Tim Jacob and I were in the same mission in Guatemala. When he was a greenie I was his first zone leader (though I barely remember the little tyke). He has recently discovered the Bloggernacle and is once again a greenie feeling his way around. He’s a baby sucking his thumb. He’s a cub in a nest of pythons. He’s a duckling without a… er, okay, I’m just trying to make myself feel superior since he told me that after I left the mission it got better. (In other words, don’t be too nice to him just because he’s new)
Oh, and as a disclaimer, I don’t necessarily agree with this post, his ideas, or his haircut. I’ve just been too lazy to write posts lately and hey, what better way to fill the void than taking advantage of newbies?
A few weeks ago, my wife and I had the missionaries over for dinner as we do about once a month. This time we had the pleasure of having four missionaries, one of which being a so-called “greenie.” This particular greenie was obviously going to be a good one. He was sharp looking, very personable, and seemed to have a good attitude about things.
As we were sitting down to dinner, this greenie asked, “Brother Jacob, did you ever take naps on your mission?” With what was probably a fairly large grin, I replied, “If I was tired, absolutely.” The other three missionaries all laughed and gave each other high-fives. I must have reinforced something they had been telling him. Apparently, this new missionary had been reading a little after lunch only to have fallen asleep on his bed. He awoke and immediately felt awful for having done so. The other elders told him not to worry about it, but that didn’t help.
After hearing this, I took it upon myself to rescue this missionary from wasting two years worrying about the wrong things. I got very serious and asked the missionaries if they would like to know the secret of the mission. “Of course,” they replied.
“IT’S NOT ABOUT OBEDIENCE.”
The room went silent. They could not believe what I was saying. To defuse any speculation, I stated that I wasn’t a rebel on my mission, and in fact was quite the opposite. I then told them the following:
1) Breaking a mission rule is NOT a sin. If waking up at 7:00am isn’t a sin before or after your mission, it’s not a sin during your mission. Same goes talking to your companion in “tú or “vos,” listening to secular music, rules about dress, watching TV, etc., etc., etc., etc. Nor do breaking these rules have anything to do with your ability to be guided by the Spirit or to have It present in a discussion.
2) The mission rules are simply standards and guidelines to prevent missionaries from sinning. For instance, dating before the age of sixteen IS NOT A SIN. It is a guideline so that a sin is not committed. However, I believe this guideline should be followed as most 14-15 year olds are not mature enough to handle the dating scene. Another is how many holes a woman can have in her ear. This is the standard, not to prevent a woman from having three, but rather having five or six plus her eyebrow, lip, nose, etc. On both these issues the church set a standard to prevent the extreme. Same as the mission. You wake up at 6:30 so you don’t sleep in until noon. You are home by 9:30 so you’re not out until midnight.
3) Breaking a mission rule does not disqualify you from the guidance of the spirit nor its presence during discussions, study, etc. One thing that always bothered me about the mission, and especially the MTC, was how arbitrarily everybody threw the Spirit around. It was as if they could decide when you will have It and when you won’t. They also threatened that if you disobeyed, “you would not have the Spirit.” This seemed wrong.
For example, the MTC routinely and randomly inspects your room to make sure it is clean and tidy, and then leave behind a report on the condition thereof. One week we were caught with a fairly messy room, which the Branch President was made aware of and we were subsequently admonished. “The Spirit cannot dwell in a messy room,” he insisted. This made sense at the time, but after a bit of thought, it seemed like more of an assumption than an assertion. I thought to myself if this meant that if I was visiting an investigator who lived in a messy house, we would have to help tidy up before the discussion in order to have the Spirit be present. This of course, is not the case.
Like the above example, I picked up on other contradictions. I had always heard how strict the MTC was and was prepared for it. It definitely didn’t disappoint in that aspect. However, the second day I was there, the MTC President’s wife was speaking. She said that she had hoped we might have stayed up past 10:30, getting to know our companions. I was also in the MTC for Christmas. On Christmas day we watched “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with a nude Donna Reed standing in the bushes. I am not crying “HYPOCRITE.” I’m just saying that there was flexibility with these rules as well as others, and most rules are misinterpreted as absolute commandments.
Another example. On my mission, the Area President ruled the area with an absolute iron fist. One rule we had was that we were not to gather together on P-day with other missionaries. No basketball, no soccer, no nothing. Just you and your companion sitting in your room writing letters. I think it is safe to say that this was probably the least obeyed rule in the mission. Nobody obeyed it.
Well, one day I was riding with the mission president to a remote area in the mission. After discussing several topics, he asked us what was the reason we were not able to baptize more than what we were currently doing. It was an interesting question since we had taken great strides getting the mission to where it was at that time. President then told us he thought that the reason was that missionaries were still getting together on p-day (thus eliminating them from the guidance of the spirit). Now, my mission president was a level-headed man. He also rarely ever preached obedience, and I had always felt as though he didn’t really believe in this rule either. Apparently, I thought wrong.
A few months later, both my mission president and the area president returned home. This obviously brought a new mission and area president with new rules and new standards. One change that came was that the aforementioned p-day rule was done away with. So now, all of a sudden, we could both get together on p-day AND have the spirit. This obviously had zero effect on missionary performance for better or worse.
I don’t want you to think that I am advocating breaking mission rules nor am I saying there shouldn’t be such rules. I am simply saying the rhetoric we use in teaching the importance of these rules and the enforcement thereof needs to change. There are too many missionaries who are paralyzed because their focus is in the wrong place. The missionaries need not worry what rule they are or aren’t breaking. They need to worry about THE WORK. It is then, and only then that they will progress as missionaries.