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Mission Cred Syndrome

Christian J - July 14, 2008

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.


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.


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.


  1. First off, I’m really grateful for the midwest missionaries that baptised me, and that I can go visit the even stilltoday, and it’s just a quick drive away.

    Second, Communal Showers are no longer in the MTC, I’m told.

    third, when I was in the MTC, on my way to the philippines, a fellow going to Italy insulted my tye as it had a dent in it, and said that he’d heard that those not good or smart enough to go elsewhere were sent to the philippines. I didn’t hit him, but I did let him know what his opinion was worth.

    last, my sister in law just got back from Utah, spanish speaking, and when she opened her call, she laughed and yelled “Crap No!”, so MCS starts way before the MTC.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 14, 2008 @ 11:05 am

  2. East Asia FTW!

    Comment by Chad Too — July 14, 2008 @ 11:07 am

  3. This reminds me of the scene in Singles Ward where Kirby Heybourne opens his mission call and announces he’s going to serve in…..Idaho.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — July 14, 2008 @ 11:08 am

  4. Oh, and FWIW, I never took the SAT, so my scores could not have been compared to anything.

    There was, however, a language-acquistion aptitude test that used to be administered as part of the putting-in-your-papers process. As one who processed those papers as they came into the mission, I can say that there was a significant number who had high-to-very-high scores on that test who got called to my East Asian mission. Certainly enough to anecdotally assume that the scores had some play in the selection process.

    I know the Church no longer administers that test, but I also don’t know how long the testing continuted. My test would have been summer of 1986 and I’m pretty sure it continued at least until 1988.

    Comment by Chad Too — July 14, 2008 @ 11:15 am

  5. lol, too funny!!!

    For a great portrait of the East Asia cred — complete with corresponding spouse — you should read Eugene Woodbury’s Path of Dreams.

    Comment by C. L. Hanson — July 14, 2008 @ 11:48 am

  6. You should know, CJ, that MCS predated the MTC. Else why should we (all Japan-bound) have referred to the U.S. domestic mission-bound missionaries we left behind at the old mission home in SLC as “white trash”?

    As to language aptitude: there was a test, which I must have taken sometime in the spring of 1973. I had a companion in the LTM (Language Training Mission for you kids) who either didn’t take it, cheated on it, guessed right on every question or got called to Japan despite scoring a zero on it.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 14, 2008 @ 11:53 am

  7. Thanks for the info Mark. I’m finding that this affliction runs deeper than I suspected. And to now find out that there really was a test? Oh the humanity!

    Comment by CJ Douglass — July 14, 2008 @ 12:04 pm

  8. I served in Utah, and had a companion from Utah.

    While numbers in the Utah missions might seem impressive on the outside, they amount to roughly 1 baptism per stake per month. A pathetic number compared to baptisms per stake outside of Utah.

    Comment by Kim Siever — July 14, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

  9. But, Kim, the numbers that would mean most to the missionaries aren’t the baptism/stake, but baptisms/missionary. My guess is that those are high, and keep the missionaries happy.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 14, 2008 @ 12:15 pm

  10. The first night in my European mission, my MP’s wife welcomed me to the mission home by saying: “Congratulations, Elder! The fact that you have been called to this mission shows that you must have been valiant in the pre-existence.”

    Comment by Mark IV — July 14, 2008 @ 12:16 pm

  11. I wonder how “I didn’t serve a mission” fits into this. I think, from my own experience, that it’s a winner. It holds all kinds of mysetry and enticement: what kind of strange and exotic sins might have kept him off a mission?

    Also, I find I can do a dynamite combo: feint with the ‘I didn’t go on a mission’ then come in with the crushing uppercut that is the dynamo testimony I’m sporting now-a-days. Devastating in any social setting.


    Comment by Thomas Parkin — July 14, 2008 @ 12:20 pm

  12. So this is why every six months or so I have to buy guarana make feijoada. I’ve been wondering what was wrong with me.

    Incidentally, not all Latin American missions have the same cred level. Us hearty, durable souls who were called to unceasingly scale the endless hills of Minas Gerais, Brazil have it all over the flatlanders in the rest of the country.

    Comment by Tom — July 14, 2008 @ 12:23 pm

  13. Tom’s comment suggests yet another axis upon which to measure mission cred: time.

    Back in the “old jidai” things were really really tough. And it took a special kind of person to stand up to all the tough things we faced.

    For example:

    Since global warming, there haven’t been any cold winters. None of the current missionaries have to suffer through months of cold weather, unheated apartments, frozen milk bottles outside the door, etc. etc. that the old guard faced.

    Cars. Back in the day, there was no way to get around except by foot or by bicycle. Little wonder that you could scarcely distinguish between returning Japan missionaries in 1974-1975 and the American POWs returning at that same time from North Vietnam. (See also, Food.)

