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carlimac

Wondering if my mission was really worth it. (long)

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 I was a welfare missionary so I mostly worked with baptized or inactive members to help them learn everything from cleanliness to how to teach a Relief Society lesson.   I can say for certain that our efforts were well meant but so lacking in wisdom and knowledge of the local customs and thought processes. I remember trying to get a small branch to have leadership correlation meetings. I'd never been to a correlation meeting in my life.  

 

I recently found a couple of LDS member women on facebook that I had known and become friends with while there in Argentina. They are both still active in the church, thankfully. But in chatting with them they've both told me of many people that I knew and loved who have gone inactive in the 30 yrs since I was there. The reasons vary but one of the main reasons was mediocrity and just simply lagging interest. One of the ladies who went inactive was very educated and she saw the members as being " bruto" or backward and stupid.

 

Sometimes I wonder if I was just so full of missionary optimism that I was blinded and could only imagine the church growing and expanding and life becoming ever better for the members there. I didn't see the church for what it really was for them, in the context of their lives, which for many was very difficult.  

 

One example: I knew a young man there.  He was a newly returned missionary and was so charismatic and beloved by everyone. I imagined him continuing up the path of gospel activity and growth, becoming a great leader- bishop, stake president, possibly even a mission president someday. He did need to finish high school first but I believed the church would encourage him on to great things. He wanted to become a dentist. We wrote some after I got home. There was mutual attraction there but I knew the cultural differences between us were just too vast so I discontinued writing. I got married to a guy in my stake and never heard from the Argentine again.

 

Fast forward 30 yrs, I found out that Mr. Bien Guapo from the southern hemisphere passed away 3 yrs ago. I was shocked and saddened about that. But accidents and illness happen so I figured it was one or the other. He was only in his 40s when he died. I began asking questions to hear about his wonderful life of leadership in the church, pulling himself out of poverty and gaining professional success and the beautiful wife and grundle of kids I had always imagined for him. Turns out he was married twice, had one kid and had been unfaithful to both wives. He was bisexual and ultimately died an untimely death due to his sordid lifestyle. He had been excommunicated. Both wives and his daughter left the church, too. What???? How could that be the same guy I was so enamored with?? Are all missionaries so easily fooled? Are the members just trying to look more faithful than they really are to the missionaries? What really is going on?

 

I began looking up pictures of his large extended family that I had thought was pure gold when I knew them. A few of them are still active in the church, but I was dismayed to see that the most common lifestyle of drinking and partying showed up glaringly in all the pictures. Either I didn't see the truth at the time, was terribly naïve and idealistic, or the conditions they had to live in down there were just too hard to reconcile with the requirements of full church activity and membership.  

 

Anyway, I know this stuff happens all over the world, not just south of the border. But it still makes me wonder if my 18 months of grueling effort at trying to learn a foreign language, trying to share the idealism of  American-based values and Utah church culture was lost on those folks. I wanted to make a difference. I thought I was. But now I just don't know.

 

I also wonder if this is more the norm than the exception. If so, it's disheartening.

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Any scriptures I can think of in regards to missionary work talk about the one, and saving even one soul. If you impacted even one person, your mission was worthwhile. But even in the unlikely event that your service helped only one person, the things you left for that one person while have ripple effects for generations. 

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I guess the broader questions I'm asking are- How effective are we being as a missionary church if real conversion and activity lasts such a short while for so many who are baptized?  Are we doing it wrong? Or are these short term members just not really grasping the whole thing? Just not seeing the big picture? Just not getting what being a member of the church really is? Do the idealistic views of the missionaries contribute to the long term problems of member retention? Are Utah and Idaho missionaries trying to convert people to the Utah/Idaho culture (or even American culture for that matter) rather than to the gospel of Jesus Christ?

 

This is inspired from my first reality check in 30 yrs. since I got home from my mission. I've had no contact with anyone but my American companions since 1984. I really had no idea how things had gone in those branches and basically one ward I worked in since I left. And the view from 30 yrs hence is startling and discouraging. 

