Is it just my imagination, or are more missionaries returning home early? Seems like this used to be a rare event, spoken about in the same whispery voice people use to tell you someone has an embarrassing disease. Now, it happens with some regularity. In my stake in the past few years, seven or eight missionaries have returned early (and those are just the ones of which I’m aware). When I’ve asked around, my friends and relatives in other stakes report the same thing.
Everyone is aware that the Church “raised the bar” on missionaries. The Church wants better prepared and more committed missionaries. However, when I chatted recently with my sister-in-law whose husband is in a branch presidency at the Missionary Training Center she stated emphatically that the bar hadn’t been raised enough. The things she’s seen!
We all know stories of missionaries who struggle, sometimes desperately. Some I’ve heard: the missionary who was so eager to go home he went to the doctor every week, convinced he had yet another terminal disease. The missionary who slept with her mother’s sweater every night because she was so homesick. The missionary whose doctor doubled his dose of anxiety medication but still suffered so severely, he left the MTC after three days. The missionary who called his father after six months in the mission field and said, “Dad, it’s not for me. I’m just not a salesman.” The missionary (my son’s companion) who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and created all kinds of havoc throughout the mission.
There are still ill-prepared missionaries. There are still missionaries with significant mental health problems. There are still missionaries who get very sick. There are still missionaries who don’t want to be there, for any number of reasons. There are missionaries who lie to their bishops so they go and some who go under duress or because their parents will buy them a car when they come home. There are some who don’t follow the mission rules and some who can’t handle the pressure and some who realize they’re not sure of their own testimonies. Some of these young men and women stay and finish their missions. Some of them come home, after a few weeks or months.
This brings up many issues for families, wards, and individuals. My husband, sister, and good friend are all therapists. They’ve dealt with the fall-out when a missionary comes home ahead of schedule. They’ve dealt with good people who are suffering from anger, crises of faith, and feelings of failure. They’ve worked with parents who are embarrassed and disappointed, who don’t know what to tell ward members. They’ve worked with missionaries who are disillusioned and depressed. Often, the friends and families of these folks are helpful. Too often, though, there is judgment. Unfortunately, the stigma that follows these missionaries is alive and well.
Why is there still a stigma? Perhaps all those retellings of inspiring missionary stories make our expectations too high. Or we’ve sung “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” one too many times. Maybe it isn’t possible to really prepare someone for what a mission is like, and it’d be better to acknowledge that it’s not for everybody, and ease up on the whole issue.
Whatever the reasons, it’s sad to see the pain these families and ex-missionaries suffer. There are no easy answers for them because every situation is complex and highly individual. I just know it’s important to love these families and missionaries and be kinder to them, regardless of the reason for the early homecoming. We need to stop judging, gossiping and making assumptions. Maybe when you get down to it, the answer is not to raise the bar on our missionaries, but on the church members as a whole.
Nice post. I struggle with knowing what to do about missionaries who return sooner than expected. Do you ask them questions about it, or not? How can we better show kindness to these, let’s face it, somewhat socially marginalized folks?
One thing I try not to do is to assume everyone has served a mission. I think it helps to come up with some other icebreaker question at ward functions than “where did you serve?”
Interesting post. I served a mission from 2003-2004 in the US. We had several missionaries return home early, most for medical reasons, but a few for other reasons. I don’t know what happened to the missionaries after they returned home, but I’m sure it was difficult for them.
On a personal note, just because of how the transfer schedule worked out, my mission was just over 16 months long instead of the standard 18 months. (This happens to a small percentage of missionaries, based on when the call was issued.) I was given the option of extending my mission. My mission president wanted me to, and I wanted to as well, but I prayed about it and was given a very clear and definite no answer, so I didn’t extend. When I got home, I did have to deal with a few people asking me if I came home early, and it was a bit annoying. It never comes up anymore because I’ve been back for a while, and because I live in a different city.
I agree with Lisa, it seems to be a trend. Our last three missionaries returned home due to illness. As far as I know they were worthy in every way. One, I think, was so apprehensive, he made himself sick. he had problems in the MTC and they continued in the field. But the impression you get is that these are stress-related issues that our new missionaries seem to have.
Perfect, and thank you.
I agree that there is an increasing problem with physical (and emotional) ailments for missionaries.
I know I experienced some major physical problems on my mission. I was bitten by a tick, infected with Lyme disease, all while working 80 to 90 proselyting hours a week, with a senior companion who hated the mission president, and hated me (he told me so to my face and boasted that he would “break” me). Let me tell you the stress problems were unbelievable until eventually I think my body decided it needed to just shut down in order to save me from myself.
I don’t know about other missions, but in mine we were discouraged from visiting doctors. Instead I got to meet with this counselor from LDS Social Services- the idea being that my companion had emotionally traumatized me I guess- and all he wanted to talk about was sending me home. He seemed convinced that there must be some underlying confessed sin causing all my problems. I finally told him that I didn’t feel it was appropriate to consider going home unless my Mission President suggested it, and he still keep urging me to go home.
So I told my Mission President in my next interview, he got very angry, and I never saw that counselor again.
My health continued to degrade, until my Mission President suggested I go home to get medical treatment and that he would make arrangements to ensure I was sent back to his mission after treatment. Then about 1 week before I was supposed to go home all He** broke loose in my zone. Two missionaries got sent home and 2 others were emergency transferred, leaving me as the only missionary in the entire zone who’d been there more than a week, (transfers had been a week earlier). Worse the Temple Open house was starting in 1 week, and my Zone was the Temple Zone. The members were of course rather shaken by the scandals, but for some reason they still trusted me, so I couldn’t go home. I essentially became the Zone Leaders defacto assistant, and the goto guy for co-ordination with ward members.
I don’t even remember ever talking to the Mission President about it, we just never talked about me going home again.
I will say that almost all my stress came from having to deal with other missionaries, and not the workload.
I think there are some things that ought to be changed:
1: Be more proactive in getting medical treatment for missionaries.
2: Be flexible enough for missionaries who need rest to not pressure them into continuing a full-time proselyting schedule. Put them on office work, or have them doing other useful things while convalescing. Remember that good missionaries will probably try to leap back into full work before they are really healed (I know I did), so you may need to sit on them a little.
3: Shoot the rebels. Just send them home instead of asking your dependable missionaries to deal with them for months on end.
Great post Lisa. I have noticed that too along with a lot of people becoming disillusioned with the church.
world morality=lowered and lowering.
Therefore fewer and fewer missionaries are going to fit the bill.
You won’t remove the stigma of coming home until you remove the stigma of not going in the first place. It should be a decision between the person and the Lord with NO judgment for ANYONE else on the decision made.
Young men are groomed not to make decisions on how they will serve, but to do what is expected. Young women are told subtly, and not so subtly that they should only marry a returned missionary. This all combines for entirely unhealthy and unfair expectations on young men.
It is time to throw the ‘ideal’ image of a Mormon boy away and let individuals be individuals.
Imperfection….LOVED IT!!! Nice post.
Excellent post. Unfortunately, the stigma you mention will continue until “every young man should serve a mission” is officially repudiated. President Hinckley said that missions should not be looked at as rites of passage, but as long as there is the idea that they are universally necessary, they will continue to be, first and foremost, cultural markers.
Missions are often very high-pressure, painful environments. Not every young person is equipped to deal with them. We ought to teach that “every young man should serve a mission… except for those who shouldn’t.”
Having seen some missionaries that came home early, I’ll say this. The ones that came home for purely medical reasons were always active in the church afterwards. The others, who came home because they were homesick or for ‘stress’ or other undisclosed reasons, typically have more mixed results. That is my observation only. I’m not passing judgment, because I haven’t known which of them have had sins and which have not. I will say this however, I did know one or two who got into the MTC, recognized unconfessed sins, confessed them, returned home, dealt with it, and went back. Generally these have been excellent missionaries.
If you want good missionaries, it comes down to this: make sure that they are willing to work hard. It’s the slackers and the ones that have girlfriends and other concerns that they can’t forget about that always have trouble. Period. Knew a kid recently that went out. His LDS girlfriend back home was ALWAYS emailing him and stuff. He wasn’t out for more than 3 months. She had called him numerous times in during that period. There’s a reason for limited contact, and I think it’s a good policy.
What can be done, by the average member, to make the transition home easier for a missionary in this situation? I realize that each is an individual, but any general advice on how to make sure that a ward or quorum member who returns home “early” is made to feel welcomed and accepted?
So, why shouldn’t everyone in the church serve a mission of some kind? Why is serving the Lord considered by some as such as hardship? Serving oneself is never considered a hardship. If a young man or young woman is not equipped to serve a mission, are they, in fact, equipped to deal with life itself?
Excellent post, but I couldn’t help chuckling while reading it. Yesterday, my wife was telling me that our stake had “raised the bar” too high and was making it too difficult for young men to go on a mission.
Jeff: Interesting idea. In SLC/Utah, I think there are a lot of different opportunities to serve. A cousin of mine with a developmental disability was clearly not able to serve a proselyting mission, but worked for 18 months or two years on the grounds at Temple Square. I think it meant a lot to him and his family, and served many of the same purposes (in terms of his own progression) as a more traditional mission. Individualizing opportunities for service might make a lot of sense. of course, away from church HQ, opportunities for direct church service might be harder to coordinate and supervise.
