Guest Post: Redeeming My Soul, Part I

sabraby Sabra

I was always a supporter of gender equality in the LDS church; any time women in my classes at church wanted to serve missions, I was all for it. However it wasn’t until my late teens that it occurred to me that I could serve a mission too. Since then I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I was going to serve a full-time mission, then I wasn’t, then I was. This battle would continue for the next 7 years. Finally at 26 years old I decided to follow the promptings that I had been feeling for years and submit mission papers. The process that would follow is one that I am still struggling to completely understand and accept.

From the mission call itself to incompatible companionships and experiencing bullying from the mission president and his wife, much of my full-time mission was weighted with loneliness, misunderstandings and mistrust of others. I continue to doubt the call itself even until today. Who was I supposed to meet? What was I supposed to learn? None of my answers to these questions have provided me with the lasting satisfaction that I have pleaded for in numberless prayers. When I first got the call to Billings Montana, U.S.A.; I was dumbfounded and embarrassed, then sad and finally angry. I trusted that God knew me and wouldn’t punish me for following His commandments which include following individual promptings.

However, this had to be evidence that the Gods didn’t know me at all. This is something else that I continue to struggle with as I am less likely to trust in Their hands now than I did before the call and mission occurred. I decided to follow through with my original plan, enter the missionary training center in a few months and serve full-time. Yet when I shared some of my unpleasant surprise at the call and fear over how I would be received in such a physically and socially isolated mission as a woman of color, I received feedback from friends that I found helpful and hopeful. They told me it was possible that I could be reassigned if I shared my thoughts and feelings and they were then considered valid enough by men in authority, so that I could be reassigned. I contacted my bishop, stake president, and the church mission department in Salt Lake City and wrote an e-mail to the mission president as well in an attempt to be heard, seen and then reassigned. This e-mail was answered by phone and only served to validate my fears; fears that I would serve around others who would not see or hear me when I needed them to the most.

In the mission field, I would be highly isolated from my support system and have fewer resources than before with which to manage a huge influx of new stress, anxiety, expectations and prejudices. In many ways, I would be alone. After this phone call from the wife of the Billings mission president, I grew even more disheartened because her words and reasoning were very dismissive and demeaning. She questioned my worthiness and desire to serve a mission because as she stated, “sometimes sisters don’t take missions very seriously and think they can just leave and do what they want.” I was already marked. Then despite my continuing feelings and thoughts of uncertainty, insecurity and that many things just weren’t right … I prepared myself as best I could and entered into the Provo, Utah missionary training center.

Following a frustrating and seemingly endless MTC stay of one week; I arrived at the Billings airport. I was met by the mission president and his wife at the bottom of the escalator. What then followed was a combination of uncomfortable weirdness that was a cross between a getting-to-know-you activity, worthiness interview and getting called in to your supervisor’s office to get fired. At its conclusion the president told me, “There are stupid people everywhere but if you’re sensitive and look for things everywhere, you’ll find them.” This was his response to my saying that I was worried someone might say or do something ugly to me because I am a person of color in my previous email. It’s not surprising that I didn’t feel supported or taken seriously. I thought things started to look up when I met other sister missionaries and was assigned to my first companion, a “sister” who was aware of the differences in perspectives, experiences and needs of missionaries like us serving in a super rural white place. She understood much of my anxiety about the location and disappointment in having a mission president whose attempts to support me were thinly veiled attempts to shut me up and convince me that adopting colorblindness would protect me from the world.

Part II will be published tomorrow morning.

Did you have difficult experiences on your mission? How did you deal with them? How do you now understand your feelings of God wanting you to go on a mission?

Sabra’s bio: A native Texan,  I love Christ’s gospel, eating and beauty products. I love people and have served them in the capacity of a mentor, tutor, teacher, volunteer, intern, therapist and advocate over the course of 5 years.

