Mission Transition Center?

June 10, 2008 | 51 comments
By

Missionaries spend from two weeks to three months in an MTC learning how to be a missionary. Many have also taken missionary preparation classes, or served mini-missions to help them prepare for their new life in the field.

Returning missionaries preparing for their new life at home receive a half-sheet of counsel that says, in essence, “be good and good luck.”

These are some of the decisions that await them: how to earn a living, where to go to school, what to major in, whom to marry, making new friends, choosing a career, balancing competing priorities, reintegrating with their family, staying active in the Church, building a meaningful life. Old friends have moved on. It is hard to find the same sense of meaning and purpose driving a pizza truck as they found bringing souls to Christ. Getting up at 6:30 and studying scriptures 2 hours a day don’t exactly fit into the routines of most college campuses.

Yeah, good luck with that.

How about another type of MTC – a Mission Transition Center – an MTC-Part 2. Seems like a no-brainer for singles wards and Utah stakes with a lot of returning missionaries. What would it include?

How about normalizing the culture shock of returning to affluent but imperfect families, a ward that doesn’t do much missionary work, and a personal identity that is worthwhile even if it can no longer be centered exclusively on serving others.

Maybe talk about the importance of goals, structure, routines, and exercise in staving off depression and building a new life.

Maybe talk about not jumping into marriage to avoid the suspense of wondering if anyone will have you. Or not postponing marriage to avoid the anxiety of making a commitment you can’t easily undo to someone who surely is not as terrific as the person just around the corner.

Maybe teach some skills of true emotional closeness with others so the false intimacy of pornography is less enticing.

Remind them to take the best teachers they can find, no matter what the subject, because they can help us find what we love.

Talk about the spirituality of mature adulthood that is more about balance than when you get up in the morning, more about knowing God than knowing the discussions, more about living the gospel in the messiness of everyday life than eliminating all distractions to focus on the gospel.

Remind them that to remain active in church they will need a friend, a meaningful assignment, and to be nurtured by the good word of God – the things President Hinckley said every new convert needs. Only nobody is sitting around in a PEC making sure the new RM has those things – we have to get them for ourselves.

An MTC-Part 2 would still be little more than a gesture toward helping returning missionaries adjust to their post-mission life. But at least maybe they wouldn’t feel so alone with this big adjustment. They could begin to understand that their mission is not over – it is only beginning. In fact, a mission is really the MTC for the rest of their lives.

51 Responses to Mission Transition Center?

  1. Mark B. on June 10, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    The new 90-day temple recommend for returning missionaries, and the accompanying (brief) instructions to bishops and stake presidents, are evidence that the First Presidency recognizes the need for more care in helping new RMs make the transition from missionary to adult member.

  2. Russell Arben Fox on June 10, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    In fact, a mission is really the MTC for the rest of their lives.

    Profound thoughts, Wendy; thank you for them. I’m working on a couple of mission and missionary work-related posts right now, as my 20th anniversary of entering the MTC in coming up in a few days, and so I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit. A couple of random thoughts:

    –I’ve been told several times by people who presumably are in a position to know these things that the single largest drop-off in activity and membership amongst that segment of the American male church population which one wouldn’t anticipate dropping out–that is, men raised in the church and whom have been active throughout their lives–takes place amongst returned missionaries between the ages of 21 to 25. Not teenage boys, not men in their 40s struggling with mortgages and jobs and other pressures, but young men straight off the mission. True? Has anyone seen data on this, or heard otherwise?

    –Probably one of the wisest insights I came to on my mission was that it was two years in length, and had been preceded by two years, and would be followed by two other years, and then followed by two more years after that, etc., etc. The most important, most defining, greatest, hardest, best two years of your life? According to what measurement? Upon what scale? Compared to what? How can a claim like that–which I’d heard often before my mission, and have heard often ever since–even make sense?

    –A wise senior at BYU, sometime in the fall of 1990, when I’d been back a few months, told me this: “Everyone says the transition from the mission is hard; I think that’s because everyone thinks you’re supposed to take the mission home with you. But maybe you’re not. Maybe you should just come home, ditch the suit, put on jeans and a t-shirt, and put your old Dead Kennedys tape back in the stereo. Bingo; transition over.” It seemed to have worked for him.

  3. DavidH on June 10, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Mark,

    Can you tell us more about the new 90 day recommend for RMs and the accompanying instructions?

  4. Bored in Vernal on June 10, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Great suggestions! I would have loved a period of decompression following my mission. My daughter just returned in April and is facing many challenges as a college student. She received the “marry as quickly as possible” advice from her MP. I agree with you that this is outdated and unhelpful.

    I’m trying to picture how this might be done in a practical manner, and I can’t. It sounds so great, but where? when? how?

  5. Ardis Parshall on June 10, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    In such a Mission Transition Center, I would add a thorough physical (with treatment for the parasites, chronic coughs, damaged joints, and other medical problems that can be the direct result of mission work), and an opportunity to counsel with someone who won’t be shocked by the gulf that sometimes occurs between expectations and the reality of missionary service.

  6. J. Stapley on June 10, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    Sound not too dissimilar to what the military does…and for good reason.

  7. queuno on June 10, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    One issue I see is that when missionaries ENTER a mission, you are taking thousands of possible backgrounds and trying to mold the missionaries into a more or less single profile of dedication, commitment, and service. When they LEAVE, they are going back to those disparate backgrounds.

    I don’t think a discussion of goal-setting, scripture study, etc., is that valuable. I knew all of that when I came home. Where I struggled with were the “Now how am I supposed to get readjusted to BYU? Get a job? Deal with changes in my family dynamics?” For missionaries returning to BYU — I think BYU could/should have a “BYU Returned Missionary Orientation” (maybe similar to freshman orientation?). I don’t know how good the institutes are, but maybe you do something similar there.

