Confessions of a Relief Society President: How the Sister Missionaries Drove Me Crazy

Posted by on October 1, 2011 in guest post, humor, mission, missionary work, Mormon Life, Mormon women, Relief Society, women | 87 comments

Today’s guest post comes to us from Claire, as part of the Doves & Serpents and The Exponent Blogger Swap.

Turning 30 means you have SOME life experience.  And therefore, if you live in the ‘mission field,’ you have met the first (and sometimes only) requirement that puts you on the short list for Relief Society President.

And so I found myself the Relief Society President in a large urban ward far, far away from church headquarters.  A few things I didn’t know when I accepted the calling- 1, most of my time would be acting as a social worker, 2, things would be so hectic upon occasion that I would actually forget to assign someone to teach the lesson and would have to fake it myself, and 3, there were two unofficial members of the RS board that would rotate regularly and over which I would have very little influence or control…. the Sister Missionaries.

Because of the urban nature of our ward and large boundaries, we were usually assigned 8-12 missionaries at a time.  We also have a high number of single women in the teaching pool, so we had several years straight of at least one set of Sister Missionaries.  First, let me say that I honor Sister Missionaries for their dedication and service.  Secondly, let me say that I have heard my husband complain about the Sister Missionaries he was ‘supervising’ as district and zone leader many, many times over the years.  I don’t envy him or them the position they were in… in fact, I find it quite distasteful that women in their 20s must be supervised by teenage boys.  So I was hoping that they might be interested in some direction and support from a woman in a position of authority- me.

I was sadly mistaken. I will now share a few short tales of how the Sister Missionaries Drove Me Crazy.

Vignette One

At ward council, the Sister Missionaries report they are teaching a young woman who is related to a recent convert and that the discussions are going well.  This young lady, aged 18, has committed to being baptized.  The Bishop queries as to whether the young lady  is aware of the commandments she is committing to following- Word of Wisdom, tithing, Law of Chastity?  “Oh yes, she said she understands the principal of chastity.”  “Great,” says the Bishop, “I’m looking forward to meeting her” (under this Bishop, candidates for baptism were interviewed by the Zone Leader as usual, but were required to attend church two times and meet the Bishop before baptism).   The Sister continued, ” One quick question… she thinks she’s probably pregnant, is it still okay for her to get baptized?”

Vignette Two

The Sister Missionaries come to me after church one week to tell me about a multi-generational family in their teaching pool.  The grandma/matriarch is the main investigator.   “They are a really great family, but things are tough for her daughter and her kids right now- money problems- so she’s not really very interested when we come by.  We need you to come do a big food order for them – wouldn’t that be a great missionary tool so they can see all the resources the Church has to offer?”

Vignette Three

I get a call from the senior companion one weekday evening.  They tracted in to a lady who seemed really eager to meet wth them and they gave her the first discussion.  She’s having a Pampered Chef party the next week and they agreed to give out invitations on Sunday in Relief Society because that will show her what a great community we are when we all come out and support her new business!  I try to explain why this is a terrible idea and make a mental note to call the Mission President.  I forget and they pass the invites out any way on the next Sunday I’m not there.

Vignette 4

A Sister Missionary gets up to bear her testimony at the end of the meeting on Fast Sunday.  She tells us that she really loves her mission even though they “have to live in the ‘hood.”  Most of the sisters in the room live in her neighborhood.

How about you- any horror stories of missionary naivete or culture clash?  Is there anyway around it?  Is it worth it?  How about you- if you served a mission, are there experiences you look back on and cringe?

 

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87 Comments

  1. I once told a Sister Missionary that polygamy was women’s punishment for the fall, thinking that the absurdity and obvious falsehood of the statement would serve as a hint for her to stop calling me and my companion five times a day… but her companion calls me the next Sunday to let me know that she relayed that doctrine during a discussion to some less active members.

    I observed on my mission that our best sister missionary was exponentially superior to our best elder. Conversely, the worst sister was far, far worse than our worst elders. The spectrum was much wider.

  2. Read this while watching conference. too funny, We don’t have sister missionaries in the city where I live.

    That being said, it could have been worse, you could have been in my branch and have an elderly woman call you up on a regular basis and tell you what a lousy job your doing. Seriously, this really happened to my RSP

  3. A few weeks ago, one lovely Sunday evening, my doorbell rang, and I opened it expecting to find my (actual biological) sister. Instead, there on my porch stood the sister missionaries. I’m afraid my expression was less than delighted and welcoming, although I invited them in, and we listened to their message, and told them no, we couldn’t think of a single person we knew who needed it, and gave them some banana bread and sent them on their way.

    They are sweet, and kind, and utterly earnest and well meaning, and not nearly as clueless as the sisters in the vignettes above, and I feel for them, because I used to be one of them, and I remember the incessant pressure to make numbers. But I wish they would leave me alone. My husband is inactive and unbelieving, we’ve achieved a religious balance in our family I’m happy with and would prefer not to upset, and I divide my offline time between the Mormon community and a secular academic environment in which proselytizing is a major violation of social norms.

    If they truly must come and see me, I wish they’d at least make an appointment. And I really wish they wouldn’t address my atheist husband as “the head of the household” and invite him to select someone to pray. Ladies, any praying done in this household is done under my direction. And–trust me on this one–you are completely unequipped to resolve my husband’s concerns.

    However, they are undoubtedly my just retribution for the eighteen months I inflicted myself on the members, the inactives, and the world at large. Frankly, they’re nicer than I deserve. So I’m try to keep my grousing to myself.

  4. I observed on my mission that our best sister missionary was exponentially superior to our best elder. Conversely, the worst sister was far, far worse than our worst elders. The spectrum was much wider.

    Well, until we can define and measure what constitutes a good missionary–immense problems both, attended by fiendish philosophical and moral difficulty–I don’t see how there’s any basis for this claim. There is, however, a far readier explanation: minorities, in this case, sister missionaries, stand out, and their behavior, of whatever sort, is far more likely to be noticed. And in this case, the familiar angel-whore, good-woman-bad woman dichotomy is surely a powerful selector of (anecdotal) data.

    • Well said!

    • Amen, ZD Eve! Having been a sister missionary myself, I have a hard time when people say things like “sister missionaries are so x, or y.” (Insert, needy, awesome, whiney, or whatever). Usually these statements are based on experiences with a handful of sister missionaries. It is like saying “Black kids are so X” when there where only a handful of black kids at your High-School.

    • Its true, my basis for which subjective and qualitative characteristics are either disregarded or championed to define and vindicate a missionary as good lay completely within my own expectations of quality which I derived from my own personal experience, observations and feelings, and are basically relevant only to myself. In retrospect, my conclusion is probably subject to way more variables and factors than I could possibly be aware of. Also, to correct my claim, I don’t think anyone could have been a worse missionary than my second companion, but as you pointed out, that’s also hard to judge.

      Anyways, let me start over. The bishop in one of my wards was the doppelganger of Vizzini from the Princess Bride. I, in my naivety, found the need to make him aware of my observation not 5 minutes after he bought me my very first Chipotle burrito. I stayed in that area for 7 long, long months and tracted into no less than 12 inactive members whose records they did not have in the ward. So not only did I belittle his baldness, I also brought down his ward’s activity rate. He hated me.

  5. When I was a missionary, I was stunned at how often we were asked – and I mean explicitly asked, sweetened by unabashed guilt tactics – to do things that were completely socially inappropriate. They included:

    1) the MP asking us to tract – not schedule appointments ahead of time, and not make appointments with members or people whom we already knew – but tract (!) on Christmas Day. When a few missionaries expressed reservations, the MP told an “inspiring” story about how he himself had tracted on Christmas Day on his mission, and had been yelled at for two hours by a man who was so irritated that strangers would interrupt said man’s family time on a holiday. Yet what the MP took from the experience was that by offending people and coming off as socially clueless we were really putting ourselves through some sort of refiner’s fire of devotion. (My comp and I decided to quietly avoid his directive.)

