Transitioning for senior missionaries: Do we have to go home?

By Darrel Hammon

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, April 15 2013 5:10 a.m. MDT

Charles and Vickie Rucker help with wheelchairs in Argentina.

Elder Charles and Vickie Rucker

Just like young elders and sisters, senior missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also have to come home after serving. We know that, upon arriving home, young Mormon missionaries return to college, obtain a job, begin courting and eventually get married. But how do senior missionaries feel about their missions and post-missions?

Many senior missionaries decide to serve missions for the LDS Church long before the mission calls actually arrive. Many of them have planned and prepared to go, mainly because the brethren have been asking for more senior missionaries. Lynn Snow and his wife, Janet, who served as area auditors in the Caribbean Area office, said it was a matter of testimony. “(We had) a testimony of the gospel and felt that our leaders had encouraged a mission for senior couples … (so) we had set a rough time line years … before we went … and made some plans to go.”

David and Carol Harris recently returned from serving in the France Paris Mission. Both had served missions when they were younger in France and enjoyed it thoroughly. So, when they married, they planned on “one or two missions,” mainly because “where much is given much is required — how could we not serve?” Plus, one of their main reasons for going was to be an example to their children and grandchildren.

Charles and Vickie Rucker, who served their first mission in the South America South Area office, planned on serving missions because they are “under covenant” and the Lord helped them prepare financially. Plus, they said “our children and grandchildren were all very supportive although sad at all the things we would miss, (but) they felt part of our great adventure.”

Although Mormon missions can be grand adventures, they eventually come to an end. Like young missionaries, many seniors anticipate the ending of a mission. All are excited to go home to family and friends, but all of them had “mixed feelings” about going home. The Snows expressed the sentiments of many: “During the mission, I always looked forward to the end, but when the end actually came, it just did not seem real.” The term surreal came up often when talking to senior missionaries.

As a result of their missions, senior missionaries’ lives change in different ways. Most come from very busy and successful lives. Rodney and Marcia Ford have served four missions — in New Jersey; the Spain Malaga Mission, where they spent the entire time in the Canary Islands; a mission serving in the Madrid Spain Temple; and the Dominican Republic West Mission.

Marcia Ford said, “We have more zeal for missionary work; we feel more connected to our grandchildren serving missions; we have more appreciation for mission presidents after serving in an office.”

Edward and Linda Sappington served in the West Indies Mission and spent their time in Guyana. When they returned, they didn’t expect the intense feelings they felt. In fact, they “mourned the disassociation of those in Guyana.”

Linda Sappington said, “We always knew we would see our six children and 13 grandchildren again … but I now also have 35-plus Guyanese children and many wonderful members and friends we will likely never see again in this life except on Skype or Facebook! No one told me it would be harder to come home than it was to leave!”

When the Ruckers returned home from their first mission, they thought, “What if we hadn't gone?" Then they reflected on the “wealth of experiences the Lord had in store for us when we exercised that faith to leave all that was familiar of home and serve him.”

In many cases, particularly with missionaries who served outside the United States, they discovered a need to simplify their lives.

After returning from their fourth mission, the Fords said, “We realize we have too much ‘stuff.’ The desire to clean out, simplify is pretty strong. We appreciate the little things so much more.”

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