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12 Responses

  1. Lindsay D says:

    Can you explain a little more why you were so upset with your mission call and why you were embarrassed, angry and sad about it? I confess my ignorance. Is Montana considered a racist place? I assume, like you said, that the population is mostly white, but the South (or even big cities) has diversity and seems more racist than I’ve ever heard of Montana being (not to say both aren’t possible, of course). Where were you wanting to go? Foreign? Urban? Just somewhere that wasn’t all white? Were you seeking reassignment because you were afraid you would be the target of racially motivated violence in Montana (either words or actions)?

    I hope I’m not coming across as critical; I am just trying to understand better where you are coming from. I am sorry that your mission experience was not at all what you were hoping for.

    • EmilyCC says:

      Lindsay, thanks for your questions…I think you want to understand more, but I feel like this barrage of “need to know” information sounds like we think that Sabra needs to justify the way she feels/felt. I think the part II of the post tomorrow will also answer some of these questions.

      I also confess ignorance on a lot of these issues, but I think it’s important to help people telling stories that make them feel vulnerable also feel heard and accepted while we all try to process on our own.

      • Lindsay D says:

        Sorry; the “barrage” of questions were less “need to know” and more me throwing out some of my own theories of why she may have felt the way she did since it wasn’t immediately clear. Feelings are feelings and require no justification, and I apologize if I made it seem like I was seeking anything more than clarification.

  2. Libby says:

    What a terrible beginning to your mission! Missionaries are regularly reassigned (my MTC companion very nearly went to Texas instead of to Argentina), and it honestly makes me angry that you’d be sent to Montana when your experience in the Church could be powerful and inspirational for other people of color in less homogeneous parts of the U.S. Grrrr.

  3. Liz says:

    Ugh, I’m so sorry. To be dismissed like that rather than ministered to is such a huge (and, I fear, common) misstep by every single person who is theoretically in a specific position to help and serve you. I don’t understand why the people in this system are often so dismissive to those who are most eager to participate and serve.

  4. Caroline says:

    Yes, I’m also sorry that you weren’t sent to a place where you could be an inspiration and a model to other women of color interested in the church. And sad to hear that your mission president was so insensitive to your concerns. Members and leaders of the church need to do so much better in listening to women’s (and especially women of color’s) concerns. Thank you for being brave enough to share this difficult story.

  5. Jess R says:

    Thank you for sharing this; a dear friend of mine had a similar experience as a Korean-American. It’s hard to talk about, but as the church becomes (hopefully) more diverse, these stories become more and more important. Like others have expressed, I’m sorry your experience was so negative. I look forward to reading the second part tomorrow!

  6. Em says:

    I appreciate you sharing this, and I’m looking forward to the next installment!

  7. Aimee says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience here, Sabra. I cannot tell you how much I admire your spiritual fortitude to even put in mission papers, let alone consider and accept an unexpected calling to a place that felt foreign and possibly threatening. I don’t know that I’m spiritually strong enough to have done either.

    I wish that your mission president and his wife had realized how courageous you were to put in papers. I also wish they would have recognized your integrity and courage to share your concerns. I’m so sorry you weren’t heard. Thank you for letting us hear you here.

    Very much looking forward to part 2 . . .

  8. Jenny says:

    I’m so glad you’re sharing your story with us. Your mission president’s wife’s response breaks my heart. I’m sorry that they didn’t listen and try to understand your feelings. I’m listening and I’m learning from your experience. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Emily U says:

    The “our way or the highway” approach is so prevalent in the church. If only they cared about ministering to existing members as much as prospective members.

    Regarding finding meaning in this experience, I really believe in making our own meaning out of hard things. That can take a long time.

  10. Rachel says:

    Sabra, I am coming to these posts just now. I am also so sorry and sad about what your Mission President’s wife said to you. It was unkind to you and to other sisters, and from a woman who could (and should!) have been an advocate.

    I served a mission too, and while in the end I was pleased to have gone, it was an immeasurably difficult experience for me in ways that I was never expecting. I was lucky enough to have a truly excellent mission president and an even more excellent mission matron, but was affected by many of the things you mentioned about new stress with fewer old ways to deal with it. I longed for more exercise time, more sleep time, more journal time, more service time, and the chance to go on a walk by myself.

    The way that missions are currently set up works well for a small number of missionaries. Small but significant changes could help it work well for the rest.

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