    2) the out of control pressure for numbers. We had a mission-wide conference in which a General Authority came and taught that whether or not people choose to attend church and be baptized “is not about their agency, it’s about your faithfulness.” (Yes, that’s a quote.) I thought I had misheard him, but he went on to sermonize for over an hour about how ultimately we can persuade anyone to come to church and get baptized, and thus we were obligated to introduce the idea of both church attendance and baptism the very first time we met a person, even if we could only meet for five minutes. This was a hard and fast rule, not a suggestion. Missionaries (both Elders and Sisters) became so desperate to get seats filled in church that each week they would go to a pay phone and call their investigators the night before Sacrament Meeting, and then drop by in the morning to wake them up for church. (Because it’s not about the investigator, it’s about YOU, and it’s YOUR mission!)

    I could go on. But given mission culture, I’m not surprised that you are witnessing the abandonment of social niceties and common sense.

    • Yes, I’ve seen these methods employed in our ward a lot. I felt bad for the missionaries in our ward because most of them were just totally unprepared and ill equipped to understand how poverty affects people. We were regularly asked to provide rides for people (when public transportation was readily available) and were met with frustration when we would try to explain why people needed to get to church on their own. If we baptized every person who got picked up for church for two weeks, the ward rolls would be in the thousands. But the missionaries can’t see why the ward leaders were not enthusiastic about dunking as many people as possible. I’ll admit it- I often attended baptisms, gave an RS welcome even, to people I thought had no business being baptized. Not because they were unworthy or bad people or wouldn’t benefit from the gospel, but because people who are not in a position to give back to the community don’t benefit as much as those who can. It has to be a give and take to be a healthy relationship. There were several times I was pleasantly surprised, thankfully.

    • Galdralag, I got these on my mission too, although it sounds like you got it worse. With the tracting on Christmas thing, our MP just told us that that’s how we would show people we were true Christians. Um, yeah, I think they’ll think the opposite. Anyway, I never did it.

      And the idea that investigators have no agency, that it’s all about you as a missionary forcing them to do stuff–yikes! I never had this said out quite so explicitly to me (and definitely not by a GA), but that was definitely the culture of my mission. It very much seemed to be imported from some kind of sales approach to missionary work. It’s about making the sale; if people aren’t choosing to buy, it’s because you’re not selling properly. Yetch!

  6. Sister missionaries are responsible for my mom going into labor with me. My parents were living in an apartment above some stores and sharing some space with the sisters. For some unknown reason they decided to take the drain hose out of the washing machine and stick it in a bucket. When my mom went to do a load of wash the water obviously drained all over the floor, leaking into the stores below and understandably upsetting the storekeepers. So she got to mop up the water and lift the heavy buckets of water into the sink to empty all on her own. I made my appearance shortly thereafter.

    While we had sisters once in a while, it was pretty rare. Most of my experiences are with elders. My parents actually wouldn’t allow the elders in our home for years after one pair decided it would be a good idea to lecture us kids about bringing our friends to church. (My parents very much felt that our/their friends were happy, knew we were Mormon, and would ask if they were interested.) This happened in elementary school. I was in late high school or college before the elders were allowed in my parents’ home again.

    The elders went through a phase for a couple years where they baptized a lot of people in assisted living or group home situations. Usually these people were by no means accountable, but I think the elders liked how “teachable” they were. (Some blame lays with the bishop for allowing them to be baptized when they didn’t need to be.) Of course, they never considered the huge burden this would place on the ward members once they (the elders) moved on. Many ward members needed a lot of help themselves and the ward simply didn’t have the means to get all of the baptized people to church or care for them properly.

    A recent sister missionary one: my parents had my sister and her family plus a family friend and 7 of her friends staying at their home one weekend. They were in the middle of painting as well. The sisters show up unannounced, completely fail to notice the obviously chaotic state of the home, and invite themselves in so that the new sister can practice giving discussions. My parents, after the sisters remain oblivious to their explanations of how busy they are, say they can practice as long as they don’t mind my parents and sister continuing to paint while the sisters talk. I was honestly surprised by this one. It wouldn’t have surprised me if a 19 or 20 yr old failed to notice the inconvenience they were causing, but for 21 and 22 year olds to not notice?

    • Erin, no blame lies with the bishops, they have no power to stop the missionaries from baptizing someone. They can talk to them, they can request, they can even plead but they can’t command. When I was the ward mission leader the ZL elders in our ward baptized a young man who was paranoid schizophrenic, he was dangerous and unpredictable. The EQ, the HP group leader, the RS president and the Bishop all talked to them but they baptized him anyway.

      • This is a real problem. Our Bishop had an agreement with the MP, I believe, because this had become such a problem and led to so much burn out. There was also, at one time, a ward guidebook for missionaries in an attempt to orient them to the culture of our ward and the surrounding areas. I’m not sure it has survived, what with the transient nature of callings in general and our ward in particular, but I thought it was a great idea! The ward mission leader would orient every new transfer using the guidebook.

      • Thanks for correcting me on that one – somehow I’d got the impression that the bishop had some amount of control. That’s insane that no one can really check the missionaries there. What about the MP? Of course, that’s no help if the MP is number-oriented or not connected with what’s going on in the wards outside of missionary work at all.

  7. Hmmm. Missionaries are always doing things that drive me crazy. I’m just feeling a little off-put by these stories, though. I always bristle at people putting sister missionaries down with stories that paint them as being emotional wrecks or stupid. Usually such stories are qualified with some sort of “but they converted people like no Elder” to make the stories sound not so bad.

    The reality is that most missionaries do weird things and are a little emotionally unstable. They are so young and have all these rules, all this pressure, and are isolated from family and friends and placed in uncomfortable circumstances. It’s especially hard for sisters who are a huge minority with absolutely no power. They are either being mistreated or hit-on by most Elders.

    So even though they can do things to drive us nuts, I kind of expected a little more sympathy from people here at The Exponent.

    • sorry if that sounded preachy!

      • Marie, I felt a little bad about writing this, actually, because it’s really not their fault. So it’s not fair to gripe about them. It’s not personal… just exposing how tough it is to have young, inexperienced people with insufficient training thrown into the work. And in general, they weren’t very receptive to my counsel, which is what REALLY drove me crazy.

  8. Fun post!

    I personally find (myself living in the “mission field”) that the “from-the-land-of-Zion” cluelessness manifested by many Utah-(sorry) missionaries- is the hardest to deal with. For example, last time I looked, BYU was about 240th best –ranked universally globally… which is fine, but significantly lower rated than many of the local universities. The number of sisters and elders who speak about BYU as though it were Cambridge for Mormons, and then act as though they are smarter than well-educated and well-experienced church members because they went to BYU for 2-6 terms just come across as arrogant and haughty.

    I understand that missionaries are often on a budget, but many of the families in the areas where I have lived are on an even tighter budget. The mission president in south Sydney for years systematically under budgeted for missionary lunches that were assigned to local relief societies to provide. This generally meant that the RS president donated up to 30% of the cost in order to provide the meal to 40 – 60 missionaries. Singing a thank you song to the relief sisters doesn’t put food on our tables (why do they do that?). And then don’t complain if you don’t like the food. I get really annoyed when missionaries complain about food that is being given to them, especially from church members who do not have enough money to provide for themselves as robustly as missionaries assume they should.

