Several months ago, the Women’s Services and Resources Office at Brigham Young University surveyed thousands of female students to learn the types of training and resources the young women most desired.
The survey’s data doubled as a sign of the times in the Church.
A sizeable number of participants requested help transitioning from full-time missionary service to campus “civilian” life. It’s an issue that has taken on historic significance in recent years, said WSRO director Tiffany Turley.
Prior to the Church’s 2012 policy change allowing women to begin serving missions at age 19, there were not sizable numbers of female undergraduates at BYU who had served missions.
“In the past, most had already finished their degree or had just a semester or two to finish,” she said.
That has changed dramatically. Sister Turley estimates there are about 5,000 female returned missionaries at BYU. Many are 20 or 21-years-old and just beginning their college studies.
Shifting from the hour-to-hour, 7-days a week structure of mission life to college life can be tricky — even at Church-owned schools such as BYU, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii or LDS Business College.
Returning home from a mission "has been a huge change — your entire identity is different," said Boston Walch, an LDS Business College student who served in the South Dakota Rapid City Mission.
Her friend and fellow returned missionary, Esperanza Dotto, agreed — adding it's a challenge realizing the level of personal consecration found in the mission field.
Those sorts of concerns prompted the BYU Women's Services and Resources Office to action. “We wanted to help returned sister missionaries in their transition — focusing on the spiritual, academic, social and personal aspects of their lives,” said Sister Turley.
So during the ongoing fall semester, her office offered post-mission transition workshops on campus.
The weekly gatherings were designed to assist BYU students — but workshops coordinator Malissa Richardson agreed that the principles taught at each workshop are applicable to young returned sister missionaries anywhere in the world.
Missionary service offers young women day-to-day opportunities to enjoy spiritual experiences and draw close to the Lord. But one need not wear a missionary badge to feel the Spirit every day.
In the first of the four post-mission transition workshops, presenters encouraged the sisters to make time each day for prayer and scripture study. Build on the faith and testimony developed in the missionary field.
Many returned sister missionaries came to love offering daily service to others. Yes, being a student or an employee is different than being a missionary — but there remain many new opportunities to serve.
Start by speaking to the bishop. Ask for a calling. Pray for and seek opportunities to serve others on campus, in the ward or branch and in the community.
"Every time I serve I feel like a missionary again," said Sister Dotto.
In the second post-mission workshop, presenters invited the returned missionaries to write down the skills they developed in the field.
Almost all those missionary skills — studying, conversational skills, conflict resolution, planning — are useful in the classroom or workplace.
Take what’s learned in the mission and apply it to the tasks of the day.
Patience is indeed a virtue during the mission — and beyond. Returned sister missionaries can be hard on themselves. They worry they are no longer meeting the expectations of the Lord and others.
A panel of returned sister missionaries at one workshop shared this key counsel: “Be kind to yourself in the same way your were to investigators.”
Presenters added that it’s common for returned sister missionaries to feel guilt. In the mission field they focused almost entirely on others. Now their focus is more personal: Getting good grades. Dating. Finding a job. Enjoying recreation and fun.
But remember, self-improvement is part of God’s plan for His children.
Mission life is highly structured. Each day missionaries follow an appointed schedule and focus their attention on finding people to teach and baptize.
Life outside the mission, meanwhile, is defined by countless personal choices. In the final post-mission workshop, presenters reminded returned missionaries to involve the Lord in each of those choices.
Identify post-mission goals and continue to live a “mission worthy” life. Sister Walch, for example, makes great effort to attend the temple each week.
Dress in ways that suggest you are still a representative of Jesus Christ. Listen to music that uplifts and keeps the Spirit close.
With each new semester, returned sister missionaries continue to arrive at BYU and other Church-owned schools. “And we plan to continue these workshops, at least for the foreseeable future,” said Sister Turley.
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