Guest Post: Things I would tell my daughter (or son) if she was going on a mission

by Ashley

Your mission president is probably a good man, who has been called because he has held many church callings and been very professionally successful. Unless he went to medical school, he is not a doctor. Nor is he a mental health professional so he is not qualified to make any decision related to your medical or mental health.

Chances are, he is also not an expert in church history or even church doctrine, so if he gives you strange counsel, rather than believing him just because he is your mission president, research it and let me and your father know what it is so you can learn to differentiate counsel of the spirit from counsel of the flesh.

You are in an area that is unknown to us with customs that may be strange to you. Try to learn everything you can about the culture and treat the people there with respect and deference. But be mindful of differences and customs that can lead to harm to you or other missionaries. You will encounter people who are not seeking the gospel but who lead happy and fulfilling lives. Wish them well. You will encounter others who are seeking the gospel. Welcome them, be gentle and patient with them. You will encounter others who are not seeking the gospel but who are struggling with many things in life. The answer for them may not be church membership – it may be a food pantry, a domestic violence shelter, or a suicide hotline. Before you left, we researched all of these resources for the area that you are in. Don’t be afraid to give community resources to the people you meet.

Your father, your grandfathers, and many other people we know and love, had wonderful mission experiences. We also have some friends who didn’t have such wonderful experiences on their mission. And as a therapist, I have worked with many people who experienced quite a bit of harm on their missions and whose personal safety was compromised.

We hope you will have, and want you to have, a happy, healthy, and successful mission (which means a lot of different things). We feel that as your parents, it is our job to protect you and advocate for you. We think we have a better sense of your safety than anyone else. As a licensed mental health professional, I also happen to believe that I likely have a better sense of trauma, mental illness, mental wellness, and assault and abuse than your mission president does. I am going to give you an instruction that you are to violate any mission rules about calling home should any of the following scenarios arise while you are serving a mission. These scenarios will not be unfamiliar to you, because we have talked about them in our home since you were small. If any of these scenarios happen to you, they are not your fault. You did nothing to invite them, and it has nothing to do with your obedience, worthiness, or commitment to your mission.

We love you. We believe that God loves you as well, and that you are cherished by Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father. But we do not believe that goodness protects you from harm, and we want you to be safe, both physically and emotionally. We want the same for those around you. So you call us, collect, no questions asked, should any of these issues arise. If your mission president seeks to punish you for breaking the rules, we will intercede as much as we can because these are OUR rules. We give you our love as you go off on this spiritual journey. We will be here whenever you need us.

• If your companion – or any other missionary – hits you, or physically assaults you in any manner, you call your mission president immediately. Then, you call me, no matter what the rules are. In fact, CALL ME FIRST. No matter what the rules are.

• If your companion – or any other missionary – threatens to physically harm you, immediately notify your mission president and CALL ME IMMEDIATELY.

• If your companion – or any other missionary – talks about harming themselves or anyone else, notify your mission president immediately and CALL ME IMMEDIATELY.

• If your companion – or any other missionary – attempts to kiss you, touches your body in ways that makes you uncomfortable or attempts to be sexual with you, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY so we can discuss how to report this to your mission president and keep you safe.

• If your mission president, or any other member of the church physically harms you, threatens to physically harm you, talks about harming you or anyone else, or in any way touches you, touches your body in ways that make you uncomfortable, or attempts to be sexual with you, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY.

• If your mission president, or any other member of the church talks to you about sex or masturbation (beyond a simple “Do you follow the law of chastity), or attempts to meet with you alone in secret, or buys personal gifts for you, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY.

• If your mission president, or any other member of the church, makes comments to you about being a polygamous wife, email or call me immediately.

• If you mission president, another missionary, or any other member of the church does any of the above to any other missionary you serve with, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY.

• If an investigator hits you or physically assaults you in any matter, call your mission president immediately and then call me.

• If an investigator threatens to physically harm you, immediately call your mission president and then call me.

• If an investigator talks about harming themselves, or anyone else, notify your mission president and CALL me.

• If an investigator or someone in the community talks about wanting to commit suicide, reach out to the crisis/mental health resources we have already identified in your area.

• If you observe domestic violence or sexual or physical abuse in an investigator’s home, CALL ME so we can discuss how to report this to your mission president to maximize your safety and the safety of the family.

