we wnt to the public baths in Dublin- every 2 or 3 weeks when we could get there (not in our area) the baths were in little cubicles on a balcony above the pool, but the cubicles were falling down so you couls sit in your bath and watch others bathing and swinmming.
    10, Having a district leader from California go away for a week with his girlfriend when she came to visit from US.
    Ah memories
    I’m convinced there is a relationship between our lives and the hardship of our missions.

  9. Worst:
    1) My mission president asked me to fudge the reported attendance of one branch on the papers he was submitting to the area presidency for the creation of a stake. I was the mission secretary and I reluctantly did what I was told to do, even though I felt it was wrong. I deeply regret not having told him to type his own papers. This lie pushed the application over the edge and the stake was created shortly after.
    2) My mission president insulted me twice: A– He told me my biggest problem was that I was too nice. B– He told me no one would ever marry me. He was pretty good at identifying my confusion and insecurity. At that time my sheltered Utah life had been blown up because my father had been arrested for sexual abuse of a 12 year old boy right before my mission. Yeah, I was weak and confused.
    3) My mission president boasted to me that he always tried to keep his missionaries on edge, that no one ever got comfortable. He would train us one way in one meeting, and then harshly criticize us for doing that exact thing the next time, telling us a new right way. His goal was to keep us always off-balance. He thought this resulted in better motivated missionaries.
    4) One four-man missionary apartment had for a next door neighbor a lady that was very sensitive to noise and sometimes begged the missionaries to be more quiet, that she couldn’t take the noise. During my mission, two missionaries (one a ZL) decided to aggravate her on purpose, banging on the walls, yelling, etc. over a period of months. One Sunday morning she put a step-stool by the balcony, stepped up, and jumped from the fifth floor, ending her life. The fact that missionaries were a contributing factor affected me deeply.
    Best:
    1) Seeing the effect the Book of Mormon has on some people. It can nurture faith in God, repentance, and humility in a remarkable way.
    2) Speaking my mission language opened a door for me that has led to my wonderful current job back in my mission country. This is a huge blessing not only because I am employed during this recession, but also because my children are having a wonderful international experience, becoming trilingual, and are getting a music education we could never pay for in the states. I feel like I am getting many good years back in return for a few tough ones.

  10. Worst

    Being a district leader and going to see how 4 elders were doing in another area and believing them when they told me that evening that they had been out working. Another companionship had called to let them know we were coming so they skipped town for 12 hours leaving us wandering around wondering where they were. I’ve never believed or trusted a missionary since.

    Best

    Coming home.

  11. Best
    -lifelong friends in mission companions. Several are almost as close as brothers to me.
    -learning to use prayer and revelation for the benefit of others
    -learning what service means, and why we really do it
    – Making friends with the corner grocer across the street from our apartment, he insisted he would not call us by the title Elder, he needed first names…we gave him fake names, which he used for the entire 6 months I was with that companion in the area. When we told him our real names, and why we weren’t comfortable giving him first names when we lied, he didn’t care at all and kept calling us by our self-given Spanish names.
    – 2 cool mission presidents with some pretty good advice, and I think I gained perspective on how the Lord’s church might really work by seeing their 2 different styles.
    – Sometimes companions showed more wisdom than the presidents.

    Worst
    -i think one of my companions has died from cancer (I’ve only been home 9 years!) and I’m too chicken to find out because I wouldn’t know what to say to his family if I were to call them.

    -there’s nothing magical about not talking to your family for 2 years.

    – zealotry in missionaries is almost always a bad thing. My mission had the AP’s who would baptize people they met 8 days earlier and never visit them again. It made me sick.

    – some of my first interactions with people with mental illness were in the mission, and my heart still aches for people with such disability. I guess some good came of that for me, in that I gained a stronger testimony that in the next life the atonement & resurrection will right all wrongs of this nature.

  12. Hi Latter-Day Guy,
    About #4, the reason this affected me so much is that I can’t say the two missionaries were entirely responsible. Our mission culture was rough and fairly aggressive and not very sensitive to people’s needs, and this event kind of grew out of our mission culture. I think some of this mimicked the Mission President’s personality, which was energetic, abrasive, and task-oriented–he bulldozed over peoople. I think that being tough and aggressive gave us a feeling of confidence, like we were in charge. Boldness felt good. Unfortunately, people got damaged by our rowdy boldness, particularly this lady that killed herself.