    I know that many of the LDS Employment Centers around the US have programs and pamphlets to help missionaries adjust.

    And where would this be held? Provo? The ***LAST*** place I wanted to head after I came back from SA was Provo. And the local SA MTC couldn’t have done this justice. So then do you do it in the stakes? But then you run into problems with the local Stake not really having a clue how to orient missionaries back into college life (esp at BYU).

  8. Adam Greenwood on June 10, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Worth thinking about. This is the kind of creative thinking we should all be grateful for.

    But my anecdotal impression is that its the missionaries from the successful and/or third world missions that had transition problems. None of the missionaries from my European, no-baptism, grit-your-teeth had any trouble transitioning back. The only part of your program we would have needed would have been the bit about keeping our faith. I think a higher percentage of missionaries from my mission struggled with activity.

  9. queuno on June 10, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    An opportunity to counsel with someone who won’t be shocked by the gulf that sometimes occurs between expectations and the reality of missionary service.

    I kid you not, that it was about 12 years after my mission that I really “got” it and felt that I it was valuable… I got zero time after my mission to discuss anything with anyone (I got home and leaving for Utah to go back to school within a 2-week span).

  10. Drex Davis on June 10, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    My brother and I are actually writing a book about helping missionaries transition home – our opinion was that this would be valuable, but it seems this is left up to local leadership and ward to try and do.

    You can read the first 5 chapters on my blog if you’re interested. We did a lot of interviewing and surveying missionaries . . . there’s a problem here . . .

    this is an executed search for “rm guide” – you can go http://www.drexdavis.com/?s=rm+guide – and read if you’re interested.

  11. Drex Davis on June 10, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    seems that just mucked it up . . . anyway

    here’s the most recent chapter we put up http://www.drexdavis.com/?p=78

    and here’s the intro http://www.drexdavis.com/?p=69#more-69

    this is a subject that fascinates me mainly b/c I was one of those missionaries who really struggled with the adjustment. struggling with the transition is the norm, not the exception.

  12. queuno on June 10, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    How about an unsuccessful, few-baptism, grit-your-teeth, third-world South American mission?

  13. Researcher on June 10, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    One of the most useful and practical pieces of advice I received while leaving my mission was from the mission president. He said that when you get home, your family is really not going to care where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing. They have their own lives. In order to deal with this, he suggested getting together with other recently returned missionaries.

    I found that his advice was correct. Although it was devastating to return from this amazing Western European missionary experience and find that family and extended family and acquaintances largely ignored my experiences, it was good to have been warned. I got in touch with a friend who returned a few weeks after me and she and I were able to help each other with some practical mission decompression. Then I happened to be assigned a recently returned missionary as a college roommate, and that was also very helpful as we both started into school and dating again.

  14. Mark B. on June 10, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    A letter to priesthood leaders (stake and mission presidents and bishops) last August said that young ex-missionaries need more attention from priesthood leaders in making the transition to “the varied pursuits of daily life.” In order to essentially “force” (my word, not theirs) an interview after three months, mission presidents were instructed to backdate the temple recommend issued to missionaries at the end of their mission so it would expire in 90 days.

    Priesthood leaders should then hold an interview near the end of that 90-day period, and issue a regular two-year recommend if the young RM was worthy.

    Otherwise, there were no instructions or recommendations for further steps to be taken.

  15. Mark B. on June 10, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I still remember being surprised that my dad drove over the speed limit on the ride home from the Salt Lake airport that night in September 1975. (The new Richard Nixon 55 mph speed limits were imposed while I was gone.)

    But, I started school the next morning–horribly jet-lagged and two weeks into the semester–and somehow made it back to earth. Maybe it was living at home with the companionship of the family dog, Violet. I could always talk to her–she’d listen attentively and keep confidences.

  16. Ray on June 10, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Wendy:

    Thank you. Very interesting and important topic.

    #4 (BiV):

    I came home in October, got married in December (engaged before I left on my mission), moved across the country and started college the following fall, etc. I know I was an exception, so I appreciate this post.

    #2 – last paragraph (RAF):

    Great advice. Dive back into regular life without feelings of guilt over not being Superman. You won’t be an extraordinary missionary 24/7 when you return; find your proper balance in the real world, and embrace your new life.

  17. Abraham on June 10, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    I vividly remember sitting in my “Glen-Hole” apartment near BYU around 1 pm on a Friday afternoon 2 weeks off my mission. No one was around and I was done with my one class that day; I had no homework due; I had already read my scriptues that morning and been to the temple the previous evening……….And I was sitting there watching some nasty mid-90s girl screaming something while standing in a corner on MTV.

    And then all of a sudden I had basically a total mental break-down for the next 30 minutes. I was not doing anything productive and/or spiritual. I didn’t have a blue schedule in my pocket to tell me what I should be doing. I lost it…..really lost it.

    After freaking out for a bit, and then making a sudden, desperate phone call, I was on my way to an old-folks home as the newest volunteer member of Adopt-A-Grandparent. Those nice older people saved my life, and I stuck with Adopt-A-Grandparent until I got married. I even started taking my fiance with me.

  18. CraigH on June 10, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    What if we made the mission itself less different from ordinary life? Or lowered the superhuman expectations in advance of going? I liked the comment of regarding it as another two-year period, and not necessarily the best, but an important period. Or even the expectation that somehow the adjustment is SUPPOSED

  19. CraigH on June 10, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    (Sorry, cut off) …to be difficult. I remember coming home wondering what was wrong with me because I liked the adjustment, and didn’t have any lingering missionary effects. This isn’t to discount those whose adjustment-problems are real, but how many are created by cultural expectations?

