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Guest Post: The Role of Women on Missions

by Maren, who lives in the Carolinas, is a university educator and reseacher, and mother of three young children. She has a hobby business making and selling European style chocolates.

I returned home from my LDS mission 15 years ago. During my mission, I had baptism success, and I continue to use my Spanish language skills in my career as a doctorally prepared researcher and academic. Recently, I have reflected on how much I have changed since my mission release.  My relationship with the gospel is far more complex and I have grown increasingly concerned with the lack of equality between men and women in the church.

Though my foreign mission provided me with interesting and life changing experiences, there were issues that troubled me. Women’s conferences had been held in the past, but there were no opportunities to gather and discuss the unique needs of women while I served. Female missionaries were expected to work as hard as the elders with no opportunities to gain leadership skills. I spent my mission following the rules and working hard, but felt that the mission president and other male leaders tolerated the sisters, at best. Having been in leadership positions in college prior to my mission, upon my return I felt a diminished spiritual self-confidence. While it should have been an experience that rooted me in the church, my spiritual well-being never recovered.

Though I respect the Elders’ role in conducting ordinances such as baptism, I fail to see the justification for limiting leadership opportunities for women. Why aren’t single female missionaries allowed to collect weekly statistics, work in the mission office, determine who serves in what area, organize a zone conference, and (heaven forbid) receive personal mail directly from the mission office?

Now that I have daughters (7 year-old twins), I question whether I want them to serve an LDS mission. I want them to get an education, learn to serve others, have a cultural immersion experience, gain leadership skills, and have a strong spiritual core. Though eventually this is their decision, I will advise them to fully explore their options. Perhaps their time may be better spent engaged in causes that allow a woman’s talents to be fully utilized.

If you served a mission, would you go again? Do you feel your mission helped you develop a sense of self, leadership skills, and a spiritual core? Do you feel an 18-month mission would be the best use of your daughter’s time and talents?

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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  1. FoxyJ says:

    Ooh–I’m the first commenter. I did serve a mission (in a European country) and I definitely love the cultural/language education it gave me–I’ve got a Master’s in and teach my mission language and I’m starting a PhD program in Comp Lit this fall. My mission also helped me vastly improve my social skills and gave me many great friends. It really changed me in a lot of ways. And I met my husband when we served in the same mission 🙂

    I’ve been home for about seven years now and I’m still not sure about all the spirituality stuff. My mission was very “apostate” when I got there–the mission culture was seriously very warped, and so I don’t feel like I got the typical mission experience. It was quite difficult for me at first because I had expected to finally fit in as a missionary, and instead I got teased and harrassed for being so righteous and uptight. On the one hand, my mission actually did help me get over some of my neuroses, but on the other, I (and my husband) still struggle with a lot of the experiences we had when we were supposed to be serving the Lord.

    I also never know how to respond to questions about leadership in the church, because I’m one of those women who don’t like to be in charge. I know it’s a copout, but I just don’t like to be in charge of people. Also, like I said, in my mission experience I was hardly micromanaged at all. I felt very autonomous in general, and I certainly had little respect for elders in leadership positions (no one did really–how do you respect people who pass around nude photos of themselves in district meeting?). We also had very few baptisms and a very strong, independent mission president’s wife, so I felt very connected to the women in my mission mroe than the men. I think that the mission experience is so varied, and the personalities of sisters are so varied, that I wouldn’t discourage my daughter from serving. As she gets older I imagine I’ll have a better idea of her personality and be better able to help her make the decision. I’d imagine most missions aren’t like mine was. Also, as I’ve gotten further away from it, I’ve realized that 18 months isn’t all that long in the grand scheme of things. For me the mission was in some ways a difficult experience, but it’s also not something I would give up.

  2. Steve-o says:

    I never knew any sisters who were unhappy about not being able to be in leadership positions in my mission, but it’s not like I was asking the question, either.

    While I always really liked the fact that there were so many sister missionaries in my mission (I never saw the official statistics, but it was said that my mission had the highest ratio of sisters to elders of any mission in the world at the time), I understand the comment about the sisters only being “tolerated”. I knew a lot of guys in my mission and after it who hated sisters, and would have preferred it if there had been none in their respective missions. Among their criticisms were the sisters being lazy, complaining a lot, and being generally difficult to deal with.

