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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Every Missionary A Missionary » Every Missionary A Missionary

Every Missionary A Missionary

Rusty - March 17, 2008

Before I went on my mission I knew that after I returned home I would look back on it with affection. As I was suffering through it I knew I would soon forget those same sufferings and now that I’ve been home nearly ten years (holy crap has it been that long already???) and I can admit that I was right all along, the mission was glorious. In fact, I’ve already written about my nostalgia and love for Guatemala here. I’ve been back twice and will hopefully return regularly throughout my life.

But those affections only go so far in the face of being asked if I’d do it again.

Knowing I’ll never do a solo mission again makes it easy to sit back and talk about how wonderful it was, but the prospect of a repeat instantly reminds me of its high level of suckitude. So, looking past the fact that the Church no longer sends married men on missions, I try to imagine an alternate reality in which I’m single and the Church is asking 30-year olds to go. Would I go?


But more interesting than if I go is how would I be different? Which rules would I shrug off this time around? Would I study the language more or less? Would I get along with my companions better or worse? The following is a partial list of things I’d do different:

- I’d listen to others more
- I’d be less judgmental
- I wouldn’t treat the rules as much like commandments as I did before
- I’d do more service
- I wouldn’t get up at 6:30 and would stay out later
- I’d play more soccer with members
- I’d embrace local culture more
- I’d never conclude that anyone was going to hell for not listening to me
- I’d always speak Spanish around Latin missionaries
- I’d share with my companion the spending money my parents send me
- I’d have more patience with my companion

Would you go again? What would you do different?


  1. I too loved my mission – but sometimes I have dreams that I have to go again, and they are nightmares. As great an experience as it was, it was a long haul and I’m glad it’s behind me. A friend and I recently discussed what we would do different if we could be (sister) missionaries again –

    - We would ignore for the most part, the extreme propaganda at the MTC and the constant guilt-inducing rhetoric of our mission presidents
    - We would dress better
    - We would never try to manipulate people into believing what we believe or irritate them with our persistence
    - We would focus on service and unconditional love far more than baptismal numbers
    - We would ignore half the mission rules
    - We would have enjoyed ourselves more and not felt guilty for reveling in the cultural experience of being in a foreign land
    - We would never talk to Elders

    (Just kidding, there were some very nice elders in my mission)

    Comment by Meredith C — March 17, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

  2. The last day of my mission — while driving myself to the airport in Costa Rica — I found myself thinking, “I shouldn’t be leaving now; I’ve just finally figured out how I should be doing all this.”

    I’m planning on having that chance. My wife and I have as our long-term financial goal getting ourselves in a position to be able to serve a mission together somewhere. I browse the ‘blue sheets’ on a regular basis. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — March 17, 2008 @ 6:04 pm

  3. I’d do mine again in a heartbeat, but I pretty much did all the stuff you mention you’d do differently, albeit in the South of France. I played more golf on my mission (best proselyting forum) than in all the 30 years after. Dating on a mission helps with understanding the culture and keeps your head clear too.

    Comment by Steve EM — March 17, 2008 @ 6:05 pm

  4. I like your list, I still wouldn’t eat yellow fish but I would love to go back. As Sr. Missionaries I think we’ll get to be a lot more like you described. Hopefully I’ll find out and so will my wife.

    Comment by Don — March 17, 2008 @ 9:41 pm

  5. L like your list, too. But I did many of those things on my mission (embracing culture, playing football, seeing the rules and prescribed schedule as suggestions rather than commandments), and I was still miserable.

    Here’s the problem: at least in my mission and many missions I’ve observed, mission power structures will not leave you to your own devices — they would hound you into either conformity or deception.

    Comment by Norbert — March 17, 2008 @ 11:18 pm

  6. I’ve had this same thought process many times since I got back and every year my “what I’d do different if I went now/again” changes slightly. I don’t think I’d do it unless it were commandment from the prophets, however. Though I look back on much of my mission with fondness, I remember just as much of the difficulty, too.

    Comment by Bret — March 17, 2008 @ 11:53 pm

  7. I moved back to the mission field about ten years after going home to one of the wards I served in and got called as ward mission leader. I do lots of things differently, but so far seem about as ineffective as I was then. Oh well. The missionaries I work with seem to appreciate my street cred, even if I’m not as fired up about the Work as they sometimes are.

    Comment by Peter LLC — March 18, 2008 @ 12:37 am

  8. • I would be more proactive
    • I would use my hindsight to successfully complete any covert assignments from president
    • I would finally be able to use an email address (or Facebook) to keep in touch with people I baptise/meet
    • I would work with members even more
    • I would do more service
    • I would work harder to help improve Utah’s (if I went to the same mission) average of 1–2 baptisms/stake/year

    Comment by Kim Siever — March 18, 2008 @ 5:00 am

  9. I would be myself instead of ‘Elder Nielson’.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — March 18, 2008 @ 5:48 am

  10. I would be a better companion, both senior and junior.

    Comment by ESO — March 18, 2008 @ 7:16 am

  11. I would be a better companion, both senior and junior.

    Comment by ESO — March 18, 2008 @ 7:16 am

  12. I wouldn’t have near killed my companion for listening to Metallica on his walkman. I still regret that one. I would definitely be less smug to the good members of Utah. They did so much for us. But I wouldn’t be a very effective missionary the second time around. I was more humble back then…

    Comment by cj douglass — March 18, 2008 @ 8:00 am

  13. The MTC is like public school. It’s main goal is not to educate you, but to show you how you must conform in order to survive in the system that has been constructed for you. I’d skip the MTC altogether. To finally become an adult and then go into that environment wherein you are treated more like a child than you had been in the past 5 or 6 years was pathetic. But, it did serve its purpose, didn’t it?