    I am always shocked at how, after 1.5 to 2 years of living in an area, the missionaries have no clue to the basic needs of people. We offered to have the parents of a sister missionary stay with us when they came to pick her up from her mission. The first day, the missionary and parents stayed in a hotel, then came to stay with us for 2 days. The day at the hotel, the sister missionary called many of her mission area families to meet up with them in the next week. After a year and a half, she was unaware that all calls to cel (mobile phones) were charged as long-distance (based on what they said, the phone bill would have been between $300-$500). The cost of the calls from that single day ate all of her parents’ savings for the trip. They weren’t broke, but they had no budget for anything beyond food staples. In the 2 days they spent with us, we pointed out how to not get into any other financial troubles based on cost differences between our countries. The parents were grateful, but the sister missionary seemed angry at us for interfering- like she was supposed to know it all. But it blew my mind—how can you live and serve people when you have no clue as to basic economic survival skills within that country?

    • this post and some of the comments have really got me thinking about mission culture. I kept writing comments that got way too long, so I wrote a post talking about some of these issues (on gbbothsidesnow dot blogspot dot com).

  9. Thanks for your comment, Marie. I realized after I typed out a comment and posted it without review (which I rarely – if ever – do) that I was responding emotionally and not really being clear.

    What I should have said was what you said: missionary life is hard. Not only are you young and away from home, but you are put in a situation in which you are given a whole lot of directives and rules that you have never dealt with before, and told to be strictly obedient to the letter of the law. This is, of course, all very stressful.

    The other thing (that I failed to explain well) is that missionaries – both male and female – are put under enormous pressure to do things that members may not be aware of.

    Situations like vignette one, for example, seem a logical consequence of the mandate given to missionaries to urge people, starting in the first discussion, to get baptized as soon as possible. When I was a missionary, I was taught explicitly that it was not for me to judge whether or not a person was ready or whether or not they were getting baptized for the right reasons. I was also taught that even if we were “baptizing people into inactivity” it didn’t matter, because our focus was to give people the blessings that come from baptism. I think sometimes that the members who haven’t been missionaries themselves are unaware of what missionaries are told to do, or of the pressures put on them when they don’t conform to those directives. So, although missionaries surely make all sorts of silly mistakes because we’re all human, I think it’s also worthwhile to look at the missionary program and the many rules, requirements, and limitations that it imposes. I know when I was a missionary I often wanted more autonomy to talk directly with the RS Pres and bishop about local ward/branch needs and what my companion and I could do to help, but that was just too far outside the program.

  10. I hope all the sister missionaries look back on how many people they hugged, despite not knowing the person’s first name, with chagrin. Seriously. I don’t know you, Sister. Please don’t hug me or my kids.
    I sound so awful, yes? I’m actually an affectionate person with people I know. :)
    Loved these stories, and could have predicted all but the first!

    • I too am physically reserved with those I don’t know well, so I’ve more than once been taken aback by unexpected sister-missionary hugs. By far the strangest experience, though, was going to a regional visitors’ center with my husband and parents-in-law to meet my husband’s cousin, who was serving there at the time. She and I had never met, but after a little chit-chat she plopped down on the bench behind me and started giving me a back rub, which I found extremely uncomfortable, and I just couldn’t find the words to tell her to stop.

      But intrusive as I tend to find the huggy culture, there’s definitely a reason it develops. Missions can be exquisitely physically lonely. I’ve talked to other RMs who describe going for months without physical contact with another human being beyond a handshake. And the physical and psychological stresses of mission life can just wear a person down to a nub of her former self. I do try to remember that there might be great deal of exhaustion and heartbreak underlying the unexpected tacklings I sometimes get from the sister missionaries.

    • I taught at the MTC up until a couple of months ago, and I heard from my sister missionaries in my last district that they were explicitly told not to play with each other’s hair (I believe at a Tuesday night devotional). I was really surprised at such a specific regulation. The reason? Apparently some investigators had seen some sister missionaries playing with each other’s hair at church and thought the missionaries were lesbians. And never came back again. I’m still totally baffled at that kind of reaction (had these people never seen women being affectionate?) but given your comments on how physically starved most missionaries are for affection, combined with varying social/cultural norms of expression, now I get it a little better. Oh, mission life. For clarity’s sake, nothing like that exists in the missionary handbook; I suspect the speaker was a recently returned MP giving advice.

      What I regret the most as I look back on my mission is my complete naivete around men. Having never been a highly sought after young woman (I was either in relationships or had no dates, period), I completely discounted racial politics and the proclivity of lonely men to interpret the Spirit (I hope), a genuine listening ear, and sincere concern and care with romantic affections. My last transfer, I was chagrined to find out an Iranian convert to Christianity had the audacity to declare his feelings. STUPID. I’d been making quite bold eye contact with him the whole time. Pretty sure that rarely happened back home. Discovering the novel Reading Lolita in Tehran upon coming home really drove home all the cultural cues I totally walked all over. I’m lucky the guy didn’t think I was an undercover prostitute.

      But hey, at least I wasn’t like the missionaries who would purportedly tell Dutch members, “I had no idea people who weren’t members of the church could be so good/kind/moral!”

      Oh, and yes, sisters totally get misrepresented. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a male at BYU say that sisters are either the best or the worst missionaries, I almost could have funded my own mission! ;) Having seen some pretty spectacular and spectacularly horrid behavior from sisters and elders in my mission [everything from running away and romantic rendezvous to throwing tomatoes at your greenie and supposedly planning a wedding date with another missionary before the plane home landed], I’m fairly confident that missionaries are just people, period, with all of humanity’s normal run of arrogance, ego, naivete, and desperation.

      For what it’s worth, the real danger in saying “Sisters are either the best or the worst” is how that statement immediately warps a sister’s psyche. Some will have the confidence to think “Darn right, I’m great!” Most will think, “Well geez, I’m surely not the best–does this immediately consign me to be the worst? But I’m trying so hard!” Given the emotional stressors on missionaries that others have already been documented, few are emotionally healthy and objective enough to resist another opportunity for self-denigration. So be kind to sisters, and if you have the stupidity to insist that their level of performance is “like a bell curve with the middle cut out” [real quote from a BYU RM], at least have the decency to tell any sisters in hearing that they’re just great. And that 99% of them are great.

    • Awful doesn’t begin to describe it. When a person feels the true love of Christ they do see others with love and as true brothers and sisters and they express that by showing affection, particularly women. I come from a country where showing afection that way was the norm. When I arrived here I found this culture to be a very cold one in that respect. I consciously had to refrain myself from doing what was natural to me after seeing sisters faces after a hug or a kiss. I have reflected a great deal about this and found that is one of the reason people in other parts of the world are warmer and don’t feel so alone and separate from others. These expressions do bring a warm bond even from the beggining when you first meet somebody. American culture is missing out on this.

      Now a days, I just do it out of love and if people frown I don’t mind either, I just tell them that I love people and I show it that way. Most people even get to like it and if I don’t hug them they ask me where is their hug.

  11. As has been noted, missions are highly complicated things for young people to endure and every single person who goes into the field is in a different place in their life with respect to the gospel. These children are as human as human can be and despite the myriad mistakes they make, are still “clothed with power and authority” to preach the gospel to all the world. I think, as members, it is our job to be as tolerant as can be – despite how crazy the missionaries’ behavior seems – and gently push them in the right directions.

    I was a complicated missionary and made many many many many many mistakes, both with my own companions, with the members, and in my relationships to other people in the mission. All thanks to a complete lack of maturity at age 19. The thing I hope is, despite the mistakes, that the hard work and the long hours of knocking on doors and endless study opened the gateway for many people to receive the gospel.

    I think about the hundreds of times I bore testimony and gave away copies of the Book of Mormon, and taught the first discussion, and provided service to members and non-members; and have faith that it is these moments that will matter in the eternities and that all of my own pettiness and stupidity will be washed away by the atonement and will be fogiven by those who took offense at something stupid I said or did.