  13. Worst
    – A few companions who were head cases or just plain bitchy.
    – Finding a hair in my soup and then after discreetly eating around it, discovering the entire household was crawling with lice.
    – Seeing some of the sexist ways the men in Spain, even the members, treated their wives.
    – Hearing from friends in other missions who were having a rough time and beating themselves up over obedience when my mission was very successful and not terribly obedient. It was hard to communicate effectively in those situations, our missions were so different.

    Best
    – The wonderful families we taught and loved, some of whom are still active in running the church there 20 years later.
    – Being in the most beautiful place on the planet: the Canary Islands. Also, the food, the culture & the language.
    – The fun with other missionaries, including practical jokes: getting an elder to sleep talk to us for an hour, pretending we were doing the “dine & dash” with my newbie companion, etc.
    – Going back to see the people and the places we loved, only this time being able to swim and enjoy it!

  14. Worst:
    -MTC
    -Realizing that there are alot of sad people in the world.

    Best:
    -Being able to use the word “pisser” at the dinner table.
    -Lying to the zone leaders that we didn’t do any tracting that day. That way everybody we talked to that day wasn’t just a number.
    -Knowing a great man who was a mission president. He would constantly uplift and inspire.
    -Having had four mission presidents and knowing that–just like missionaries–there is a wide variety in people’s dedication and reasons of serving.
    -Realizing that I was not only there to teach and inspire, but people I met were meant to teach and inspire me.

  15. Worst:
    * Working in the call center at the MTC.
    * Having a nervous breakdown that ended up sending me home.

    Best:
    * Being too sick to work in the call center on the day we were supposed to be there for FOUR HOURS STRAIGHT.
    * Receiving a priesthood blessing while I was sick and being told that the Lord was pleased with my efforts to make sure that the rest of the elders in my district were respecting the rules (something that made me VERY unpopular with them).
    * Using the priesthood to bless and heal a sick little girl who did not speak English.
    * Serving in North Carolina. It would take too long to explain why.

  16. Worst:

    -Realizing that for a church that prides itself on how true and life changing it’s teachings are, the members didn’t really care to pass it on to other people

    -Having a number-hungry, [probably] sociopathic, and downright fake mission president who helped foster a bad mission culture that encouraged elders to brown nose and rat out other missionaries to work their way up the [corporate] latter of mission leadership.

    -Understanding the disillusionment that comes from going thru several gimmicky programs or systems that are supposed to improve missionary work, when they never do.

    -Just realizing that there are way too many changes that need to be made to the full time missionary program. These changes would take the emphasis off of the program itself and the special rite of passage it is for Mormon boys and actually make it about bringing salvation to as many people as possible.

    Best-

    -Meeting people who I now consider some of my closest friends

    -In general, appreciating the varied nature of the human experience, and coming to understand things about people and the world that I may not have learned otherwise.

    -Eating some amazing food

    -Certain moments that, for whatever reason, felt like something from a movie. Just being caught in experiences that can’t be explained by words.

  17. Worst:
    – Tracting in a small town with no members without teaching a single discussion for over 2 weeks
    – Over-the-top missionaries / mission president whose method of “inspiring” mission was to belittle and demean. Entire mission had NO baptisms for nearly 2 months after one set of particularly bad zone conferences
    – New “inspired” programs we were forced to do because the last set of “inspired” programs weren’t working
    – Mission rules that were arbitrary, merely because of the whim and opinion of someone “above” you in the hierarchy, but yet upon which your “success” depended
    – The fact that the number of members in the country where I served has fewer members now than when I was there 2+ decades ago. It makes you wonder what the point of the hundreds of thousands of man-hours served and millions of dollar spent since then actually accomplished and if perhaps it might not have been better to go to some truly needy area of the world and provide actual service.