Jeff, serving oneself rarely involves door-to-door canvassing, or any number of other challenging situations common to missionary work. I would suggest that anyone with a calling IS serving “a mission of some kind”; the difficulties of a proselyting mission, though, are unique. “If a young man or young woman is not equipped to serve a mission” I would suggest that they are not equipped to deal with a life of door-to-door sales, but is that really such a common vocation? Your question, as now expressed, seems a little disingenuous. Perhaps you could offer some clarification.
Christian missions, even when doing service-oriented work predominantly, can be spiritually tiring when working in a culture where Christianity is new or not favored — not to mention the physical demands of long labor hours. So no missionary work is or should be without sacrifice. Yet I’m with Lisa in agreeing that the LDS culture should prepare kids more honestly for what is involved. Proselytizing is not a fit for everyone (or many?) and to the extent the LDS missions program stays emphasized this way then there shouldn’t be a stigma for those who don’t have the gifts, abilities or interest. There should be other ways to serve productively.
Therefore, I think it would do the LDS church well to learn from other faiths who have missions work that are not predominantly proselytizing or evangelistic. There should be opportunities within LDS mission service to focus on community service, education, humanitarian needs, intellectual pursuits, or etc. God gives different gifts to different individuals. Perhaps as the LDS church continues to develop better interfaith relations they can start cooperating with other established organizations, or even start creating their own versions to provide more diverse services to the world, and more varied opportunities for their volunteers. There are many opportunities out there to meet needs, and often these also come with spiritual teaching / witnessing opportunities, too. It just seems a huge waste of human resources when the LDS church gears the program so heavily in proselytizing.
As youth grow they should have opportunities to spend vacation time in this regard to prepare themselves. Our church youth are going to do community work in Texas, Mexico or Jamaica this summer, depending on their choice. What a good experience for them! Imagine more LDS youth doing this, and then by the time they are ready for full-time service they better understand what kind of interests and abilities they have, and can apply for a correlative missionary opportunity. But, of course, are there enough kids who enjoy sales who would still opt for a predominant proselytizing mission if they had the opportunity to do other kinds of service — especially considering that the rising generation usually considers other kinds of service more important, needed and rewarding? Is the main purpose for missionaries to suffer for their faith, endure it through if needed, so they merely come back as more committed Mormons? Even more adult LDS missionaries get more non-proselytizing service opportunities; why does the church still resist giving young missionaries more choice and options?
I found reasons to feel like my LDS mission to Japan was worthwhile, but for proselytizing purposes, it was a largely a waste of time.
Missionaries are subject to a high pressure, sales oriented lifestyle. Some thrive in this, some don’t.
I was put with an unpleasant, immature elder new to leadership early in my mission. He conducted what could only be described as a three month course in every intimidation and emotional abuse technique ever invented. And he was the Zone Leader.
I came home early due to an injury. It took six months, ‘punishment transfers’ to a bike area against the express instructions of a doctor and getting hallucinations from the drugs I was on…. to alert my parents, who called my Stake President, who yelled at my Mission President… who finally woke up and sent me home….
Let’s just say that a certain level of disaffection, anger and panic attacks came with the territory. A bonus, tacked onto the end of the emotional abuse.
“Why is serving the Lord considered by some as such as hardship? Serving oneself is never considered a hardship.”
As a response to Jeff S, there is very little stress for most missionaries in dealing with the day to day of proselyting. It’s easy to shrug off the transitory verbal abuse, the rejection. Now some take this harder than others, but I didn’t hear a lot of complaints about proselyting.
The big problem with missions, and it is systemic, is the problem of dealing with other missionaries and the leadership of the mission. The regular refrain I experienced, heard on my mission, and talking to friends, is one of consistent pressure for baptisms. Everything else is given lip service, but the pressure for baptisms is constant. If you were not getting baptisms you were sinning, and this was stated both directly and indirectly. In my mission this got to the point that a missionary who got significant numbers of baptisms was made a AP, despite getting tattoos and dating sister missionaries along with local members.
In short Jeff S… Serving God is a wonderful thing. Dealing with those that are supposed to be his closest followers? Hell.
I apologize if this has descended into a rant.
Upon re-reading President Kimball’s “every young man should serve a mission” talk/article, I noticed that church members tended to take it out of context.
If you look at the rest of the talk, both before and after that famous line, he in no way suggested that unprepared or unworthy or unhealthy missionaries be sent out.
But the church as a whole seemed to have focused on just that one sound-bite and not the whole picture, and ended up sending out missionaries just to get them out the door, regardless of qualifications, readiness, motivations, desires, willingness to serve, or testimony.
I served in 1984-1986, 2 years after I joined the church. Had I known the true nature of many missionaries, I wouldn’t have gone. When I was in the MTC I suspected that maybe 15 to 25% of them shouldn’t have been there. And when the bar was finally raised in 2002, within 2 years (after a full “cycle”), the number of missionaries serving had dropped by approximately 15%.
Because young men grow up seeing in what conditions their slightly older fellow ward members go on missions, and because it takes 7 years (from ages 12 through 19) for preparations and training to the new standards to fully cycle through the Young Men’s program, it won’t be until 2010 until we see the full effects of “raising the bar.”
And it might even take a full generation, 25 or so years, to see the full effects, when we see post-bar-raising missionaries brought up by post-bar-raising parents. I remember several missionaries who got their bad attitudes from their fathers, wherein the father assumed that his son would learn everything he needed (about the gospel, etc.) on his mission, not before his mission.
Some parents had abdicated their responsibilities, and taken the “he’ll learn the gospel and get his testimony on his mission” tack.
“Raising the bar” was announced in October 2002, but essentially wasn’t filtered out and down until 2003. So 2010 will be a bell-weather year.
And as an aside, I’d also say that only the “effective” bar was raised. The stated standards are pretty much the same. What I heard Elder Ballard say in the October 2002 priesthood session of conference, as far as missionary standards, was really no different than what Elder Monson said were the requirements of missionaries in 1983.
Elder Monson said “missionaries MUST be” this and that. And when I got to the MTC in 1984, it was a shock, because so few missionaries seemed to even try to meet those standards.
Therefore, what I heard from Elder Ballard was effectively “and now we mean it.”
As the church continues to “come out of obscurity”, it will need better and better representatives. Look for a larger percentage of retired couple missionaries doing proselyting work. Also look for more age 21+ single women encouraged to go.
Regardless of how some naysayers claim that church growth has stagnated, new wards and stakes continue to be formed in the US. And though there was some apparent retrenchment in Chile and the Philippines a while back, the overall trend is still growth in the number of active members.
And regardless of individual tragedies or heartbreak, the old addage seems truer to me now than ever: “The church must be true, or the missionaries would have ruined it by now.”
I have two contacts who give some interesting stories. One is a friends of mine who is on the General Young Men’s Board. Another is an acquaintance of mine who is an MTC branch president – both have similar things to say about why missionaries are coming home.
1. Social anxiety disorder – call this the text message and Facebook phenomenon. Many of our youth are taught to communicate only through the phone or Internet. Sure they say hi at school and stuff, but for serious conversation or emotionally difficult situations, they are learning to do it via text messaging. They can’t handle the pressure of face-to-face communication about serious topics. It causes too much anxiety. They are also more sedentary and less active, and thus, more lazy than previous generations.
2. Increasingly lack of good Scouting experiences – Everyone knows I’m the Scout guy on here, but I’ve done my homework here and it stands up with what my two acquaintances have said. Missionaries who enter the field with good Scouting experiences (earned an Eagle Scout, attended week camps and trainings, and had good Varsity Scout and Venturing leaders) were more likely to be successful missionaries who retained, became leaders, and worked hard.
3. Not putting up with crap – They just send them home. When I was a missionary, I was sent home temporarily to deal with an anxiety issue. Nowadays, they go home for good. I got to go back out. I would have been sent home permanently in today’s missionary culture. They were just more permissive back then.
4. Pornography – Nuff Said about that.
Great comments. I agree with those who say the stigma comes largely from the expectation that every young man serves a mission. There’s also an expectation that said mission begins at the age of 19. There’s not a lot of room for equivocation. I also agree with those who say there are many ways to serve. Why don’t we encourage some of those ways? I hear more and more missionaries say they feel their proselyting efforts didn’t amount to much. There are so many ways to serve around the world. Why not send missionaries to Africa to build schools or to Peru to work in orphanages? Another thing I wonder about is what happened to the program the Church had when missionaries could choose how long they served? Anybody know? If I remember correctly, they could choose a 2-year mission or 18 months, maybe even 12 months. That makes sense to me, except perhaps in places with languages that are difficult to learn.
I was an 18 month missionary. I was not allowed to choose how long I served. Those given the choice were in very narrow windows during the transitions into and out of the 18 month experiment for men serving as missionaries. I was far enough into the experiment that I was not given the choice.
A terribly significant issue is how members treat those who don’t go or come back early.
It is abominable.
One gentleman in my ward returned home after about a month. Mostly social anxiety. I’ve heard gossip from both men and women that he, obviously, will never get married because no good LDS girl will have him. He was called to young men’s. I’ve heard parents question whether he should be around their kids.
I chose not to go. I felt uncomfortable with the idea of trying to persuade people to change their religious beliefs. Went out with the missionaries several times and found the techniques too manipulative for my taste. I was comfortable with my decision. No one else has been. My parents feel like they failed. I lost most of my friends that I knew then. I constantly get the question where I served. When I say I didn’t go, I get looks. I’ve had folks ask my wife what was wrong with me.
Missions are so ingrained in the church that those who don’t go are really shoved to the periphery. It makes it hard to stay connected. It is pretty nasty.
