Recently, one of our good friends, a senior missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whom we served with, commented that she wasn't prepared for how hard some of the adjustments would be when she served a mission. She said she had really only heard about the joys and blessings from others who had come home and reported about their missions. She had never considered the difficulties she might encounter.
She's not alone.
Many, if not most, young elders and sisters, as well as seniors, arrive in the mission field with lofty expectations based on the reports of previous missionaries. But in defense of all those returned missionaries (seniors and otherwise) who may have been a bit Pollyanna-ish in their reports, missions are a lot like giving birth. Once you are gazing at that beautiful new baby in your arms, all the morning sickness, fatigue and pain of childbirth becomes a distant — and gladly borne — memory. All you remember is your sense of accomplishment and great joy at being allowed such a privilege. Serving a mission is much the same.
In an effort to balance the ledger and show a bigger picture, here is a list of both the good and the hard things we discovered while serving as senior missionaries:
THE LEARNING CURVE
(or) What We Wish We'd Known Before We Came
- No matter how much you love your spouse, there will be times when being together 24/7 for a couple of years is just too much. After careers, children, grandchildren, church callings and other responsibilities have sent you in different directions for most of your married life, it is an adjustment to spend all your time together in much closer quarters than you are probably used to. It’s surprising the issues you must deal with. Almost always, however, this eventually leads to greater unity and a stronger, closer marriage than you have experienced before. Because of your togetherness, you will have the time and motivation to work out the glitches. You can learn new ways to work together.
- No matter how old you are, or how much you think you've learned, you will have to learn lots of new things.
- Just because you are called to serve in an English-speaking country, do not assume you will know what is going on around you — even if you serve a few states away from home. There is always a learning curve. New places, new customs, new living conditions, new foods, new products, new words and accents, local traditions, and new ways of doing things will all take some getting used to. No matter where you serve, it is not going to seem like home for a while. You are going to have to adjust and be flexible.
- You are going to get sick of the two suitcases full of clothes that you brought.
- Senior bodies sometimes have a hard time adapting to new climates and surroundings, and you will most likely deal with some health issues (usually annoying, but not life-threatening) that you didn't expect.
- There are no vacations on missions. Let go of any "cruise" mentality you have, but that doesn't mean you won't have fun. You will have opportunities for some sight-seeing and free time.
- If you serve with all your heart, might, mind and strength, you will be tired — often. And you will be busy — really busy.
- You will have to have the faith and courage to try things you've never done before. You will find new strengths to use and new weaknesses to work on.
- No matter what you thought your mission would be like, you will be surprised.
- Serving a mission is a sacrifice. Sacrifices can be hard. You will have people who are depending on you to carry out what you have committed to do, even when you don't feel like doing it. It's all about service.
- There will definitely be times when you miss your family, but this challenge is going to be easier than you think. Even though you won't be physically present for family gatherings and milestones, you can almost always Skype, and Skype can be just as good as being there. Really! And when you see how blessed your family is by your service, the sacrifice will be worth it.
(or) Why You're Going To Cry When You Go Home
- You are going to learn and grow, and so is your family.
- Your family will be watched over. They will find new ways to manage their own lives. Often, siblings will grow closer to each other.
- You will receive divine help and strength as you rely on the Lord and ask for his help. You will also feel the strength of other people's prayers for you.
- You will be an inspiration to your children and grandchildren and others. You will have opportunities to build their faith through sharing your missionary experiences with them.
- Your knowledge and understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ will increase.
- Your faith in God and trust in his plan for you will increase.
- Endless tender mercies will help you achieve success in your assignments.
- Working with a variety of people and personalities will provide you with a great opportunity to expand your comfort zone and your confidence. You will meet and make some fabulous new friends and establish eternal friendships.
- You will feel great peace and joy at times. You will recognize God's hand in your life.
- You will have the satisfaction of spending some of your retirement years making the world a better place.
- The world will get smaller as you make friends from many nations. You will have compassion for the circumstances of others.
- Spiritual gifts will strengthen you — such as a greater ability to discern needs, to memorize, to speak in public, to love and to endure.
- You will have the time you want to study the scriptures and focus on spiritual things.
- You will marvel as you see (very personally) the effect and influence that the gospel of Jesus Christ has on the lives of those who find it and embrace it.
- You will learn the worth of a soul.
- You will learn to love the people you serve and work with — deeply. You will wrap your heart around the people and places where you serve.
Senior missions are hard work. There’s no doubt about it. They are filled with highs and lows. They are a time of joy, growth (sometimes fun, sometimes painful), love, hard work, more hard work, and many, many miracles and blessings. What a grand privilege.
Editor's note: This post by Patricia Carpenter originally appeared on DonandPat.blogspot.com. It has been reprinted here with permission.
Don and Patricia Carpenter have served in the London England Temple Visitors' Center for two years, and they will be returning to their home in Draper, Utah, next week. Prior to their time in England, they served a CES mission in the Washington, D.C., South Mission.