    Comment by sam — March 18, 2008 @ 11:11 am

  14. I’ve thought about this too and come to similar conclusions.

    Steve EM — I haven’t seen you around the blogs in a long time!

    Comment by john f. — March 18, 2008 @ 1:50 pm

  15. Great post. When I have nightmares I’m back on my mission I always think partway through – oh, crap, I have kids at home! I’m married! I can’t be out here on a mission while they are at home! Maybe that’s what the early missionaries thought (who left their families behind). Here’s what I would do differently:

    - help my companions get out of eating things they didn’t want to eat in members’ homes (vs. forcing them)
    - focus more on activation and reactivation, not just baptism
    - attend church more
    - ignore idiotic behavior of elders (that I’m sure they are heartily ashamed of by now)
    - stay in touch with members and converts alike
    - teach my own contacts that were in other areas but close to my area
    - not have my parents come at the end

    Comment by hawkgrrrl — March 19, 2008 @ 11:51 am

  16. I’ve found these comments quite intriguing as I prepare for my own mission this year. It’s always funny how it works as Bruce said above, so far in my life when it’s come time to leave I was usually just getting started. I have less than 2 weeks left in Brazil and I’m this was the first month I bore my testimony in Portuguese, I just started hanging out more with monolinguals and I’m on a roll, but I’ll my thrown back into English Canada with traces of French (warning for those allergic. haha, just kidding I speak it and love it). We’ll see what happens with the mission, hopefully I can get the hang of it quickly. I suppose the quickest way would be to be lucky enough to be paired up with a senior whose figured it out already.

    Comment by Jonathan Mahoney — March 19, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

  17. I’ve had a few dreams of being back in Java – mostly good ones – it was fun for 2 former companions and our wives to go back to Bali a couple of years ago. Here’s what I might have done differently:
    - I would have climbed a few more volcanoes on P-Day – we did at least 6 – a motorcycle trip to Bali would have been fun too.
    - I would have paid my cook and houseboy more than the $30-$50/month we paid them (including the cost of food in some cases…)
    - I would have given more money to the beggars and cripples on the streets
    - I would have played more sports with locals though we did a lot. I would have paid the ball boys more in tennis.
    - I would have spent more than 3 nights in Hawaii and Tokyo (temple) with my District on the way home (I did the travel arrangements)
    - I would have kept in touch with members and converts more.
    - I would have read the Koran
    - I would have celebrate the Muslim holidays more
    - I would have visited more members and spent more time on serving.

    Actually, I wouldn’t have changed too much, except to just do “more of the same”. What a great experience, even with hindsight after 25 years!

    Comment by Bill S — March 19, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

  18. I have the back-on-the-mission nightmares too. The feeling is usually, “Wait a minute, I don’t have to follow all these rules and knock on all these doors.”

    I was QUITE miserable throughout my mission. Other than the fact that I baptized a couple of lasting converts, I definitely would not do it again. I found the lifestyle and the rules impossible to follow and enjoy, and I don’t even believe in knocking on doors; I think it’s rude and intrusive.

    Whew, I really loathed the mission program and am surprised I lasted the whole two years! I’m not sure yet what I’ll tell my sons…

    Comment by Chris Bigelow — March 19, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

  19. I was reflecting on this post and probably the most dissapointing thing is the mission program hasn’t changed at all in the thirty years since I served, a sad waste of so many faithful volunteers.

    john f,
    I moved to Houston in 2007, have kind of moved on from Mormonism and am just busy with life. Hope all is well with you.

    Comment by Steve EM — March 19, 2008 @ 6:15 pm

  20. Steve EM, I think I have known you for a time in the ‘nacle though we were never close friends. I do hope you and yours are okay. As a person who has not been to Church for a few years, I strongly encourage you to get there. Yes, that may sound hypocritical. And you may or may not understand why I haven’t been there in a few years and may judge me. But I honestly say what I say out of hopes for you to have the blessings. Whether you make it back to activity in the LDS Church or not, I do wish you much happiness.

    I had a lot of great missionary experiences. I couldn’t imagine my life without my mission. And I hate the thought of doing it over again.

    Something a member told me in my first area stuck with me. He said that the missionaries who were just trying to have fun on their missions and not take the work seriously were the ones who were miserbale on their missions. I came to a point where it was hard to go on, but I felt God’s strength in my most difficult times.

    I agree with the getting along with companions better. My companions would comment how I would forgive on the spot. And I tried very hard to be in harmony with them. But I see where I fell short. Of course, I guess that is part of the learning experience.

    I would keep the mission rules including time to get up and go to sleep etc, etc. But if something happened where we didn’t do things right, I would stress a lot less.

    Comment by Barb — March 22, 2008 @ 11:40 am

  21. I’d take everything a priesthood leader told me with a grain of salt. And I would never let myself be motivated by guilt. But I’d still go.

    Comment by Kullervo — April 21, 2008 @ 11:34 am

  22. Oh, and I’d make sure to sample the Kölsch. ;)

    Comment by Kullervo — April 21, 2008 @ 11:36 am

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