Let me add to my comments above. We’ve talked on the blog about the idea that serving a mission does not need to be a proselytizing mission. In fact, many of us, including me, would like to see more service-oriented missions and less of the door to door approach. The tracting thing happens because members don’t find people for the missionaries to teach. Let’s not go on and on about that here.
The problem is that our young people do not seem prepared for life itself. They have everything handed to them on a silver platter. They don’t have to interact with people face to face, they don’t have to work and when they whine about something, the parents take care of it for them.
It’s not wonder they can’t, won’t or are unable to serve missions. Besides, no one wants to sacrifice anymore.
Steve, I’m so sorry to hear about your experience. My husband didn’t go on a mission either and he had some similar experiences. These days, I fear it’s gotten even worse as the pressure increased.
It seems to vary by mission, who gets sent home early. My son is currently a missionary in Europe (with 2 months, 3 weeks, 4 days remaining, but who’s counting?). Eleven of his close friends went out within that same 2 month period. SEVEN came home early; 6 for medical reasons,including one who went back out after surgery. One young man came home with a cracked ankle bone; he was told that “to be on crutches for a month would slow down the work too much.” My son has had six broken bones during his mission, but did not come home early…in fact, we were not even told of the injuries by the mission. I called the mission office when we did not hear from our boy for 3 weeks, shortly after he was out. They sounded surprised to hear from a parent, and explained that he had not written due to a broken wrist “but it’s a very common injury.” I did not see it that way. I don’t know what determines who comes home and who does not, but I only see one of this young group struggling with being home early. A strong Group seems to be a huge help; they have an enviable social network. In July, it will be intact again!
Fwiw, when the guidelines are followed, the issues decrease dramatically – including for those who go home early for medical or other “non-worthiness” issues. When the guidelines are not followed, all Hell breaks loose.
There is a clear option for those who, for whatever reason, cannot or should not serve a standard, full-time mission. They are allowed to serve a mission within their own local boundaries while living at home, with the specific responsibilities determined by the local leaders. These missions easily can be service or community oriented.
There are still issues in the Church that reflect institutional difficulties, but, in my experience, the VAST majority of the problems we face in the Church are the direct result of the fact that we run things. Fortunately, the VAST majority of the greatest blessings we receive are the direct result of that fact that we are allowed to help run things.
I don’t mean to sound flippant, because I know personally the pain of missionaries coming home early or not serving a mission at all. I have a very close friend who married his high school sweetheart instead of serving a mission. He is an absolutely wonderful person, but he still wonders if he did the right thing – over ten years later. I also have two very close friends who came home early – one to straighten out a prior misdeed and one simply because he couldn’t honestly tell people he knew they could know.
I respect and admire both of them greatly, but their return caused pain in their lives that simply should not have happened. For example, one father insisted his daughter stop dating one of my friends and find someone who “returned honorably” – even though they were a really good match. The other has struggled with feelings of inadequacy for years – feeling unable to live up to an unrealistic standard.
In the end, however, I just can’t get away from the belief that the problem is the mortals who constantly screw up the system, not the system itself. (and I hope it’s obvious that this is not directed at most missionaries)
When I served my mission, the standards were not yet raised. We had some real human beings out there with some major warts (sisters & elders alike), but I can’t say that was better than now. There were quite a few who probably should have been sent home for standards much earlier than they were. However, one of the downsides of the higher standards might be that elders at 19 who are pure as the driven snow, a higher percentage of them might have led sheltered lives. That sheltering is certainly an effective preventer of sin, but it may not prepare them for the big wicked cities of the world in which they live and work as teenage boys, and it may not prepare them for dealing with pressure, stress, and weird companions 24×7.
My vote would be to uphold the high standards but to raise the age. Sisters in my mission didn’t get into trouble like the elders because they were older, more mature, a little more worldly wise, there because they wanted to be (not due to social pressure) and had lived on their own before. They were also generally less prone to the pressures and stresses the elders were because they were outside of the leadership structure and could just focus on the work in their area.
That’s more about the emotional and spiritual well-being vs. the illness issues.
A couple of thoughts:
1- Shorten the mission. My nephew went “surfing for Jesus” for three months. He belongs to another denominaton, obviously. He didn’t miss much school, he had a ball, and I think he even talked to a few people about Christ (in between waves). The weather was great, the food plentiful, communications with home unlimited.
Of course I’m not serious. But it does lead to thought #2- We live in a more frenetic society than was the case in times past. We are use to having what we want now, our attention span is shorter, and we tend to live in sound bites of 30 seconds and video clips of three minutes or less. Heck, I’m affected by it, and I grew up in the dark ages before 8-tracks! Maybe our young men are having a harder time sustaining the emotions and drive needed for the day in and day out schedule of missionary work. In a throw-a-way culture, the mission is one more thing that gets tossed sooner rather than later.
I also think that mental and physical problems are more pernicious and common.
I’m all for raising the bar for young men and women, but the bar should be raised for their leaders and parents as well. We sent our oldest out like I was sent out, with the idea that he had learned everything he needed to know and do by example, seminary, young men, family, and osmosis. He served with honor and well. Our second son was sent out the same way, but was not mentally prepared. We knew this, but counted on the Lord to make things better. It didn’t work and he came home early. He’s on medication. but still has psychological problems compounded by self-inflicted guilt about coming home. Now, thirteen years later, our third son is preparing to leave. He’s a solid kid, and we believe much better prepared than his older brothers, but we worry more now we know more. These kids today better belong to a royal generation because there is certainly much more pressure on them today with less room for error than ever before.
Sorry for posting again so soon, but what Peter Brown said in #19. I know a lot on the bloggernacle have strong or ambivalent feelings about Scouting, but there’s gotta be a good reason it’s the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood, at least here in the US. I was involved in Scouts as a young man and as an adult for over 25 years. Good scouting programs produce good missionaries. There are exceptions, of course, both ways. But on the whole, it’s a big plus.
Following the church programs in general is a way to build strong youth into strong adults. Not all will be able to serve missions, nor should all be asked to. Unfortunately, some people have set such low expectations of their kids, that they need to rationalize it away. I have two sons who decided to follow the ways of the world and did not/have not served missions. It’s their loss. As a parent, I am disappointed, sometimes wonder what we could have done better, but in the end, it was their decision, their agency and they will have to live with the consequences.
I do not think that parents should force any kid to serve a mission or have them feel like there is pressure. But, it is a good thing in most cases for young men and young women to serve. For every horror story, there is probably 10x stories of positive experiences missions had on those who served.
I just returned last year from a mission serving in the office. I worked alot with the missionaries. There were several that went home. First, there are many that should not be going out. They are still ‘children’ as in…very emotionally still tied to mom and dad. Mostly mom. There are very few who are stable, reliable, mature and responsible. The few that are were raised to be reponsible adults. There were several incredible young men there. Very mature and responsible. But most who go out are babies. When I think of the difference in age 19 of these missionaries and compare them with that same age who won wars it is quite incredible. Most of these boys age 19 are so spoiled rotten by the time they get into a mission area, they can’t conceive of being out there without their parents telling them what to do and how and when. Immature pranks, backtalking to the President of the Mission and telling him he can’t tell them what to do, total disrespect of authority, not able to follow simple rules such as staying away from internet porn sites (which is sad to think they even have to have a rule for things like that. It should be common sense), leaving technical equipment at home that they are not suppose to bring in so they sneak it in, the list goes on and on. They are told to stay away from My Space et.al. They do it anyway getting on and publishing pictures of them in their underwear. Most of them are totally uncommitted. And the parents don’t help. They are always on the phone wanting to know how their missionary is and wanting to talk to him/her….which they cannot and had been told but they still try anyway. So parents are responsible too. They need to send them out and Leave Them Alone! Let them grow up. I fear that if America ever has to go into a war again, what kind of soldiers we will have to help us win again the freedoms of this country. Certainly not the ones who are trying to serve as missionaies. How sad. One last thing….email is not the way to go with missionaries. They are allowed to do email only one day a week. So they write all their grievances home and then the mission office’s have upset parents the next day.
The 80/20 principle suggests that 20% of the people get 80% of the money. This 80/20 principles applies to missionaries, too, (i.e., 20% of the missionaries “get” 80% of the converts.) Personally, I “got” many times the mission average of converts, and I was a fun loving goofball. The more “follow the program” missionaries were often quite timid–but boy were they obedient. They may have resented my success; I certainly was (and am) jealous of their soberness. Today, they are church leaders, and still as boring and as unoffensive as ever. They are much happier going to ten meetings than to knock on one door.
Most people just don’t enjoy meeting strangers on their turf–at any time in their lives.
Reply to #31 Jan-
Can I just say one thing since you brought up the subject of missionaries and the internet? Why is it that missionaries find it so necessary to not only video tape themselves dancing in hula grass skirts, but they insist on posting it on youtube?
Have to comment on scouting = good missionaries. The stats are spurious and in no way demonstrate a cause and effect relationship, just a very strong correlation. Having worked directly and continuously with scouting in the church for the past decade, I can say that good, loving families produce good missionaries. The young people those families produce will buy in to whatever program the church throws at them, be it scouting or something produced in house.
If a very unstable family thinks that hanging it all on gaining Eagle status is going to turn a son into an effective missionary, good luck.
Anecdotally, most of the really good, effective missionaries I worked with on my mission DID have positive scouting experiences, but weren’t rabid about it. The really “regimental” or fervent type eagle scouts were a little freaky and didn’t relate well to people unless they were able to step out of that mold.