    As I mentioned above, I always liked having sisters around, even in the MTC. At least 75% of the time, I found the sisters to be more mature than the elders. Most of the sisters with whom I served also seemed to be better at treating investigators (and people, in general) like real people with real needs, rather than like statistics for their weekly reports. I never knew any sisters who had contests to see how many half-hour or one-hour appointments they could squeeze in in one day. I never saw any sisters having contests to see how many copies of the Book of Mormon they could give away. I never saw any sisters chase people down the street despite being waved off or sworn at. I never saw any sisters who wouldn’t give more of their time if they felt their investigators needed it.

    I finished my mission a little over nine years ago, and left the church over four years ago (haven’t formally resigned yet, but that will come at some point). I’ve thought a lot about a lot of things in that time, and one thing I’ve realized is that many church leaders just don’t understand how to treat people like people while respecting their individual differences. Many of them are robotic and expect others to be robotic, too. Many of my own attempts to get compassion from everyone from my father to my mission president were met with a “suck it up” attitude and a barrage of articles and scriptures that were intended to be faith-promoting, but which for me had the opposite effect. In general, I believe men to be less emotional than women and to be far more accepting of the “deal with it” and “suck it up” attitudes that church leaders frequently display when members have problems, so I can only imagine how the women must feel when treated in such a way.

    In any case, I didn’t enjoy being a missionary, but I wouldn’t change the fact that I went, because the things I experienced and learned and the friends I made are now a part of who I am. I don’t think I would encourage others to go, however…and not just because I’m no longer a member of the church, either. Regardless of gender, I feel that the treatment many missionaries receive from church leadership is appalling. Rules with regards to everything from what time a meal can be had to how one’s monthly stipend must be spent and accounted for indicate, in my opinion, a general distrust of and disregard for the missionaries. It seems like things could and should be a lot better for those thousands of men and women who put so much on the line for the church.

  3. Beatrice says:

    Overall my mission really helped me grow as a person. I felt like I gained more understanding of people in a wide variety of personal circumstances. Also, prior to my mission I was fairly shy and didn’t know how to strike up a converstaion with people. After my mission I felt like I could start a conversation with anyone. My mission also helped me practice my teaching skills (which I use in my graduate program) and a second language (which I use in my research).

    My mission president was actually very respectful of sisters. He called one sister to be the representative of the sisters. (I don’t remember what her title was, but she had some title). She would go on exchanges with all the sisters in the mission so she could get a sense of how the different sisters and areas were doing. She attended meetings with the Zone Leaders in order to provide input. I never wanted her job, but I appreciated that she was able to attend the ZL meetings. When an area authority was visiting and attended this ZL meeting he questioned my mission president about why she was included in the meetings. My mission president simply answered that elders couldn’t go on exchanges with sisters so her job was needed. We had two sister conferences during my mission. I really appreciated the chance to share common experiences with the other sisters.

  4. Naismith says:

    My daughter felt extremely valued on her mission; her time was extended a few weeks because they needed sister missionaries to serve at a temple open house.

    The church has done research showing that sisters are perceived as less threatening, more approachable and thus in temple open houses going back to San Diego at least, only sisters are allowed to serve in the question booth.

    To get enough sisters, they had to pull in missionaries from across several missions, and extend a few.

    So I think she felt much more than “tolerance.”

  5. I served in a French-speaking European mission, coming home 25 years ago next week. If I had it to do over again, and if it meant having to serve under the same president, I would not go — he was a bad man, a gynecologist in civilian life who hated women, and who despised sister missionaries. I still haven’t been able to get past some of his mistreatment, including the physical abuse.

    Despite that, I saw and felt and experienced enough to know that under normal conditions, I could answer “yes” to all of your questions. Leadership is more than supervising other people in a hierarchy — it includes planning, preparing, and carrying out a study program for yourself and offering insights in district meetings; in responding appropriately to the jeers and indifference of most of the people among whom you serve; and especially in being a guide to help your contacts respond to and accept the gospel. Nothing else I have ever experienced comes close to the rush of pure revelation about an investigator’s needs.

    I wouldn’t necessarily say that a mission is the best use of every young woman’s time and talents, but it could be, if she is the right young woman for the job, and if she escapes men like my president (I do believe they are rare in church service — I believe men in such positions are called of God, although occasionally there are those who do not live up to the call).