  20. G.J on June 10, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    it seems that stakes, or districts can create a \”returning missionary supprt group\” pretty easily. Where the church is relativley strong, these groups could be formed at the stake level – and where the church is smaller, at the regional level. If there aren\’t enough newly returning RM\’s (2 minimim) you call older RM\’s to join the discussion. The easiest way to transition is to openly grieve the loss of mission life. A support group format would allow new RM\’s to chare their frustration with home life in a sympathetic environment without the platitudes of \”you\’ll adjust\” and \”just get married.\”

    CES has the course \”The Gospel and the Productive Life\” which is a course to transition individuals into independent living.

  21. Starfoxy on June 10, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    A wise senior at BYU, sometime in the fall of 1990, when I’d been back a few months, told me this: “Everyone says the transition from the mission is hard; I think that’s because everyone thinks you’re supposed to take the mission home with you.”
    I don’t think that this can be stressed enough. I think lots of members get the idea that missionary life is just so much more spiritual, therefore better than ordinary life. It might be more spiritual, but we are not just spiritual beings, and missionary life is necessarily imbalanced, and not sustainable in the long term. Quite a few returned missionaries I’ve known have tried (at least initially) to keep up the lifestyle, and felt like failures when they couldn’t do it. Weak, wicked, evil, failures. Some gave up on the idea sooner than others, the sooner they gave it up, the better off they were.

    What if we made the mission itself less different from ordinary life?
    I personally think that this would make problems worse, because it would give more credence to the idea that the missionary lifestyle is just a more righteous way to live- one that everyone should try to adopt. The more clearly the two are separated the more obvious it will be that the missionary lifestyle is a strictly temporary requirement.

  22. Raymond Takashi Swenson on June 10, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    It seems to me that the place where support of returning missionaries needs to start is with the mission president. Most missionaries have respect for that person as someone whose advice they have been following for two years, and the MP should be familiar enough with the conditions of the mission and the individual missionary to be able to tailor his advice to the need. The exit interview should include not only a report on the missionary’s mission experiences and suggestions for improving the missionary work and members and other missionaries with particular needs, but also help to the missionary to think about how the transition back to “civilian” life will be made. Questions like:

    How are you as a person different now than before you came on your mission?

    How has your understanding of the gospel changed?

    What talents have your discovered in yourself during your mission that you didn’t have before?

    How has your mission affected your relationships with your parents? Siblings? Friends?

    Was there anything about your life before your mission that you would like to change?

    How will you make those changes when you go home?

    Do you have specific goals for education, training, military service, or employment?

    Do you know who your bishop and stake president are? (People in those callings change, units are reorganized, families move. With mormon.org we can actually get up-to-date information.)

    What kind of church callings did you have before your mission? What callings do you think you are prepared for now? What other kinds of volunteer service, both in the church and community, are you interested in?

    Many members of the Church are afraid to share the gospel because they don’t know how to follow through. We have been encouraging members to introduce their friends to the missionaries. Now that you have this experience, what are you going to do to share the gospel as a member?

    While on your mission, you have not been allowed to go to the temple very often. Now that you will be free to do so, how often will you go to the temple? Do you know the ways you can do temple work?

    What kind of dating were you doing before your mission? Have you been corresponding with anyone? Are there expectations of continuing a former relationship by you? By your friend? You have maintinaed your virtue through two years of a rather strict regimen. Now that you will be allowed to do more than shake hands, what will you do to maintain your virtue so you can be worthy of marrying your eventual sweetheart in the temple?

    [My mission president, Russell Horiuchi, had been a geography professor at BYU. He had witnessed a lot of returned missionaries in a hurry to get married, and girls happy to accommodate them with elevated expectations that marriage would solve all of their personal problems. His advice to me was "Swenson Choro, when you get home from your mission, it's like you've been in the desert for two years, and the first mud hole you see, you think it's an oasis." He advised us to not be in a hurry to get married.]

    It seems to me that a mission president, especially if he has gone through the transition, can do a lot to help the missionary anticipate the issue he or she will be dealing with. The mission president’s wife could also spend some time with the female missionaries. They both can answer questions.

    I think one thing that they could do would include maintaining a regular correspondence with the returned missionaries. Just short notes would be enough to remind the RMs of the special experience it is to rely on the Spirit daily and accomplish things that you would never think possible, such as going into a new city and starting a branch of the Church from scratch. And keeping RMs in touch with each other also has value. They can remind each other of their best selves, help with the transition, and keep in touch with the culture of the places they worked in.

    For me personally, transitioning form being a missionary in Japan to living at home again was simplified by the fact that my Mom is Japanese and my parents have always been tied into the Japanese LDS community, including the Dai Ichi (First) Ward which has Japanese language Sunday School. My first mission president knew my parents from their common time in the Regional Mission in Salt Lake among Japanese people. I helped start a Japan Club at the University of Utah with other RMs, and a slightly older RM, Conan Grames, was teaching a Japanese language class there.

    With the Internet, the RM groups have become a bit more organized and accessible year round. Especially in the context of BYU and major Institutes at the colleges in Utah, Idaho, Arizona and California, the RM groups from each mission could have get-togethers monthly to welcome the new batch of RMs, share ethnic food, practice speaking the language, to review photos from the mission, catch up on members they knew, get a message from the MP, and even meet with people newly called to their mission to give them an informal briefing and reassure them that there will be a similar group waiting for them when they return. This can be the core of a network that can continue over years and as the RMs complete their education and pursue careers and grow families. With the data storage of computer systems and blogs now, the story of the missions, the MPs, and the missionaries can be built into an ongoing saga. And soon enough the MP himself will be returning home, and can assume an active role as a mentor for the men and women who worked so intimately with him. I know Professor Horiuchi did that for the RMs who attended BYU (I did not).