On missionaries coming home early: recently had a missionary in our ward come home either from the MTC or after a very short time in the field. It was for all of the juicy type reasons. I learned a lesson from his family and from our ward. Both he and his family were completely open about why he was home. He got up in testimony meeting, and without going into details at all, essentially confessed to sin and committed to the 1 year repentance process.
To my delight, he and his family got nothing but support, they all (and I think the ward as well) grew from it and he recently returned from completing his mission. I don’t know how we all would have reacted if we thought some story about why he came home had been “cooked up” to save him (and them) from embarrassment. Maybe as a church we speculate and assume the worst if the story doesn’t quite add up.
Anyway, I admired their courage and was amazed at the results that came from honesty and humility.
I’m left somewhat saddened after reading all these comments and the article. Its hard to believe that the church continues to have these problems. If this was the Army or scouts, there would surely be a full investigation into why so many return early and what changes need to be made to the missionary program NOT the missionaries. Why wouldn’t the church do likewise?
And this is something I found on my mission too:
“The big problem with missions …is the problem of dealing with other missionaries and the leadership of the mission”(#17).
Its just wrong to put it down to ‘not handling stress’, especially today when all 3 First Presidency members didn’t serve missions.
Never having served a mission, I was surprised by the notion that the hardest part of a mission is not the intensity of the labor, but of the interpersonal relationships not only within a companionship, but with mission leadership at every level.
Haven’t we all heard a million times that mission life is the best preparation for married life? If that’s true that this whole conversation should clue us in to why quality marriages are harder and harder to come by, just as quality missionaries are harder and harder to come by. Would anyone ever say, “lower expectations of what marriage should be like?” “Shorter marriage?” Tell people, “marriage is not for everyone?” NO!! Prepare more, sacrifice more, forget yourself more!!!
To me, a mission is the Lord’s invitation for great blessing and great growth through great service. That’s the way I feel about marriage, too. Sure you don’t have to, you shouldn’t feel forced to, but knowing how wonderful it CAN be, shouldn’t we encourage people to do all they can to make it a good experience?
JJackson, we had a similar experience in our ward as yours did. A missionary came home early and was very open about it. The ward was very loving toward him. He went out two years later and was a fantastic missionary. At his homecoming, he said he was able to go out again because of the love and support of the ward members. So, sometimes it all works out.
Re: Carlos JC’s comment about the church investigating why so many return early. I imagine the church does this, but doesn’t make it public. I heard at one time some stats on this. Perhaps there should be more openness about this.
And, as to the question about why missionaries feel compelled to post videos of themselves dancing in hula skirts? Well, they’re still kids in many ways. When I look at what many of their contemporaries are doing in university settings … those grass-skirt videos aren’t so bad!
I think the idea of being open about a missionary’s early return is a good one. In spite of the circumstances, members will usually rally behind the young person and support them. Any mystery will be fodder for speculation as people are wont to do. Rightly or wrongly.
The stigma related to not serving a mission is real. I served an honorable LDS mission, but a succession of inept ward clerks never bothered to put this on my LDS church record for 10 or 11 years afterward. Each time, there would be some comment from a bishop or clerk, to the effect that I’d never served a mission, and I’d correct them. They’d promise to correct my church record, but would drop the ball. Then I’d move to another ward, where I was again seen as one of “THOSE” guys who didn’t serve, despite being baptized at the age of 13.
Of course, perhaps I should be thankful for the administrative lapse. In the years before my record was corrected, I was almost always either gospel doctrine instructor (which I loved) or stuck in the nursery (I don’t deal well with undisciplined children). Once the record was corrected, I promptly served in a succession of elders’ quorum presidencies, and as a stake executive secretary. Those “low expectations” of early years were easier to live up to! 🙂
“The problem is that our young people do not seem prepared for life itself. They have everything handed to them on a silver platter. They don’t have to interact with people face to face, they don’t have to work and when they whine about something, the parents take care of it for them.”
I agree with Jeff on this point. I think that my mission (England, ’87-89) was absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done, even compared to my year of every third night of call as a resident. It was hard because of the work (lots of cold contacting) and because of the interpersonal relationships. I have only one companion who I remain in contact with, and consider a great friend, several I still hate, and the rest I am now indifferent to, although we got along as missionaries. But yet I also appreciate my mission for the crucible it was; I do think that it was further preparation for me to work hard at school, in my employment, and in my marriage and family relationships.
Among the missionaries I knew, the ones that seemed to have the hardest time were the ones who had not had the chance to develop a work-ethic and self motivation. They seemed to be the ones whose only previous jobs were maybe 10-15 hours per week at McDonald’s, or pumping gas after school for a few hours. Not that I was a great missionary, but I had worked full time summer jobs and 30 hours per week part-time during high school and I still found it difficult at times to be self-motivated and to knock on that hundredth door after hearing “no” 99 times.
Where I live now there are laws that restrict how much and when a kid can work after school, and they can’t begin to do so until they are 16. And while I try to teach my son good work habits and self-motivation when it comes to school work and performing work around the house, I just don’t think there’s a great substitution for physical labor or other type of regular job to teach kids about responsibility and commitment.
I don’t know how we all would have reacted if we thought some story about why he came home had been “cooked up” to save him (and them) from embarrassment. Maybe as a church we speculate and assume the worst if the story doesn’t quite add up.
How often does the rumor mill at church think, even when it’s the honest to God truth, that coming home for “medical reasons” is a “cooked up” story to cover transgression in the mission field? Particularly if the medical reasons are psychological?
“The problem is that our young people do not seem prepared for life itself. They have everything handed to them on a silver platter. They don’t have to interact with people face to face, they don’t have to work and when they whine about something, the parents take care of it for them.”
Heh…Let me tell you a little secret. Our parents said the same thing about us. Our grandparents said the same thing about our parents. Our great-grandparents said the same thing about our grandparents. It’s one of the few things we can count on as the generations pass by. 🙂
I think that it’s absolutely true that the missionaries should be as open as they can without being explicit in the details (that is, they shouldn’t shock the young primary kids). I think that’s good for the other youth as well, as it shows them that a mission is not only difficult, but that sincere repentance is possible and requires a lot of work.
I think also that it is very true that the interpersonal aspect of missions (and life) really is the toughest part of the whole thing. As I said earlier–the guys I’ve known recently that have come back are usually the kids with girlfriends or family that they can’t or won’t get enough distance from. If you are ALWAYS spending time on email or text messaging or whatever with a girl or your family, then you aren’t focused on the job. Which isn’t a good thing.
If parents want better prepared sons/daughters then solution is to make sure that the kids know how to make good decisions, be independent and respect authority. That’s about all it takes. They also need a grounding in gospel doctrine, not just from skimping along in church classes, but from serious study of the gospel.
I have enjoyed the discussion thus far, but I have to take exception to #31. I have been rather intimately involved in missionary work in my callings over the past 15 years, and I have seen a marked increase in the preparation and seriousness of missionaries over the past few years. Of course, there still are those who should not be missionaries, but to paint the overall picture in the way that #31 does is simply wrong, imo. (and AMEN to Nick’s #43)
I think the 80/20 rule is a good, general rule for missionaries – although in the last couple of years, I probably see it as more of a 90/10 rule. 90% of the missionaries I see now should be there; 5% are iffy; 5% simply should not have been called. (Often, it is impossible to know beforehand about a medical or physical condition that will require a missionary to return early, so I do not count those cases.)
Finally, openness in dealing with why a missionary has returned home is critical, imo. I wish desperately that members wouldn’t gossip, but we know it will happen. Nip it in the bud, and people will rally around and support – almost without exception.
#36, Carlos JC: If you’re going to suggest that the mission program needs changed, thereby implying it’s not appropriate or optimum for the number going home early, then I think that supports the idea of “not handling stress [of the mission program]” as a reason for many coming home early.
Since junior companions, district leaders, zone leaders and AP’s all get trained by other missionaries from within the mission, any and all irregularities get perpetuated until a situation rises to a level where it comes to the mission president’s attention. The MP is really the only “outside” person who comes into the mission with authority, and without having been trained solely by missionaries already in the closed system.
In my mission, and from what I hear lots of others too, lots of things went on under the MP’s radar. And even those things an MP is aware of, the hierarchical structure, like business, is such that no one wants to report bad news to their higher ups. So I’m sure lots of things didn’t get told to the GA’s until it filtered up through the members and stake presidents. And even stake presidents don’t like to tell their higher ups bad news.
#37, AmeliaG: I think that it’s safe to say that getting married is at least slightly more universal (though not 100% universal) than “every young man should go on a mission.” Even now, the church admits that gays should not marry. And there is some point at which developmental-disabilities and emotional handicaps are severe enough to contraindicate marriage.
Please look up President Kimball’s talk. That sound-bite is tempered or qualified by things both before and after it. President Kimball did not mean it as an universal absolute, or to go at any cost, or to go in any condition. He clearly spoke of conditions and qualifications for going on a mission.
#32, IQ92: I was one of the “rule nazi” follow-the-program type of missionaries of whom you speak. I did not get along with missionaries like you. My sin was my bitter feelings towards goof-ball types, and it took me a long time after the mission to repent of my attitude towards the goof-ball type missionaries. I had to finally realize I was a jerk in my own way before I could cut some slack to the people who I thought were the real jerks.
