Thoughts on a Mission – 15 Years Later
Fifteen years ago today, I entered the MTC. I wrote previously about the 10 year anniversary of returning home, but I still feel like the 15 year anniversary of beginning a mission deserves its own post.
Some things have changed over the years in how I view my missionary service. The memories have dimmed, and while it was still an important time in my life, it has become less ever-present in my thoughts. It’s almost like the hazy memories of summer camp – a place apart from the normal world where things don’t work the same way as at home.
I rarely start off stories with “When I was on my mission…” anymore. I have new stories to tell that happened afterward. I haven’t had a dream about my mission in years. I’ve lost touch with most of the people I met while I was there. Some on purpose, some just to the mists of time. Even the ones I do still keep in touch with are simply acquaintances on my Facebook friend list.
The intersection of my church life and having served a mission is less pronounced now, too. I’m old enough that people rarely ask if I served a mission. They’re more concerned with what I have going on now than what I did a decade and a half ago. Previously, when people found out I served in the United States, I was automatically relegated to the status of second-class RM. There was definitely a hierarchy of missionary service with people who went to Latin America or Asia at the top, Europe and other places in the middle, and the US at the very bottom. It seems to matter less to people now that it was so far in the past. I’m glad for that; I got kind of sick of my missionary service being belittled because of where I was called to serve. (Besides, if we truly believe that everyone deserves to hear the gospel, that includes the people of the US, too.)
When I went on a mission, there was still a stigma against women who served as missionaries. We were the uppity women who couldn’t land a husband. That stigma has abated now that the age for missionary service has been lowered and more women are serving. And some of that reframing has spilled over into women of my era who served, too. I still haven’t married, but people don’t connect that to my missionary service anymore. They’ve come up with a whole new list of reasons.
Even though my mission has faded a bit in my mind, it still gave me some formative experiences. It was the first time I saw poverty up close. It was the first time I saw exactly how essential education and career are for women because I saw women trapped in bad marriages because they were incapable of financially supporting themselves. I vowed to myself that I would never be without means of being able to provide for myself, even if I marry. It was the first time someone told me that I couldn’t do something because of my sex, and it made me angry. How dare they take Bible verses out of their historical context to try to silence me when God Himself called me to preach the word?
My mission gave me life skills that I didn’t know I would need. I had to plan my days with little oversight. I had to select goals, figure out how to accomplish them, and manage my time without a boss hovering over my shoulders to make sure I was doing my work. Now that I’m self-employed, I do all that in my daily life. It also helped me to be able to connect with people from all walks of life, which is a skill I use in my law practice. And while I haven’t needed to ride a bicycle in a skirt since returning home, that lesson taught me to avoid taking myself too seriously. It’s impossible to ride a bike in a skirt without looking at least a little silly.
It will be interesting to see how my thoughts and memories of my mission continue to change and grow over time. I wasn’t fully prepared for the reality of it all. I had only heard missions spoken of in glowing terms about how they were filled with unbridled joy. Nobody talked about the bad parts, at least not the actual bad parts. The worst things I ever heard about were weird food and homesickness. Even now, as I’m writing this paragraph, I’m finding myself unable to describe the parts of a mission that wounded my soul and took years to heal from. The taboo against discussing negative mission experiences is that strong. I hope someday that taboo will be lifted so people can go in with eyes open.
I don’t know if I would have gone if I had known everything that was going to happen, but time heals all wounds, and looking back, I’m glad I went. But if I have another dream where I’m back there, I’ll still be glad to wake up and realize that I’m 30-something with a job, and I don’t have to wear a skirt or stick with another person 24/7.