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Last summer I was able to attend a 90 year celebration of a small Branch that I had worked in while on my mission in Germany. While I was working in that city, I had only one baptism. I lost contact with him, and he and his wife moved away. From what I understand he and his wife did go inactive. I have hope that they have come back. But, anyway, what I did see with this Branch were many of the stalwarts who were still active. Their children were active.  In fact, we stayed at a member's home, who was about 6 years old at the time I was a missionary there. She still remembered me.

 

I had few baptisms in Germany. I know that one of the Sister's that I taught and was baptized has struggled with activity and then inactivity most of the past 30 years. But, she has done extensive genealogy research and loves it.

 

We don't know the impact that we've had on other's lives. One lady that we taught, who never joined the church, became widowed after our first lesson with her. She and her family were so grateful about learning the Plan of Salvation. Even though she never joined, I know that my companion and I were sent there, to help her and her family during this tragedy in their lives. I know that Heavenly Father loved them. She believed, and was so thankful to know that she would see her husband again.

 

I long ago decided that if the one person/soul that was saved on my mission, was my own, then my mission was worth it!!  My mission was hard!  I was a good missionary, but not perfect. It forever changed my life. My mission strengthened my testimony!  I loved the people I served. Whether they joined the Church, remained active or not, I still love them.

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The sisters, especially, in the mission where I live work far more on retention than on finding new people to baptize. From what I know, the focus has shifted at least a little more in that direction generally.

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Carilmac,

 

I don't know if this will help, but what came to my mind reading your post was this: it's not just South America.  When I log onto FB and see all the people I have known throughout the years who have left the church (it is  obvious by their posts and pictures), it saddens me.  Honestly, off the top of my head it is 50% or MORE that have left. 

 

Love them, accept them as they are, pray for them, and never give up hope that they will eventually come back.  That is my policy.  

 

P.S. One of the people I taught the discussions and cared about on my mission was baptized and later ex-communicated--while I was still in the mission!   :(

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One thing:

 

- We can't control what other people do.

 

This is the same ponderings a teacher makes... and they go through thousands of students in their teaching career.  Some of my teachers still keep in touch with me.  I've heard them say that if they have to think about what those students did with their educated lives, they are going to go bat crazy... so, they don't dwell on what they did with their education.  They dwell only on that length of time that they were their students.  Because, even the worst of Math teachers can only teach how she knows to teach... there's no point in dwelling on how terrible she did because her students ended up in death row... life is far more complex than the Math teacher.

 

Of course, when one of their students go and become somebody important, they bask in the glow of having a small part of that person's development...

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I think every missionary asks this question decades down the road.  You can't help but ask the question.  When you think how much wisdom and experience you accumulate in life AFTER living another 30 years, you naturally look back and wonder how much more effective you could have been.

 

I can liken it to my experiences as a musician.  I sometimes go back and listen to old recordings of myself from 20 or 30 years ago.  I played guitar as a soloist and occasionally with bands.  I have a recording of a radio show I appeared on in 1987.  My technique was very powerful--even better than it is today--but I was lacking a depth of musicality that I possess now.  I cringe to hear parts of that recording now, because I can hear the flaws, not so much on a technical level, but of interpretation and finesse.  

 

I regard my mission like that sometimes.  If I could go back, knowing what I know now, I would have done some things very differently.  Yet the Lord accepted my offering because it was my best effort at the time.  I'm satisfied with it because he is.

 

It's sad when people we brought into the gospel don't make it.  I've had several close friends whom I baptized outside of my mission who eventually fell away.  Living the gospel is hard and it involves making hard choices sometimes.  Some of them chose education and career over serving the Lord.  Others succumbed to loneliness because they didn't find a mate and married outside the Church.  One of them had his wife--a lifelong member--cheat on him and then divorce him and it broke his heart.

