Thursday, June 19, 2008

LDS Missionaries Obeying Mission Rules

This last week my children called me from BYU for father's day. In the course of the conversation we discussed some interesting things that deal with missionary work in a strange way. One of my children's friends had suffered from depression for many years. He had been on medication for many years and had stopped taking it a couple of years before his mission and was coping well. On his mission he was experiencing some difficult times and was mildly depressed. His mission president sent him to a medical doctor who proscribed the same medication he had taken years earlier. The missionary was angry feeling he didn't need it since he had cope without it. He felt he should have been sent to a professional psychologist rather than a medical doctor who could help him get over his frustration with companion issues and rejection issues. Missions can be difficult and sometimes missionaries need help learning how to cope with the pressures of their missions.

As my child told me this story I wondered how one could know such things. I was told that the missionary was messaging my child from the mission field. I was shocked and told them that the missionary should only be emailing family and friends once a week. The letter should be positive and upbeat and not of this kind of nature.

My child told me that this particular missionary was good compared to a different friend who IMed every night. I was incredulous of how was this possible. I was told the missionaries lived in a member's home who had a computer so they had access to a computer whenever they wanted which was every night. This other missionary was keeping in touch with his friends particularly his girl friends. In order to be successful missionaries need to be better committed to the rules of their missions.

I was told that is just the way this guy is. Most people who are chatting with him enable his bad behavior. Missionaries should instrinistically follow the rules for the right reasons. However many people say what is the big deal. At least they are serving on their missions.

When I was on a mission I faced challenges about obeying the rules. I had a hard time getting up at the stroke of six a.m. and going to bed at 10 pm My mission president M. Russell Ballard told us that the road to hell was paving with good excuses and that as missionaries we would tend to rationalize why we were not being obedient. I always struggled with the guilt feeling that the twenty-five outweighed the strict obedience to the rules which I saw as guidelines.

Other missionaries felt a sense of superior righteousness over the fact they obeyed the rules. The interesting thing was that many of the nonconforming elders were the ones who baptized.
It seemed at that God must have a sense of humor or the elders produced results because God was using them. I remember Elder Ballard also told us that God's hand was in the work or the missionaries would have destroyed the church years ago. Even though that is a joke told by most mission presidents throughout the world there is some truth to it. Young immature elders are learning about how to deal in a structured environment where the culture and climate teach them obedience to church leaders.

I see nothing the matter with rules and normed practices. I always felt better and had a sense of belonging and less conflict by obeying the rules of missions. There has to be order or in youthful exburance we as missionaries would have taken the path of least resistance and just done the things teenage boys do. For example, I had a senior companion who screwed off so bad seldom did any missionary work. One listened to the radio, read the newspaper, and stood on the corner in front of the convenience store next to our apartment and talked to every girl who went by saying something stupid like there is always room for Jello. It really pulls you down as a missionary when you have examples like my friend. He told me he was just spinning his wheels since he had little success on his mission in terms of baptizing.

I think he missed an important point. We were not there to just baptize though that was our primary goal but we were also there to learn about our own church and its practices. If on the way we helped others and learned how to become good members then we were successful. I always believe that one of my converts on a mission was myself. If I hadn'the baptized anyone I would still have felt a success. The other twenty-five people were a bonus.

I always look back on my mission when I am confronted with a crisis of faith and I think I made it through my mission which was usually a hell of a lot tougher than some bozo leaning on me in a ward or stake and who questions my devotion to the gospel. I smile at him and say you are my leader sir and I will do what you say, knowing full well they don't have any better clue than I do about whatever we arguing about and we are just all muddling through the best we can. You can't force a man or woman to heaven. I think many of us have a problem with authority when we are in a subordinate position. We need to remember our leaders are just trying to keep us in line with what they believe the institutional church leaders above them want done. They just interpret things slightly different than us. So we need to communicate better since we live in a subjective world.

All of us have power. We can choose to be obedient or choose to do nothing which is more subversive. Because if a missionary just goes through the motions or screws off than there are fewer baptisms and they don't become converted themselves. A few even go home early. My mission president prided himself on never sending a boy home early which takes great communication skills, patience, and mental quickness. Missionaries definitely need to follow their leaders so they don't end up a screwed up mess on their mission regretting it later in their lives. Their mission presidents are just trying to enforce rules that have developed so missionaries will stay focused on their missions. If the work went forward successfully because missionaries were all self-motivated it would be great. But unfortunately there are a few missionaries like me and my examples above who need guidance and direction and that is what missionary rules and obeying them are about.

I strongly discourage you from falling in to the trap that was expressed to me by many missionaries that it is easier to get forgiveness than permission. Most well-adjusted people have a sense of belonging and can give and take and can deal with societal rules and practices. If you need clarification don't be afraid to ask your district leader, zone leader, assistants, and above all your mission presidents. My father taught me a philosophy or motto which I have always applied: "They can only say No." He explained most people want to do what is right and if you ask them something that is right and helps the cause they will do what they can to help you. I say it is better to ask and follow what your leader says than to disobey and try to get permission later. Obeying mission rules and leaders usually is a better way to live. Being a missionary is a voluntary assignment so get the spirit of your mission by following the mission rules. You will be glad you did.

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