I’ve heard lots of people discuss how their missions caused a spiritual crisis for them. So did mine. I’ve heard a lot of people who served in Latin America talk about how their faith was tried (or destroyed) by numbers-driven kiddie baptisms and managerial techniques by mission leaders that rewarded hard-driving hypocrites and demeaned the gospel. My mission also had some unsavory episodes of pressure to baptize children — entirely from local leaders in my case — and I saw some incidents of missionaries behaving badly. I had a mission president who was fond of Covey, although his love of the Gospel, his missionaries, the members, and the people of Korea was so palpable that it never bothered me.
What tried my faith was rejection. Nigh on constant unremitting rejection. Some of it was polite. Much of it was not. However, it was more or less omnipresent. This is basically the norm for most missionaries, although I suspect that it is more pronounced in some areas — like Northern Asia — than in others. The rejection didn’t create a cultural or intellectual crisis for me. I didn’t develop some self-loathing perception of myself as an agent of American cultural imperialism. Nor was I particularly surprised. I was reared on stories of my father tracting out the monumental indifference of Quebec in the 1960s. (It was always cold and they tracted uphill both ways.) It is a big old world, and despite the notes of triumphalism in General Conference, the scriptures speak of salt and leaven — tiny particles amidst an infinitely larger mass. I didn’t expect constant success.
Rather rejection was hard for a simpler, much more visceral reason. Day in and day out, I put forth that which was most precious and sacred to be trampled under the feet of an unheeding world. I still remember the palpable, physical feeling of pain at watching pearls ground into the mud.
The slow and constant ache of that pain was my missionary crisis.