    One aspect of the RM experience that can be difficult is when an RM does not fulfill his or her aspirations and may be concerned about comparisons to their peers. Perhaps if the contacts among RMs are continued on a regular basis, and not just at an annual reunion, such contrasts will not be felt so starkly, and each RM will feel comfortable in the life he or she develops, and place career in perspective against church service and family life.

  23. Scott on June 10, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    The advice I\’ve given all my younger siblings who\’ve returned from missions is that:

    (1) You, like every RM who has preceded you, will go through a period of Post-Mission Weirdness (the symptoms varying somewhat from person to person).
    (2) Sooner or later the PMW will end on its own (so don\’t try too hard to pray, backslide, or medicate your way out of it).
    (3) Since it\’s hard to tell when you\’re completely free of PMW, do not–under any circumstances–make permanent, life-impacting decisions during the first year (and preferably two years) after your mission.

    Scott

  24. Mark B. on June 10, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    I feel sorry for all those young women (now middle-aged women) who dated RMs from the Japan East Mission and ended up being compared, unfavorably, to mudholes.

    Of course, maybe Pres. Horiuchi came by the analogy honestly. He told the story of one of his first days in Sapporo, his luggage having been sent to Kuala Lumpur or Nairobi or somewhere, wearing his only suit and walking across a street on his way to a meeting with the mayor of Sapporo or the cho (can’t think of a decent English translation–boss, chief, head honcho) of Hokkaido, when he slipped in a mudhole and landed on his derriere in the middle of it. That was a transition problem, all right, but at entry, not exit.

    Not an oasis, indeed.

  25. Scott Fife on June 10, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    To expand on Raymond’s #22 comments, I think the best place to have Mission Transition Training, is in the mission field, during the last few days of an Elder’s/Sister’s mission.

    I agree with #6, the military does a pretty decent job in providing transition training for those personnel who are leaving, and preparing them for civilian life. The military does this training during their last week on duty, not after they leave and scatter to the four winds.

    This would be the problem with having missionary transition training at home, rather than the mission field. As RM’s, their busy new lives have begun, and transition training would not be a front burner item. While still serving as missionaries, they are a captive audience under control of the mission president. The mission president could direct this training, using his counselors, assistants, local ward/stake members, etc. I think a pretty good one or two day transitioning program could be put together. When the training sessions conclude, the missionaries are taken to the airport for their flight home, and much better prepared for the next stage of life.

    Great post Wendy!

  26. JA Benson on June 10, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Ok, You all have me worried. I hear BYU this and that. Big stakes etc.. What about those of us outside of the intermountain west? What about those who are returning to what amounts to a similar missionary environment? Picture this.. my son Elder Benson comes home in one year. He will return to a medium sized university in the southeastern US. He will return to be a ROTC officer cadet. This entails getting up at 5:30 to run in full battle gear for an hour before getting ready for classes. ROTC offers structure, but all his non-LDS friends he knew before will be at a higher rank and class than him.

    If everything remains the same he will be in a small rural LDS family ward with a few RM/LDS students. The institute program was small and a major support in his freshman life. Most of the LDS guys (only a couple of girls) he knew will have graduated. He will be two hours from home and the Temple. Before his mission the evangelical university community discovered he was LDS. Everyday someone was assigned to try and talk him out of his faith. So basically before his mission he preached and taught, dodged insults, and agreed to disagree. This was great practice before his mission.

    Do you all think that he will have an easier time or harder time adjusting?

  27. nita on June 10, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    JABenson- one help might be if there is a LDS chaplain for the area that your son will attend school. Also there are now lots of unofficial email lists to advertise activities for young singles in various areas of the country- hopefully if he can connect w/some of those groups, he will have activities/events even if he lives in an area w/a nonfunctionning program for young singles.

  28. E on June 10, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    #1: I find it hard to believe that any large percentage of recently returned missionaries become inactive. As I think about the many, many I am and have been acquainted with, I actually can’t come up with one who has become inactive shortly after returning. I do think that many, if not most, have some kind of struggle adjusting to “normal” life. I know I did. It’s such a profound and abrupt change, not only in lifestyle, but in identity.

  29. E on June 10, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    #26: Your son will be fine. Obviously a tough kid. God will bless him for putting up with those *%$&* evangelicals.

  30. Sarah on June 10, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    YSAs are usually the least-active in any given unit: when I was called to be a YSA ward rep, they gave me a list of 60 or so people (between 18 and 30) that I was responsible for, of whom seven were attending BYU, two were attending the regional singles ward, and five (including myself and my younger sisters) were attending the ward. The remaining 46 were a total mystery: I spent about a month interviewing everyone I could find (young marries, former YW/YM leaders, Laurels and Priests, etc.) to see if they remembered when these people last attended church, and it was really quite depressing.

    Having said that, we have a much bigger problem with the prospective elders and the sisters than with the male RMs. Of the RMs who stayed in the ward, all are active (including the ones who aren’t married.) But the overwhelming majority went away to school — our RMs also have a much higher rate of full-time college enrollment — so it’s hard to do an even comparison. I think my current list only has one male RM on it. And quite frankly, the guys who went on missions came back more normal than when they left.