• If anyone in the community of your mission physically harms you, threatens to physically harm you, follows or stalks you, verbally harasses you, or makes sexual comments or attempts to grope you, molest you, or rape you, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY so that I can notify the church and your mission president that you in an unsafe situation and assess the safety measures your mission has put in place.

• If your companion, another missionary, your mission president, or any member of the church puts you in a situation that you do not feel comfortable or safe in, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY. This could include riding in a car with no seatbelt, unsafe volunteer opportunities, being alone with people you do not know, tracting in the dark in unfamiliar or unsafe areas, or any number of scenarios.

• If your companion, mission president or another missionary are putting pressure on an investigator to get baptized or make a commitment to getting baptized and you do not think the family is ready, or that they have all the information they need to make that decision, advocate with those people as to why this family or investigator may not be ready. And call or email me so I can assist you with this.

• If you discover that someone in your mission is falsifying information related to proselytizing and baptizing, report it to everyone you can think of and report it to me so that I can assist you with making sure all parties are being truthful.

• If you are sick, and your companion, mission president or any other missionary do not allow you to rest and recover from illness or get medical treatment, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY so that I can ensure you get well.

• If another missionary is sick and the mission president or any other missionary do not allow them to rest and recover from illness or get medical treatment, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY so that I can advocate for that missionary to get well.

• If you experience depression, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, or suicidal thoughts at ANY point on your mission, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY so that I can ensure you get appropriate treatment for mental health needs.

• If another missionary you serve with experiences depression, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, or suicidal thoughts at ANY point on their mission, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY so that I can advocate for that missionary to get appropriate treatment for their mental health needs.

• If another scenario arises that I have not covered here, but that makes you extremely uncomfortable, you CALL ME IMMEDIATELY so I can help you make a plan.

With love,

Your mother

Ashley was shocked to discover that motherhood is actually one of her passions, and is constantly balancing being a mother and her job.  She is a licensed clinical social worker and adjunct professor living in New York City with her husband, toddler, and cat.  It is continually surprising to her that the place of birth on her passport is Provo, Utah, because she lived there for six months after she was born and has not lived in Utah since.  Ashley really believes her chicken pot pie is the best you will ever eat, and also bakes a mean chocolate layer cake.  This post is largely informed by her previous work as a therapist for LDS Family Services. 

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36 Responses

  1. Tim Rollins says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

    May this letter be mandatorily included with EVERY mission call issued.

    Nobody should EVER be made to feel pressured to compromise their dignity, safety or especially their integrity.

    Without those, we not only have nothing, we ARE nothing…

    But don’t hold your breath on changes coming from the great and spacious building…

  2. This is fantastic. I wish I had thought this through before my sons served.

    I think we’re done now, but it’s great counsel I will keep in mind for friends, and for eventual grandchildren. Thanks!

  3. jpv says:

    Wow, this sounds helicopter parent-y to a 20 year old.

    • Tim Rollins says:

      Just because someone is in a leadership position does not AUTOMATICALLY confer trust on them.

      Authority and priesthood keys for presiding officers, yes, trust, no. THAT has to be EARNED.

      It is not being a helicopter parent; it is being cautious and wise. You would do well to learn from the author of what’s probably the best piece I’ve read all year.

    • I completely agree with your assessment and I am the mother of a 20 year old.

    • paws says:

      That was my reaction, too.

  4. ST says:

    Thank you for this! As someone who was emotionally manipulated by MTC staff, my mission president, companions, and elders in my mission, I applaud you for speaking out for practical support for missionaries. Going on a mission is such a world shattering and foreign experience, even if you serve domestically, that I don’t view this as helicopter parenting, it is ensuring physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual safety. The isolation and the weight of responsibility can be crushing at times. I suffered in silence and wish I reached out instead of trying to be 100% obedient to ensure I didn’t affect the numbers in our mission, which were paramount above all else. I was so out of my depth in so many situations that were dangerous or required expertise that was beyond anything that I was qualified to offer. I wish I had the voice and the courage to speak up that I have now and ask for help from people who actually had my back. I wish that missionaries had ,more social work training, rather than indoctrination, to ensure that they were not messing with people’s lives and guilting them into baptism as much as we did in our mission.

