Sunday, January 20, 2008

Decision to Serve A Mission

The decision to serve a mission is a very personal matter that is between the missionary and the Lord. Although the majority go around the time of their birthday the decision to go doesn't always come right when a young man turns nineteen or a young woman turns twenty-one. I have known many fine missionaries who took an extra few months or years so they could put their lives in order spiritually and financially. I was twenty when I served my mission.

Families and significant others can place a lot of pressure on a missionary to go. Many go because it is a social expectation. But the right reason to go is because you really want to go out and lead others to Christ. The decision to go is ultimately the responsibility of the missionary making it. Family and friends aren't going to be there with you walking those miles, talking to those investigators, or baptizing new members.

G. Homer Durham explains to us that decisions can have great benefits: "Decisions determine and regulate our progress. We make them every day. To make wise ones, it is important to have goals, objectives, purposes, a sense of direction, constant reevaluation and reckoning. Following missionary service in the British Isles, I wrote some goals for the next 20 years of my life on a yellow pad of paper. I still have that pad. Nearly all of the goals I set have been exceeded. I was blessed to be guided by the principle Elder Ashton outlined, namely that “it is a continuing process, not a state of arrival.” One objective outlined was not achieved, but that was something beyond my control. The Lord saw fit not to grant that particular blessing. However, it was compensated for in many, many other ways. . . .

The decision to go on a mission was made long before the call was received. Prayerful effort and study had helped me to qualify. That decision, blessed with the support of my parents and family, has brought the greatest blessings and some of the greatest experiences of my life."

The LDS mantra has been since the administration of President Spencer W. Kimball that "every young man should serve a mission." I know even prior to his famous "When the World Will Be Converted" talk that Prophets had been asking young men to go on missions just not as in as forceful of a campaign. It just became from that point forward the ideal that every young man should be prepared to go on a mission. President Kimball traveled the world talking at a series of Area, Regional, and Stake Conferences about the need for more missionaries.

Even President Kimball in his talk realized that many were not worthy to go but he said: "We realize that while all men definitely should, all men are not prepared to teach the gospel abroad. Far too many young men arrive at the missionary age quite unprepared to go on a mission, and of course they should not be sent. But they should all be prepared. There are a few physically unfit to do missionary service, but Paul also had a thorn in his side. There are far too many unfit emotionally and mentally and morally, because they have not kept their lives clean and in harmony with the spirit of missionary work. They should have been prepared. Should! But since they have broken the laws, they may have to be deprived, and thereon hangs one of our greatest challenges: to keep these young boys worthy. Yes, we would say, every able worthy man should shoulder the cross. What an army we should have teaching Christ and him crucified! Yes, they should be prepared, usually with saved funds for their missions, and always with a happy heart to serve."

Since that time young men and many young women have been encouraged to go on missions. I was a product of Spencer W. Kimball's encouragement to go on a mission. I joined the Church three months before he gave this talk. My stake president James K. Seastrand came to me and asked me if I wanted to serve within a week of two after the talk was given. He told me that I reminded him of his Swedish father who had joined the church. When I told him I didn't have two nickels to rub together he told me not to worry about it that he would make sure the money would be there if I served if that is what I decided to do. He told me about his own mission to England.

I thought about going on a mission from the moment I joined the Church in July 1974 right before my nineteenth birthday. I had some reservations because my non-Mormon parents were antagonistic if not downright hostile against the Church. I told my father I was thinking about going on a Mormon mission. My dad launched in to an attack about the people in the Church. He told me repeatedly that Mormons were hypocrites as he had several work in the casino where he was a shift boss and none of the ones he knew were what you would call religious as he watched them do bad things like drink, carouse with women, and gamble. He told me Seastrand even though he wasn't a bad man was a hypocrite because he sold beer in his stores and had slot machines. My dad told me to forget the idea and encouraged me to go to college so I didn't end up like him working in some casino. He was hoping I would become disillusioned and leave the Mormon Church.