 

In the end, each situation was a test that asked believer "Lovest thou me more than these?" (John 21:15)  They faced having to follow Jesus despite the pain that continued faith would cost them.  The choices they made took them away from the pain and away from the Lord.  They could have continued to carry the cross, but they lost hope and despaired.  

 

To me, it is significant that I've heard old men, particularly general authorities, express the hope that they would remain faithful until the very end.  You'd think that they'd feel really confident in their abilities by that time in their lives.  Instead, the reality of God's chastening has made them humble and reliant upon the Lord because they are acquainted with the pain and trouble that can come from God's chastening hand.  

 

I look back on my mission and I see it as the beginning of that process.  I went out into the field as a new convert of 20 months.  I was so inexperienced!  Yet it is the trials of my mission that gave me the first lessons in enduring faithfully that have kept me going for over three decades.  For that alone, it was worth it.  I hope for the strength to maintain that faith through whatever comes.

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I think you were a little idealistic.  I served in South America.  Inactivity was 80%.  My home ward inactivity rate s somewhere between 65-70%.  This is normal.  

 

This is normal not only in the LDS church, but in other not for profit/volunteer/charitable organizations, and every other church in the world.

 

There are many reasons why people fall away.  It is ridiculous to take it personally when someone does.  

 

I baptized many on my mission.  Some went on to serve missions of their own, some fell away, our AP even went inactive shortly after returning home.  

 

Don't equate what you see in Utah/Idaho with the rest of the world.  In those states the church is cultural and social as much as or even more than faith based.  

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On my mission I had roughly 26 companions.  I had one with Downs Syndrome, one SCT (mild retardation), one bipolar, one OCD/manic depressive/anger issues, two with major depression, two sent home for past transgressions, and a few with obedience issues.  All of the mental illnesses were professionally diagnosed.  This, coupled with serving in the deep south, made for some very trying times to put it mildly.  Trust me when I say that I know how you feel, and please trust me when I say that your mission was absolutely with it.

 

As mentioned earlier, sometimes the mission is for the missionary.  I believe that it's always for the missionary.  It does not matter where you serve.  It matters how you serve.  Success is not measured by how many converts you baptized or how many people you reactivated and served.  Success is measured by the level of spiritual growth you had during and after your mission.  I still learn valuable lessons from my mission even to this day and I can't wait to serve a mission again.

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As others have said, in this life we will never know the ripple effect of what serving a mission will do.  I too served a mission in Argentina (en el Norte) and it has been 15 years.  I visited several years ago and found some individuals I had a hand in baptizing doing well and others not doing so well.  

 

I certainly wish that I could have done more and that I could go back and correct mistakes I made; however the Lord accepted my service and I'll take that.  I too believe that if a missionary is humble that they will gain far more from a mission than they could possibly give.  " He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." 

 

Being a missionary was a training ground for life, 2 years of spiritual boot camp.  It isn't the end all be all of spirituality, but it provides a kick start into the possibilities of life.  There are things that I have gone through, am going through and will go through in my life that I could not possibly endure without having my missionary experience.  I can find the threads of my life in my mission.

 

During my mission, I felt like I would give anything to help the people I served to have salvation and exaltation.  I still wish for their exaltation, but now I thank Heavenly Father for the privilege of serving so that I might be able to endure the vicissitudes of life for the things that matter the most in my life, my children and my family.

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 I was a welfare missionary so I mostly worked with baptized or inactive members to help them learn everything from cleanliness to how to teach a Relief Society lesson.   I can say for certain that our efforts were well meant but so lacking in wisdom and knowledge of the local customs and thought processes. I remember trying to get a small branch to have leadership correlation meetings. I'd never been to a correlation meeting in my life.  

 

I recently found a couple of LDS member women on facebook that I had known and become friends with while there in Argentina. They are both still active in the church, thankfully. But in chatting with them they've both told me of many people that I knew and loved who have gone inactive in the 30 yrs since I was there. The reasons vary but one of the main reasons was mediocrity and just simply lagging interest. One of the ladies who went inactive was very educated and she saw the members as being " bruto" or backward and stupid.