    Best:
    – Seeing the change in someone’s eyes when they come up out of the water after being baptized (bitter-sweet, as none of them are currently active last I checked)
    – An absolute love of the country that continues to this day, with many of their traditions incorporated into my own family’s
    – Wonderful native friends that I have visited there and who have visited here, still after 20+ years
    – Having to trust in God that things will all work out
    – Humorous experiences with companions
    – An absolutely amazing mission president for the end of my mission who didn’t care about the pettiness that characterizes much of mission life but emphasized the fundamentals

  18. Worst–
    1) Living conditions
    2) A mission president who didn’t care about the the missionaries living coditions
    3) Companions (like the one who started every morning with “Up with Mexico and Down with Elder R—!)
    4) Investigators who had the beginnings of a testimony, but would not make the changes that required
    5) Rules prohibiting staying in touch with new converts

    Best–
    1) The example of Church members
    2) Good companions
    3) The closeness to God that comes when you lean on Him during trials

  19. Worst –
    1) Finding out your parents are getting a divorce with no forewarning.
    2) Coming home and having to face reality all by myself as life and everything that I knew before my mission has changed.
    3) Finding out your best friend committed suicide because he was unable to cope with his mission.

    Best –
    1) Shaking hands and meeting face to face with the Prophet.

  20. Post
    Author

    Dan & pedant(ic) Actually, it kinda bugs me when people say “Tow-Key-Oh” – YES we are speaking English, but there is no reason why we can’t say “Tow-Kyo.”

    Thanks for sharing your experiences everyone!

  21. Worst:
    1) Worrying about “rules” that I shouldn’t have. Like worrying so much more about being home before 9 pm than helping someone in serious need.
    2) The idea that we had to run from house to house while tracting.
    3) If you didn’t go to BYU after the mission then you are not part of the group of friends that served in the mission.
    4) Not saying more to my mission president. I just basically said, “yes, sir” and “No, sir” and “Things are great”

    Best:
    1) Seeing a family be baptized then after a course of a couple years the entire extended family converts.
    2) The area. U.S. Mexico border
    3) Some great companions
    4) Food
    5)

  22. I gotta go with the pedant on this one. I still say “Florence,” not Firenze, Naples, not Napoli, and Warsaw, not Warzczcczzzcczczawwa or whatever.

  23. Thanks to everyone who posted their best and worst from their missions!! I copied and sent all of these to my son who is serving a mission now, but never feels like he is doing it “right”. I think these experiences will go a long way toward helping him gain some healthy perspective.

  24. Worst Mission Experience: 20 years ago — getting accused by the Zone Leaders of stealing some money from their apartment. They confirmed their suspicions by kneeling in prayer together and having the Holy Ghost ‘confirm’ their assumptions. They took me to the Mission President (I’m sure they wanted to handcuff me if they could!) who interviewed me and then declared me guiltless. I certainly hadn’t taken any money!

  25. Worst: Catching my companion (who was also the zone leader) sneaking his girlfriend from his previous area into our house while I was asleep. I found out by reading his journal, which I wasn’t supposed to do. The entry started, “Last night I slept with …”

  26. I had some bad — and a couple really horrible — experiences on my mission.  Most were not the Church’s fault, although one was.

    However, I had one of the very best and most useful experiences of my life on my mission — namely I learned how to actually tell the Holy Ghost from mere, ordinary feelings.

    As a result, I understand when people say “you can’t just rely on feelings” — while I would not agree with that fully, I understand what they are trying to say and agree that it makes some sense.  On the other hand, I do not have a testimony about the Holy Ghost that is “just” feelings.  

    I know the difference.

    This one things was worth all the money and the two years of my mission — 20 times over. 

  27. Worst: in my third area I had a fistfight with a companion who thought it was funny to curse at people in English when he thought that they couldn’t understand. The replacement for this elder was a gay elder who sexually assaulted me in the middle of the night. Then the mission president left me with him for an entire month until my letter reached my parents and I finally was transferred away from him. I did not sleep for that month.

    Best – actually finishing my mission. I still had a year to go and I wasn’t comfortable around men. Despite these challenges I still had a successful (although sleepdeprived) mission and left with more good xperiences than bad.

  28. I’m really confused as to how a person could endure some of the experiences detailed here, such as being assaulted by a gay companion yet being required to remain with him for a month, or being accused of stealing by zone leaders who confirmed their accusations by prayer, and still have even a belief, much less a knowledge beyond the shoadow of doubt, in the veracity of the church.  Individuals supposedly called by God to  positions of authority were clearly acting without any inspiration whatsoever.

  29. Isn’t it sad that we were so brainwashed that we put up with that crap and didn’t stand up for ourselves? What was wrong with us? I’m still getting over doormat syndrome…

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