    In one or two cases, I did something terribly vindictive, and after my mission was over I directly sought forgiveness from the people upon whom I had intentionally inflicted pain. And they forgave my weakness. For all the others who were offended because I did or said something and was completely oblivious to the offence, I hope they will forgive me as well.

    I did my very best and I served to the best of my abilities. All of it in service of God and in the name of bringing a knowledge of the gospel to the people of Finland. Anything else is a matter of the human condition, being less than the dust of the earth, and can be washed clean by the stripes of the Savior.

    • Well said, Bradley.

    • Thank you for that comment, Bradley. That’s exactly what I was thinking.

  12. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

    First of all, I was unaware that we were a church for only rich people and that unless you can “give back to the community” you won’t benefit as much from the gospel as those who are rich enough to do so.

    Second, those of you who are trying to make it seem like you’re not so catty by saying things like, “It’s not the missionaries’ fault; they’re just doing what they’re instructed to do” are just as warped as everyone else who has the guts to come out and say, “I wish the missionaries would leave me alone and not ask me to do anything for the building up of the Kingdom.” Missionaries are doing EXACTLY what everyone else should be doing. Inviting others to come unto Christ (regardless of whether or not you “feel” that those others “are happy, know you are Mormon, and will ask if they are interested.”) By you saying that the missionaries are only following the ridiculous instruction they’re given, you’re admitting that you believe the Mission President to be misled and uninspired of God. I guess you really know better than he does, eh?

    Finally, it sounds as though you people do not understand the two steps leading to eligibility to be baptized: Faith and Repentance. Whether or not people choose to continue to keep those covenants they made at baptism is up to them. But EVERYONE deserves the opportunity to receive the blessings that come from baptism. Everyone. And it is not your place to decide for them if they deserve that opportunity.

    As members of the church (especially those of us who are endowed), we are instructed to give everything we have to helping others come unto Christ. This doesn’t mean that we only do it if it keep’s the ward’s activity level high or if it doesn’t create a burden to anyone in the ward. It means we give our all – time and resources. So if you’re going to use those lame excuses for why you feel the missionaries are doing “outrageous” things or are “asking too much of you,” then at least have the decency to admit that you just aren’t in a place where you’re ready yet to give your all.

    And before any of you try to use the “self righteous” arrow against me, let me say this: I have many things I need to improve about my membership in the church, but at least I can own up to it and realize that it’s my fault I’m not there yet. Not the missionaries, not the investigators.

    • By the way, you should all be aware that you’re slandering the church by publishing these negative things about it’s leaders and missionaries on the internet. If you really have a problem with them, go talk to them in person.

      • Are we members of the same church, Leighann? The one I’m a member of actively discourages and in fact rejects any type of feedback.

    • Leighann,

      Did you even read the OP? Seriously? I understand that missionaries intend on being of service, but in my experience living in the mission field, it is the missionaries who assume the members are all very well off. Hence the Pamper Chef party as mentioned in the OP– to me, that sounded like the sisters were inviting tithe-paying church members to spend money on a non-member’s specific business which they have no investment interest, thereby buying her friendship(?) into the ward… that is wrong on so many levels. That invitation was entirely absent of faith and repentance and only included manipulation and financial obligation.

      After the missionaries go, it is up to the ward members to support new members. If the missionaries set up the converts and members for failure by basing conversions on the members willingness to invest in new members’ business ventures, it is not us (the members and bloggers) to pay the price of conversion by purchase and deceit.

      While I agree that it is unfair to judge sister missionaries who have the heartfelt intention of service, having experienced the guilt-tripping of numerous American mission presidents who happily profess they have no financial, cultural or spiritual understanding of how people in this area survive, I find it impossible to maintain a degree of patience with THIER CHOICE to remain ignorant in regard to local needs of both members and investigators.

      So although the youthfulness of missionaries may render them ignorant of the level of financial responsibility that is necessary in order to maintain a home, it is inappropriate for the missionaries to further demand that members sacrifice the emotional, financial and spiritual state just for the missionaries’ and Mission president’s disassociated, self-righteous , personal goals.

      • I’m not saying missionaries don’t make mistakes in how they handle some situations (everyone does), but if you really feel like they and, more importantly, the Mission President have “disassociated, self-righteous, personal goals,” then I highly suggest you go have a chat with your Stake President instead of whining about it in a public place. All you’re doing is aiding in giving the church a bad rep.

      • Leighann,
        My temple recommend is current (as is my temple attendance) and my communication with the Stake president, bishop, relief society president, missionaries and mission president -whom I just saw yesterday- is as honest and reflective of the opinions I express here.

        It is inappropriate in this forum to question personal righteousness, so I will not return your jibe. But I do recommend you look for information on LDS life outside of your own personal sphere as a better source of reference and information.

    • Leighann, seriously?

      “First of all, I was unaware that we were a church for only rich people and that unless you can “give back to the community” you won’t benefit as much from the gospel as those who are rich enough to do so.”

      I wish you could have come with me to fill some food orders in cock-roach infested, condemned, inner city apartments. If you spent some time in a ward that had the kinds of needs mine has, you would see what I mean. We, as a church, have limited resources, even when endowed members (and others) are doing all they can. In real life, the Gospel is rationed (see my comment below) for the survival of the Church.

      One lady who lived in one of the worst of those apartments was my BEST Visiting Teaching Supervisor. AND she cleaned the building. She went to the temple a year after she was baptized. I know the church helped her family become happier and more stable. This is what I’m talking about when I say contributing to the ward is important.

      • Claire – This is a tad off topic, but it sounds like you could use some capable, devoted people with a reasonable amount of spare time to help you out (and it also sounds like you’re getting over-extended). I wonder if you could arrange something with the MP and find a way to delegate to the Sisters -maybe they could do it as part of their service requirement? (And you could slip in a little orientation with some local cultural/subcultural training, including hard facts about the state of the economy.) I bet they could help with delivering food, etc., and through it you could model different ways to serve and help them learn and grow – it could be a win-win.

      • …or maybe that would just be more of a demand for time that you don’t have. Regardless, I just wanted to say that it sounds like you’re giving a lot of great service in your ward, and my hat’s off to you.

      • Thanks, Galdarag. I actually was released several years ago. I actually had amazing counselors and a great board. I probably sounded a bit hardcore here because I think sometimes people really have no idea what it means to serve in an inner city ward. I really loved it, but it’s not the same as being RS president in Sandy, Utah. Or even Gainesville, Florida where I grew up and watched my mom serve as RS president. We’ve had sisters in our ward from out west who would refuse to come to midweek RS meetings because they felt the neighborhood was unsafe. Sisters who lived near the building would have been insulted if they’d known that was the reason these sisters didn’t attend.

      • oops, I mean Galdralag

    • Amen to that! Well said, Leighann! I am a fairly recent convert and was horrified and disgusted when I read that statement that implied you were only welcome in the LDS Church if you were deemed to have something ‘to give back to the community’! To be honest, I’m disgusted with a lot of the posts here – really doesn’t paint a very nice picture of the church I joined last year. I am middle-aged and on a disability pension so I have very little means to contribute financially and even physically to the church, not to mention the fact that I have no transport of my own and need someone to pick me up if I am ever to get there…so I guess I can be classed as one of those who is nothing more than a ‘burden’ on the members of the ward? Maybe this explains why since becoming inactive, I have hardly seen or heard from anyone in the ward? I NEVER hear from Home Teachers or Visiting Teachers anymore. I think maybe I’ve been ‘written off’! These posts provide a very sad commentary on the spiritual condition of the LDS Church in general.