  5. rcs says:

    My mission was relatively tame but I had rocks thrown at me, a drunk man kick me and a gay man try to kiss my companion (who was not gay). I was young but was still an adult and so I tried to deal with it. Should I have called home then? I trusted my mission president to help me get through the time when my brother passed away back home (though in retrospect my grieving was probably not healthy). I was allowed to call my family multiple times at the encouragement of my mission president for support that he could not provide.

    My oldest is still a few years away from going in a mission. I suspect he’ll face difficult circumstances and it will be hard because I won’t be able to protect him from the heartbreak that most missionaries experience. Hopefully he’ll have good companions that will help him out but there may be times when he needs the help of a mission president to deal with a companion and like my experience he may need to touch base with home for a particular challenge. But I fear that the seemingly endless list of call home emergencies you offered will stunt your child’s growth into adulthood and spiritual maturity.

  6. Becky says:

    Helicopter parenting at its finest. Teaching our children to cultivate a relationship with and rely on each member of the Godhead is the most important thing we can do. Calling Mommy-however well-credentialed she may be-is still relying on the arm of the flesh. Safety is paramount, but the author didn’t demonstrate any trust in adult full-time missionaries or those who serve with them. Perhaps the journey of raising her toddler to adulthood will shape her views.

    • ST says:

      It is fine to cultivate trust in the Godhead and fellow missionaries, but sometimes mission life can be more like Lord of the Flies than other people expect. There is a lot that goes on that is not discussed or that is covered up quietly. I relate it now to having a baby or getting married, you know that other people have done it, but nothing really prepares you for being in the middle of things.And there are a lot of missionaries who don’t remotely act like adults based on my experience. Relying on God did not prevent the abuse that I went through or make those that served with any better. I only felt more helpless and alone. Perhaps if I had spoken up and gotten the help I needed outside of the mission bubble, my mental health would not have been as challenged.

    • Lily says:

      Your right Becky. If anyone tries to harm or sexually assault this missionary, her companion, or an investigator, she should pray. . .and then she should call the COPS.

    • Ziff says:

      I agree that it’s important for missionaries to learn to handle what things they can themselves, but relying on the mission president or district leader or whoever is nearby is no less relying on the arm of flesh than getting help from home.

  7. Ashley says:

    As the author, I’m definitely not trying to perpetuate “helicopter parenting”. I absolutely want my children to cultivate their own relationships with God. However, the structure of missions is not set up in a way that teaches young men and women that their personal safety (physical and emotional) is paramount. They are told that their mission President is the person with agency over them and in fact that they should submit their agency to him.

    This is why I encourage parents to have conversations about these kinds of scenarios before their children go on missions – so their children can use their agency to determine the best course of action.

    My question to those who view this as helicopter parenting is – what do you suggest a young man or woman do if they experience one of these scenarios and their mission President does not assist them? With the hierarchy of missions, if a mission President does not act, frequently missionaries have no recourse whatsoever. There is tremendous shame around the possibility of being sent home from a mission or being seen as “disobedient”. All of this contributes to a culture where missionaries experience physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse that is not disclosed or dealt with until they go home.

    I have seen the heartbreak and damage that these types of situation cause young missionaries. I have worked with middle aged people who are still dealing with issues related to missions served decades ago.

    My experience suggests that the best way to ensure the safety of individuals is to empower them to make their own decisions. The intent of this piece was to show how to open a dialogue to give missionaries more autonomy over themselves rather than ceding it to their mission President.

    • rcs says:

      I wouldn’t suggest that a missionary just deal with it if he or she encounters a sexual predator or is dealing with irrepressible suicidal ideation. However, if you feel that there’s a significant risk of a mission president making such situations worse then it would be rational for you not to send your child on a mission at all. I don’t mean to imply that he would deal with these situations by himself but could assist and help arrange appropriate extra assistance as appropriate. Perhaps I’m naive but I felt quite comfortable trusting my mission president though he was not perfect (as I hope my children trust me despite my imperfections).

      I do appreciate your concern for potentially coercive mission presidents but I’d suggest you consider how you perceive your own influence on your child’s agency. You seem to imply that there are no decisions when a serious issue occurs – just a default to call you. Does that really empower our missionaries?

