Guest Post: Redeeming My Soul, Part III
The day I learned of the president’s decision to release me, I was volunteered to participate in a missionary panel for a youth conference. The idea of sharing intimate details of my overall disheartening experiences in front of a group of strangers and fellow Billings missionaries both terrified and irked me. However when asked to share “how I knew the call was right,” I had an answer that was true as well as acceptable to the group waiting anxiously for an answer I didn’t even know I had. I said, “I still don’t know, but I believe its right because sometimes when I’m walking with a companion, talking to people on the street, eating a horrific dinner including spoiled food and embarrassingly personal questions — I feel right, like I’m in the right place at the right time, doing and saying the right things. It’s not often that I get to feel that way.” A short time later I was told that the president was in the building and wanted to meet with me. After hearing this message and waiting for what felt like eternities I came face to face with him for one of the last times as he instructed me to open our talk with a prayer and then told me he had bought me a plane ticket home and I was leaving in one day.
Then, something that I had never expected but prayed fervently for almost every day after he called to threaten my old companion and I: he admitted that he was wrong about me. He all but retracted his earlier statements and said he was only, “rebuking me sharply but now engaging in an outpouring of love, as is mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants.” I must admit that I daydreamed about the day that he would know he was wrong about everything, every bias he held, inflammatory remark he made and misinformed belief he acted on and see me for who I really was. This meeting was bittersweet as I greatly desired to return home but I also wanted to stay in Billings, prove how worthy I was to be a full-time missionary, member of the church, and child of God. I mistakenly believed, like others, that starting and finishing a mission has everything to do with individual and spiritual hardiness or worth. From the MTC and interactions with people in the mission field, it seemed true enough.
At the mission home shortly before being taken to the airport, the president once again questioned my original mission concerns and asked me in a patronizing tone if any of them had come to fruition. I confirmed that in 10 weeks of service, yes some of them had. He then let me know that sometime after hearing I would be coming home, my brother called him on the phone and they spoke. He admitted to sharing details about some of my challenges in the field. This made returning home even more daunting as people in my family, home stake and general sphere of influence were aware of personal details of this vulnerable experience without the benefit of my perspective and voice. What had he told them? What did they think they knew? What did they actually know? How would I be received? How could I ever overwhelm his influence with them so that the truth, my truth would be known and believed? It was enough that the mission experience itself was tainted by the president and missionary gossip but now my life upon returning home would be as well.
However, he continued to belittle me even as I was on my way home, feeling shocked and humiliated. I gleaned many lessons on misguided church leadership, ineffective bureaucracy and the encouragement of passive aggression within Mormon culture. I have witnessed how full-time missions are brimming with politics — social climbers trampling on others to gain favor from mission presidents, abuse of power and using spirituality as a guise to belittle and demean others. No attempts were ever made by anyone, in the field or at home in attempt to preserve my testimony or church membership. Along with this experience of invisibility is the hero worship of full-time returned missionaries. However, this missionary glory does not extend to those of us who return early, especially when we don’t engage in telling lighthearted mission tales.
It is possible that throughout everything the Lord and my Heavenly Parents were all watching. They knew who I was, who they were sending me to and how things would end. Yet they still extended me this mission call and prompted me relentlessly for almost a decade. Perhaps this was to solidify my role as a truth teller, advocate and survivor of hard things, people and places. Someone needed to tell this story and they knew I would.
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.