  31. norm on June 10, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    #1 “make the transition from missionary to adult member”

    I know that we all have the tendency to think of the missionaries as cute specimens; however, I doubt that treating YSA, including RMs, like infants will help them grow into adults.

    More generally, when I entered the MTC, my MTC teacher pointed his finger around the room and said that “one in four of you will be inactive in the church within a year after your mission–and that’s the ones who finish.” I believe he meant to motivate us, but it was an odd approach, to say the least. I’m not sure where his statistic comes from. Although 90-day TRs may put RMs on the bishop’s radar screen (or may not–after all, the burden is on the RM to renew the recommend, and carries the assumption that he or she wants to). But I think this is just another “we must do something” command-and-control response that is not very well-thought-out.

    As to the general idea of a mission decompression time, I’m not sure that a flip-side MTC is a bad idea. However, I’m skeptical that debriefing will cure much mental illness or lack of faith, on the one hand, or anxiety about social interaction, especially with the opposite sex on the other. Would be an interesting program, though.

  32. Bob on June 10, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    I remember in the last month of my Mission, a recruiter from BYU showed up, said “just sign here and you are in”.
    I am not sure either that a decompression time has value. You just want to get home. For me sadly, and I am sure for others, ‘home’ was no longer there. My older sister had moved out, the house had been sold, friends were gone.
    Thread jack: Over a million boys/girls will have served in Iraq. I fear they will suffer at their home coming even more.

  33. AHLDuke on June 10, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    On a lighter note, sequestering the recently returned missionaries would be great for the rest of us, so as not to have to deal with their awkwardness and occasionally self-righteous behavior.

    As for my own experience, I had a really good interview with my MP before leaving. He had us all fill out a questionnaire beforehand that included some short-, medium-, and long-term goals. Getting married promptly was NOT a part of that exit interview. I wanted to get married, and he thought that was a good idea, and we sort of left it at that. Coming home was weird, particularly to a non-member home, but not a terribly traumatic experience. When I had been home about a month, the Stake President asked me to give a presentation to the High Council (alongside my regularly-scheduled HC homecoming) on what I thought could be done to keep recently returned missionaries active (my best friend and the one who had brought me into the Church in the first place deactivated himself pretty quickly after he came home so this was particularly poignant for me). My best advice was that the bishops and stake presidents need to have regular interviews with RMs and go over those questionnaires like the one my MP gave me (which was not Church-standardized). Some missionaries won’t need the help, others will, and for yet others it won’t make any difference. I am aware that this would put an additional burden on the bishops and SPs anywhere, and would be particularly unworkable in a place like Provo, where you can’t walk down a single block without tripping over two or three RMs. It sounds like the 90-day temple recommend is a step in the right direction, but I can tell from personal experience and from some of the other comments here that the transition period is probably longer than three months.

    I also had some good advice from one of my MTC teachers, who told our group that “after your mission, if you hang out with the same friends and do the same things as you did before your mission, you just wasted two years of your life.” In my opinion, that is NOT entirely true but I think that it can add some perspective to the process of transitioning back.

    Like just about anything, whatever ends up happening needs to be adjusted for individual circumstances. I had already been away at college for two years when I left and had a pretty well-formed idea of what I wanted to do with my life and how to get there. But tons of my companions and colleagues were in a much more difficult situation, never having thought much about their future (beyond marital prospects) prior to or during their missions.

  34. Marianne on June 10, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    I think that one of the big problems with transitioning missionaries might be that we set up THE MISSION as the pinnacle of life and then while they’re serving they’re told that they should try to eliminate all thought about outside life, future plans, etc. from their minds (for those who served in Japan, we become VERY familiar with the concept of “kankeinai” and the guilt which comes when those thoughts cross one’s mind). Helpfully, someone did tell me before the mission that it should NOT be the greatest years of my life, although it might be the greatest up to that point. I also had a general plan for life after the mission going in and got up the courage to pray about it before coming home (facing the possible peril of being “trunky”).

    My parents were great and gave me plenty of space when I got home–I came home a bit sick and basically slept for 2 weeks and then we had a chat about what I planned to do job and school-wise. My parents insisted we all have jobs of some kind from high school on, so finding a job was a good transitional goal that gave me the much needed daily structure.

    And the PMW is true–I had a hard time getting used to being *alone with men* (my office had the fax machine and it was soooo hard to not feel squirrelly when the guys would come in to send or fetch their faxes), especially BIG AMERICAN men. Japanese men are completely non-threatening, but men in the ward who wanted to ask me about my mission would often inadvertently back me into corners as I tried to get some distance from their imposing presence.

  35. Banonymous on June 10, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    I might have a more unique perspective and perhaps fresher perspective than most of the comments on this page. I rarely comment although I do check Times and Seasons often (both before and after my mission)

    I have been back about a week over 5 months.

    Somewhat of a story. I served an minority speaking mission in the united states. On my mission I worked with a handful of RM’s who were totally inactive and there lives were less than ideal in both a gospel and productive life sense.

    When I got home it’s rather a long story, but I find I like the one sentence version the best. I got home, found out my girlfriend (who hadn’t written for about 9 months and then three weeks before I left had sent several letters) had been dating a guy for that about nine months, my old home was bulldozed two days before I got home and my family moved to a new one a half hour away, I started school the next day and was supposed to be in calculus but landed in remedial algebra, the first night I found out I lost a bunch of money in, had no job and broke, my dad went to jail a couple of months after and I ended up withdrawing from a computer class for my major. And then there was the whole thing with tons of white lds people everywhere with none of the people I had served around. A lot of grief! Needless to say- I felt very out of place.