      Having said that, some of the scenarios you presented are essentially what adults are expected to deal with – a boss that doesn’t want you to skip work because you’re sick for example. I would want my children to always feel like I’m there as a safety net but part of the blessing of serving a mission is the pressure to grow up and figure things out.

    • jp says:

      May I speak as a Mission President’s wife? There are more options on a mission than mission president or parent. Every missionary in the church has access to both physical and mental health providers. They do not need to go through the mission president or his wife to contact them. Another option would be to call their stake president. Missionaries are adults, as young and immature as they are. They need to be allowed to make adult decisions possibly without the consent or help of their parent. I also disagree with your statement that missionaries are told that their mission presidency has agency over them. He is their ecclesiastical leader, yes. He has no agency over them. He doesn’t even decide if a disobedient missionary is sent home – that is up to the area presidency.
      I think some of your article is working under old assumptions. It’s commendable that you would like to send out a child who is well- prepared to take responsibility for their own well- being. The fact is, they have more options than you realize.

      • K says:

        Thanks for sharing your perspective. I do think you add helpful information and I hope it works out this way most of the time.

        I do not think that this article is based on old information. I have heard multiple stories of missionaries in the last few years who were not treated like adults. They were manipulated, guilt tripped, shamed, etc. and told that there was one “right” choice regarding their health, their mental health, their safety (or whatever it was) and if they didn’t do what the mission president thought was right, they were disobeying God.

        Missionaries do not have full agency if they don’t have possession of their passport or enough money for a plane ticket home. They do not have full agency if their mission companion is dangerous to them and their only choice is to stay in a dangerous situation or go home and face the shame of an incomplete mission. Mission presidents have too much power over missionaries. They also have too much power just in the form of the missionaries’ desire to be obedient. Missionaries need to be empowered to exercise common sense and personal safety over obedience.

        I think that what you describe is a nice idea, but missionaries are told to contact their mission president when something is wrong. If that mission president doesn’t respond well, the missionary is going to have a hard time and other adult leaders are more likely to “side” with the MP rather than the young missionary. I just don’t see a stake president being very helpful in any of the situations described.

        One last thing–is it true church-wide that missionaries can access physical and mental health providers without getting permission first? If the old rule about that has changed, that is awesome. I would be so glad to hear it.

      • Amelia Christensen says:

        Hi JP. Maybe you and your husband are following the guidence provided, but I can guarantee you that not every mission does.

    • Ziff says:

      “With the hierarchy of missions, if a mission President does not act, frequently missionaries have no recourse whatsoever.”

      Yes, I think this is sadly so true. Even if others who are pushing back on your list don’t agree with every item on it, I wonder if they might not agree that there’s some better way to have missionaries handle difficult situations than trusting that their mission president is perfect and will always do the right thing.

      • ST says:

        Thanks for your insights. I once asked for a blessing from someone else because my mission president was giving me pushback on some concerns I had. He found out somehow and berated me for getting a blessing from someone else who didn’t have stewardship over me. I felt very alone at that point.

      • Ziff says:

        I’m sorry, ST. That sounds awful. I’m sorry that your MP was so concerned about hierarchy that he didn’t want you getting a blessing without his say-so. Yiiikes!

    • Becky says:

      Empowering a young adult to make his or her own decision by calling Mom? Hmmm… If a MP is not responsive, helpful, or worse, a source of concern, I would absolutely encourage my currently-serving missionary to contact me or anyone else she thinks would be helpful. I think there is a connection between helicopter parenting and children who don’t understand the principle of agency. All of us need to learn how to act instead of being acted upon. Proposing that adults choose to act only long enough to call Mommy and then let her fix things is a disservice imho.

  8. Angela Larsen says:

    If you have not served a mission you don’t get to just call Mommy or Daddy whenever you feel unsafe. The amount of times you said to call me immediately in my opinion is way too much. I did serve a mission and yes there were times I felt unsafe but I never once thought of calling my Mom or Dad. I went directly to my district leader and he went up the chain to see what could be done if need be. The wheels sometimes turned very slowly when it came to some situations and other times there was an immediate need for change. I did have to rely on my own common sense to figure things out sometimes. I did talk with my son before he left on his mission and shared with him some things I learned being out and so did my husband. Calling mommy every time something happens is not good advice for your missionary.

