Every week, a new batch of elders and sisters enter the MTC in Provo, Utah. In many of their eyes you can see a glimmer of hope and excitement. For them, it’s not about where they’re serving but how they will serve for the next two years of their life. Unfortunately, for most of them this will not last for long. In the communal showers and in the tiniest cracks of bunk beds, lurks an awful disease – Mission Cred Syndrome.
Mission Cred Syndrome (hereafter MCS) is a progressive, usually fatal disease caused by the degeneration of ones opinion of his/her home town/state/region. Most commonly found in Mormons living in the suburbs of the U.S. and Canada, this disease attacks the brain shortly after entering the MTC in Provo. The victim attempts to use his/her mission call as a means for concealing the boring nature of his/her coosh suburban life. For some, this can be the beginning of a wonderful journey to an exotic/rough/authentic part of the globe and a lifetime of association, references and stories about their new adopted home. For many others, it can trigger a downward spiral of boring mission stories and endless shame from friends, family and fellow church members.
The disease is extremely contagious and the symptoms are often difficult to identify. Some known signs have been found in the appearance of football jerseys from places like Brazil, Argentina or Germany, frequent use of non-English versions of the scriptures many years after the missionary has returned, parents teaching young children the language of their missions and of course the very easy to spot foreign spouse. For elders and sisters called to less exciting locations, this can be discovered much more easily. Just ask them where they served. If the response is “just
(fill in boring location)” then they almost definitely suffer from MCS.
Most of those who have MCS are not even aware of their disease (if you’ve ever seen a zombie movie, you know what I’m talking about). Also, very little has been done to remedy its effects (the BYU language houses don’t help). As one of the inoculated few, I’ve taken it upon myself to get inside the mind of an MCS patient with the hope of finding a cure. To begin, I will analyze a list of the best and worst missions and find out how these RM’s have learned to deal with their respective calls.
BEST OF THE BEST
East Asia – In the late 80’s, a rumor was started by a group of Hong Kong elders that the church reviewed the SAT scores of any American considered for Asia. This ensured that because of the difficult languages, only the brightest elders and sisters would ever get a whiff. Consequently, rumors such as these have done wonders for their mission cred. Sure, they don’t baptize much, but because of the economic status of many of these countries, the chances of finding a compatible spouse are greater (see- YM’s manual). Foreign spouses trump baptisms any day of the week. A lifetime of smug references to their exotic lives are in the bag.
Latin America – L.A. was barely squeezed out of the top spot for reasons mentioned. Another chink in the mission cred is the fact that Latin American RM’s are a dime a dozen/not very unique. But in many ways it has the best of both worlds – romantic locations coupled with many opportunities to baptize (in rivers no less!). Plus, if you’re a football fan, this gives you a chance to buy a jersey that doesn’t say USA on it. It’s a win win win.
Europe – These locations are especially coveted by sister missionaries for two reasons:
1. From the U.K. to Russia, European men have the best English accents. The foreign spouse opportunities are not as good as Asia but they’re definitely more exciting. Paris anyone? Need I say more?
2. European missions aren’t known for their baptisms but they are known for hard work. This is a win win for sisters – they achieve a lifetime of stories about knocking more doors in 18 months than the elders did in 24 – without a baptism. Now that’s something to complain about – and mission cred up the wazoo.
WORST OF THE WORST
Utah – in recent years, Utah missions have climbed from the bottom of the barrel to the Best of the worst. Part of this phenomenon comes from the ridiculous amount of baptisms that come from all three missions in Utah. The way we see it, it’s only a matter of time before a non-member living in Utah either becomes extremely bitter or joins the church. But if Utah RM’s want to use this to improve their mission cred, then more power to ‘em.
Another turning point was the discovery of clever quips in response to demeaning questions. For instance, a common question might be “How was it serving in Utah (snicker)”. Response – “If the reason you went on a mission was to teach and baptize – then it was great!” Another useful quip is of the, “atleast I never had a Utah companion” variety. These responses can successfully increase mission cred while making your questioner feel guilty about ever being proud of their foreign mission status. Of course at the end of the day, you’re still in Gunnison, Delta or some other obscure location. It’s a win lose.
Western Provinces, Canada – Its Utah without the baptisms. These missionaries get excited when they see a foreign country on their mission call – and then realize that its essentially Montana with strange snacks (pickle chips, ketchup chips, smarties that look like m&m’s etc.) That’s low baptisms, freezing weather and no one’s going to care if your spouse is from Canada. Lose, lose, lose.
Midwest, U.S.A – The biggest problem with being called to the Midwest is that no matter what part of the Union you’re from, the Midwest is not very far away. Can your parents reasonably drive to your mission? Not a good thing. Are the foods you eat MORE bland than what your Mom used to make? Sorry. Face it – if you get called to the Midwest, you’re better off staying home and serving as a temple worker for two years. At least then you can sleep in your own bed.
As we can see, the damage done by MCS can follow an individual to their grave. My hope is that this will be the beginning of an increased understanding of this dreaded disease. An MCS walk, awareness ribbons on the back of cars and rubber bracelets at the checkout counters of local gas stations. That would be the day.