    Food. The food made us really, really tough. We ate mush made from grain used as chicken feed in Japan. None of that Cap’n Crunch interrupted only by the occasional trip to IHOP or Dunkin Donuts. (But, you can at least brag that there was something International about your mission!)

    Of course, the serious mission cred comes from the foreign missionaries who served for 2 1/2 years (in Europe) or 3 years (in Japan).

    Comment by Mark B. — July 14, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

  14. Don’t even get me started on bicycles and cars. You must be some kind of soft if you need wheel-based locomotion to be an effective missionary. Did Ammon have wheels? Was he riding a unicycle when he chopped off those arms and converted the king? I don’t think so. And you know why he didn’t need wheels? Because he was valiant in the pre-existence.

    Comment by Tom — July 14, 2008 @ 12:45 pm

  15. I actually remember riding our bikes a half hour back to town in the rain after our only discussion for the day had stood us up, and my companion and I speculated about what our friends who were serving missions in California were doing.

    “I bet he’s driving around in a car right now, listening to music.”

    “Naw, he’s probably eating dinner at a member family’s house where there are three teen-age daughters.”

    “If I had a car, I’d go to In’n'Out Burger for dinner.”

    “Can you really call it a mission if you have a car, lots of dinners with members, and In’n'Out Burger?”

    Comment by Mark IV — July 14, 2008 @ 1:02 pm

  16. listen up. If you ain’t been shot at while on a bike like yours truly on your mission you ain’t got no cred

    Comment by bbell — July 14, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

  17. You really should differentiate between B.C. and Alberta. B.C. (at least the cities over 80,000 people) all have at least some semblance of marijuana culture, especially on Vancouver Island.

    Try explaining to the Ward Mission Leader that the convert about to be baptized is having a problem getting his nipple ring out.

    Comment by blublu — July 14, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  18. What gets me is these people who go on and on about all the little social customs among the missionaries on their “mission.” On my mission, we didn’t see any other missionaries than our companion, and maybe a couple times a year the mission president would come around with his assistants, because I’ll tell you, we weren’t sent out to Babylon to spend our time hanging out with a bunch of Mormons. Now, missionaries call in every night. In my day, if the mission office needed to hear from us, they’d send a telegram.

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 14, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

  19. blublu,

    True, true. All my pothead friends in HS had a dream of living in B.C. someday. Correction noted.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — July 14, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

  20. Yeah,

    Was up with being around the mission president and having a place to do your laundry?

    At one point I was a 5 hour flight away from my MP doing my laundry in the friggin bathtub.

    Plus I had a venomous snake take up residence in my boarding.

    Yeah I got cred

    Comment by bbell — July 14, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

  21. I am most amused when MCS affects family members: spouses, moms, etc. See comment 22 in this thread.

    Comment by ESO — July 14, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

  22. Amen Bbell!

    I never was shot AT but had plenty of experience in other ways serving in South Central L.A. and Compton. I love that a mission is considered easy if you had it easy physically. You newbs out in the sticks never did anything wrong because you had no opportunity! I lived in the midst of Babylon, Gomorrah, and the late Jaredite cities all in one. That includes all the problems associated with having so many other elders so close by and knowing who everyone was and their reputation.

    Comment by Bret — July 14, 2008 @ 3:57 pm

  23. Mark B.’s use of term “jidai” in a casual blog comment is sure to exacerbate the symptoms of MCS among certain readers.

    When I surveyed the Japan-bound missionaries I taught in the MTC in the late 90s, the most significant factor seemed to be that they had taken some Japanese in high school. This meant that most of the missionaries were from Payson or California. I always wondered about the odd exceptions, though – guys who had studied Russian or Spanish and still couldn’t believe they were on their way to Japan, like there must have been some mix-up.

    Comment by DCL — July 14, 2008 @ 4:18 pm

  24. My French classes at BYU were a hotbed of MCS. It broke down something like this:

    Quebec–no cred
    France/Belgium–some cred, bonus for serving on Corsica
    Switzerland–bonus cred for having gorgeous scenery
    Haiti/Ivory Coast–mega cred. Exotic, war-torn locals that were so war-torn the North American missionaries got pulled halfway through.

    The I.C. missionaries had the cred trump card, though, because they ended up in places like Cameroon while the Haiti missionaries ended up in the Southern U.S., where they grew fat (off of Wendy’s and fried okra) and pale (driving around in Toyota Corollas).

    Of course, everyone was jealous of the Taiwan missionaries in the class next door because they, supposedly, had absurdly low rates of apostate missionaries and they spoke something cooler than French.