    I had always had a strong case of perfectionism, but this and the heightened expectations on myself I ended up trying a little too hard, and when I encountered (what I thought) failure after failure I ended up with suicidal thoughts about two months after I came home. Lucky the university I go to had a student center with inexpensive access to mental health counseling. I had moderate to severe depression. During the worst and most suicidal of it all I made an appointment, gave up on trying in life really and played 50+ hours of video games for about two weeks. lol- not the best way to handle it! But on the intake paperwork I endorsed many symptoms of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, sadness, grief, etc.

    Coming from that severe of a place mentally was a challenge although I made excellent and rapid progress. I got treatment for my ADD which hadn’t affected me very much during my mission. I read several good books, including one on cognitve behavior therapy.

    My recovery ended up being an odd string of turningpoints, some with the therapy, some with friends, some with practical success, and most of all the biggest help was the spirtual strength and resevoirs (although drained) I had learned on my mission. I remember one of the very first turning points was opening up the March special issue ensign and reading about jesus christ. I realized that since only one man was perfect, it was okay if made mistakes, because he never did. I cryed and felt back in touch with a spiritual side and strength that had been absent. And then President Packer’s statement about the study of the gospel improving behavior faster than the study of behavior improving behavior came just that much more true. It was a blessing.

    But perhaps my most pertinent comment is this- I ended up taking an institue class called the gospel and the productive especially for RM’s. The faculty member who taught it said that a couple of the instructors there had had there RM sons return home and commit suicide- and my therapist said that the center saw so many mal-adjusted returned missionaries he was considering starting a group of some sort to help with the transition.

    I think that would help. Perhaps the formation of several small groups of recently returned missionaries!

  36. Wendy Ulrich on June 11, 2008 at 1:06 am

    Having been on many sides of this issue i too am not sure of the best way to deliver such a program. We did a 3-4 hour transition meeting with all missionaries as they left the mission, and frankly more than that would have simply been impossible given the need to orient new missionaries arriving at the same time, logistics issues, etc. I think it helped, but at that point they are so wasted from staying up all night packing and freaking out about going home and so eager to get on the plane taht I’m not sure how much they took in. We did really try to work the issue of transition in a variety of ways, and i still see our missionaries struggling. That is not all bad, but it is not all good either.

    We also do a 3-hour tranistion workshop with RM’s in our stake who have returned in the last three months, as well as with the parents of missionaries returning home in the next 3 months. We get good feedback on these, but we only get about half of them – again a logistics challenge as many are simply long gone by the time a quarterly meeting comes up.

    The CES manual has a lot of good information, but curiously this course is not being taught at BYU as near as I can tell. But it seems like singles wards and institute programs would be one place to try to reach this group. Perhaps the issue is not to try to find the one answer that will work for everyone, but to find multiple approaches that would have at least a reasonable chance of getting to at least most of those coming home.

    As far as I can tell, the range of experiences people have on missions is very broad. Some have had a great experience and the transition challengs is to find meaning and purpose in daily life with an ordinary family after the high and significance of a mission. Others struggle because their mission for any number of reasons was not at all what they expected and the challenge is to make sense of that in a way that does not cost them their faith. For yet others the challenge is simply getting into all the decisions that have been on hold for two years, feeling ill prepared for a world they haven’t navigated in a long time. For a few returning “home” means returning to broken families or even open antagonism. For most it seems to me that a huge challenge is simply realizing that they actually have enormous skills and have learned a great deal about relationships, decisions, struggling with faith, hard work, feeling the spirit, budgeting and time management, etc. but they don’t know how to apply these skills in the non-missionary setting. A big part of what we do is to simply remind them of what they know and help them see how it will apply to the rest of their lives. But this is the major challenge of all training and education – generalizing fromone setting to another.

  37. Bonjo on June 11, 2008 at 9:38 am

    I remember going to a store with a friend a few days after I got home.

    I told him I needed to use the restroom, and stood there waiting for him to follow me. He finally looked at me, and I realized I was still in “companion” mode.

  38. Chet on June 11, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Frequent reader, first time poster – couple of questions.

    Is the transition harder when the RM returns to the Wasatch Front? Is it harder to finish the mission and return to an area where membership is small (i.e. Northeast U.S.)?

  39. Eugene V. Debs on June 11, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Is it necessarily a bad thing for people to take a little vacation after the brutal stresses of a mission? If people go inactive and stay inactive for the rest of their lives, that’s bad. But if people take a break–avoiding church entirely or just going to sacrament meeting for long stretches–and then come back, where’s the harm? If I had been forced to go back into another prison-like MTC setting after pulling a full tour, my vacation from formal mormonism would have been much longer and much more complete than it was…

  40. Matt W. on June 11, 2008 at 10:55 am

    FWIW, in the philippines, recently returned missionaries are strongly encouraged to get involved with an employment program the church has for them and are offered what I can only term as preferential treatment in student loans.

  41. Bob on June 11, 2008 at 11:07 am

    #38: In keeping with your thoughts, as my parents new house was in a different Ward area than I grew up in, I found “space” in being in a new Ward.

  42. Raymond Takashi Swenson on June 11, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    To #26 (JA Benson): Air Force ROTC back in 1971 didn’t have the group run, we just did it individually. I think there are definitely some commonalities between the life of a missionary and that of a military officer, including the discipline (internal and external), the sense of a mission to serve others, the need to learn new skills, the competitiveness as well as cameraderie. The official military does support people who want to live an ethical life. Your son can make friends in that context as they help each other through the experience.