  6. Rory says:

    As I relate in a comment on an old thread here, it was my experience as a 19 year old elder that really opened my eyes to the disparity among men and women in the church. I won’t be encouraging my daughter to serve a mission. I believe there are far better options for her time and talents, and much healthier for her.

  7. Maren says:

    Thanks for all your great comments! I appreciate the need many of us have to explore the costs and benefits of serving a mission.

    FoxyJ – I can relate to your not wanting to be in charge. I don’t particularly enjoy it either, however, in my professional and personal life, I find I need leadership skills and don’t think they were well developed by some of the experiences I have chosen. Since I was an RN when I applied to serve a mission, I was mildly disappointed that I was not asked to serve in a health role. Once I got to the mission, I realized the mission president did not know how to use our individual talents anyhow, so we all served in the same capacity. As I look back, I wonder if I could have used my skills as a nurse in an organization such as Doctors Without Borders. I agree that 18 months is not a long time, but there may have been other options I did not consider at the time.

    Steve-o – I am glad you enjoyed having sisters in your mission. I have heard the comments about women in the mission being more difficult to deal with and not as hard working. I think some of my feelings about being tolerated have to do with my mission president – he was a native of the South American country where I served, so I think his attitudes toward women where ingrained by his culture.

    Beatrice – I am glad to hear your mission had women leaders. I would have appreciated having someone in a leadership role to discuss concerns and issues. Unfortunate she was not well accepted by outside church leaders.

    Naismith – I know that the church loves using women in vistors centers. Glad she had such a great experience.

  8. Caroline says:

    I did not serve a mission. It didn’t even occur to me to go, though I was active. I was too interested in finishing college, studying abroad, applying to grad school, etc.

    In a way it would have been neat, I imagine. Maybe I’d have more concrete spiritual experiences which could have sustained me through times of disappointment with the church. But I’m sure I wouldn’t have felt good about the lack of leadership opportunities for women and being treated disrespectfully by men in the mission.

    If I ever have a daughter, I probably wouldn’t encourage her to go on a mission. I would encourage her to think about donating a year in some service capacity though. Teach for America. The Peace Corps. And if she decided she wanted to do the mission, I wouldn’t discourage her.

    Ardis, wow, physical abuse from your mission president? That sounds horrific. I hope he was disciplined eventually.

  9. Angie says:

    I served about 15 years ago as well, and although I made wonderful friends, I would not go again, nor would I encourage my 2 daughters to go either. I wish that I would have spent those 18 months working on my Master’s Degree that I still don’t have. My self-confidence and self-esteem were never lower than what they were on my mission. My mission president, along with the elders made it very clear that sisters were just something that they had to put up with, and my MP sent several of them home mostly because he didn’t know how to deal with them. I think that there are plenty of other options available to women who want to serve others and gain leadership experience without going on a mission.

  10. Violet says:

    Would I go again? Good question. I am not sure if I would go again. There were parts I absolutely loved and then there were parts, well let’s just I would not want to experience again. I loved learning a new language, although it was hard since I was serving a foreign language mission in the US and somedays we didn’t teach in Spanish at all. I use Spanish in teaching and in my neighborhood, which is 50% latino. I gained an appreciation for the complexities of illegal immigration in the US and compassion for many of the people I met. Like the pregant woman from Guatamala, whose husband abandoned her and her kids so she came to the US illegally, hoping to make money to support herself and them. I hated tracting with a passion, especially all the ferious dogs and getting yelled at. I had a few looney companions, which made life hard. It was on my mission when the whole you should marry a return a missionary thing just wasn’t so impressive or necessary for me. Especially when the ZL showed us those nude pictures of himself (I guess he wasn’t unique as that happened to FoxyJ) and photos of him at Hooters.

    Did I gain leadership skills, as a sister not really, but I did gain some interpersonal skills that have proved valuable. I have had to develop leadership skills at work as opposed to my mission.

    Did my mission help me develop a spiritual core? I am conflicted about this aspect of my mission probably because I am not sure of the role of spirituality in my life today. I still go to church, but its mostly for my family that I go. I haven’t gone to the temple in 4 years and have no immediate plans to go. This website has helped me not feel so alone in my wonderings.

    I have two daughters and I am not sure I would encourage or discourage them. I think I would share my experience the good and the bad and support them in their decisions.

