Guest Post: Redeeming My Soul, Part II
Although I was only a full-time missionary for a few months, this would be the first of many companionships. They ran from the trio that questioned my worthiness and “attitude” (an always strategically chosen word when used to describe women of color) because I chose to pray standing up over kneeling at times and didn’t wake up with the alarm clock one morning. Only one of these two sisters spoke about this; the other one admitted to being a strict conflict avoider, refusing to discuss, explore or resolve tensions at all. She expressed, “I think if you’re an adult and don’t hear the alarm it’s not my responsibility to wake you.” I found this sentiment to be conflicting with the concept of “companionship”. I was learning that each missionary has their own idea of what a missionary, companionship and the mission rules are supposed to look like. So my adherence to the rules I’d learned in the MTC, missionary guide and rule book were not completely in line with any of the companionships that I had.
This made the lack of support from the Billings mission leadership, family/friends, and companions at many times beyond what I could endure by myself. The inconsistency within companionships sometimes got me into trouble as a companion would see my differences with them as something to report to the mission president rather than to discuss openly and honestly with me. I became the subject of malicious gossip that was reported to the mission president and that I learned about only when he called the phone (kept at all times by one of my companions). He immediately threatened to send me home for noncompliance of rules, began to yell into the phone and call me names that had never before been used to describe me, like “selfish”, “contentious” and “unrighteous”. I was to later learn that he called my previous companion and did the same. We were both verbally abused and had our spirituality and ability to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost called into question.
He accused me of flagrantly disobeying mission rules all in an effort to get reassigned. “Anytime I hear that you have had a disagreement in a companionship, I will know that it is your fault. You shouldn’t be having any disagreements. One more and I will send you home.” These words were yelled at me through the telephone by the man who was supposed to be my mission president, the man whose primary job is to take care of and support missionaries. His firm intent that disagreements were equal to “disharmony and contention” was unlike anything I had ever heard — especially with a master’s degree in Marriage and family therapy. I’d learned just how normal and healthy disagreements can be. However a lack of disagreements can be a confirmation that one person in a partnership is not engaged, involved or feeling safe enough to share their perspectives and thoughts. I didn’t want my fear of being sent home early and dishonorably to keep me from being myself and sharing opinions that could make a companionship, lesson or planning session better. Wasn’t I sent there for a reason? How could changing myself to be something that I’m not allow the situation to become what it was meant to be?
However, eventually I bowed to the pressure and lost much of my vitality, character and spirit. I did this with the desire to please a man who could not be pleased by me because I believe he never wanted me to enter “his” mission at all. I became a shadow of myself who spoke little of myself, friends, family or home because by my last companionship, I had already seen how this information could be used as ammunition for a passive aggressive companion who would rather get rid of me when uncomfortable than have an open discussion about differences in our personalities, lives and beliefs. My conscious decision to withdraw and shut down from relationships with other missionaries beyond acquaintance type interactions increased the mistrust that many of them had for my differences. Yet it confirmed what I already knew; I could not go on much longer in the Billings, Montana mission unless things started to change.
I would eventually be released early for medical reasons. Coming home early opened a new phase of my life and has permanently changed my identity in many ways. It is a circumstance that continues to bring feelings of humiliation and thoughts of failure especially because of the public nature. My feelings were increased by the lack of a final temple visit in Billings, never getting officially released by my stake president and never receiving my missionary plaque from my home stake. Although I was extended an “honorable” release, I have to wonder how honorable the intentions were of those who extended it. I no longer question the integrity of the release on the side of heaven, but I do question it on the earthly side that showed little concern over losing a missionary and possibly a member and family.
Part III will be published tomorrow.