  13. I would like to say shame on you! All of you! We are not all perfect but you judging these people in their situations, you think you are better than they are?
    When the woman was caught in adultry and taken to Christ, it specifically says in the scripture that he swept down to her. She didn’t stay beneath him or above him, they were level. Are you level with them?
    How about forget yourself and serve others and stop getting on public places to complain about these things. You think you are helping others in the church find the good in it? No. People are going to read this and think, wow, they don’t even like their own people. Thanks for seeing what Christ sees in them. We are not all perfect but at least we can do our best to be exactly like Christ. You are in charge of YOU, only you and YOUR actions. Rise above and be better.

    • Jessie, comments saying “shame on you” are close to violating our comment policy to not call other’s righteous into question. I will delete any further comments similar to this one. If you would like to participate in the conversation, please do so by using “I” statements.

  14. I think the key issue here is that sister missionaries, like Elders, like Relief Society Presidents, like Bishops, are people. These are individuals and it only hurts to treat them as if they are all the same because of the role they are currently fulfilling. That’s why I agree with those who have pointed out that our anecdotes about interactions with various individuals in the past shouldn’t color our perceptions about “what X set of people are like.”

    On my mission in Japan, I had the opportunity to serve with a variety of great sisters, all of whom had strengths and weaknesses of their own. I was almost a year into my mission when I finally had my first American companion, and she was a wonderful sister who I loved greatly even though her life experiences and expectations were a little different than mine. One day, we got a ride with a couple from the ward to a stake activity and the brother was telling stories from his mission some years earlier and at one point made the comment “It must be hard for you guys – to have two American sisters together. I know how American sisters are; I knew them on my mission.”

    I still don’t know what he was implying. I’m guessing that the American sisters he had known were argumentative or something. But I was sad to be so blatantly stereotyped, especially when I loved and appreciated my companion so much.

    I think this is the problem many of us are running into here. A handful of bad experiences with sister missionaries, with missionaries, or maybe, guess what, with Mormons, can color our perceptions about what those people are like. I think it’s a lot more helpful to be open to people as individuals and to be willing to suspend a little doubt and presupposition and get to know people for who they are.

    • I really get the concept of pairing missionaries with native companions now. I wish these sisters had that opportunity, it would have really helped them understand the culture. The US is a huge country with many subcultures.

  15. First of all, I was unaware that we were a church for only rich people and that unless you can “give back to the community” you won’t benefit as much from the gospel as those who are rich enough to do so.
    “I wish the missionaries would leave me alone and not ask me to do anything for the building up of the Kingdom.” Missionaries are doing EXACTLY what everyone else should be doing. Inviting others to come unto Christ (regardless of whether or not you “feel” that those others “are happy, know you are Mormon, and will ask if they are interested.”)

    Give me a break, we all know we’re not a church “only for rich people.” This has more to do with the fact that when we can give (or serve) as much as we receive we feel better about ourselves and our relationship with our community. In no way would anyone be shunned due to lack of funds. Just reminds me of people baptized in my mission who joined the Church mostly for the financial aid, and then slowly drifted away because they weren’t actively engaged, but were passive receivers.

    From what I read, no one here said or even inferred that they wish the missionaries wouldn’t ask them to help build up the kingdom. On the contrary, Claire and many of the commenters are willing to help in the best way they know how but challenges arise because the missionaries lack common sense or basic awareness of the regions where they’re serving.

    Bringing up problematic situations (missionaries handing out food orders to entice potential investigators to come to church, interrupting family time/home projects to practice the discussions, and berating children for not inviting their friends to church) is not an attempt to villainize all missionaries but rather a chance to discuss ways we can help and fix these problems together.

    There are many ways to invite others to come unto Christ – including being a good example. Constantly nagging your friends, co-workers, and neighbors to come visit your church is an easy way to drive them away from your friendship and other opportunities to investigate the church. I have a friend who absolutely dreads traveling because her husband makes her take BOMs on the plane with her and give them out to people bc that’s what he did as a missionary. Consequently, this friend would rather leave the BOM behind on a empty seat or travel without her husband.

    Speaking from my own experiences as a sister missionary, I WISH a kind member would have pulled me aside and given me a heads up about many of the things that were discussed in this post. I would’ve been a better missionary if I would have focused more on love (with a heavy dose of common sense) and less on numbers. There was/is too much pressure to almost force people who aren’t ready to get baptized. The purpose of missionary work is true and holy, but many times the means are not. There is no shame in admitting that. Imperfect people trying to do a perfect work.

    I’m sure I’m lumped in with the sisters who are talked about as being trouble makers or hard to handle because I chaffed desperately against being governed by a teenager fiver years my junior. Sorry elder, I will not recite memorized scripture while spinning in a circle with my forehead pressed to the end of a baseball bat on P-Day just because you think it will make me a better missionary.

    I’d also like to add that after working in the office for a transfer, I know that MPs are inspired to do/say many things, however just as many things are purely practical.

    • Thanks, Roaming Redhead.

  16. FYI, I use to be one of those who needed a ride on a Sunday Morning.

    For what its worth, even if public transportation is available on a Sunday its’ usually sparse. I usually had to be at the church building a good 45 minutes before everyone else just to be on time. And because I get sick quite easily, I wore pants. So, I wasn’t apparently worthy to give an prayer because of that either.

    To judge someone’s worth or benefit to a community based on their need for a ride to church is extremely shallow. I bet these people, like myself, would have been the first to be offering you compassionate service whenever your family needed it. This is why I’m glad I’m no longer a member

    • I’m so sorry you were made to feel that way, Diane. Please remember that the gospel is true and perfect, but the members aren’t.

      • I know you mean well, but, saying the gospel is true and perfect but, the people are not, is not really comforting

        I watched GC this weekend even though I am no longer a member, truthfully, I wished I hadn’t especially since Packer considers me to be an enemy of the church and I watched as everyone in the conference center raise their hand in support of the leadership which says this hateful stuff towards people who believe differently. This will be my last conference that I will ever watch, and I will probably not ever step inside another building.

    • Diane, I’m sorry you got the impression that I meant that no one who needs a ride should be a member. In the interest of brevity (and, I admit, in the interest of entertainment), this is not a discourse on who should or shouldn’t be welcomed at church. It’s a sad fact, but wards/communities can not survive if the ratio of needy is too high. They collapse under their own weight. Neediness is not only ‘needing a ride,’ but all forms of neediness. A Relief Society President can’t take daily, hour long phone calls from multiple sisters… that is what Visiting Teachers are for. Yes, all of God’s children are eligible to be baptized if they have faith and desire to repent. But the cold hard facts are that missionaries aren’t sent places where new converts can’t then join a community of saints. In our ward, missionaries were encouraged to tract in areas where access to public transportation was more plentiful, and our building was built on a train line, because that makes it more likely that new members can get themselves to church.

      • Claire,

        Again, I would have to seriously disagree with you. I live in Philadelphia, that is one of the most urban of all cities that one can be in. We had three wards. One of the wards has members that are primarily from Africa, they are poor and the membership is “needy” but, the ward is still thriving.

        I’m am bothered by your writing and your responses. You seem to be indicating in all of your responses how much better you are in comparison to other people in your branch/ward. I am bothered by the fact that you think certain people are more worthy than others. In your own words you say this shouldn’t be a discourse on who should or shouldn’t be a member, but, your responses indicate otherwise. But, no worries, because Packer supports this attitude

      • And btw, The Building originally held two wards. The Stake Presidency split them into a third and made it a point to deliberately make the ward boundaries into rich an poor. Upper Darby became the cut off point between, main line upper crust members and the poor West Philly members. Yes, church politics is wonderful

      • Claire,

        I’ve been re reading your post just to see if I was being unfair in my responses to you. I really don’t think so.
        I’m going to explain this to you so that you and others will “get it”

        I use to attend the South Philadelphia Branch. The Stake Building is located in Broomall Pa. Go Check this out on Lds,org If you are wealthy and indeed lucky enough to own a car, on a good day it can take you up to 45 minutes to get to the building. Now, I challenge you to go on Setpa.org. and check out the transportation that ‘s available to the sisters/brothers to get out to the building and support Stake Activities. Even if they had routes that are available during the day, by the time activites are done they are no longer available

        Yet, every single Stake Activity is done this way, and this excludes a lot of people from actively participating and supporting the local leadership. This is disgusting. I’m turning this back on you. The leadership should have brains enough to have Stake Activities located at the buildings in the City. “Why, you cry?’ because its easier for people with cars to get to the city and it would be easier for people who utilize public transportation to get to the activity with out having to ask people like you to get there.