  9. Katie says:

    I’m surprised at all of the helicopter parent comments. A discussion like this seems absolutely warranted, especially as Iisten to more and more stories of missionary experiences that would never be related over the pulpit—stories of abuse, or gaslighting, or manipulation, or assault. If the missionaries knew they could/should call home, I think it would do so much for so many situations.

  10. Evelyn says:

    One of my sons had terrible experiences while serving in a foreign country that still affect him more than ten years later. I believe he suffered from PTSD. His mission president was neither equipped nor willing to deal with the abuse that he received. There was absolutely no one else for him to turn to, so YES I wish he had called me. Unfortunately, kids in the church are taught to submit to priesthood authority no matter what, even when the Spirit tells them it is wrong. I am not a helicopter parent! And if people believe that bad things don’t happen on missions, they live in a bubble. This is not about trivial disagreements with companions. This is about serious abuse and other issues. I wish there had been a therapist like you to help my son back then. Thank you for your article!

    • Amelia Christensen says:

      Well said. I’m sorry your son didn’t get the support he needed. Unfortunately emotional health is still not enough of a priority, even now.

  11. Amelia Christensen says:

    These helicopter parent comments are inappropriate, imo, and dripping of privilege. Bad things happen on missions, and no one wants to talk about it. I applaud this author for having the guts to bring this discussion to light!

  12. K says:

    I don’t know where exactly the line might be, for things to call home, and things to deal with locally. Maybe the description here is not exactly right.

    But I do know that the current situation for missionaries is not appropriate. They should be allowed regular calls with parents if they want. They should be empowered to exercise common sense and to place their safety and their health above following rules. They should not ever be told that their success as a missionary is dependent on their obedience or faith. It isn’t healthy. Many mission presidents are wonderful and also, many have contributed to these unhealthy ideas that I have just described.

    If you don’t think a missionary should call home quite so frequently, where do you think the line should be? And what do you think a missionary should do when he or she is in a dangerous or unhealthy situation and the MP does not help?

  13. Spunky says:

    This is wonderful! Thank you for sharing it!

    I’ve thought a lot recently about that dirty mission president in Puerto Rico who was excommunicated– and I am glad that he was ex’d! BUT I am bothered that the sister missionary who finally “turned him in”– did so by calling her stake president in the US. It terrifies me that she had no where else to turn (or did she and she was rejected? was her stake president the only one who believed her? was she being victim-blamed by others in the mission office). We don’t know the particulars, but I’d like to believe that my child w/could call me when in trouble on their mission.

  14. Olea says:

    I think that, to be able to have that voice in your child’s head say “maybe I should call home about this”, you need to say it a LOT of times. There’s so much pressure and expectation to only call home for Christmas and Mother’s Day, and only email once a week (unless something else comes up, and you need to skip a week).

    We were very lucky, that when my youngest brother was involved in a car crash, the (overseas) mission president supported more contact. With missionaries leaving at much younger ages, I think more contact in cases of emergency is probably a good idea, and I’m so grateful for the Internet making communication over long distances easier.

  15. Angie says:

    Hi, just a quick background – I’m a mom about to send a missionary out, also a returned missionary myself and a fellow mental health professional.

    I appreciate the concerns you have brought up. They are real concerns and I experienced one or two of them as a missionary myself. I 100% agree that we should talk about these things with our kids before they go out. They are adults, but they are very young adults and also always our kids 🙂 and we can still offer advice and support where we can.

    I also happen to believe that missionaries should have free, or at the least more regular, contact with home. And certainly if there are struggles, this would be a time when I would hope that a MP was receptive to calling home regularly. This happened with me when my dad had a heart attack and quad bypass while I was serving. My mom was given permission to call me as frequently as she needed to keep me updated and I appreciated that. It actually made it much easier for me to do the work when I knew my mom was going to keep me updated.

    But…I disagree that the answer to almost everything is to call home. Most of the things mentioned here are things I would first take to the Lord in prayer, and then determine from there what is the appropriate path. For a lot of what was mentioned, a district or zone leader might be appropriate. For others, jumping right to the MP might be better. If it is not handled appropriately, then I would take it to a parent or stake president at that point. Some of these things (witnessing an assault) I’d actually call law enforcement, not my MP or my mom. Unless the perpetrator of the problem IS the MP, in most cases I would say see if your missionary and the MP can work out a solution together (if it is the MP as perp then of course it needs to go through a parent, SP, etc.). If the MP doesn’t address the problem, THEN calling home might be appropriate.