  11. SingleSpeed says:

    THREADJACK:

    Since missions for sisters are “voluntary” (as opposed to “required” for elders), I wonder how the characteristics of those who choose to serve might differ than those who choose not to serve. How would a random sample of sister missionaries differ from a random sample of female members (let’s say female members in their 20’s to control for age a little bit)?

  12. Rachel says:

    if i as 21 again…yes, i’d serve again.

    i agree w/ some of the other comments that the mission helped most w/ interpersonal skills, but it also taught me how to teach utilizing the scriptures and understand the language of the spirit.

    my mission also had “traveling sisters” which were like zone leaders…and a head “ts”…she attended the major meetings to see that the needs of the sisters were met. we also had regular sister meetings. my president was awesome…he encouraged sisters to use their talents and think outta the box. i really think he was ahead of the rest of the church on how missionary work should be done…i served 9 years ago. since i had a lot of leadership experience before the mission i just kept reminding myself the elders were young w/ no experience, and this was their time to learn….and my time to learn patience.

    the mission laid a spiritual and religious foundation for me. i feel this has allowed me the freedom to explore other religions and my own spirituality without feeling “lost” in a world of so many ideas.

    mish bonus…great friends!

  13. Female missionaries were expected to work as hard as the elders with no opportunities to gain leadership skills.

    Should they have worked less hard? Were they never made senior companion? I had a leadership position for a total of 6 weeks on my mission. Should I have worked less hard?

  14. Janice says:

    Since when was a mission for learning leadership skills? There are a lot of benefits from going on a mission, but there is only one purpose. To suppose that there are benefits to be gained is frankly being selfish. I mission is to serve, not to plan on benefiting from.

  15. ZD Eve says:

    “I served in a French-speaking European mission, coming home 25 years ago next week. If I had it to do over again, and if it meant having to serve under the same president, I would not go — he was a bad man, a gynecologist in civilian life who hated women, and who despised sister missionaries. I still haven’t been able to get past some of his mistreatment, including the physical abuse.”

    Yikes. I’m sorry, Ardis, that you had such a terrible mission president. I didn’t have a particularly warm relationship with mine, and he exhibited some of the casual, unthinking sexism of men of his generation, but he was basically an OK guy. The kind of thing you endured is just chilling.

  16. ZD Eve says:

    This post asks such excellent questions. I’m always pleased to see forums where the immense variety of mission experiences can be discussed.

    “I also never know how to respond to questions about leadership in the church, because I’m one of those women who don’t like to be in charge. I know it’s a copout, but I just don’t like to be in charge of people.”

    Me either. But I don’t know that it’s a copout. Preferring, as I do, to find the disease in cultural forces rather than in myself, I’d criticize the intense focus on leadership Mormons seem to have imported from business and self-help sources rather than on my own inability to lead.

    For the most part I loved my mission. It was in intense coming-of-age experience that forced me to a much deeper level of spiritual maturity. But the meaning of my mission was, for the most part, an intensely private one, between me and God. There were other benefits–the language and cultural immersion, and some great relationships (as well as some terrible ones), but even those seem secondary to the spiritual discipline my mission taught me, and the intimacy with God. That transformed my life forever.

    Whether I’d encourage a daughter to go would depend entirely on her, on her desire to go or reasons for wanting to go. The miserable or downright evil experiences some people have as missionaries would, I have to admit, definitely give me pause. Missions are highly authoritarian structures, and like all such structures they run the risk of beating people’s integrity and very souls out of them. I would want any child who served a mission, a daughter or a son, to be strong enough to reject the guilt-trips and to insist on genuine conversion, for instance, instead of going along with the rushed baptisms to meet number goals we’ve all seen.

  17. D'Arcy says:

    I worked as hard or harder than every elder in my mission. My mission was big on numbers and they would report the numbers at each Zone Conference. I was the leader (of the numbers) many times. Instead of excitement for the work I was doing, I received comments like this “I just don’t understand why you are doing better than we are sister, I mean, we have the priesthood.” That’s a direct quote.

    I would not go again. I will not encourage anyone, male or female to go. I have a hard time with the fact that I spend 18 months of my life trying to “convert” people and preaching to them that there is only one truth.

  18. D'Arcy says:

    As a side note, I was totally anti the “numbers” game. Giving numbers, reporting numbers, deciding on if I was good at what I was doing because of the numbers. Everything seemed to revolve around numbers and being judged by those numbers than with the actual work of teaching love and charity.