An interesting thing is that both types, goof-balls and rule-nazis, if they don’t repent, eventually leave the church at some point after their mission. I suppose the challenge is to figure out how to be on the Lord’s strait-and-narrow path, being neither a goof-ball nor a pharisee/rule-nazi. But I don’t want to be a boring, insipid namby-pamby type either. I hope to seek a righteous kind of joy, not just “fun.” We are that we might have joy. I’ve started to learn how to do that. But it took until I was in my 40’s to start learning that.
Oh, one more thing about Scouting and missions:
Amen, jjackson. (#34) You nailed my feelings exactly.
“Heh…Let me tell you a little secret. Our parents said the same thing about us. Our grandparents said the same thing about our parents. Our great-grandparents said the same thing about our grandparents. It’s one of the few things we can count on as the generations pass by. :-)”
100% right on that one. The problem is it is getting truer and truer! 🙂
“Prepare more, sacrifice more, forget yourself more!!!”
Amen, Amen, Amen
We went over the Raise the Bar talk in Priesthood on Sunday, and the last comment was that the bar has been raised for parents as well as potential missionaries. Or, as has been pointed out above, the standard is the same but the challenges potential missionaries have increased so our efforts have to improve.
As for being nonjudgemental towards returned missionaries, nothing helps retention like a cold shoulder (sarcasm). This isn’t the only issue. We’re in a young ward, and I’m sure the couples who don’t have children, or the young single adults, feel marginalized. We need to focus more as a people on Christ-like charity than Christ-like judgement.
“How often does the rumor mill at church think, even when it’s the honest to God truth, that coming home for “medical reasons” is a “cooked up” story to cover transgression in the mission field? Particularly if the medical reasons are psychological?”
The rumours start when the returnee isn’t open, no matter the cause. If a missionary comes home and says, “mentally and emotionally (psychologically) I just couldn’t hack it” people may form judgements, but that level of honesty would likely elicit at least some positive support. If the same missionary comes home and says “I’m back for medical reasons” the speculation starts. I’m not saying that this SHOULD be the case, just that it’l likely no matter what is right or wrong.
Another couple of anecdotal examples.
#1. Kid comes home after a year with leukemia. No brainer. The ward rallies.
#2. Guy comes home for “medical” reasons. When asked what the problem was, he explained that his knee couldn’t take it. Observed same guy playing basketball a week later with no knee brace or support and no visible sign that there was anything wrong with said knee. So it was obviously a bunch of hooey. So whether it’s warranted or not, he’s asking for speculative judgements, not to mention that people don’t like being lied to, no matter the reason.
But if, as a whole, we made progress on our group charity, maybe families wouldn’t feel the need to hide the reasons.
My mission president would often lament that he wanted to run the mission with only 50 of his current missionaries and send the rest home. He figured that he had 25 that he could trust no matter who they were with and no matter the situation. He thought he had another 25 that could be completely trusted as long as they were paired with the first group. He said he would then completely abolish the leadership structure of the mission and theorized that baptisms would triple.
Then he would sigh and say “but they’d never let me get away with it.”
The stresses I experienced on my mission were almost entirely from dealing with other missionaries. The rest of the work was a lot of fun.
When I was a DL in an area that was several counties geographically removed from the mission office there was an elder who had a mental breakdown. We had to travel several hours to a fax machine where a Minnisota Multipersonality Battery (the things you learn about on your mission) was sent, administered and faxed back to Salt Lake. By the time we made it back to the apartment there was a message from the MP that I was not to let that elder out of my sight and that they were making arraignments to have him escorted back to the States, which took several days. It was disruptive, but not nearly as much as several individuals who were neither emotionally or spiritually prepared. I know that is a one off, but it is how the chips happened to fall.
As for the stigma, it is a result of the actions of those who go for the wrong reasons and fail to find the right reasons soon enough. They are the ones screwing it up for those who have to return home for legitimate medical and personal reasons.
I think I must have had you as a companion! There’s not much left to be said on this thread that hasn’t already been posted. I think its great, if prospective missionaries are able, to live away from home at college or work for a year. The initial homesickness discovery can be dealt with before the mish. It won’t be a cure, but will at least teach you that you can get through it.
Lisa, I’m a bit late for the discussion, but I wanted to let you know I appreciated this post.
Fortunately for me, I was a TBM (true believing MISSIONARY) when I went on my mission. Not because I was spiritually advanced or anything. I had just made enough stupid mistakes as a teenager that I was able to have a “born again” experience as a teenager that converted me to the reality of Christ’s atonement. Because of the happiness of redemption I experienced as a teenager, I wanted to share that with others. So the decision of whether to go on a mission was easy for me.
That said, I completely understand why many young men and women might struggle with the decision to go on a mission. A mission is incredibly difficult, and I think unless a young missionary is truly converted to the concept of a mission, he or she will have great struggles and possibly come home early.
I think perhaps to solution to a lot of these struggles is for young men and women to hold off on going on a mission until they are fully committed to it. If that means waiting until you’re 20, 21, 22, etc. to go on a mission, then so be it. Although there is nothing wrong with trying to motivate someone to serve a mission by talking about all its benefits, that should never be turned into pressure or manipulation to go on a mission. If we eliminate the high pressure to go on a mission right at 19 years of age, rather than when a young man or woman is truly ready and committed, we’ll avoid a lot of these problems.
Had similarly life altering spiritual experiences in my last year of high school (in that I was able to really grab hold of the idea that I had a very real Saviour) and though I have often thought of the changes that occurred in my life at the time, I haven’t really considered the difference it made in my willingness to serve a mission and my preparation to be happy about being there. Reflecting on it now, it was likely a MAJOR factor. At the time I was being “born again” in high school, it never occurred to me that not everyone at church felt the same way or had the same perspective. I just thought that I was late in my discovery and felt sort of stupid that I hadn’t figured it out before. Time has disabused me of the notion that a majority of active members actually “get it”. Maybe that’s why I’m constantly trying to hammer the principles surrounding the atonement into every lesson with my young men. It is entirely possible to have a young man who appears completely competent and prepared for a mission, but if he doesn’t have a real testimony of the atonement, he’ll have a difficult time getting through the hard stuff a mission throws at him. With that testimony, the hard stuff just becomes frustrating obstacles to be overcome because you love HIM.
BTW – Barrus, Larsen, Bodner and Conlee say “hi”
Interesting that several people have suggested that every young man should not be expected to serve a mission.
I don’t get that.
Every young man should serve a mission, and every young man ought to be living at a level that he can meet the raised bar.
If that hurts people’s feelings and make them feel inadequate, tough.
“Life ain’t for sissies”
And God’s church is not about making earth life a pleasant experience- it’s about forming the character necessary for exaltation. That requires that we suffer. So count your blessings that we have been counted worthy enough to suffer.
Cicero – I have to agree with you on the whole, and frankly, I think that it’s unfortunate more women are not encouraged to serve missions. There should be more focus on preparation for everyone serving a mission (including couples). There is an anti-mission flavor to some of the comments that, though founded in some valid criticisms (e.g. “numbers focus,” door-to-door being ineffective and irrelevant for later life), overlooks the great good that missions serve: they build testimonies as youth prepare to serve, they give our members exposure to other cultures (even when local), they focus young adults on serving others and gospel knowledge at an age when most youth are worried about whether they got an STD last weekend when they were on a bender, and they help grow the church. So, the things that should be improved should be the focus of the church, not exempting people from going because it’s not a perfect environment. Top notch mission presidents are the real key to solving these issues.
Cicero, who are you to judge how another person lives their life? Or serves there church and God?
I have known many young Mormon men who have served in the armed forces in lieu of a mission. Sissies?
Search your judgmental heart and see if it can view those who choose another path in a more Christ-like light.
I served a full mission. I understand and accept that there are those who wish something different with their lives. The militant salesman approach to missions that characterizes the Church’s current program should not be imposed on those who don’t want to serve that way.
I agree with Cicero in this respect, and don’t consider it judgmental to expect every young man to be worthy to serve a mission.
Re: Every young man should serve a mission, and every young man ought to be living at a level that he can meet the raised bar.
Every member should hold a current temple recommend too, but this isn’t the case. Fortunately there is no outward signal that a member didn’t pass their temple recommend interview so judgment is not as easily meted out by other members.
Imperfection: “The militant salesman approach to missions that characterizes the Church’s current program should not be imposed on those who don’t want to serve that way.”
I agree with your statement, but I don’t think this means you sit out a mission as a conscientous objector to proselytizing methods. I loved being a missionary while hating the approach I was asked to use. So I didn’t use it. I got the content accross, but I didn’t push it accross with the manipulation(whoops) commitment pattern. I found that my most effective door approach was to let my companion say whatever he wanted to say, let them tell us “no” and then hit them with a really casual “aw, c’mon – what else are you doing right now?”
BTW – I remember early in my mission we were visited by the head of the Missionary Department from Salt Lake in the context of a zone conference. We were shown a church video about families and aske what we thought of it. We laughed, saying that it was awfully hokey and now that we’ve seen the less-effective example, please show us the real video people will order while watching tv at 2am. We were very sternly told that the video we were shown was the new media program of the church and our mission would be the pilot area, so if the video wasn’t successful, it would basically be our fault. At that point no one wanted to suggest any other possible reasons for potential failure.
But the funny thing was that you could still use it as a tool. Show it to a family, laugh about it with them, and then talk about the points it raised. I do the same thing all the time when giving my home teaching messages 🙂
In my experience, I have not seen an uptick in the number of missionaries returning. In fact, it has been the opposite — I can’t remember the last time someone in my family or my stake left (or was asked to leave) prior to the end of their mission. No matter how high we “raise the bar,” there will always be missionaries who screw up or decide they’re not cut out for the works. That’s free agency, baby. There’s no way around it. The fact that people come home does not necesarily mean that the whole program is flawed. It should. however, remind us that the program, as it currently stands, is not perfect.