    I would think that, as an RM, if the Evangelicals resume their program of sending people to talk to him, it is those people who are going to be converted (as Lucifer said, “I sent you to convert the people, and now they have nearly converted you!” [You either know what this references or you don't]). I frankly think a lot of them will hesitate to even get near him when they find out what he’s been doing the last two years. As a missionary, I would have loved it if I got a new walk-in contact every day who wanted to discuss religion. He is lucky to have an opportunity to keep his missionary skills honed in that way. He will have a lot of opportunities to bear his testimony. I would encourage him to keep a stack of those pass-along cards and the phone number of the local missionaries. Indeed, the missionaries could visit him on campus and meet all these people directly.

    I just read an article reporting that the Southern Baptist Convention decreased in membership in 2007 by 40,000 people, despite baptizing over 300,000 (including children of members). That figure is about the same as the number of Baptists that annually join the LDS Church (as some Baptist leaders have told their ministers), a statistic that motivates a lot of the hostility by Baptists toward Mormons.

    I would recommend your son read a couple of new books. One is “Claiming Christ”, coauthored by Professor Robert Millet at BYU and an Evangelical theologian. Each of them discuss in a professional and friendly way the commonalities and differences in their religious views, and the Evangelical professor acknowledges a number of misconceptions that his fellows have about the LDS.

    The other book is “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna. Barna is a nationally known pollster within the Evangelical community, while Viola is a leader of the House Church movement. Their thesis is that most of the structure and practices of both Catholic and Protestant churches originated in pagan and secular practices of the Roman Empire, and depart significantly from the First Century Primitive Church described in the New Testament. One of their targets is the paid clergy, where Mormons obviously have the advantage in this comparison. The authors can’t quite bring themselves to admit that, along with the form and organization that Christians borrowed from the Greeks, they also borrowed their philosophy about God being a single entity that is bodiless and impassive. Your son could ask the people approaching him if they have read the book and accept the picture of the authentic Christian church it holds up in contrast to modern Protestantism. He could then segue into the points where the LDS Church DOES match up much better than the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians.

    He might also look into some other Protestant books which examine the debate among Evangelicals over the nature of God (the Open God theory, which challenges the Greek elements in the Nicene Creed) and the ways God addresses salvation for people who do not hear the gospel before they die. Post-mortem evangelization is a very real strain of thought among some Protestant theologians which cites the same passages in First Peter that we do. Evangelicals disagree among themselves on a lot of issues (also including the need for baptism, and infant baptism, and the reality of revelation to individuals from God). They are not uniform, and there are among them some who are, through sincere study of the Bible and putting theological formulas at arm’s length, approching what have been criticized as “Mormon” doctrines.

    Another example of this is “Surprised by Hope” by Anglican bishop N.T. Wright, who finds in the Bible an explicit promise that we will be physically resurrected and that we will live on a renewed earth. He has been charged with sounding like a disciple of Joseph Smith, but he responds that Smith was paying attention to the Bible at a time when other Christians were avoiding its simple message about the nature of eternal life.

    And of course there is the well established fact that the Eastern Orthodox Churches have preserved the ancient doctrine that salvation consists of becoming like God, called divinization or theosis. A Greek Orthodox essay on this doctrine cites the same scriptures we Mormons love, as well as early Christians like Irenaeus: “God became man so that men could become gods.”

    The fact is that an Evangelical could choose to adopt the views of certain Protestant theologians on these issues and discover that he sounds just like a Mormon to his fellow Christians, even without a belief in Joseph Smith’s revelations and the Book of Mormon.

    And he should not forget that the relationships he builds in his ROTC unit and on active duty can often be the foundation for sharing the gospel. Since the US has gone to an all-volunteer military, the percentage of people who enlist has increasingly come from the church-going segment of society, who fit in with the discipline and patriotism and the ethical demands of the military. Recall that just a couple of years ago, the Air Force Academy was criticized by some people for being TOO religious (less than a year after it was criticized for being too sleazy).

  43. Banonymous on June 11, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    To comment 28 (if you’re asking me the question)

    I was talking it over with my psychologist and we discussed comfort levels. My confidence and understanding of the minority culture on my mission was huge, and I could feel confident and able to hold my own in almost any situation and was bold in others. Put that in contrast with mormon wastach front culture and I began to feel very lost (despite having grown up in it). I felt a little less than a peer.

    However, I don’t know if the transition coming home to an area outside of utah is harder or easier. I think wasatch front is harder in some ways because RM’s lose that feeling of ‘being special’ and can find themselves lost in the intermountain west crowd. Plus there is the whole reverse culture shock. But they are also the benefits- a strong ward usually and lots of support, and people who know what you are going through. And because of the wide variety of mission experiences, the transition is different for everyone, although I think that most do just fine.

    I have heard of very high inactivity rates of RM’s who come home where the church is very small- for example eastern european countries.

    A huge problem with the missionaires transitioning home in my missison who later went inactive was the families of the RM. Reactions ranging from indifferent to not understanding, to not even being members, to just poorly handling the welcome home seemed to have a huge impact on the missionaries future activity in the church. Those that came from supportive familes seemed to do the best. Although support and love are sometimes overrated, I think that as much as a small transition groups for RM’s would be helpful, an even better idea perhaps for the RM’s families is to have the same support groups.

  44. Jamal on June 11, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    “Returning missionaries preparing for their new life at home receive a half-sheet of counsel that says, in essence, “be good and good luck.””

    The half-sheets we received actually said “so long and thanks for all the fish.”

  45. queuno on June 11, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    I think that missionaries are better off AFTER their missions if they had some sort of life and goals BEFORE their mission.

    I.e., attended a year of college with an ACTUAL major and course of study and plans. Sure, maybe the missionary changes his mind when he gets home, but at least he’s *changing* his mind, not making it. (And for the sisters, one would assume that at 21, they’ve been attending college already and are closer to graduation than a 19-year-old male.)