        You are making some really ugly statements about people and you just don’t get it.

  17. Really people?! Really! Missionaries spend the “prime” of their lives serving the Lord and putting themselves a side and you find it inconvenient to help out. I’m sorry but in my eyes when you help out the missionaries no matter how much it might drive you crazy it is helping the Savor. I know I asked a lot out of people when I was on my mission but you know what it was for the sake of some one’s soul. Get over yourself and just get to work. God expects our all even if it takes a lot on our part and if we are not giving it then, shame on us. The Savor, Jesus Christ gave his all and asked all those around him to do the same. Why then do you think he would not ask the same from you. I am not prefect but I am striving my best to live my life as the Savor asks me too. Who am I to judge those around me striving to do the same? Some of these comments bring a great sadness to my heart while others cause me to gain greater hope. I ask you which do you think you are and why? A little something to pounder on

  18. Human nature is a deceptively tricky explanation for behavior. It is so easy to apply a benevolent tolerance towards people we agree with or believe in and much harder to extend that same compassion and tolerance to people we don’t agree with or understand.

    But I don’t think Claire’s post is about natural human folly, it’s about a culture that produces remarkably similar follies in missions all over the world. Of course the youth of the missionaries plays its part, but so does the focus on numbers, the lack of communication and true partnership between MPs and individual wards and the pressure to baptize people who are not ready. Questioning that culture is not the same thing as criticizing the young and sometimes clueless (who should be treated with love and compassion, just like the rest of us.)

    • very well said.

  19. “Questioning that culture is not the same thing as criticizing the young and sometimes clueless (who should be treated with love and compassion, just like the rest of us.)”…

    Heidi, well stated. This piece did not read to me as a critique of the missionaries as it did a questioning of the culture. Questioning our culture, as well as our beliefs is so important to recognizing truth and finding ways to see the world, our beliefs, and our true nature more clearly.

    I find that when I’m constantly defending a belief rather than entertaining the questions without bias, it’s time to drop ego and look more closely at what I am trying to defend and why.

  20. It makes me really sad to hear people gripe about missionaries because I know that try as I did, I wasn’t really wasn’t that good at it – and that killed me. Truthfully, I don’t know if I’ll ever fully recover. The psychological and emotional scars are still with me. But by the end of my mission I came to the conclusion that I’d done my best and that God had called me in all my imperfections to serve his people.

    I think that most missionaries are doing the best that they can most of the time – there is so much pressure to be obedient and productive that it can be totally overwhelming. And the judgment of your fellow members is particularly crushing.

    • These sisters were trying…. I don’t doubt that for a minute. They just weren’t adequately taught what to expect or how to handle the culture they were serving in. Our mission is hardly heterogeneous…. a given missionary can spend one transfer in a planned, high income, all white community where kids drive to the movie theater in golf carts, and the next transfer be serving in the inner city where they are the only white people living in their apartment complex (or even square mile).

    • Maggie – I think most missionaries are doing all that they can, in the best way they can and when it’s all said and done, many of them feel the way that you do – not knowing if they’ll ever fully recover.

      I think these stories serve to illustrate the many ways we let down our youth who are willing to serve. We don’t train them with the practical skills they need, we send them out very young, and we have a system that focus on stats and conversion rates to measure success. How can we expect these missionaries to truly succeed?

      I would love to see missions change from proselyting missions to service-only missions. Let’s train our youth with skills to succeed – both practical and social – to go to needy areas and relieve suffering in this world. I think the results would be staggering and life-changing for all.

      • I agree that we (as a church culture) in many ways set our youth up to fail – in missions and in life. But at the same time, I don’t think that anyone could have prepared me for the trials I would face as a missionary. It’s so incredibly taxing and whether you’re 19 or 23 it’s still a lot to take on. The support of the members made all the difference.

        I am in no way saying that missionaries should never be subject to criticism. But if we look for fault we will surely find it. They need our support and love more than we may ever know.

  21. I’ve been lurking a bit. It’s been an interesting discussion. I’ve served a mission and I’ve been a ward mission leader, so I have some experience on both sides of the fence. I believe most missionaries sincerely try to do their best (although there is the occasional idiot. . .). In that respect, it may not make much sense to criticize individual missionaries. That doesn’t mean that the missionary system–the system of which individual missionaries are a part–can’t be criticized. It can be. And it should be. In many respects, it’s a target as big at the broad side of a barn. We could start with the toll missionary service often takes on the missionaries themselves, work our way through the incredible expense involved (when all costs are factored in, the cost per convert is jaw-droppingly high, particularly against the backdrop of thousands of kids starving to death around the globe), the consistent downward trend (over the past 30 years) of almost every measure of effectiveness (converts per missionary, for example), the obvious internal incentives to baptize individuals that don’t understand what they are committing to or are incapable of such commitment (I have personally been on discussions after which the missionaries insisted that the individuals were “golden” and “just waiting for the gospel” when the reality was that the individuals were too high on drugs to voice any objections and simply nodded their heads to everything the missionaries said), and so on. Many aspects of the missionary program are designed to promote church “growth” at just about any cost. That may make sense from an organizational standpoint, given the importance of our internal growth mythology, but it often seems irrational from a human standpoint. This post exposes some of the “irrationalities” of the system, and in my opinion, is therefore a good basis for discussion.

  22. I served a mission in one of the poorest countries in the world, Bolivia. People in the community were quite aware of the church’s “resources”, which drew a lot of people to the church, hoping for financial and medical help. We could have had multiple baptisms weekly, but were forced to constrain ourselves. The stresses put on existing leaders and members was great, when new members were being baptized into the ward continually. These are very hardworking, poverty stricken people. Their downtime is at a premium. They simply did not have the resources or time available to be fellowshipping 24 hours a day, or accompanying people to church every Sunday. We had to balance the baptisms with what the wards and branches could handle. As sister missionaries from an affluent country, we WERE ill prepared to understand true poverty. Often missionaries get so caught up in the “numbers” that the “people” get pushed by the wayside. I think Claire made an excellent point, that just getting baptisms is not the end goal. We need to have true conversions as well as the resources to fellowship and retain. That may mean not being quite so overzealous in teaching and baptizing. Thanks for the article, and thanks for the comments.

  23. I’d just like to thank all of the “shame on you”ers that have come by to spread their condemnation. You are truly better than the rest of us for exercising your judgment. Now that I’m on a shame spiral, I need something to make me feel better. I know! How about telling goofy missionary stories!

    One time my mom came home from grocery shopping to what she thought was her empty house, and a missionary was taking a shower in the master bathroom. This same missionary one time came in the house and headed toward our pantry, rummaging for something to eat. He also borrowed my dad’s bathrobe and dress shoes (on different occasions). Who says Salt Lake City can’t have our fair share of inappropriate missionary behavior? My dad was ward, and then stake mission president. Our family also made some life-long friends out of some of the more outstanding missionaries. But we like to laugh remembering some of them.

  24. Dang! I am rendered (almost, ha ha!) speechless by the willingness of some of the commenters here to rush to condemn Claire, who was clearly wearing herself out–right alongside the sister missionaries she’s simultaneously wringing her hands over in the original post–in service to the members of the ward.