When confronted with the decision to go on a mission W. Craig Zwick shares some advice from his own bishop about the matter: "I received some wise advice from my bishop, who advised me to “pursue a mission now.” The only way I could do that was to enlist in the military and receive a change of status, but I pondered and prayed about it because I knew that conflict was imminent, and I wasn’t sure that would really be the best direction. I had to ask myself some hard questions. I had been accepted into a master’s program in architecture at the University of Utah for a five-year course that I did not want to interrupt. But it didn’t feel right to postpone my mission, so I had gone to the bishop and asked for his suggestion. He said, “Prepare and go now.”

Deciding to serve a mission was an expansion of faith driven by two possible options: “Do I do it now?” or “Do I do it later?” I had worked through the decision to go on a mission now, and a good bishop advised me to persevere toward a solution that would allow it to happen."

Ben B. Banks gives similar counsel about the decision to serve: "I know you young men are growing up in a challenging world with all kinds of peer pressure. You may even be struggling with the decision of going on a mission because of your educational and vocational desires, or because of a budding musical or athletic career, or a serious girlfriend you may find hard to leave. I understand, because I have seven sons, as well as a son-in-law, who have had to make similar decisions. Yet each has made that decision to serve.

If you wonder or struggle as to what will be of most worth to you, listen to the direction given by the Lord: “For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you. … “And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father.” (D&C 15:4, 6.)

The barriers to serve a mission are based on a lot of different factors from worthiness to financial to desire to fear. People are resistant to change. A mission is a big change in life. Education needs to be postponed. Jobs are left behind. Athletic careers are put on hold. Relationships are delayed or sometimes even broken with parents, girlfriends or boyfriends. It is not easy for many young men and women to put these things aside. Even older couples think about how they will miss life events for children and grandchildren. It is hard for many of them to leave well-ordered routines.

Robert D. Hales gives an example of a missionary couple who were blessed by their decision to go: "Certainly family concerns are real and should not be considered lightly. But we cannot meet our family challenges without the blessings of the Lord; and when we sacrifice to serve as full-time missionary couples, those blessings will flow. For example, one couple worried about leaving their youngest daughter who was no longer active in the Church. Her faithful father wrote: “We prayed for her continually and fasted regularly. Then, during general conference, the Spirit whispered to me, ‘If you will serve, you will not have to worry about your daughter anymore.’ So we met with our bishop. The week after we received our call, she and her boyfriend announced they were engaged. Before we left for Africa, we had a wedding in our home."

Many young women are waiting to get married. Since they don't have a standard that all should serve it is not as clear a decision to make. Sometimes their twenty-first birthday comes and goes and they don't have any prospects so they decide to wait a little more. Many more sisters are going today then every before. Missions help young women to mature and be more stable in relationships. The divorce rate for Mormon women drops by more than half at the age of 24.

Richard G. Scott describes the process in homes where prospective missionaries are lifelong members and clarifies when a young women can make such a decision: "The process begins in the home long before missionary age when parents instill in the minds and hearts of every young boy the concept of “when I go on a mission,” not “if I go on a mission.” Children are best taught gospel truths in the home where instruction can be adapted to the age and capacity of each child. In the home the whole armor of truth is tailor fit to the individual characteristics of each child. Parental teaching qualifies children for life and prepares worthy young men for the joy of missionary service. In the home a young girl can understand that her primary role is to be a wife and mother. Yet as that preparation unfolds there may be an opportunity to serve a full-time mission, provided recent counsel of the First Presidency is followed: “Worthy single women ages twenty-one and older … may be recommended to serve full-time missions. … These sisters can make a valuable contribution … , but they should not be pressured to serve. Bishops should not recommend them for missionary service if it will interfere with imminent marriage prospects." There are thousands of sisters who don't have marriage plans that can make a decision to go on a mission.

