My mission president drove me nuts. He would push us incessantly, he was goal oriented, and he was totally into details. I suspect just about every other mission president is also this way. Those are the traits you can expect – the kind you can deal with. What drove me nuts was how much tolerance he displayed towards the missionaries. The kind of egregious tolerance that resulted in him not sending a single missionary home during the time I was there.
Believe me, we didn’t have a mission full of angels. We were 19 and 20-something young men and women, with a few rebellious couples thrown into the mix. But despite the elder who fancied himself Rambo, bragging that he was willing to throw down with anyone, anytime, and even tried on occasion; despite the missionary who liked to enter any and every rodeo in the area so he could hone his bull-riding skills; despite the companionship whose soft drinks turned hard, the one that ended up fighting in the street until the police arrived, my mission president sent not a single one of them home.
Some of us suffered from the effects of this unwritten policy. It was a burden to the missionaries assigned as companions and the leaders responsible for monitoring and intervening, and at times it was an embarrassment to the local membership.
I suspect that it was missionaries like these who motivated the Raising the Bar standards. Better that they never set foot in the field, right?
But near the end of my mission, during a meeting with the mission president, he let slip a story about an experience he had while training to be a mission president.
One of the apostles told him that the brethren expected him to deliver X number of converts during his service. Anything over and above that number was icing on the cake. He wrote the number down. He obsessed over it. It became his goal.
A short time later he suddenly realized what that number actually represented. It was the number of missionaries that a mission president could expect to preside over during the course of his three-year calling. That number was me. It was us. Any converts we brought into the fold were a bonus.
As he related this story, my frustration turned into a realization that continues to come into ever-sharper relief as I get older and missionaries get younger.
I’ve seen what happens when a young man or young woman is sent home early. I have seen their struggles to cope, their public shame. I look back on those missionaries that caused me, and others, so much frustration. But even with the frustration, they – we – were in a place of growth, a place where we could be reached, a place where we could finish our commitment and return home with head held high. Sending some of us home early would have been convenient, perhaps even expedient, but it would also have raised the likelihood of losing them forever.
I loved Elder Quentin L. Cook’s words in the most recent conference:
Our leaders have consistently counseled us “to live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies.”
It is equally important that we be loving and kind to members of our own faith, regardless of their level of commitment or activity. The Savior has made it clear that we are not to judge each other. This is especially true of members of our own families. Our obligation is to love and teach and never give up.
It isn’t easy to be inconvenienced, especially when we are asked to tolerate the views or the actions of the other, and love them too! It would be easier to ignore them, cast them out, keep things easy and pure. But that isn’t the plan.
Two decades after my missionary service, raising children of my own, my respect and admiration for my mission president continues to grow. I regret my feelings of frustration; I was too young to recognize the wisdom, the patience, and the foresight that he displayed.