    If I ever catch myself wagging my finger (either in real life or virtually) while telling people “Shame on you!!,” I hope I have the sense to stop and think twice before actually doing it.

    • Heather

      I am not condemning Claire, I am just pointing out that some of things that she has said are just plain mean spirited and just as judgmental. Saying things like certain people shouldn’t be baptized because they can’t give back to community is Nasty. I have dealt with this before Many, Many times from members, they think they can say things nicely and when they use a civil tone its’ okay its not

    • Diane, please keep your tone kinder than this. Stick to “I” statements and please do not use name-calling to express your opinion.

      • Diane, I’m sorry you aren’t hearing me. Did you read my comment about my friend who was a VT supervisor? She was ready to participate in the community. You clearly did as well. That is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the rolls of the church being crammed with people who have very little understanding of what participating in an LDS community is about and are unable to follow through with the commitments to bear one another’s burdens that we make when we are baptized. If your own life is in such disarray that you can’t get yourself to church on occasion (this might look like making your own arrangements for a ride, rather than relying on the missionaries to find you one), or you can’t get to the storehouse to pick up your own food order, or you can’t remember that church is on Sundays at 10 and the missionaries have to call you to remind you, then maybe it’s best to hold off on baptism for a bit. Just maybe. That’s all I’m saying. Not that anyone is worthless. Not that people need to have a cushy job or a trust fund or drive a fancy car.

      • I agree, Claire. Thanks for making that point.

    • Yeah- I haven’t even pulled my pity card yet (okay, I will now…. I performed this calling for twice as long as anyone else held it in the decade I served…. AND I went through an entire pregnancy and the first year of my third child’s life while in that calling. Oh, and my husband was serving simultaneously as the ward clerk. NOW tell me I wasn’t working hard enough! ) :-)

      • Woops, that was supposed to go under Heather’s comment above.

      • Okay, I’m pulling the pity card to. My last RSP was a lawyer for the nuclear regulatory commission and fostered three kids from the ward, and I helped her by providing counseling for the girls and cooking dinner for them so she wouldn’t have to be concerned about what to make.

        This is what I mean when who gets to say what one has to offer a ward/ branch is any less meaningful than what you have to offer.

  25. Any more comments calling this post or commenters to repent and/or call into question the righteousness of the author/commenters, will be deleted. Please read the comment policy if you are new to The Exponent, so that you can retain commenting privileges. (This is directed at “shame on you” folks, no one else).

    • Thank you. One of my favorite things about this forum is the dignified way that we are able to voice our opinions and learn from the opinions of others. Thank you for maintaining that level of dignity for all of us to enjoy.

  26. Claire

    I have always understood your point of it not just being about money, but dedication to the cause. In my Opinion, what makes another service or dedication any less valuable. And with that you have yet to address mine concerns with your statements Like I stated previously, the stake center where I live is 45 minutes away by car, (that’s on a good day) Stake Activities are ALWAYS at times where members who have no trans portion available are being left out of these activities. Why, do Stake Activities have to be at the Stake building when majority of the membership lies in the city. You and other people have said you don’t like providing this service, but, then again, make it possible for members to attend these activities by holding these activities in buildings where the location would be more easily accessible. Thereby supporting the general membership and the local leadership. (I have not gone to a single stake activity in four years because I refuse to ask for ride precisely, because of the backlash of asking.

    And since you keep bringing up the food storage. Let, me say this the food storage facility is even further out and not accessible at all by public transportation.

    I resent your intimation that I’m holding a pity party. Converts are constantly given duplicitous and disingenuous messages from long term members. We are consistently being told that we are needed, and then we are being told that what we have to give is not only not good enough, This is exactly what the underlying tone has been in your message.

    • I would really appreciate your addressing the question that I have asked you. I would like this addressed with words other than baptism should be held off until, especially since I have provided you with a clear cut example why certain people in my Branch/ Ward and Stake can participate because of the ward boundaries.

      If one is not ready for baptism because they cant get themselves to these kinds of activities than why do Stakes, and Stake Presidencies hold these meetings at times when the people who rely on transportation can’t get to them? Why, are these buildings so far off the path that the general membership can’t get to them? This is what I find disgusting, especially since, you and people who think like you then throw it back in my face oh, your not ready for baptism(code for your not good enough)

      • Diane, I think these are really, really good questions and valid complaints. I live in England and it is not uncommon for people not to drive at all and only use public transport. Most of the sisters and brothers that don’t drive have a very difficult time getting to events and meetings planned by the stake (and sometimes on the local level) because of a lot of the issues you raised. I have seen up close how hard it can be for people to do everything that is expected of them.

        However, I don’t think levelling these criticisms at Claire or other RS presidents is any more useful than holding sister missionaries ultimately responsible for the sometimes (OK, a lot of the time) socially awkward and pushy mission culture, especially when none of these women are given any real power to make change. I think the real problem is that the church culture is steeped in American middle-class values (that assume a house and cars, room for food storage, a daddy who can win bread on his own and SAHM with loads of time to volunteer to the organization). The hierarchical power structure of the church results in a fundamental lack of power that local units have to make things work for the population they are serving (and a top-down culture that discourages initiative or changing the way things have always been done).

      • I totally agree that stake meetings and placement of the storehouse (I wasn’t talking about food storage, but food orders/help with groceries from the Bishop’s storehouse) are inconvenient for most members. I’m not sure what I could have done about that as ward RS president, beyond pass my concerns along to my bishop, who had the same concerns of course. Ward and Stake leaders are just people like you and me trying our best. We did have carpools for stake meetings, if that helps.

        I don’t think I’m going to be able to address your concerns, Diane. I wish you peace and I’m sorry that my post stirred up so many hurt feelings for you.

    • I agree with you, Diane that you had a very negative experience with the church, and I don’t envy the situation or treatment leveled at you. But in re-reading the comments, I think Claire’s ideas are realistic.

      When I was in Sydney, DH and I were in real financial duress… but because I had a car, I was often asked to drive from one end of the ward boundary to the other to pick up youth for MIA- and drive them home at night after so they would not have to take or incur the cost of public transport. The distance was an hour’s travel time each way, and was expensive on petrol. Plus as a youth leader, it was assumed that I would spend money out of my own pocket for activities and even food- i.e. bring dinner for the youth on MIA nights. I ended asking to be released because I could not afford the assumed financial responsibility calling. Shortly thereafter, DH was laid off. The following Sunday, one of the women at church asked me if DH got a big redundancy payout because she needed a new refidgerator. For whatever reason, we were labeled as a “have” and others were “have nots”– even when DH was unemployed and we were in serious financial danger! This lack of empathy was a significant burden on us, even greater than DH’s surprise unemployment.

      I think Claire and this post is addressing THIS issue; the lack of empathy that occurs sometimes on all sides, and I thank her for addressing this.

  27. Heidi,

    Exactly, my point, leveling this kind of attitude towards members is Not helpful, nor conducive. To say that someone should hold off baptism until they can meet certain requirements of giving back is the same kind of pushy attitude that converts regularly receive from members who have been for all their life. And at its core for me anyway to say that members shouldn’t be baptized is at its very core (telling me as a convert) well your just not worthy, yet no one wants to acknowledge it because it makes people look bad.

    • You are making a lot of assumptions, by the way, Diane. You have no way of knowing if I’m a convert or not, white or not, own a car or not, or even what country I live in.

