Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Honorably Excused from an LDS Mission

When I was living in Laie, Hawaii I first became aware of the great growth that a severely challenged person can face. A young man whose father was a professor at BYU-Hawaii spent long hours helping his son prepare to cope in the world as he approached his eighteenth birthday. The local bishops felt he was incapable of having the comprehension to even be baptized. His parents struggled with this but worked diligently with him to make sure he had the basic life skills to survive when one day they would depart from this world. From sixteen to eighteen they took him patiently to a thrift store where he was able to work. He began to gain confidence in his ability. I watched the young man progress so that he was able to tie his shoes, make a basic meal, and hold down a job. It was a marvelous experience seeing his father baptize him on Temple Beach. That day I witnessed a miracle. The man is now in his thirties and still living at home but he had made some great gains in his life's development. He was never able to serve a full-time mission but he is still a wonderful man. One day he will be able to stand alone in this world. There are many young people in the church who face similar obstacles.

Sometimes through no fault a young man is physically or mentally unable to serve a mission. If they are not able to handle a local mission they are excused outright. There are however a large number of young men and young women who are able to function normally. This group has many who can serve local missions.

For the last thirty years leaders have from time to time helped young men and women find service opportunities. In recent years with a larger numbers of missionaries serving it has become more challenging for local leaders particularly with the emphasis on raising the bar find opportunities. Since 2002 there has become a more institutional awareness of the need to provide opportunities for those who want to serve but are turned down from going on a full-time proselyting mission.

Many bishops and stake presidents are trying to find ways for otherwise worthy young men or young women to serve in the church in meaningful ways. Many people who are emotionally or physically challenged can still make worthwhile contributions. There is a growing number of young people who can do much good in their local communities who cannot handle the rigors of the challenging full-time missionary routine. An excellent post The Ammon Approach last week talked about humanitarian aspects of missionary work that these young people could help with.

The First Presidency in a letter dated December 11, 2002 instructed Church leaders about the principles of eligibility for full-time missionary service. The instructions stated: “Full-time missionary service is a privilege for those who are called through inspiration by the President of the Church. Bishops and stake presidents have the serious responsibility to identify worthy, qualified members who are spiritually, physically, and emotionally prepared for this sacred service and who can be recommended without reservation. Those individuals not able to meet the physical, mental, and emotional demands of full-time missionary work are honorably excused and should not be recommended. They may be called to serve in other rewarding capacities.”

David F. Evans of the Seventy says: "We also know that there are some who, for health or other reasons, are honorably excused from service. We love them and know that our Heavenly Father will provide compensating blessings in their lives as they serve in other ways and live faithfully."

L. Aldin Porter of the Seventy expands the concept: "There are some who have significant physical, mental, or emotional problems that would prevent them from accomplishing the demanding work of full-time missions. These individuals should be commended for their desire to serve. They should also be assured that when such circumstances make it difficult or impossible for them to serve full-time missions, they are honorably excused. They should then, of course, be ready to accept, when called, other assignments from their local priesthood leaders. Opportunities to serve in the kingdom of God go far beyond full-time missionary service. Regardless of our health and circumstances, each of us can, with calls from those who preside, find satisfaction in testifying of and assisting the Savior and his kingdom."

Dr. Donald B. Doty, Chairman of Missionary Department Health Services committee tells those with serious physical or mental challenges: "During the course of preparing to serve, prospective missionaries may discover serious physical or emotional issues. Prospective missionaries and their parents should be completely candid in disclosing all health issues and medications on the missionary recommendation application.

Unfortunately, some health problems can present insurmountable obstacles to serving full-time proselytizing missions. The First Presidency has stated: “There are worthy individuals who desire to serve but do not qualify for the physical, mental, or emotional challenges of a mission. We ask stake presidents and bishops to express love and appreciation to these individuals and to honorably excuse them from full-time missionary labors.” In such cases, service missions can be a great blessing, allowing individuals to live at home and receive appropriate medical care while growing and maturing in the service of the Lord. Parents, bishops, and stake presidents can help in encouraging and arranging appropriate opportunities.

