Can y’all stomach a mission story right now?
My mission president (Japan Tokyo South Mission) was a wonderful man, and whenever I would meet with him, the challenges I had felt up to my eyeballs in would suddenly shrink down to about knee-high. He would listen understandingly, then give me just enough advice to restore my confidence. I never felt lectured. He showed trust in the missionaries’ judgment; for example he left it to us to judge what music it was appropriate for us to listen to. Young contrarian that I was, I needed a mission president like him.
At one mission conference he told us that we elders should be careful not to be too friendly with sisters in the ward. In particular, we should not learn their first names. I was surprised and resisted this advice. Were we supposed to approach the women we worked with as though they were hazards? How could that be consistent with the spirit of fellowship we should maintain in the church? I wrote to him about my concerns. Sweet man that he was, he acknowledged my concern and even said perhaps he had gone too far in saying we should not learn first names.
Months passed, the work went ahead, I transferred a few times. Then one day a former investigator told me she was in love with me. Ouch! I’d had no idea. I’d never treated her any differently from everyone else we taught, man or woman. Still, men and women interact differently in Japan than they do in my native USA. Some Japanese enjoy being friends with Americans because, well, they are so friendly, especially missionaries. That’s part of our job, but evidently my idea of appropriate friendliness was a bit off in her case. I wished I had thought more carefully about what reasons my pres. had had for the advice he gave. I wished I’d been more humble about how much I had to learn about Japanese culture. I wished I’d been more willing to try an experiment on his words.