“Top notch mission presidents are the real key to solving these issues.” (#57)
I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment. For young missionaries, especially those in far-flung locales, their President is all the Church authority they have. Thankfully, I had a good (albeit rather strict) President and I believe my positive experiences were due in large part to his guidance. For a bad example, you need look no further than John Dehlin’s accounts of his time in Guatemala. Bad Presidents = negative mission experiences.
For me, I loved my mission. I knocked a lot of doors, wore holes through numerous shoe soles, ate all manner of jungle creatures, and put up with indignities of all sorts from strangers and companions alike. But, despite all of that, I enjoyed what I did, and those two years have turned out to be arguably the most formative in my life (to date). Sure, missions are full of unpleasant times, but as was said above, that shouldn’t cause to forget the positives.
I agree with Andrew’s thoughts in #54: [I think perhaps to solution to a lot of these struggles is for young men and women to hold off on going on a mission until they are fully committed to it. If that means waiting until you’re 20, 21, 22, etc. to go on a mission, then so be it.] My son is now 21 and he opted to not serve a mission until he finishes his bachelor’s degree, which will be next year. The university he attends (University of Colorado in Boulder) told him he would lose his scholarship if he interrupted his schooling. It’s a full-tuition scholarship so this was a big deal. He agonized over the decision and decided to go after graduation. Our last stake president – who has just been called to be a mission president – was very much in support of young men waiting until the time was right for them, and our bishop told me son there was no problem with finishing school first, and that’s why the church established an age range, not just one specific age.
Fwiw, my oldest son is going this summer – at 20 and after his sophomore year, when there is a natural break in his degree program.
My second son turns 18 this month, a few weeks before his junior year in high school ends. His appendix ruptured in 5th grade, and in 8th grade he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He is one of the most mature kids I have ever known. His diabetes will limit where he can serve, but he will be an elder throughout his senior year in high school and leave on his mission the summer after he graduates – before starting college.
Both my boys will be as ready as they can be, but the second one probably will be more prepared than the first one. It really is an individual thing.
There is still stigma because of the widespread notion that “we haven’t raised the bar high enough”– which is to say that there is still stigma because we assume that the missionary’s early return is due to “worthiness problems” rather than the possibility that the demands of missions themselves might be unreasonable and even sort of strange.
Excellent, thoughtful posts. This may sound a little harsh, but first and foremost, missions are part of an ongoing war with the adversary. Throughout time, there have been casualties – physically, mentally and spiritually. We are not preparing our youth for an elaborate service project, we are preparing them to rise to the challenge in very real conflict. Perhaps we can lower the bar when satan lowers his?
Maybe I expressed myself poorly there; I agree with you that the problems don’t go up the hierarchy soon enough, just as in business. But one gets paid to put up with the ‘abuse’ at work -to a certain degree of course.
Missions are voluntary and unpaid, and also not subjected to the orders system one finds in the military. Because of this they ought to find other ways of ‘preaching’ across the world which results in less turnover (ie less finishing early) and place the emphasis back on things like the Lord and Forgiveness. But the church seems to be going the other way, making rules tougher for missionaries and constantly lowering the age; once it was for under 31’s, then under 26, now under 23 (I think from memory). And the results are becoming more worrisome, from those mistreated for returning early and the mistreatment of those who never went (like Nick wrote) to even those who commit suicide after returning (some after a full 2 years). Making things tougher and raising the bar won’t necessarily stop all suicides of ex-missionaries.
I really think that they should be getting their management examples from community and voluntary organisations and not from the corporate world -which they have being coping since the 1950’s.
This sums it up:
“there is still stigma because we assume that the missionary’s early return is due to “worthiness problems” rather than the possibility that the demands of missions themselves might be unreasonable and even sort of strange” (Banister #65)
Carlos, how in the world can the Church raise the age back to the mid-20’s or even 30’s? Are you really suggesting that married men should serve missions and leave wife and children behind like they used to do – or that Mormon men should wait until they are in their mid-30’s to get married?
Also, until someone can give me actual stats on what percentage of missionaries return home – particularly for non-medical reasons – and how many RM’s commit suicide (and how that is related to them having served missions), I personally am going to ignore the cause and effect conclusions some are presenting in this thread. I know they occur, but in my 15 years of extensive involvement in the Church’s missionary program, I personally have known . . . 0 (yes, that’s zero) RM’s who have committed suicide because of their missions – and the only missionary of whom I am aware who has been sent home from my current area in the last couple of years for non-medical, worthiness issues was a sister missionary, not one of the male youngsters.
If we are going to have this discussion, we at least should have some grounding in statistics. Otherwise, it’s just ambiguous and anecdotal and subject to every issue that comes with this type of internet discussion.
I have known many young Mormon men who have served in the armed forces in lieu of a mission. Sissies?
I spent a considerable part of my mission on and around Camp Pendleton, where young Marines were trained. I later went through Army basic training and AIT at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where I took an active part in the weekly serviceman’s branch. I don’t want to dispairage all young LDS men who choose to enter the military. However, I can’t begin to count how many of these young men openly stated that they had enlisted in order to escape pressure to go on an LDS mission. Of course, during the stress of boot camp, they suddenly became a lot more religious.
My experience, with membership in the military was similar. I saw many young men from LDS backgrounds who were escaping family/community pressure to live up to a gospel standard. Anecdotally, it lead more out of the Church than in.
Carlos was referring to the _maximum_ age allowable for missionaries to start their service. When I started my mission in 1984, the maximum age allowed was 26, and I was 26 when I entered the MTC.
As I understand it, the maximum age to start is now 25. If you’re 26, it’s too late to start a mission, according to today’s rules.
Nick/Mac Roger on the thing about young men going into the military to escape the pressure to go on a mission. I know a 20 year old here in my town who did just that. And I have to agree that his mother and the bishop might have put too much pressure on him. But rather than try to get him to “leave his options open” while he took a year of college, they kept pushing for a committment to go,and that pushed him in the opposite direction. In fact, Army basic training might be a more pleasant experience for him than his home-life has been.
My mission was rather disorganized. At the time I thought it was pure chaos. I would have been much happier if the mission had been run more like a business. I worked in corporate america, or at least small businesses for 7 years before I went on my mission. A good business would not put up with employees and managers pulling the kind of crap that missionaries, district leaders, zone leaders, and AP’s pulled. And good employers/bosses would be able fire the kind of knuckle-headed jerks that Mission Presidents are forced to keep in their mission as missionaries.
Missions really can’t be run like businesses, though there are some efficiencies that could still be implemented (cell phones, PDA’s, etc.) An employee is free to leave and find employment elsewhere. Missionaries really can’t do that, and they shouldn’t.
One thing I’d like to see is older couples be zone leaders and APs, and let them train and supervise the district leaders. And in places where they don’t have enough mature 19/21 year olds, older couples could be district leaders too. Oh well, just a thought.
Here in Indianapolis, the alternative service missions, where you live at home, and do church service for 18 to 24 months, are becoming common and popular, and are, in my opinion, producing good results.
I think there will even more flexibility put into the church’s missionary program. There might
even be alternative-service proselyting missions in the US, where you live at home, but put in 8 hours a day proselyting as a full-time missionary. Something has to change about how we proselyte in the US, because there is greater demand for overseas missionaries, especially in India.
If we had the man-power (mission presidents and missionaries), we could put 32,000 missionaries (200 missions) into India, where they have 1,100,000,000 people, and still have only 1 companionship for every 68,000 people.
I think there will be a greater shift of missionaries sent overseas, and fewer full-time missionaries serving in the US. That’s just my opinion.
Bookslinger – “One thing I’d like to see is older couples be zone leaders and APs” I think this is a great suggestion on the whole. I can think of a few older couples in my mission who might not have been great at this, but they would add maturity and insight sometimes lacking in the elders.
Interesting comments about missionaries being required to go overseas. It has seemed like more missionaries are called to serve in the states, and I thought that was because so many countries could fill their needs for missionaries (at least partially) with missionaries from their countries. Of course, with India opening up, it’s a whole new game.
“One thing I’d like to see is older couples be zone leaders and APs”
I would suggest two issues with this. First, there aren’t nearly enough senior missionaries to fill the current needs.
Second, I don’t know that the senior couples, for the most part, have the same access to the younger missionaries that a peer would. It would be a trade-off, maturity for proximity.
Maybe the assignment can be given to mentor the ZL’s $ DL’s. But I think that is effectively happening now, in the cases where the senior couple is capable.
Bookslinger. I have to agree, if missionaries were held to a standard of professional behavior we would avoid a lot of problems. But in my experience, the personal distance required to maintain that goes away when people spend the quantity of time together that missionaries do.
I have been a ward mission leader in two different missions in the US and worked with missionaries in several places overseas, besides my own two year mission. I never heard of rampant “ecclesiastical abuse” until I read about it on the Bloggernacle. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, it just seems to got excessively dramatized in this forum.
#72 – I have said for years that the Eastern US someday in the not too distant future will see one set of missionaries per ward, specifically so that more missionaries will be available to send to India, China and other nations as they open for missionary work. We already are losing missionaries to more active missions in the West – and I believe that is how it should be. I can see the day when there are no full-time missionaries serving in the stakes of the US – when the work will be placed squarely on the members and the ward missions. If the Church has a choice of continuing the current baptism rates in the Eastern US, especially, and increasing the rates in newly opening countries . . .
