Returning to the mission field is an interesting thing, especially after 13 months of life at home and at school.
About two months ago, I made the decision to return to the field. It was not the same as my initial decision to serve a mission for a few reasons, but it has been a rewarding experience.
I had always planned on serving a mission. My father served a mission. Many of my cousins have served missions, and my older brother served a mission. I was expected to serve by everyone around me, and I expected my self to serve as well.
So, when it came time to complete my mission application and prepare to serve a mission, I prayed to know that it was right, but I never expected any other answer, because I already knew the right answer. The living Prophet on the Earth today has said:
Every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission. Missionary service is a priesthood duty—an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much.
-President Thomas S. Monson
As We Meet Together Again
So, before I left for Colombia, I felt sure of my desire and plan to serve a mission, as I should have.
This was not at all how things went when I was making my decision to return to the mission field for two reasons.
Reason #1: the leaders of the church have been clear that returning to the mission field after coming home for any reason is not an obligation.
I love how Elder Holland responded to an RM (returned missionary) who had returned after 4 months of service in the field due to mental health trouble.
I don’t know that in all eternity, every mission was outlined to be two years or, for the young women, 18 months. That’s kind of a modern invention. . .
I want you to take the dignity and the strength and the faith that came from your four months and cherish that forever. I don’t want you to apologize for coming home. When someone asks you if you’ve served a mission, you say yes. You do not need to follow that up with “But it was only four months.”Just forget that part and say yes, you served a mission.
-Elder Holland’s Counsel for Early Returned Missionaries
I have had the privilege of discussing this with many Early Returned Missionaries at BYU, at the Mission Fortify ERM (Early Returned Missionary) Conference, and at home in Las Vegas. Each one I’ve met was a great help and strength to me, and they have some of the strongest testimonies I have seen. Most of them decided not to return to the field after deep prayer and counselling with their bishops, stake presidents, families, and medical professionals. I know them and I know that they are going to go on and accomplish anything and everything that a “full-term” two year RM would.
In fact, only about 24% of early returned missionaries return to the mission field. Based on what I have seen, the other 76% are just as valiant as the 24%, but have found that God needs them to serve elsewhere, or that going back would be detrimental to their health. I love those returned Elders and Sisters.
And, I was nearly one of them. For months, I struggled with my desire to serve as a missionary again. I prayed many times, and many times I felt that I would not be able to do it because of the stress and anxiety that I felt toward missions.
But, as I discussed in my last post, I was able to find that desire to serve and deal with the anxiety I felt about Colombia. Eventually, I received the impression that I would be able to help many people if I did serve, and a distinct impression that my next mission would be very different, in a good way, than my last one in Colombia. That was the personal answer that I received for me, but it doesn’t mean that I am better than those who decide not to return.
Reason #2: When I first flew to Colombia, I was going in relatively blind. I didn’t know what being a missionary would actually be like. This second time, I’m going in with my eyes wide open. Not that Colombia is at all like California (except for the ‘C’ and ‘ia’ a their beginnings and ends).
But I know that missionary work isn’t really fun most of the time. Most of the time it is hard. There are lots of challenges and a good deal of discomfort, especially at the beginning. It is really work.
This, I think is the advantage to being a returned missionary (not returned home, returned to the field). I feel like I have much fuller perspective on serving missions and returning home.
During my six months in Colombia, I often found myself dreaming of and looking forward to the day of my homecoming, which I can tell you is not healthy. I thought about how great it would be to be an RM and have all of the freedom in the world combined with the experience of two years serving the Lord. It seemed that coming home was the great prize at the end of two years of drudgery.
But now I know exactly what it is like to be an RM. I’ve done it for a year now. And, I’ve come to understand that mortality gets to you no matter what you are doing. Being home was at least as hard as being a missionary, but with less sense of purpose. RM’s still have trials. They still need to repent. They still are young and inexperienced in the world.
So, to me a missionary life has become very attractive. I am more excited now than ever to be able to help people come unto Christ. I understand the atonement better know than ever. I know that there isn’t anything more important that I could do with the next year+ of my life.
So, when I got the phone call from my Stake President that I had been reassigned to serve in the Oakland / San Francisco mission, I was overjoyed. I can’t wait to be there tomorrow!
I am returning to the field, to serve in Oakland and San Francisco because I love the Lord and because I love to help other people. I testify that he loves every one of us, and that he is more than willing to understand your situation, whatever it may be. He suffered in Gethsemane and on the cross so that He would understand you. He has experienced every trial in your life, and He knows how to heal you.
He loves you. Just let him in.