  19. Maren says:

    “There are a lot of benefits from going on a mission, but there is only one purpose. To suppose that there are benefits to be gained is frankly being selfish. I mission is to serve, not to plan on benefiting from.”

    Thank you so much for your thoughts. It made me consider whether a mission is really about service. The structure of the mission suggests that it is about intense indoctrination. For example, the numbers game versus truly converting people, moving missionaries just when they are comfortable enough in an area to serve at full capacity, and significantly limiting community service hours.

    My original question is whether a mission is the best venue for a woman who wants to give 18 months serving others. Will my daughters be able to contribute more in another environment as well as develop interpersonal and leadership skills? I find it interesting that most people who have posted indicate that they would at least encourage their daughters to explore alternatives to the mission. Looking back has made me aware that my perspective and awareness of other options was limited by my Utah environment.

  20. Kiri Close says:

    yes, i did serve a mission (Detroit, baby!).

    however, i did land a FABULOUS mission president who was a psychologist (on sabbatical), stayed very close to north american natives (in his pre-mission life, had even rallied for their land rights in Canada where he is from), and played the guitar in church. I also remember one time for a stake fireside, the pianist didn’t show up, so he stood up from where he was sitting behind the pulpit, and nonchalantly started playing the few hymns he knew by heart for the congregation. those other brethren on the stand would not have stepped up. i like that he never looked like he was waiting to be thanked:o)

    He is dear 2 my heart because of his great spiritual, emotional, and intellectual understanding of cultures and the sexes, of humans–LDS or not.

    He was always joking around, too, and didn’t mind it if his wife put him in his place (or didn’t back-talk his wife when she was very direct in correcing him 1 way or another). I also remember him being very healthy and open about sex (imagine my great happiness much to the disdain of other missionaries!!!).

    of course, the previous MP and my MP’s counselors were too rigidly ‘closed’ and fit the classic mold of macho-a**hole for the most part. But my MP had the courage 2 b himself and has long left a positive, and indellible mark on me spiritually in a very positive way. And i see now where his talents and outspokenness of correct and righteous (though many times unorthodox) concepts transcend time. Currently at mission reunions, he still has many,many of his missionaries get together from his time–mainly due to his humaneness, openness that his RM’s now look toward whereas on a mission, they couldn’t understand his way then. They now flock to him, and so does my heart.

    This personality of my MP changed the whole feel of the mission since he was called there, which meant the elders were ‘commanded’ by prez to not think themselves above the sisters–i loved how his wife was very assertive with the elders. He was not a Policeman. He was a loving leader (and so dang smart!). For this kind of leadership and experience, i would want my daughters to go.

    Otherwise, forget it….

  21. Kiri Close says:

    Also, if my kids, girls or guys, served missions, i would want them to find their own way to emulate my mission prez in many ways.

  22. Tam says:

    I served a mission 25 years ago, and yes, if I had it to do over I would go again. Did I love it? No, it was very difficult. But the gains I received on several fronts provided important additions to my spiritual foundation and it was worth any difficulty I encountered. And the difficulties were balanced with much friendship and pleasantness along the way.

    As for leadership skills, I lucked out by getting a rather forward thinking mission president. He organized a sister’s district and I served as a district leader for several months. I learned some core lessons from that relatively rare experience. My sympathies to the sisters who had less positive experiences with mission presidents.

    And as for my daughter, I am neither encouraging her nor discouraging her to be a full-time missionary. If she wants to serve a mission, she has my full support. If she doesn’t, she also has my full support. A full-time mission can be a great experience. But there are many great experiences to be had at age 21 and a mission isn’t for everyone.

  23. Andrea Alexander says:

    How do I encourage my two sons to serve missions without encouraging my daughter? My mission is the experience that made me a feminist. I was oblivious to the need for feminism prior to this blatently sexist experience. My journey began when I received my copy of “Ye are the Light of the World” handbook sent by the church to sisters prior to 1990. Wow! What a read!! The steriotypes sisters had to deal with at the MTC were terrible — you were either an ugly looser who didn’t get married or if you were attractive, you were trying to seduce all of the elders. My mission brought out my fighting spirit, but it eassily could have crushed me. Not only were sisters not given leadership roles, but you couldn’t state any opinions without bruising that priesthood ego. I grew up in a Mormon community, in an active Mormon home, but I had no idea how sexist our church was until my mission. On the positive side, does serving a mission put a girl on equal footing with the know-it-all RM’s? After all is said and done, I think I will encourage my daughter to go. Teaching people the gospel really is a rich, joyful experience.

