From the outside looking in, someone not of our faith probably thinks that Mormons (Latter-day Saints) are insane to send young men and women to a foreign country for two years (or eighteen months) to preach the “good word.” And when you think about it, that is a pretty strange task that 18-21 year old aged kids take part in. The majority of the time, the youth are anxious and willing to go. Granted, worry and anxiety is accompanied with any new Missionary fresh off the plane, but it’s usually combated with enthusiasm and a smile. Not every aspect of Missionary life is a bed of roses, however. Below, I count down (in my opinion) the nine absolute worst parts of serving a Mormon Mission.
I served a Spanish-speaking Mission. Coupled with that is the culture. And Mexicans LOVE to eat. Not only that, but they’re offended when you don’t. Towards the end of my time serving, I had no problem eating at least two plates. As a beginning Missionary, however, it was really difficult to stomach! What are you supposed to do when you physically can’t eat more without wanting to throw up, but you don’t want to offend the family who has given so much to create a meal for you? More than that, because we ate with a different family each evening, their meal times would be so sporadic. Some days we would eat as early as 2:00pm or as late as 8:30pm. Some days, you simply weren’t hungry, and you had to force yourself to eat. Luckily for me, I was blessed with a quick metabolism and at my heaviest, was only 20 pounds more than when I started. Upon finishing my Mission, for the first two weeks of being home, I actually enjoyed the feeling of being “hungry.” It’s something that I didn’t experience very often in the entire two years. One year, for Thanksgiving, we had 4 dinners scheduled, and for Christmas we had 6.
8. Away from family/friends
Being away from friends and family was always a tough one. I never really realized how much I loved my family until I couldn’t see them. More than that, you were only allowed to phone home twice a year (Christmas and Mother’s Day), and then you were limited to weekly e-mails for the rest of the year. Those phone calls were only allowed to immediate family, as well. No girls friends or other buddies. Luckily, I had been on my own for almost two years prior to serving that I was used to taking care of myself, being on my own, and I wasn’t too incredibly home sick.
This is closely tied with number eight, but technology as a Missionary is extremely restricted. Up until a few months ago, Facebook was completely banned, and you were threatened to be sent home right repeated use (some Missions now allow Facebook use as a proselyting tool, others still haven’t implemented it). iPhones, iPods, iPads, and other personal devices were all mostly against the rules with the exception of the shared cell phone between you and a companion. It was by no means a “smartphone”, though. It had phone and texting capabilities, and not much else. Computer use was allowed once a week, for one to two hours, only to write your family and friends. Any other websites, besides the Church’s approved e-mail service, was forbidden. It’s a tough adjustment going from an “always on” or “connected” world to a black zone. I’m surprised they allowed us to have cars!
Members (of the congregation) can either be the most influential part of Missionary work, or the most frustrating. When people are actively working with the Missionaries, and trying to get their friends involved and excited to be taught, there’s nothing better. When Members refuse to provide meals, go on teaching visits, or fulfill their callings, it makes the work extremely difficult to do. More often than not, I served in small branches (congregations with around 40-100 people) where there was rarely enough Priesthood to keep the area running. The majority of the time, we would help with sacrament talks, priesthood ordinations, blessings, and other callings. But when members did do their job, there was a giant burden lifted off the shoulders of the Elders and Sisters.
Ugh. Just the thought of it makes me cringe. Elder “A” will forever ring in my mind as the hardest person I’ve ever had to be around. Keep in mind that you’re with these people for normally three months, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with your only break from them being the 15 minutes getting ready in the bathroom each day. You get people from all different parts of the world, with different experiences and backgrounds. After extended exposure to the same person, sometimes feelings get hurt and nerves get testy. And there’s usually no getting out early either. You can rarely request a change, so you’d better suck it up and learn to love the person. Normally I was placed with people that I got along with well, and there were just a few things on which we had to compromise. However, there’s always that one…
Every six weeks, you have the opportunity to move to a new area and get a new companion. However, six weeks is usually a short amount of time, and you’re placed in an area from three to six months, sometimes with the same companion, sometimes not. Imagine having to get adjusted to new members, new companions, new apartments, and new cities every other month. It’s difficult! It’s almost tempting to not even unpack your suitcases, because you know you’ll have to pack them right back up again in just a short amount of time.
3. Messes & Rejection
I’m grouping these together, because I feel they kind of play hand-in-hand. And surprisingly, I’m not talking about physical messes (although there are plenty of those to be had in a Missionary apartment). Emotional messes, whether it’s personal or other people. You deal with all sorts of people. Some days, you’re the one who feels like an emotional wreck and rejected. It takes all you have to pick your spirits up and keep going. Other days, you have to do all you can to help in any ways possible the families that you’re working with. That ranges from abuse to financial ruin to lack of faith to depression.
I have a very red personality, meaning that I like to do things my way. My opinion is the only opinion that matters, and the world would be a much happier place if everyone thought the same way that I do. Unfortunately, that usually doesn’t play well with other people, and I would often offend people without realizing it. Whether it’s an argument, or I simply wanted to go to McDonalds at 9:32 (curfew was 9:30pm), I felt often that my freedom was being taken away and I really couldn’t do what I wanted.
The last, and the most difficult part of serving a Mission was the politics. In my Mission, and I’m sure probably others as well, there was a term deemed “apostate.” This term was thrown around almost every single day. A Missionary who wasn’t following all of the rules with exactness was deemed an “apostate” Elder, and was looked down upon. Gossip soon begins to burn like wildfire throughout Mission boundaries about who is a rule-following Missionary and who isn’t. Along with that, there were Elders would would try and climb up the ladder of authority by sucking up or pretending to be someone that they weren’t really. Or in extreme cases, Elders would be reprimanded for doing something all because of hear-say, such as visiting an unapproved website (such as Google. *gasp!*) All-in-all, this was by far the worst part of serving a Mission. People would have reputations before even meeting them, and for people who teach so much about forgiveness, repentance, and not judging, it always seemed a little hypocritical to me.