  28. I love these comments. Let’s just forget who raises all these wonderful missionaries. Oh yes, that would be the Relief Society Women of the Church, for the most part. Yes, these same sisters who like to complain at the crassness and bad manners of the missionaries of either sex, are the mothers, former Primary teachers, Cub Scout Leaders, and Young Women’s teachers and advisers. Let’s not remember these young people are not the only inconsiderate people in our wards and branches. I mean it’s not as if they are putting college, careers, and life events on hold for 18 months to 2 years to do the best they’ve been trained to do to teach the gospel. I think that if our Youth are going on missions, and are being rude, disparaging, and crass, and thoughtless, it is because we as parents and leaders have not taught them charity, compassion, and good manners. No, too many members want missionaries to arrive in their wards Spiritual Genius’, with a full working grasp of the Language, Culture and Geographical Area. Members want missionaries to Not complain when food is served in unhealthy even dirty kitchens with animal or human hair on the food. These young people are dealing with things like homesickness, daily rejection from the community who doesn’t want them knocking on their doors or approaching them on the subway, or in the marketplace. They are asked to fill into callings such as branch and relief society presidents and teachers and other leaders in areas where there isn’t a lot of leadership. I don’t think you are giving the sisters enough credit. They care about the people in your community, they are sent there not just to serve membership but everyone in that area. Now, if you have personal problems with the missionaries that can be solved in a few ways. First, prayerfully study out why and where you have problems with the sisters or Elders, then take some time to also speak to them. Members can ask for missionary time just as missionaries have to with members. Kindly and with love tell them where you need them to contribute and suggest to them the concerns. If the missionaries than blatantly disregard; then you can take it up with the Mission President. As a former sister missionary myself, I can tell you dealing with some of the members is no piece of cake. I dealt with a mission leader who followed my companion and I around in his car; not for safety issues, but because the last missionaries (Elders) didn’t work as hard as he thought they should. It was uncomfortable to say the least. Ward members also do not offer sister missionaries as many dinner appointments because they assume the sisters can fend for themselves. The Elders in our same ward would have multiple appointments during the week. Some days they would have lunch and dinner appointments as well. Sisters have a whole different set a problems that come with wardrobe, that Elders do not have. Members complain that our clothing is not sober enough, than it’s too sober. Panty hose can be a complete pain, in 90 degree weather and with added humidity, you can experience problems that can effect your female health. If you take the hose off, the people think you are not keeping the dress standards. In some areas, they take your wearing stockings, the culture thinks that you are flaunting your wealth in their face. Try tracting in a skirt in 5 to 6 feet, yep I said feet; not inches of snow, the best thermals in the world don’t protect you like trousers. The ward critics your hair and nails, styles are too flattering, their too severe. It’s like who are the missionaries there for; the ward, or the people of the area. As a young adult just leaving home for the first time, you are so busy trying to please the ward, the cultural norms, the mission president, and most often the Lord, you become at odds with at least one set of people. However, most of the same young people would say, whatever they had to endure, whatever pressure, whatever scorn they had to take on themselves during this time, was worth it all. It is worth it. The people of the communities are worth it. Relief Society Presidents should be cultivating the missionaries. Win over those sisters, deal with them with love and patience and you will have a valuable resource in helping in reactivation and Visiting Teaching. They also can teach relief society lessons too. Sometimes they can do it on the spur of the moment because they spend morning times in spiritual preparation. Don’t be so hard on your missionaries. They don’t come fully trained from a College Seminary like other professional clergy. They are teenagers and young adults that have a year of college at the most, many are away from home and family for the first time in their lives. Have compassion on them, they need it. We all need it.

  29. In retrospect I wish my (biological) sister had not served a mission. She came back from her mission a very harsh, judgemental person. Shortly after returning she told me, “The worst mistake Heavenly Father ever made was giving us agency. He didn’t know what He was doing.” And that is the attitude she has taken with her into her adult life – agency is a mistake; she knows what is best for all people; and if we do not live according to her ideal of what is best, she cuts us off. I haven’t spoken with her now in over a decade. (I married outside the church. She called my husband a tool of the devil and told me if we ever had children, they would be children of Satan.) I miss the person she was before she went on her mission. She was always a bit ‘holier than thou’ but she wouldn’t have disowned us for making choices she didn’t agree with. I don’t know what happened on her mission; I just know she came back a different, meaner person.

  30. Unbelievable article from a RS pres i did served a mission, served as a RS pres for 5 years and all i know if we really a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ we will be humble and more Christlike and the spirit will guide us, this are our trials for us to grow and become more like him (Savior) imagine if the Savior felt this way when he was on this earth…….. I’m not the one to judge I’m just here to do my part as daughter of Heavenly Father and to fully serve him and do what is right.
    May we all live life to the fullest and believe that He Lives….

  31. I find it interesting that someone who has not served a mission, and therefore has little to know idea what it entails, is compelled to complain about such trivial things. First, it is not the missionaries job to place judgment on potential converts. They were probably too busy loving and serving the possibly pregnant girl to judge her worthiness for baptism. Second, social faux pas like the comment about the hood or invitations to a pampered chef party can easily be attributed to their young age and lack of adult experience. I think these things could easily be laughed off and disregarded by an older wiser woman. Last, the comment about your husband always complaining about sister missionaries is offensive and sexist. I felt that this was a little judgey and the antithesis of feminist thought. One could easily conclude that these sister missionaries are not the only ones that could benefit from a little maturing.

  32. Amen Janice Bane.

    Excellent points.

    As a returned sister missionary I can attest that sister missionaries are often left alone and unsupported by the mission. Most sister missionaries will tell you that they get a lot of work done while being left alone by the mission. (What’s the alternative? According to Roaming Redhead’s comment above the alternative is to—- “Recit[e] scripture while spinning in a circle with my forehead pressed to the end of a baseball bat on P-Day” because a 19 yr old DL thinks it will make you a better missionary.)

    Most sister missionaries would rather welcome the neglect.

    We didn’t go on splits with the ZL or DL or AP, MP, or GAs. We were left out of “trainings” or “leadership meetings” and DL/ZL business trips. We didn’t have many occasions to be in or around the mission office, we traveled quite a bit less than the elders, and were transferred much less frequently. This meant that the sister missionaries had far fewer interactions with other missionaries and the mission leadership. We were out of sight and out of mind.

    We requested a Sister Missionary “Conference” and volunteered to help plan it, but the MP summarily rejected it, citing policy from Salt Lake. (Does anyone know if this is a real rule?)

    So what about the unique role of a sister missionary? What about the unique needs of the female investigators and families that “only we could reach”? After the MTC, we were on our own. I will acknowledge that the General RS, YW and Primary leadership provided training for us in the MTC, but unlike their priesthood counterparts, that was the last we heard from them. There are simply too few women in general auxiliary positions to go around.

    Keep in mind that the Mission Mom has no defined role in relation to the sister missionaries. She isn’t expected to do anything with or for us. Additionally, many Mission moms pay more attention to the helpless poor elders, anticipating that we’ll take care of ourselves. All the while the sister missionaries may be serving as RS, YW and Primary presidents, alone, without a stake RS president.

    My point is that there is a training and support gap for sister missionaries.

    I hope things are changing rapidly, especially in light of the wave of younger sister missionaries.

    • Those are all very good points and I am sincerely glad you shared them here. You especially do a wonderful job highlighting that there can be something good about being ignored, as well as something not-good. Real training could be beneficial for all. When I was in the MTC, Sister Dew taught the first Relief Society lesson, and then spoke again at a Fireside a week later. She was the only female speaker we had.

      I was a sister missionary, and am lucky to have had a very involved Mission Matron (the title that I think she deserves), who was willing to teach with us. We also had one sister’s gathering, so I am not sure what the rule is there. It was needed, and should have happened more often.

      • Thanks! This is an interesting. post. Glad you had an involved Mission Matron and Sister’s Conferences. I hope much more of that takes place in the future. Thanks for your experience about the “rule’, I’ve always suspected it wasn’t official.

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