W. Rolfe Kerr describes the results of his choosing a mission over his final year as a possible starting quarterback at Utah State University: "I had always planned on serving a mission when I turned 20, the age of missionaries at the time. After playing two seasons of football at Utah State University, I had a difficult decision to make. I knew that, at that time, very few returned missionaries played football after their missions. I had put a lot of effort into football, and I loved the game. I decided to delay my mission a few months so I could play one more season and then serve a mission. By the end of that season, I had won the starting quarterback position for the next year.

My coach was surprised and disappointed that after all my hard work in football, I was going to leave. He encouraged me to stay and play my final season. He couldn’t understand why I would walk away from this opportunity. I listened to his comments and his logic, but I told him that I could not wait another year to go on my mission. If I did, I feared I would miss my opportunity to serve a mission. After all my hard work in football, I said good-bye to the team and left for Great Britain to serve the Lord.

I never regretted that decision. I learned so many things on my mission. To witness people embracing the gospel was an incredible experience, which shaped the rest of my life in many important ways. My mission helped make me into the person I am today and had far greater impact on me than football ever could have.

As it turns out, when I returned from my mission, I got the chance to play football again. Although it was unexpected, I played my final year and achieved more than I believe I could have done before my mission. I was given incredible opportunities that probably would not have come about had I chosen to further delay or even forego my mission."

Once a decision is made it takes a conscious determination at some point for action. You have to go to your bishop and meet with him in a formal way. I went to my bishop when I had been a member for exactly nine months. My goal was to go at the one year mark of membership since that was the earliest a new member could go to the temple and on a mission. I approached the Bishop and instead of having the same philosophy as the stake president he wanted to know where I was going to get the money to go. I had nothing saved at that point. I could have caved in and said oh well it was a good idea but I am too poor to go. Instead we came up with a plan that involved me going to LDS employment and finding a couple of jobs. I worked about sixty hours a week from that point on as a custodian. It wasn't easy putting my hands in those toilets but I knew there were other people counting on me to share the gospel. I had to hold to my decision like a beacon.

I am always glad I made the decision to go. Mission come at a price that involves sacrifice. No one else can really make the decision to go for you. In the end you are the one that has to go so you are the one that needs to initiate the process. Making the decision to go can be more complex than Church leaders think. For all the rhetoric out there every young man and young woman makes the decision to go based on their own life's situation. A large group will decide to go but thousands will not.

We tend to judge those who didn't make the decision to go as being less than to those who did. Many feel defensive when asked if they went. As I get older I have not seen any discernible difference in being called to Church positions whether you went or didn't go. I have had a paradigm shift knowing that everyone's walk in life is different. My favorite thing when the subject comes up is to talk about going on a mission as an old man. I get a kick out of that even though I know not that many couples will not make it for health, financial, or family reasons. Both have to make the decision to go and it is harder for two to decide. The expectation is that every worthy person will serve and that standard will remain since if you lower it the numbers going would decline dramatically. The decision to go is ultimately between each person and the Lord. Should every worthy young man or young woman without marriage prospects go? For me it was the right decision, but for someone else it is a decision they will have to make in consultation with their bishop and the Lord.

1 comment:

Latter-Day Sustainablist said...

Thanks for your words. I have stopped by your blog a few times, and I am finding it to be one of the jewels of the so-called bloggernacle.

If you will indulge me, here are a couple of comments/experiences:

The same day I received my mission call, I received an offer for a small scholarship. The scholarship was contingent on me staying in school for the next year. Looking back, I sure am glad that I chose to postpone school (and decline the scholarship) in order to serve a mission. The Lord as repaid my sacrifice over and over again.

My sister’s then boyfriend (now husband) was forced to wait for marriage because my sister knew she needed to serve a mission. I don’t share this to refute the qualifier "without marriage prospects", rather I think that it is an illustration your lead sentence: "The decision to serve a mission is a very personal matter that is between the missionary and the Lord."

Finally, I appreciate your sensitivity towards those who didn’t serve missions. Sometimes I think that well-intentioned promotion of missionary service can be received in the wrong way. I always wonder how to best promote missions (or any other good thing) in a way that is likely to be well received by all.