  24. Andrea Alexander says:

    Whoops. I didn’t finish my comment, or proof it. I do feel strongly that serving a mission gave me some great tools to use throughout my life as a member-missionary. I feel a lot more comfortable talking about my religion that most of my non RM family and friends. Well, sorry for the typos. I don’t know how to proof these comments. I can’t even see my entire comment on my computer screen. Maybe it’s just my computer.

  25. Rose says:

    I would absolutely serve a mission again.

    It was a fantastic experience that allowed me to integrate what I was gaining in my college education (analytical thinking) with my spiritual development. I feel like it was one of the times in my life where I really felt a comfortable balance between the spiritual and the intellectual.

    And although there were weren’t many leadership opportunities for sisters, I always felt like I was just as important. There were sisters conferences and sisters always did just as much training in zone conferences as elders. The sisters were always reminded how much we were watched by the elders and how much of an example we were because of our greater age and experiences.

    I think the greatest jewel from my mission was watching my mission president and his wife interact. They had the BEST relationship I have ever seen in my life. They were a perfect team. I saw not only their spiritual/leadership side, I also saw the real side, the everyday interaction. I saw my mission president’s wife hit my mission president in the butt! (And she is VERY well known in the church.)

    It was their attitude towards each other, the missionaries (the sisters and the elders) and the church that set the whole tone for the mission. Sure, there were still the off elders that said degrading remarks, but those elders were just super immature and uninformed.

    I will encourage my two daughters to serve missions, I think it will add to the other experiences I will also encourage them to have.

  26. EmilyCC says:

    Maren, what a great post! I hope we’ll see more from you.

    I didn’t serve a mission. My hardest times with the Church happened when I was in my late teens and early 20’s. I remember praying about it and feeling like God was giving me that choice. When I hear awful experiences like those of D’arcy, Angie, and Ardis, I think it was really good that I didn’t go–it wouldn’t have taken much to make me leave the Church. But, maybe it would have given me the spiritual foundation I was trying to cobble together for myself by studying religion in an academic way.

    I don’t have daughters, and my sons are really young. I guess I feel like it’s too early for me to know if a mission is in any of their best interests. But, I think your final question is a good one for all parents to ask themselves as they decide whether to encourage their children to go on missions.

    Andrea, so glad to see you here!

  27. Maren says:

    Thanks EmilyCC. I read often and have enjoyed posting. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and comments.

    Though not like some missions described here, I experienced some of my lowest days while on my mission. I recognize that my career has been shaped by the cultural immersion and language experience I had while serving. That aspect of my mission I will always appreciate.

    I was intrigued by Caroline’s post. She stated she was occupied by study abroad and graduate school opportunities and did not consider a mission. I recently led a week long study abroad trip to Mexico where I met students living with host families, learning a language, and engaging in service learning in specialty areas that were deeply meaningful to them. I was impressed by their dedication and commitment.

    I will strongly encourage them to give a year of service, and become immersed in a culture other than their own. If my daughters want to serve missions, I will support them. However, they will also be aware that there are many meaningful options other than church missions.

  28. Tacy says:

    My sister emailed me this post, and though I am only a guest here, I have a comment or two, hope you don’t mind.
    I served a mission 5 years ago in the Midwest and experienced much of the treatment you describe. Sisters were barely tolerated by most of the elders, and maltreated by my second mission president who had no daughters, and, I believe, thought of women as second class citizens. We had no leadership called specifically for sisters, we were not allowed to have sister’s conferences, and when I organized a faux one masquerading as a temple visit, I got called in and reprimanded by the president.
    My mission revealed my own secretly weak spiritual core. I came to understand that I served in an organization that did not love, support or include me, which inevitably dampened my spirits and caused me to seek love from other places. But, when I turned to God’s love I discovered that I didn’t know God on that level. That was a huge revelation to me. I knew God academically, but not intimately. With that realization came many more. I discovered at that point that I did not enjoy telling other people about my religion, and had I been really honest about that aspect of my personality I would not have chosen to go on a mission.
    I returned home depressed and angry at my president, myself and God. I spent several years dealing with guilt, disappointment, and a sense of religious disenfranchisement. I departed from religion to a greater extent, and sought easier answers in simple pleasures. Time has kindly revealed the truth of my experiences, and has healed my relationship with God though I am still coming back to religion slowly.
    Ultimately, I discovered I went on a mission primarily to serve my own pride, to be recognized for it by others in the church, and to have it on my resume. I went with a thin yet vast historical defense of doctrine but with no spiritual witness of truth. My mission created an extremely painful conduit for real personal and spiritual growth that I don’t believe would have happened otherwise.
    I did not like my mission, and I have regular nightmares about being called to go again, but it played a large role in shaping who I am today and in whom I am becoming, and for this I’m undeniably grateful. I experienced some of the negative treatment you describe, but I still attribute my real struggles to my own attitudes and motives. If I have children, I will encourage them to do what they want regarding mission service, even if they serve missions with motives as selfish as mine were because I believe, for better or for worse, missions are an enormous learning opportunity, and that’s what life is for.