 

Sometimes I wonder if I was just so full of missionary optimism that I was blinded and could only imagine the church growing and expanding and life becoming ever better for the members there. I didn't see the church for what it really was for them, in the context of their lives, which for many was very difficult.  

 

One example: I knew a young man there.  He was a newly returned missionary and was so charismatic and beloved by everyone. I imagined him continuing up the path of gospel activity and growth, becoming a great leader- bishop, stake president, possibly even a mission president someday. He did need to finish high school first but I believed the church would encourage him on to great things. He wanted to become a dentist. We wrote some after I got home. There was mutual attraction there but I knew the cultural differences between us were just too vast so I discontinued writing. I got married to a guy in my stake and never heard from the Argentine again.

 

Fast forward 30 yrs, I found out that Mr. Bien Guapo from the southern hemisphere passed away 3 yrs ago. I was shocked and saddened about that. But accidents and illness happen so I figured it was one or the other. He was only in his 40s when he died. I began asking questions to hear about his wonderful life of leadership in the church, pulling himself out of poverty and gaining professional success and the beautiful wife and grundle of kids I had always imagined for him. Turns out he was married twice, had one kid and had been unfaithful to both wives. He was bisexual and ultimately died an untimely death due to his sordid lifestyle. He had been excommunicated. Both wives and his daughter left the church, too. What???? How could that be the same guy I was so enamored with?? Are all missionaries so easily fooled? Are the members just trying to look more faithful than they really are to the missionaries? What really is going on?

 

I began looking up pictures of his large extended family that I had thought was pure gold when I knew them. A few of them are still active in the church, but I was dismayed to see that the most common lifestyle of drinking and partying showed up glaringly in all the pictures. Either I didn't see the truth at the time, was terribly naïve and idealistic, or the conditions they had to live in down there were just too hard to reconcile with the requirements of full church activity and membership.  

 

Anyway, I know this stuff happens all over the world, not just south of the border. But it still makes me wonder if my 18 months of grueling effort at trying to learn a foreign language, trying to share the idealism of  American-based values and Utah church culture was lost on those folks. I wanted to make a difference. I thought I was. But now I just don't know.

 

I also wonder if this is more the norm than the exception. If so, it's disheartening.

tis better to help out 10 people claiming to be poor when only one is being honest about it than to stand before god in judgement for the one that you missed because you judged the group on the majority.

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I have attended my current ward in the UK since I was 13, and I'm 28 now. 

 

In my experience of both the US and UK is that the US tends to be more accepting of religion in general. The UK as a whole tends to be sceptical and views religious people as naive, perhaps stupid.

 

The area that my ward is located in is run down, one of the poorer areas of the city I live in. The issues caused by having a ward in this area got so bad at one point that the stake president attempted to close it down, but was overruled when a new stake president replaced him.

 

This stereotype of religion exists even more deeply in these areas, and people trying to "sell" religion are viewed as worse than door-to-door salesmen trying to scam already poor people out of even more money.

 

99% of our missionaries are fresh faced American boys from the US, who repeatedly demonstrate very little local knowledge regardless of how long they've been serving their mission. I've watched them come and go over the years, and each set of missionaries make the same mistakes as those before. They come into the ward, get invited into lots of houses, get the local people to come out to the ward on Sundays and then move on happy in the knowledge that they've bought a few families into the ward. They never see the aftermath that occurs when these families realize that despite their conceptions about the local "American church" as having very deep pockets, they aren't going to just be handed money because they have are poor and have 10 kids to feed. Once they realized the support they'll get from the church is limited, they disappear never to be seen again.