    It doesn’t have to be college, even. But what I’m hearing is that missionaries get home, get dumped into a life and don’t know how to react. Would it not be easier if the missionary had developed post-mission life plans BEFORE they left, that they could simply resume?

    Yes, there’s still a transition. But at least they still have some sense of “identify” (I am a polysci major, I am an engineering major, etc.). It sounds like if you don’t have an identity outside your missionary status, coming home is like being laid off.

  46. queuno on June 11, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    To JA Benson’s point – I do think it’s a bit easier going back to the non-Zion Corridor lifestyle than it is being in the Zion Corridor.

  47. queuno on June 11, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    One other thought for parents and leaders — when a missionary comes home and is living at home, you should treat him/her differently than other children living at home. I would consider him/her to be a separate family unit, living in the same house. Bishops and ward clerks can even formalize this in the records. I would recommend that the missionary be given his/her own home and visiting teachers, not lump them in with the family, if they happen to be attending the same ward as the family.

    My brother spent 4 months at home before he returned to BYU, and I think it affected him for a long time, being basically “one of the family” and treated like a teenager.

  48. Rich Knapton on June 12, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    “Missionaries spend from two weeks to three months in an MTC learning how to be a missionary. Many have also taken missionary preparation classes, or served mini-missions to help them prepare for their new life in the field.”

    Maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe we oversell being a missionary and undersell other aspects of life such as college and marriage. The above sends a message to him that life is all about getting ready and going on a mission. Then when he gets home, knowing life is over, he sits there waiting to be translated. When it dawns on him he’s not going to be translated and God made a mistake, he must ask himself “now what am I going to do?”

    When I was 19, I was working on the farm and held a calling in the church. People at church would ask “do you plan to go on a mission?” I answered “Yep.” End of discusson. I do remember this girl coming home from BYU. Boy was she beautiful and sophisticated. For the Gold and Green Ball I was asked to choreograph a dance routine for the entertainment portion of the ball. [I did know a few things besides cows and hay.] I would go over to her parents place, where she was staying, and worked on routines with her. After the end of the routine session, with her mother one side of me and Royleen on the other, while cookies were being feed to me, they would begin with discussions about marriage. I would ward off these suggestions by saying 19 was too young and they would counter how the parents were married at 18. And so on. Finally I mentioned I planned to go on a mission. Not only did that end the discussions but it ended the cookies also. Everything was businesslike from then on. I did find out latter that within a month she had married this sailor and they quickly had a child. Coming home from BYU, wanting to get married, soon after having a child? Hummm.

    My point is the mission was looked upon as a chance to serve the Lord but it was not life itself. Back then your bishop sent in your mission papers, you received a call, and you went immediately to the map to discover where the heck it was. I went to the Netherlands. My grandmother was from there so I knew where it was. But one of my companions first thought it was in the South Sea Islands until he looked it up on a map. I guess we were a bit less sophisticated than current missionaries. You then went to Salt Lake City for a week (yep I’m that old). The week after that you were to some country where everything that was said sounded like one long word. You thought “How am I going to learn the language when I can’t even identify single worlds.” (You do.)

    My mission was an eye opener. No I don’t mean the spiritual experiences which were also eye openers. I mean the bunk bed discussions with my companions. I never knew Seminary graduation in Salt lake City meant beer-busts in Little Cottonwood Canyon (although I had no idea where Little Cottonwood Canyon was) and French kissing girls.

    That reminds me. While on my mission and serving as a branch president, a 35 year old woman member came up to me and asked if she should divorce her husband. I thought to myself, “what do I know – I’ve never even French kissed.” That’s when the Spirit whispered “Stake President” and I made a quick call.

    At the end of my mission I had my separation interview with Elder Mark E Peterson. What a thrill. My mission president had finished his time and a new president had not yet been called. I was so enthralled with the man I can’t remember a thing he said except it was wonderful. In my return interview with the stake president he asked what I was going to do now. He was pulling my head out of my mission and into the wonderful experiences that lay in the future. That part of my life was over and new exiting part was opening up. This forced me to think about the future and not the past. Others would ask the same questions: “How was your mission and what are you going to now.” I replied I was going to have a new adventure: going to college (to myself I said “ and to learn to French kiss.”)

    Rich

  49. donna on June 13, 2008 at 11:31 am

    Understanding parents can do so much to help RM’s make the transition back. It helps to know that you will need to “help” a son relearn how to drive a car after two years of not driving, or that you will need to “back up” your daughter as she drives the family car. Perhaps parents need transition instructions as much as RM’s do. However, learning how to make transitions is important life learning. Life is constant transition from one phase of life to another. I can say that transitioning to being an empty nester is no picnic.

  50. JA Benson on June 15, 2008 at 12:51 am

    thanks Raymond. Thank you for spending so much time crafting such a well thought out and individual response. I will save him a copy for when he returns. I think that Elder Benson will find your suggestions helpful.
    Thank you queuno, nita and e.

  51. Ben Huff on June 16, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Great post! For me the transition wasn’t too difficult, partly because I definitely saw missionary work as training for the rest of my life. I was painfully aware of my limitations as a missionary, ways I could serve only as a regular member that were crucial. But I had also badly needed the time on my mission to focus on the scriptures, gospel, and service. I don’t remember if someone told me directly that the mission was training for the rest of my life, but I did encounter some hints. A great message to deliver to missionaries as they are wrapping up their time in the field. A send-off workshop could be at the very end, or could be spread over a few sessions in the last few months.