Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The One Day Mission Companion

Recently my daughter received an emergency transfer on her mission with only three weeks to go.  It was a bit surprising since she was only transferred three weeks ago.  On Sunday in my local South Carolina ward a member related in his talk about an unusual practice being conducted in the South Carolina Columbia Mission by Stephen Lowell McConkie, the son of Elder Bruce R. McConkie where he doesn't inform missionaries who their companions will be prior to the transfer. The rationale behind the practice is that people have a tendency to make judgmental opinions about others based on what people tell them.

The speaker quoted the Joseph Smith version of Matthew 7:1:

1a JST Matt. 7: 1-2 Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people. Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment.
Many times missionaries form an opinion of a fellow missionary based on what other missionaries tell them not on who the person really is and that impression may or may not be valid.

I had an experience on my mission that relates to this practice.  I was a convert of one year when I went on a mission to Italy Rome Mission back in 1975.  I earned about fifteen hundred dollars which went toward my missionary clothing, getting to Salt Lake City to the mission home, and getting me through the Language Training Mission (LTM) and on my mission.  My ward elders' quorum was supposed to send me $160 a month when I arrived my fourth month in Italy.  Unfortunately they did not send any money for the first four months so in March 1976 I was transferred from Italy Rome Italian-speaking to Canada Toronto Italian-speaking. In fact my mission companion in Italy paid my first two or three months but he wasn't able to keep doing it so my case was brought up to the Church Mission Committee. They decided to transfer me to another mission to ensure my continued support.  My stake president had been a missionary companion with my new mission president M. Russell Ballard and I was told that one way or another I would get local support to finish my mission. My non-member father ended up paying about $25 a month which was amazing since he hated Mormons and considered them the ultimate hypocrites since he had several working in the gambling casino where he was a shift boss in Las Vegas.  Russell Ballard was a brilliant negotiator.

I arrived in Toronto with no winter clothes save for one trench coat that had a lining.  It was bitter cold in Toronto so I had to trudge through the snow without boots. I developed a hole in my foot about three inches deep and a case of walking pneumonia.  My feet were bleeding and the water won't allow the hole to heal.  My companion even gave me his Wallabee shoes with soft crepe soles.

My companion was a good guy but he actually left me in the missionary apartment for a few days all alone.  I went from being the top missionary companionship in my former mission where my mission president told me one day I would be an assistant to him including as I boarded the jet to Canada to one that was suspect.  The other missionaries told me they heard all about me.  I couldn't figure who they might have heard anything from except the mission assistants who met me at the airport.  Most of my mission companions after him branded me as a trouble maker or a defective elder.  I had to be reassigned to the same guy a couple of times to get through my mission later.

The wisdom of McConkie's practice is clear to me as I had a really traumatic experience on my second and third transfer in my new mission.  In fact my mission president tried to send me home from my mission.  Most of my life from my mission until this very day some thirty-four years later he seldomly listens to what I say.  At the time I hoped he would hear my side of the story but missionaries are good at covering up something when they do a bad thing.

Here is the back story from my perspective of  my companion who I had for two hours.  When he picked me up the first thing he said to me was "I have heard all about you.  I hear you were transferred from your other mission because you were a bad missionary and had problems.  I don't want any trouble from you and I don't want to be with you ."

I said I'm such a bad missionary I can't be controlled and if you try I will break you like a twig.  It ticked me off that I was transferred from an area that I was in less than a week with a companion that was a district leader who was messing around with a divorcee that he had baptized.   I didn't want to see him sent home like my companion in Italy who had made out with a girl he baptized and was subsequently disfellowshipped and then excommunicated.  I tried to tell  the new companion I wasn't a bad missionary and actually in the top companionship in Italy and the only reason I was transferred to him was I turned in the district leader and know one even believed me that I was telling the truth. I expected the district leader to be transferred but he and the other elders in his district convinced the mission president that I was lying.

The truth was I wasn't lying.  I should know I went with him many times to the woman's apartment. All he could do during the time I was his companion was talk about the woman or call her on the phone.  I could see him being disciplined if it continued and I didn't want the guilt of what happened to my companion in Italy to occur again.   It wasn't a harmless infatuation.  The woman was coming on to my companion and I should know despite being looked down as socially unacceptable by my fellow missionaries I was quite successful with young women before I joined the church.  According to my new companion to whom I related this story  he called me a liar who just caused trouble when I told him why I was emergency tranferred.  He immediately drove to the mission home and insisted that I be transferred that he could not work with someone so morally inferior.  I like McConkie's practice you don't get crap like that when you don't  tell an elder or sister who they are getting some screwed up missionary or anything about them.

I hope other mission presidents use this technique.  My wife said she had similar experiences on her mission.  My daughters have told me of similar experiences on their missions.  It is unfortunate that young elders and sisters get caught up in such interpersonal turmoil.

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