    Comment by Rob T. — July 15, 2008 @ 5:03 am

  25. Of course, Rob T., if you had any cred, mission or otherwise, you would be calling that African nation Cote d’Ivoire. It’s totally passe to call it by its translated name.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 15, 2008 @ 6:09 am

  26. Alas, it’s true–so much for my French credibility. Explains why I got a C in the class. Should’ve written “Cameroun” for Cameroon, “Ayiti” for Haiti, and “hotbed of National Front activity” for Marseilles.

    Comment by Rob T. — July 15, 2008 @ 6:40 am

  27. I’ll have you know I enjoyed living in BYU’s Foreign Language Housing.

    For those who are bitter about not getting in, a bit of advice – don’t try to apply for the Spanish House, Portuguese Hosue, or French House.

    Everyone and their dog is nuts about those languages and RMs who speak them are a dime a dozen. And a big proportion of them want in. Bad odds.

    Instead, take up one of the more obscure languages being offered in the program. Arabic was one while I was there, so was Russian, Chinese another. Anyone who spoke good Arabic probably would have been a shoo-in for getting into the program while I was there in the late 90s.

    Unless the place has totally changed since I was there.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 15, 2008 @ 8:55 am

  28. Other mission cred points,

    if you serve somewhere not exotic, you have to do your best to make it sound exotic. ways to do this include, NY: discuss extreme poverty and gangs, AZ/NM: talk about living places where there was no running water. Midwest: talk about people who baptize their cats. England: emphasize Guy Fawkes day.

    Comment by TrevorM — July 15, 2008 @ 9:05 am

  29. My mission was only 30 miles from home. I actually saw my parents at a stoplight in the car in front of us once. My mission was a lot of fun, but if pressed by someone with MCS, I will always resort to the tried and true “Boys are call on missions to become men, Men are called to England to become Apostles.”
    That said the most exotic thing about my mission was the Page three girl we taught the discussions (unfortunately was not willing to give up the career and the MP had a problem with it).

    Comment by TStevens — July 15, 2008 @ 7:05 pm

  30. Second, Communal Showers are no longer in the MTC, I’m told.

    That’s too bad. We had a blast covering the drains in the communal shower and letting it fill with water. We’d slide back and forth while blasting Tabernacle Choir.

    listen up. If you ain’t been shot at while on a bike like yours truly on your mission you ain’t got no cred

    I got punched in the face while on my bike, does that give me cred?

    Comment by jjohnsen — July 17, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

  31. Oh yes it qualifies. Heck you could have been killed!!!!

    Comment by bbell — July 17, 2008 @ 12:34 pm

  32. The newer the country/ language, the higher the status (I rememeber when Russia opened.)

    “Of course, everyone was jealous of the Taiwan missionaries in the class next door because they, supposedly, had absurdly low rates of apostate missionaries and they spoke something cooler than French.”

    Very true.

    I knew someone called to the Midwest (Kansas/ Oklahoma?). Ooooh… But it turned out to be working mostly with Vietnamese and other immigrants. So, it’s not just the location, but the language, and the culture, and the “specialness”.

    #1 Best of Best: Italy.

    Museums. Incredible works of art in public. Ferrari. Cheese. 10′s all over the place. “Something cooler than French”. Beaches. Devil-worshippers. Very few eating appointments. No dinner, only lunch. Sharing a small stove with three other missionaries, so the two hour lunch seems to pass in 30 minutes. Otherwise, $3 sandwiches outside. $1 spaghetti meal after meal after meal… Bikes or public transportation/walking. No hats in the freezing winter. 60F apartments. Humid air and blazing sun so you want to wear two changes a day. 90F apartments at night. No AC, almost no heaters, sometimes no fans. Washing machines that rip your clothes to shreds. Crowded buses. Watching sweat drip down the armpit hair of a grandma that hasn’t showered for a week and land on your shoe. Women of ill reptuation lining the road by the river. Crazy people. Biggest crazy (“God the Father”) walking around in white robes and a Nike headband, carrying a candle (“the angel Gabriel”), talking to your investigator on the street. Homosexuals asking you to “come over for a drink and a song”. Dirty sexual… posters all over the small street walls. High-classed sexual posters on the billboards. A woman falling back, almost fainting, making a cross with her fingers to ward you off (vampire-style). Children running around playing tag as the sacrament is passed. Men washing their hands and showing them clean in front of the congregation before they break the bread. And sometimes, a spouse.

    Not last, and not least (of course):

    “The devil’s backyard.” — President Benson

    Take that!

    (What?!! That last one was only a rumor?!?)

    Comment by grego — August 4, 2008 @ 12:24 am

  33. Hey, Grego, on my mission I was the homosexual inviting people over to my place ( sure, it was a church … but, you know ).

    Comment by Silus Grok — August 5, 2008 @ 10:50 pm

  34. [...] comment on CJ Douglass’s post Mission Cred Syndrome at Nine [...]

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