#75, Mac: #1: Yes, we need many many more reitred couple missionaries.
#2: Proximity. Nothing is necessarily keeping the couple missionaries from living in cheap 1 bedroom apartments throughout the mission (both US and most foreign missions) just like the younger missionaries. I get the impression that currently, full time couples missionaries are living clustered near the mission home or office, and serving in office capacities. If the church can recuit more retired couple missionaries, let’s sprinkle them throughout the mission as ZL’s, or as advisors/mentors to DL’s and ZL’s. (Granted exceptions will be made in more dangerous areas. But if an area is too dangerous for retired couple missionaries, I’d be wary about sending 19 year old elders there too.)
#3: “ecclesiastical abuse” is a new name to old problems, such as when someone in a leadership position is condescending, manipulative, “grinding the face of …”, Nephite diseased, confrontational, unrighteous dominion; or in other words, all the stuff that section 121 says not to do.
I did not know the term ecclesiastical abuse until I read the bloggernacle too. But it fits well to the class of nephite-diseased, manipulative, condescending jerks who were called to be branch presidents of the MTC when I was there in 1984. “Jerks” is too nice a word. Most of them were…, uh, let’s say “worse than jerks.” And there was one guy there who I was convinced was an actual wife-beater.
If I had sons, I would not encourage them to serve missions if today’s MTC leadership were as bad as it was in 1984. They were just not good role models. Seriously, if I were a father, I’d pay a visit and attend one of the weekly convocations and see how the BPs address the missionaries today.
IMO, the type of men who served as MTC BP’s in 1984 would not be tolerated by the rank-and-file membership if such men were BP’s and bishops here in the midwest.
Part of my resentment lies in the fact that I fell into the same trap. Back then I resolved the cognitive dissonance of jerks holding leadership positions in the true church, by thinking that was the way you were supposed to treat missionaries. So when I was a DL, I followed their (the MTC BPs’) example. I treated others as we were treated in the MTC by the BP’s. But now, I kick myself for allowing myself to have fallen into the trap. But I also have to admit my personality fit very readily into the domineering rule-nazi mould back then.
#76, Ray: We’re seeing that here in Indianapolis. Unless a ward is producing lots of investigators/baptisms (like the Spanish branch) double sets of missionaries are being reduced to one set per ward. The ward I’m currently in is producing very few investigators, and only one convert baptism per year for the last two years. If I were the mission pres, I’d consider pulling the full-time missionaries out of this ward, or assigning them to devote a larger percentage of their time into re-activation efforts.
I agree with your prediction that we are heading in the direction of, if not no missionaries, then perhaps an average of less than 1 companionship per ward. Perhaps one set of missionaries per chapel, covering the two or three wards that meet there.
And you’re right, if a ward is only baptizing a small handful of people per year, then the ward missionaries should be able to cover it.
I once calculated that there is one companionship per 70,000 population in metropolitan Indianapolis.
By distributing missionaries in such a ratio (1-set per 70,000) in places like the Pacific Islands, Latin America, and Africa, the “yield” of baptisms per year per companionship would be much higher than the same distribution ratio in the US.
With India being a non-Christian nation, I don’t know what the missionary yield there would be. Not as high as Latin America or Africa, but probably greater than Europe.
Personally, I think India has huge potential, like the Asian Pacific Islands, but the Brethren are going slow, having been burned by the retrenchment required in Chile and the Philippines. I just hope the pendulum hasn’t swung too far the other way.
Back to couples missionaries, they would be great for leadership training in India. So we need 32,000 more young missionaries, plus about 2,000 retired married couples (4,000 men and women), to go to India.
Oh, there’s another use for couple missionaries: to be the BP and RS-pres in a mission branch instead of 19/21 year old elders be the BP.
There are 2 missions in India, and both are English speaking. At least the first, Bangalore, is. That is, the missionaries teach in English, and do not go through Hindi language training at the MTC.
Currently, there are 5 translations of the Book of Mormon in Indian languages: Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Sinhala, and Tamil. Bengali and Shinhala are “Selections of”, but Hindi, Telugu, and Tamil are full translations.
That’s an excellent idea to have older couples as zonies and AP’s. I hope they find out about that, as well as making the entire program more flexible, like allowing RM to go out again for a month or letting some live at home while preaching 6 days a week within their stakes. Having this separate missionary program has created two churches, one for those on missions and another church for wards and stakes. Elder Scott addressed this extensively in the early ’90’s but all they changed was to delete the stake mission presidency and sent the elders to ward council.
But the post by Lisa here says that there ‘SEEMS’ to be an increase in the number of ‘returned early’ who aren’t excommunicated. I generally agree and find it worrisome; we’ve had 2 this year so far, one for listening to country music, after been told not to, and the other for just not fitting in. The suicide case was in ’97 or ’96 and there must have been other problems, sure. But, remember that these kids are aged mostly 19/20, an age where they really can’t stand up and say NO on principal, they don’t want any rules and are still mostly at home. Seems they’re thrown in the deep end more and more and should the sink? well members and the church simply say ‘too bad’!
I meant the ‘maximum age’ to be called; its gone down over the years and the result is a more homogeneous missionary force but they haven’t made the entire program more flexible. This ‘more homogeneous’ missionary force hasn’t produced better results -if it did they’d be trumpeting those results in every conference.
I doubt the church will ever release official stats for this; nor will it do so for the total of excommunicated members or total divorces….it only ends up as ammunition for the enemies of the church to use.
When I say proximity, I mean more than just physicality proximity. While I see the benefit of spreading couples out geographically I would question how much many of those senior missionaries would actually know about any issues amongst the younger missionaries. My experience also is that quite a few senior missionaries are struggling just as much as the younger missionaries with language, distance from families, health, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen some senior missionaries have huge impact on the atmosphere and attitudes in a mission area. But as a panacea, there are some structural and practical limitations.
As far as the “ecclesiastical abuse,” it isn’t the term that is new to me it is the prevalence. It just seems like, in the Bloggernacle, there is undue and unfair emphasis on the problems that exist in the missionary programs and not enough credit for how amazing it actually is, as a program and in the lives of so many RM’s. That is before we even start to discuss the its actual success.
I’m not a psychiatrist, but I understand that mental problems are most likely to manifest themselves in the late teens and early twenties. A single suicide out of that population in the last ten years is almost a selling point. What is the rate of suicide for young missionaries relative to the general population in that same age range?
That kid returned from his mission and shot himself a week later. He did the full 2 years. I personally think that his mission experience must have contributed something to his emotional state since it happened so soon afterwards. But I’ve heard GA’s admit (in training) to many missionaries having trouble adjusting to home life on returning, and there are plenty of ‘testimonies’ around the web on missionary problems, but off course the church will never release official stats on this, nor will it do so for the ‘returned early’. But surely adjusting to home life is harder after returning early?
I’ve also heard that suicide rates are higher for the teens to under 24 but then again its such a difficult issue that probably only God knows what’s going on there.
Mac, I’m starting to see your point about how the senior couples might not be able to integrate enough with the younger guys. And maybe there is some kind of “magic” that kicks into effect when everyone in the chain of command (after the MP that is) is “just a kid.”
I also agree that we tend to give too much emphasis to the problems and not enough to the amazing successes of the church’s missionary program.
My mission had a very negative effect on my life that lasted about 20 years. At first I blamed the church (for painting such an inaccurate picture), ward members (for not telling me the reality of what many missionaries were going to be like), the MTC leadership (for their bad leadership examples), and the missionaries (for all the shenanigans, bullying, etc.).
Then my second phase, as I started to recover, was to start to forgive them for the offenses, both real and perceived.
The third phase was to blame myself for not being prepared or equiped (emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, etc) to handle those things.
The fourth phase was to start to forgive myself, and not entirely blame myself either. Lack of preparation (or even sin) on my part did not excuse or justify the offenses (the real ones) on the part of others. IE, my inability to respond correctly back then didn’t justify any unrighteous dominion on the part of MTC BP’s or bullying from fellow missionaries back then.
I war recently told by my Stake Presidency in Massachusetts, that the statistics show here, that if a young man does not go on a mission, nearly all of them here go inactive. In my Stake we have over 400 single adults inactive with just over 30 active.
As a young man I didn’t like camping or scouting much. I became an Eagle Scout because my Mom bribed me. I didn’t really want to go on a mission either. I went because I felt like it was my duty and I wanted LDS girls to like my went I got back. I went on a mission, I was a good missionary and I had a good amount of success. It wasn’t the best 2 years of my life. I found it very stressful. I probably grew (in so many ways) more on the mission field than I have during any part of my life.
I think one of the biggest problems with missions at age 19 is the average boy reaches his sexual peak at age 18 and is surging with hormones. I was in Brazil on my mission. There were many beautiful girls all around wearing skimpy outfits. I was singing hymns in my mind all the time and feeling guilty about it.
