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