 

I've seen this happen, time and time again over the past 15 years. We've had people come to church because they are present illegally in the UK and believe the church has enough influence to help them obtain a visa, we've had many people with the financial difficulties mentioned above, we've had people with severe health problems that need a lot of money for support and the result is always the same - the church doesn't just hand out packets of cash upon request and they leave. The young American missionaries have left at this point, and never see these results. Their replacements are there bringing in yet more people for the same hidden motives.

 

Don't be surprised. Based on my experience above, this is relatively normal.

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It would seem the original missionary conversion experience is only a tiny, tiny portion of one's relationship with the gospel and the church.  To blame an individual staying strong or falling away solely on a mission is unwise.

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Anyway, I know this stuff happens all over the world, not just south of the border. But it still makes me wonder if my 18 months of grueling effort at trying to learn a foreign language, trying to share the idealism of American-based values and Utah church culture was lost on those folks. I wanted to make a difference. I thought I was. But now I just don't know.

I hear you. Cultural diversity really makes things difficult many times. We see it in counseling constantly. For example, Western cultures prize self-contained individualism and assertiveness while non-Western cultures prize communitarianism and submission. So when non-West cultures (which is about 70% of the world's population) comes to counseling and is fed counseling techniques geared to foster individualism and assertiveness, the cultural differences marginalize the therapeutic effort.

 

But, at least you can say you did your best with the best you had. Hold your head high. Bear their burdens and mourn for them as our covenants state, but still hold your head high knowing that you did the best with what you had control over: yourself. :)

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It would seem the original missionary conversion experience is only a tiny, tiny portion of one's relationship with the gospel and the church.  To blame an individual staying strong or falling away solely on a mission is unwise.

Agreed. I remember that when I was a missionary, I had the idea in my head that my the choices my investigators made somehow reflected how well I was doing as a missionary. If I was doing my best and being as obedient as I could to mission rules, then of course people were making the right choices. When people didn't make the right choices, this lead to me searching for what I was doing wrong.

The reality is that people have agency. Obviously Heavenly Father is doing a good job, but look how many of his children choose to do wrong. I firmly believe that we will never really know the impact of our missions in this lifetime. All of my converts are now either less active or have left the church, and it's only been 4 and a half years. Its discouraging at times. But the truth is, I have no idea when those people might come back. Maybe they'll eventually be strong members. Maybe their unbaptized children will grow up, have families, and remember the missionaries that used to come over when they were kids. Maybe that will lead them to let the missionaries into their own homes.

We just never know what impact we might have had. I would say that no well-served mission can be considered a waste.

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I didn't know a mission was about passing on American/Utah culture. In fact I hope it isn't because there is very little of American culture I think is worth passing on.

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O well I am sure my shoulder can bear the brunt of an Americans offence. What do you think is good about American culture? I am willing to bet I can think of far more that is wrong with it

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O well I am sure my shoulder can bear the brunt of an Americans offence. What do you think is good about American culture? I am willing to bet I can think of far more that is wrong with it

 

America did not become one of the greatest countries on the planet if they had more "that is wrong" with it's culture.

 

The Philippines will not be an independent, autonomous country that it is now if America has more that is wrong with it.

 

South Americans and people from other nations would not be forcing their way into America illegally - risking life and limb - if America has more that is wrong with it.

 

The Gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ would not have been restored in America if it has more that is wrong with it.

 

I can go on and on and on.

 

Usually the people that say this insolent garbage are those who do not know what is American culture.

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One of the greatest  countries on earth? The country who's citizens are obsessed with their right to have guns, the country whos children shoot each other in schools, has a massive gang problem, will invade any country they can pin the terrorist label on, the country who funds Israeli terrorists. The US claims to be an equal country yet college education is so expensive it is inaccessible by the poorest, where people have to que for days to get access to a free volunteer doctors clinic, the largest per cent of children living below the poverty line in the west. The fact religion and politics are to connected, the obsession with power and belongings. The igronace and arrogance, as demonstrated in this thread by the op, that the American way is the right/best way

 

I have absolutely no idea what could make America county one of the greatest on the planet

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