  29. E says:

    I had a good experience on my mission, but the thought that comes to me as I read the responses regarding whether readers would encourage their daughters to serve is this: Why should that be based on your experience? Your daughter, if she serves, will not have the same MP as you did, will almost certainly not serve in the same mission, and will meet different people and have different experiences. You may have been abused by an evil gynecologist, or you may have been profoundly blessed by the most inspirational married couple you have ever met. This is not predictive of your daughter’s experience.

    This is why, although I secretly hope that all of my children, sons and daughters, will serve missions, I will try not to impose that on them. It may or may not be what’s best, and that decision is really between them and the Lord.

  30. Jessawhy says:

    Tacy,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I’m glad you shared your experience. No one is a guest here, we’re all peers, learning more about each other, as I did while reading your comment.
    I’m sorry that your mission was so painful. You seem to have taken a difficult situation and grown from it, and that’s really hard to do.
    Glad you stopped by, come again soon.

  31. Flygirl says:

    My mission was a mix of positive and negative. I think the reason I felt so strongly positive about it is that it gave me a sense of purpose and righteousness. There was a lot of rule-breaking, as well as many sisters in our mission with serious mental health issues. So I felt like I had to be “righteous” and “obedient” and work hard, but I think I did a lot of this because of the opposition I felt from others who didn’t share the same goals. I’m sure I would have mostly been that way anyway, and I do think it was good to work hard, and be obedient to a point, but I think it gave me a false sense of superiority that I am not proud of now. I was only focused on one thing, and was judgmental at times of others who weren’t. I didn’t know where they were at in their lives or how to love people for who they were.

    I do think it helped me develop a sense of leadership and helped me gain confidence, but I think that I could have done that many other ways, such as a service opportunity such as the Peace Corps.

    I did not get along well with many of the elders in my mission (or I did until they were put in a leadership position over me). Many of them did not like sisters, which was quite obvious to us. Their focus on numbers and lack of understanding of individual circumstances (ie having companions who seriously needed mental health treatment and could not really do missionary work) made it difficult working with some of the elders.

    I think my mission president was supportive of the sisters, and acted as though he trusted us more than the elders. We were allowed to have sleepovers with the other sisters and he didn’t really care that several of us called each other all the time when we were having a hard time (technically against the rules). But the structure of having 19-year old boys telling you what to do often did not work well for me.

    Being the person I am now, I would definitely not go again or encourage a daughter to go, although I did make some wonderful friends from my mission that I like to think make it worth it for me.

  32. Cheryl says:

    I, too, served a foreign mission, in southern Europe. It has been many years since then, but there is not a day that goes by but that I am not grateful for my mission and the opportunities of service there.
    While serving in Germany, I was able to serve in a leadership capacity the final six months of my eighteen month mission as a District Leader. I was in charge of other sister missionaries in the area. We held weekly District meetings. I interviewed them weekly: to build relationships with them, help and support them, counsel and advise them, move the missionary work forward, “lead by example”,etc. I was called upon to make difficult decisions regarding these sisters when they and male missionaries broke mission rules. I had the unique opportunity of working with a General Authority as my mission president. I believe he saw the need to give sister missionaries the same kinds of learning and leadership experiences as he did with the Elders. I would HIGHLY enoucourage any young women to serve a mission. The testimony I gained of the Gospel and its principles, the many things I learned about myself on my mission, the opportunity for selfless service have served me every day of my life, and that is almost thirty years ago.

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