Opportunities for service missions can also be found at the Church Web site www.lds.org. Select “Other Resources,” then “Mission and Service Opportunities.” Continuing higher education or technical training to allow better coping with chronic impairment is also an admirable alternative. "

M. Russell Ballard says if a young person cannot serve they need to move forward in their lives: "we recognize that it may not be wise for some of our young men and young women to face the rigors and challenges of a full-time mission. If priesthood leaders excuse any of you from full-time missionary service, we ask you and your families to accept the decision and move forward. You can prepare to participate in the saving ordinances of the temple and find other ways to be of service. And we ask all of our members to be supportive and to show great love and understanding in assisting all of our faithful youth in their various Church callings."

In 2007 Elder Ballard repeated it again in greater detail
: "Young men and young women with serious mental, emotional, or physical limitations are excused from full-time missionary service. They shouldn’t feel guilty about that. They are just as precious and important to the Church as if they were able to go into the mission field.

But while they don’t serve full-time, they can take every opportunity to find and help people join the Church. They can be member missionaries in college, at work, and in their neighborhoods. They ought to go forward, have a wonderful and full life, and help build the kingdom wherever they are. Not all of the Apostles serving today were able to serve a full-time mission in their youth, some because they were required to serve in the military. But they all did missionary work. They all brought people into the Church.

Priesthood leaders are encouraged to help every faithful, righteous young man and woman serve. For example, they can assist the bishop as ward missionaries. They could work at a bishops’ storehouse. If they live near a temple, they can serve in many ways there. Priesthood leaders need only think of ways and then move forward."

In 2003 Richard G. Scott offered this advice to the honorably excused: "Your physical or emotional circumstance may be such that you have been excused by the President of the Church from full-time missionary service (see “Statement on Missionary Work” attached to First Presidency letter, 11 Dec. 2002). For you there are other ways to render meaningful service compatible with your condition. Your bishop or stake president can help you identify such service where you live. It could be in a Church family history center, temple, welfare project, employment center, or in a local hospital, care center, shelter, or elsewhere. There are many places where help is needed. You can live at home and contribute powerfully. Such a call can be for a few months or longer. Your stake president will come to know where you should serve and for how long. He will then issue a formal call. Whatever your call may be, study the message of the Restoration with materials full-time missionaries can provide. Then look for opportunities to share that message. As you conscientiously do that, you will be led to individuals that will be touched to learn more."

Peter James Marrelli is one of this group of young men. In the February 2008 Liahona he describes how due to health problems he was not able to serve a mission. Instead he served as a local Church service missionary in the Audiovisual Department in the LDS Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, Utah. His description showed the dedication he paid to being on time and producing good work. I admired his conscientious dedication to his volunteer job.

It is an inspirational article. Jacob and Jeff Balls were also determined to serve. Jacob worked in his stake teaching a class for eight year old children preparing to be baptized. Jeff worked in the Idaho Falls Temple cafeteria. Both boys also served as ushers in their ward.

I am sure there are many examples of young people who have contributed through being honorably excused. Let me know of your experience or thoughts by sharing them after this post.


Terry said...

Hello--I just came across your blog. I actually had the opposite experience. I served a mission even though I was without question unfit (mentally and emotionally) to do so. I have since been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism which impairs the ability to interact on a social level. Not to go into too much detail, but this made my mission a nightmare for myself and tremendously difficult for my companions who had to put up with me. I'm grateful that "alternative" missions are now available. (I will be posting some of my experiences on http://mormonaspie.blog.com in the near future.) Thank you for your very sensitive post.

Nathan Wilde said...

I just kind of skimmed this, but I have a question if anyone could answer it - I have bad asthma and allergies (the worst at my school, I think) and sometimes I get migraines. What types of things can get someone honorably discharged from serving a mission? I really, really want to serve one but I don't want to have to go through the whole papers process and getting all excited just to be crushed by not being able to go or, no offense to the alternative missions, have to ride in a car and have to serve a mission other than the one I have always wanted to serve. I am not against them at all, in any way shape or form, but I hate having to miss out on what everyone else is doing and having people cater to my needs. Can anyone help?