    I think even if calling home rules were to change (and I think they should), I still think it’s a lot healthier for the missionary to use their own intuition, judgement, and the Spirit to decide what to do other than always jumping to “call mom”. Mom can be a great support and advocate for her missionary if things aren’t handled appropriately, but I think our kids are more than capable of deciding these things on their own. The situations I had to deal with on my mission, I learned from and thankfully my leaders handled it well (we had someone try to break into our apartment in the middle of the night, and I had a member who was essentially stalking me). If I would have called my mom she probably would have had me on the next plane home, but thankfully that did not happen. I continued to serve with some wise adjustments and I loved my mission.

  16. Eliza says:

    It is so interesting to me that so many here are saying that our young adult children should just be left to “figure out” a solution to difficult, dangerous and potentially life-altering/threatening situations on their own. In what other context do we ask our children to do that? Never, that’s when. We send 18 year old young adults off to college but would never, not in a million years, say ‘Bye now! Don’t call me except 2 times a year! Make sure you follow the advice of your RA no matter what! Remember, being obedient to the RA and the rules of the dorm is the MOST IMPORTANT part of going away to college.” That is laughably absurd. And yet, that’s exactly what we tell our missionaries. And on top of that we throw in a whole panoply of additional challenges: manipulation, shame and the pressures of a new culture, new rules, new languages, new relationships etc…the potential for disaster is ever present and all too often becomes reality. Can you think of a single 19 year old who would know what to do, how to do it, and have the emotional ability to navigate the “what and how” on her own, in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, if she was raped, or harrassed, or assaulted or suffering from crippling mental health challenges? No. Of course not. At home, who would that 19 year old most likely reach out to for support? Her parents, of course. Why would we expect her to just “figure it out” on a mission? Absurd. And no, a mission president is not an acceptable substitute for a parent or other known and trusted support person. We manufacture an unnecessarily difficult experience and then throw developmentally immature children (that is not a judgement. That is a biological fact-18 and 19 year olds are not yet fully developed adults) to the wolves. And, as if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, we allow strangers to enforce rules which cut off regular contact with their best support mechanism (regular communication with loved ones). And then, after all that, we shame those same children for “failing” when the challenges become too much.

    I can only hope that I will be able to cultivate a relationship with my children that gives them space to ‘figure things out” at a developmentally appropriate time while also letting them know that at any time, in any place they can come to me and I will help. Help does not mean “solve all their problems” and I don’t think that’s what the OP was saying. Instead, offering my help might look like: talking through options, presenting alternative viewpoints, encouraging specific course of action, providing emotional support, ensuring access to the appropriate resources and, more rarely as they grow and mature, intervening on their behalf. However, I can’t really do any of those things if I can’t talk to my child. An email, perhaps weeks after the fact, simply doesn’t cut it. So, yes. If any of the issues come up while my child is serving a mission, I’d hope they would call me without hesitation.

  17. Ellen Patton says:

    This is a great post but I’m interested in your chocolate cake recipe! 🙂

  18. Mortimer says:

    The push-back you received was fascinating- name calling and desperate clinging to social and administrative tradition in the face of extremely logical change. (Boy did you touch a nerve…change!)

    It just goes to prove that we are paralyzed by our mental constructs of tradition and authority to react or adapt to our contemporary challenges.

    It’s so odd…nowhere in scripture or revelation does it say that we have to shut off contact. It’s purely a cultural relic from before the era of “telephony”. The idea of missions being places for kids to toughen up away from home is not a goal focused on the work, but in the missionary. There are some that serve or are sent on missions to grow up, to develop business and leadership skills, to become scriptorians, to learn a language (for college or that international business career). Those are self-serving goals. Why would more resources to the work be considered bad? Why aren’t we concerned about doing the work- serving others with all our resources?

    The anti-parent “I learned to swim by being thrown into the deep end and so should you” mentality is truly baffling. There used to be an old joke about a person stranded in the ocean who prayed to God to be rescued with pure faith. Soon a boat, then a helicopter, then a bigger boat come by and attempted to rescue the guy, but he refuses each time- insisting that God will come. He dies, goes to heaven, and asks God why he never came, to be told that God did come – 3xs. We’re doing the same thing.