I miss my Mission Presidents. The first one in the Phillippines asked me not to call after every typhoon, tycoon rabble rousing, earthquake or flood. “we know where all the elders are.” When oldest son came home, we checked my journal, my prayer journal for dates of concern, “no Mom, they didn’t know where we were for a lo-o-o-ong time after.” Good thing He was an Eagle Scout and Zone Leader. 2nd son, I was calling MP to plead with him not to send son home early for knee surgery, when Monday P-Day basketball and extreme sport mountain biking could be CANCELLED while my young man was IN THE FIELD…Or in the ER bleeding as the case and the weeks went by. I swear we bought several new xray units for the state of Washington. When son was reurnig home, his MP said, “Gee, I’m going to miss my weeekly chats with your Mom. Are you taking your bike home?” 3rd son went to England, and his MP told all of the Elders, “write your mothers every Monday so I don’t hear from her.” He did, so I didn’t need to call. All three of my boys begged for another 6 months…. To their MP’s favor, the promise they made to the Elders to work their hardest because they would get their choice of choicest young women as Brides was right on. I have the Best of the Best daughters-in-law. And the cutest of grandchildren. Twenty now. Two girls not married, so there are more spirits waiting……
This isn’t directly related to the predeeding conversation. I skipped most of it but did read a lot.
I was called to the Virginia Mission in May 2007. I LOVED the MTC. The structure and spirit were great for me. I admit there was a night I lost it emotionally and started bauling over the fact that I realized that I’d not see my family for two years; I’m really close to my siblings and parents. I was so excited when on the airplane trip out I was seated next to a guy that wasn’t LDS I had a BoM already marked and ready to give out. I enthusastically gave him the Book, it was great.
Once I was out in the field things changed. I started to develop emotional/mental issues I’d never faced before; like OCD and Anxiety and panic attacks. I think I had a tendency for this all along, but the mission experience just brought it out more. I also think that the reason it was magnified on my mission was that my normal way of dealing with a tough week was to go to bed 2-3 hours early one night and get some extra sleep. (I always felt better in the morning after one of my ‘recharge’ nights) This way of copeing could be done, but with strict mission rules in practice this couldn’t happen;at least not with the ‘one-size-fits-all’ mentality some missions run. After three months in the field I stopped getting any good amount of sleep. I was starting to have a mental break down and was hoping that some crazy driver would crash into my bike and that I’d die. At the time I wouldn’t have hurt myself, but the whole ‘indirect’ suicide thing sounded good. I wasn’t afraid of death, but I felt like I was losing my mind and I didn’t see any door out.
Thankfully my mission president immediately set up an appointment with a psychiatrist during my first symptoms and this psychiatrist and I met one a week for about a month. The psychiatrist saw that I was deoteriorating and during one of the latter appointments he confrence called my mission president and basically told him that I needed to go home. My mission president-quick aside, my mission president was the greatest guy, so loving and patient, he really wanted and prayed for what was best for me, so I compeletly trusted his advice and counsel-back to the story, my mission president agreed that I should go home and get better. My mission president, President Millburn, latter talked to me and likened my problems to breaking a leg, if you break a leg you need to walk with crutches and take the pressure of the leg to let it heal. Going home was like getting the needed crutches.
My parents were vacationing in Hawaii when President Millburn called them and told them I needed to come home for a while. They bought tickets and came to Virginia to pick me up. Thats how I got home.
Once home I worked with counselors and started medication that did an amazing job easing my OCD. However, everytime I got serious about thinking about returning I would get all anxious and my hands would start shaking. I prayed and fasted about returning and didn’t feel any strong emotions one way or the other; I took this as a sign from God that he trusted me in the choice and that it was probably a choice between good and good. I decided to stay home and not return. I’m now attending BYU and am in the neuroscience program.
I have to say being and early release missionary has been the best thing that has ever happened for me. It sounds odd, but I truely feel like the servent that came in the evening and the Lord still payed him the same wage as he did for those that he hired in the morning.-Parable I can’t remember the name to. I feel like the Lord blessed me, but not because I ‘did my time’, but because I was willing to put my whole life on the alter and allow him to direct my life. (This is a big thing because my older brother is my role model and he served a mission and came back a different person. He never struggled with depression or anxiety before, but they were big when he came home. I was worried about my own mission because of this, yet still wanted to serve. I feel like since I came home early I was able to avoid serious long term problems like this.)
Whether you serve 24,18,or .5 months. The lord will bless you and judge you individually. The best thing you can do is treat individuals and individuals and let them know you care.
I’ve learned a lot since I’ve come home and I’ve met some great people; other early release missionaries. There are groups here in Utah that are held at LDS family services we meet along with our parnets and then the missionaries go with a counselor and talk about their experience while the parents stay with another counselor and they talk about their stuff. Its been great.
I’ve learned that it’s okay to not do the standard thing, it’s okay that I expereienced a lot of pain and mental anguish before I came home. It’s okay that some missionaries come home early, it’s not the end of the world, in fact it might just be the beginning of a better life for them.
Would I do this all again if I could go back and talk to myself before my mission: yes, I would. It’s been hard but I’ve learned a lot. I put my life and mental health ‘on the alter’ and God decided to not take very much of it. I know he cared about me even during those hard, hard times. I now know that when you are sleep deprived for weeks and hungry, tired, and feel like you are literally going insane; God knows what you are feeling and he cares. and often he will make a way for you to get better. Well I’ve reambled long enough. That’s my early medical release mission story. I hope typing this helps at least one persone that reads it; it’s already helped me. Tyler
Tyler, love your post. I can’t help but say that I was discouraged about the beginning on this subject put out by Lisa and wondered if she ever prepared a son to Serve the Lord. The start was kind of worrisome (if she is a member – not that it would lessen my faith in sending out my sons) but the last post by you Tyler is just awesome, brought tears to my eyes – I am preparing my 18 year old to serve next year. Because of his background (1/2 European, 1/2 Pacific Islander and the fact that he speaks English only), We think it’s likely he’ll be called to a Foreign Mission. If he even comes across any problems mentioned in all of the above, I can only hope that he would deal with it in similar fashion as Tyler did. The Lord is only a prayer away. And if they come home early due to whatever reason, it is for the best of the Work and himself. I teach my son’s not to prioritize themselves and gain a love for the Lord and his Work. I can only remember the early Pioneers and the many many trials they were put through. Kolipoki in “Other Side of Heaven” who served in our part of the world, is another example of the faithful ones who were not accustomed to his new surroundings (let me just go off the point and say this “I strongly dislike the Missionaries are Salesmen talk” The Gospel has to be taught to the world, we are not selling anything. The Lord will determine who is fit and who is not, and he will help even the ones who are not, this of course, requires Faith…I don’t need to go any further if we are all members here.
I can only hope that my son’s missions would work out as we’d like for it to be, but if it doesn’t, it’s okay, our attitude and actions towards God’s Work regardless of our physical & mental state determines the outcome of a Mission and a loved one’s life after an Early Return, Like Tyler says, it’s not the end of the World, the best is yet to come, so they still have this to work towards and look forward to. I hope I haven’t offended anyone by this post. But I truly believe that the Church has not exaggerated on Raising The Bar. The Lord should never lower his expectations on the Able and the Physically Strong..nor should we lower our expectations of ourselves….Ofa atu….
My son came home early. The affects of his return on me, my wife, and my family has been difficult. Counseling has been helpful for my son, it seems. He came home because he failed to properly prepare himself for serving the Lord. So, when he could stand it no longer, he told his mission president that he felt uncomfortable being there. I can not begin to describe the look on my son’s face after meeting with his Stake President: the absolute look of being lost, unloved, disfellowshipped, disavowed, outcast, bereft of any degree of self-worth or self-confidence. It angered me and as a father of a son, in a weak moment, I wanted to take a baseball bat and beat somebody. But I didn’t know who to beat. My son? The Stake President? The Mission President? Myself? I thank God for answering my prayers at every step in helping my son move away from thoughts of worthlessness to hope.
Don’t you judge that young man. Don’t you dare think you have any right to cast doubt on his eternal potential because he stumbled. What you must do is wrap your arms around that young man and tell him how much you love him. Keep your ugly, ignorant judgmental thoughts and comments. Christ said many times “Go, and sin no more.” For those that have returned early, take care of that which must be cared for, whether it be transgression or health, and then go and fulfill your righteous desires, whatever they may be.Our ward, our Bishop have been so loving and accepting. Someone earlier stated we need to be more like Christ and accept our brother and sister for who they are and encourage them to become their best. Every young man should serve a mission, but not every young man will be successful. So, what to do with those that fail? They are the product of the “I hope they call me on a mission” and the “marry only a RM” culture. When they don’t have the proper paperwork they can easily feel like outcasts and second class citizens.My son is a good young man. He has taken care of those issues that brought him home. He has the option to return and complete his mission. I would be his biggest fan if he decides to return. I will be his biggest fan should he decide to move on with his life. I feel this is what the Savior would have me do.I am saddened by the pressures he will face, the disappointments he will incur, the awkward moments he will create when the subject comes up throughout his entire life. The young lady who can see past his failures and instead focus on his potentials will be one of God’s choicest and it will be an honor to call her my daughter.One more thought for those missionary dads and moms who will not experience a gala homecoming at the airport. The Church doesn’t know what to do with you. Perhaps your Bishop, your home teacher, your visiting teacher can provide all the help you need. But they can’t, though they will try with all their hearts. What is good is for missionary moms and dads with broken hearts is to talk to other broken-hearted moms and dads. I started a website thinger to help bring people together to share insights. Please visit http://earlyreturn.weebly.com/ and share your thoughts and your stories.
One last thought: I work with a fine gentleman who is Jewish and not that familiar with Mormon culture. He knew something was troubling me and he asked. After I explained, he said, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Your son chose to serve his church for three months and that’s a bad thing?” His comment sobered me and I am better for it.
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