Tom Smart, Deseret News
Just days before his flight left Russia to return home to Utah in August 2013, Elder Wayne Owens was serving in his last assignment in the Russia Vladivostok Mission. He was wrapping up his two-year missionary service and had just had one of the most memorable weeks of his life.
“There was this wonderful family; we had taught the husband and his wife, and they got baptized the Monday before I left,” he said. “I can’t think of a more perfect ending to a mission.”
For Elder Owens, that was the best night of his entire mission.
Later that week he packed his bags for the final time and headed to the mission home where he, along with other missionaries returning home, spent time with their mission president and his wife. The missionaries couldn’t help but reflect on their missionary service.
“It was really neat to talk with my mission president,” he said. “He saw a lot of [my] transformation. He knew the ‘before’ and ‘after’ and gave me a lot of encouragement and helped me to see some of the fruits of my mission.”
In private, they talked about the growth he had experienced, about the skills and habits he had developed. They talked about future plans and discussed rules to live by. The young missionary felt good about the service he had rendered, and felt he had learned what really matters in life — that happiness and holiness go together — and how to work hard. Leaving on such a high note made traveling home from Russia hard.
“It is heartbreaking to leave the people you love,” the young man said. “When I first saw San Francisco from the plane, my heart sank.”
Just under a year and a half ago, President Thomas S. Monson announced a change to the age requirement of men and women participating in missionary service. According to a recent report issued by the First Presidency of the church, there are 80,000 missionaries serving in 405 missions around the world. Never before have there been so many missionaries out serving, causing the number of recently returning missionaries to grow over the next year.
Although missionaries know the gospel and have exhausted their days sharing it with others, sometimes their return home can be an adjustment, leaving a different view on life with the “new and improved” version of them returning home to oftentimes the same situation that they left.
“I think that is the hardest thing about coming back — finding out how your new self can fit,” the young man who recently was known as “Elder Owens” said. “That first month I tiptoed back into the social scene. After sacrificing two years — which really isn’t a sacrifice, becoming way, way better — it would be such a waste to throw that back.”
A parting gift
For many, a mission is a time of spiritual growth, filled with gaining knowledge, good habits and skills. Missionaries have been taught by their mission president, and have learned how to serve the Lord and dedicate their lives.
Before missionaries return home they have an exit interview with their mission presidents. While each experience is different because of the personal nature of the interview, it is a time for mission presidents to share their “parting advice” and counsel their missionaries one last time. It is also an opportunity to reflect with each missionary about the changes they experienced and how their conversion to the Lord has deepened, and to talk to them about their future.
“Throughout their missions, I talk to the missionaries frequently about their future roles as fathers and mothers, husbands and wives,” said President Jordan Clements of the Minnesota Minneapolis Mission. “For example, during a [recent] zone conference in which I addressed goal setting and planning, I described the vital role these skills play in their future success as husbands and wives and as parents.”
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