    JP, fyi- missionaries don’t always have access to mental/physical health resources. On my mission, it meant getting approval and being flown by the church to a nearby developed country -then probably being sent home. In many missions, the Mission President is also the district president (like stake president). Besides, missionaries do not ecclesiastically function under the stewardship of local authorities. They are called by the Prophet, fall under the stewardship of the MP and Q15, and are similar to general authorities with the exception that they are called to a specific people/area as opposed to the globe. Additionally, mission moms (who don’t even have titles or office) have no official responsibility for missionaries other than what they take on themselves. My mission mom did nothing as or for the missionaries- and perceived her role as a support to her husband. District leaders? You’ve got to be kidding me. I agree-with an above commenter- it’s like putting your trust in a dorm RA. Even most mission presidents don’t have the skill sets to handle abuse and mental/health issues. My mission President was a military man- sent to help watch over political/safety issues in our young mission. He was about as competent with PTSD and health issues as General Patton (who famously slapped a soldier suffering from shell shock).

    We’ve got a level 4 crisis on our hands with the missionary program- it’s broken in many areas and our numbers demonstrate that. We are too stubborn to think outside the box or apply any of our existing resources, because we are holding to tradition and self-serving rationales.

  19. Mortimer says:

    While I agree with the post, I just want to point out one problem (easily fixed) with involving parents/others in the work.

    I knew a young missionary who wrote a journal-like letter weekly to his family and all his friends, relatives, and ward members back home. (The blast included about 500+ people).

    Pretty soon he had dozens of back-seat drivers writing him letters- telling him how to missionary- and even criticizing his parents for sending him out with his blind spots (which were minor and normal for an 18 year old). It became a hot mess.

    The problem could be easily solved by educating his contacts about how to best support and when/how to provide feedback. (Obviously, a licensed therapist has received extensive training on how to do this, but the gossip squad in the ward is -let’s just say- less skilled.)

    It’s not a reason to stop home-based support, just an opportunity to establish some boundaries and do some education. (BTW, everyone should learn how to support missionaries regardless of how frequently they are in contact. Hint: good support rarely starts with “on MY mission…”).

    Relying on the existing spiritual stewardship and inspiration of parents is a natural solution which draws upon the powers of heaven. Special ward/stake supports could be set apart for missionaries (local Drs, licensed therapists, culture experts, etc.) in “ministering” type role which would include frequent digital (video) contact with the missionary. I’m pretty sure that stakes have a duty scriptoral duty to support missionaries anyway- so this isn’t out of alignment.

    I served in an underdeveloped country with a lot of violence and poverty. I didn’t have a doctor or therapist available to me. Police who see dramatic violence or death are pulled off duty for assessment. Medical professionals and military also receive support, training and debriefing. Missionaries? Nothing.

    There were several doctors and therapists in my home ward and extended community. Most doctors offices (lds or not) provide online consultations to their patients for reimbursement purposes- and are only a click away. Whether lds or not- home resources can be rallied.

    I think we need more lds social services support- they are our unspoken parish “nurses”, responsible for all the abuse and divorce, the trauma in our wards. I’m not sure we have the capacity to support missionaries, but it is sorely needed. Therapists need to understand lds culture in order to serve- a skill set many do not possess- although cultural sensitivity training is a good start.

    • Angie says:

      I really like what you have said here.

      Regarding your last paragraph – my husband works for LDS Family Services and has been involved in helping many missionaries with mental health struggles. One thing I was glad to hear is that he has done some sessions online with missionaries in other areas besides those he has worked with in person here. Some of these are missionaries who he did screenings for prior to their leaving, so there was an established relationship with a therapist that could be accessed. I also had a companion with an eating disorder who was able to get good help from LDSFS while I was serving with her (and this was 25 years ago so my hope is that it has gotten even better). However, I think that the big obstacle here is in training mission presidents and local leaders to see the need in the first place. I think resources are there and are in most cases quite good, but untrained or poorly trained leaders (or leaders who just ignore their training and do what they want or what they feel “inspired” to do) don’t tap into them nearly enough. This has been a huge issue for me with bishops who try to handle relationship and mental health issues themselves instead of referring them to a professional, and it applies to missionaries and mission presidents as well.

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