Many Mormon missionaries who return home early feel some failure

LDS missionaries developing strategies to cope with stress

Published: Friday, Dec. 6 2013 8:25 p.m. MST

Then several months ago, the church released a new booklet, "Adjusting to Missionary Life." It is provided to missionaries before they leave, and many report being asked to complete an online course while at a missionary training center. The resource includes a self-assessment that allows the missionary to determine where he or she fits on a color spectrum of stress — green, yellow, orange or red.

In a letter home that family posted on an open blog, the president of the church's India New Delhi Mission said he and his wife took the evaluation and found they both were in the yellow range. The manual said it is normal to spend some time in that range.

"So we are working to use some of the very techniques we teach the missionaries," President David Berrett wrote.

Missionaries are expected to use the booklet's self-assessment tool regularly. When they identify something they are having difficulty with, say, staying organized or feeling anxious or inadequate, the assessment points them to a section of the booklet with specific tools and suggestions.

Missionaries must develop new resources, like spiritual and interpersonal skills, Ulrich said.

"That's when we grow the most. Missions are great. We learn to rely on the Lord, on ourselves."

Warm reception

Bullock developed the idea for the UVU study with professor Kristine Doty, who had two children return home early from missions. When Bullock realized that 73 percent of those who filled out the questionnaire said they had experienced feelings of failure, too, he felt relief.

"Now I didn't feel alone," he said.

Ulrich wasn't surprised by the finding.

"Only about half of people who start college finish college," she said. "The vast majority of missionaries do complete the mission at a time of life when people often start projects and do not finish them, because of their commitment to the Lord and the church. That can compound the sense of failure for those who don't.

"But many of the reasons for coming home should not include a sense of failure. Most of the missionaries who come home early do so for physical or mental health reasons, because they can't tolerate them."

But the UVU study found that missionaries who came home for physical or mental health reasons had increased feelings of failure, though not if they felt well-received by their congregations. Many do not.

Elder Holland addressed that generally in his talk: "Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental and kind."

Asked about the UVU study, LDS Church spokesman Cody Craynor said: "It is our hope that all church members and visitors to our local congregations will be warmly received and feel the love and support of our faith communities. This extends to elders and sisters returning home and adjusting to life after their missions regardless of the duration of their service or personal circumstances."

Sandberg turned to a parable.

"On a basic doctrinal level, people need to be Christians," he said. "(The Good Samaritan) didn't look at the man in the road and say, 'You shouldn't have come down this road,' or, 'Of course it's someone like you.' We need to be less judgmental, more accepting and more warm."

Congregations

So if, as Bullock said, "Missionaries who felt their ward members received them better upon returning home had decreased feelings of failure," and "were less likely to experience a period of activity," how can congregations help early returning missionaries feel comfortable?

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