During the opening session of the 132nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held in October 2012, President Thomas S. Monson made a landmark announcement to the members of the Church worldwide. He announced that young men may now enter the Missionary Training Center (MTC) after their 18th birthday, and young women may enter after their 19th birthday.
Following that monumental announcement, many young men and women made the decision to place college and careers on hold for 18 months (for the young women) to two years (for the young men) to be about their Heavenly Father’s business by serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ. While on the Lord’s errand, they put the cares of the world behind them as they devote all of their time and attention to strengthening their relationship with Heavenly Father, praying fervently, studying the scriptures, and serving and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people in their assigned areas.
However, there comes a day when the mission is over. There comes a time when they are released as full-time missionaries, and return home to their families and loved ones. As they return and report about their life changing experiences, the indelible question that perhaps weighs on their mind is, “What happens now that I am home from my mission?”
Transitioning from the Missionary Life to the “Normal” Life
A young returned missionary from Canada described his experience with returning home after serving a two year mission:
Coming home after serving my full-time mission was harder than leaving home had been,” said a young Canadian returned missionary. “I’m usually not an emotional person,” he added, “but during the first months after I returned home, I felt a great deal of emotion. Often I didn’t understand my mixed-up feelings. At times, I would go to bed at night and cry. I was embarrassed and put on a front for my family and friends because I didn’t want them to know.
Bruce L. Olsen, director of Public Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1989 to 2008, stated in an address given in 1991, that it is not uncommon for returned missionaries to feel somewhat at a loss as they transition from a life where they had the opportunity to serve as full-time ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ back to a life at home, where they have to deal with day-to-day challenges. He encouraged those who had already returned home from their missions, as well as those who would soon be returning, to be patient with themselves, and in time they would make a successful transition.
Some returned missionaries, for a period of time as they strive to readjust to “normal” life, may feel as though they are on an incredible roller coaster ride. A mental health advisor with the Church Missionary Department described the experience of returning home as follows:
Returning from a faithfully served mission is a singular experience. You’re about as happy and satisfied as it’s possible to be. You’re also as tired as you’ve ever been, and there’s an amount of sorrow: it can be a lot harder to come home than it was to leave.
For many missionaries, this can be a bittersweet experience. It can be hard to leave behind the people and work you love dearly, a new understanding of who you are, and a structure to your days. RMs (Returned Missionaries) can quickly find themselves looking for something to give meaning to their lives again.
Young returnees can be caught off guard by the complexity of post-mission life. Your lifestyle literally changes overnight. While you served, you only had to worry about one thing. The work was not easy, but once you settled in, the daily schedule became a manageable, simplistic life. Then you go home and it’s not that way anymore. Your life suddenly has a number of dimensions: dating and finding a spouse, school, job, money, cars. It can create angst in the returned missionary who suddenly has a million decisions to make every day.
Senior missionaries face challenges, too. Seniors often develop rich, robust relationships and feel very valued as missionaries for the role they play. When they come home, it is hard for them to replicate that feeling of being valued by the ward or community.
Mormon Missionaries Who Return Home Early
Even missionaries of the most stalwart faith may experience some feelings of regret, especially as they begin to wonder if the service that they rendered was sufficient. There may even be feelings of deep remorse and guilt as they look back over their missionary experience and realize that they may not had accomplished all that they had hoped to do. Those feelings are perhaps felt more profoundly by those who are sent home early from their mission because of medical or other reasons. In addition to those feelings, there is also the fear of rejection or judgment by others. The reality is that many missionaries who return home early from their mission feel a sense of failure.
Zach Bullock experienced these feelings when he returned home in 2008 after serving seven months of a two-year mission call to Italy. Upon returning home, he never bothered to unpack his suitcase, and immediately found a job that required him to work on Sundays so that he could avoid church meetings and having to talk to people at Church about his mission. He eventually completed a degree in social work at Utah Valley University, but soon became obsessed with the idea that he needed to complete a Master’s degree to somehow prove that he could finish something important. Commenting on the experience, Bullock, now a BYU graduate, stated, “I didn’t feel normal. I feel like I failed.” Two years short of leaving for his mission his father passed away from stomach cancer. His father’s dying wish was that his son would serve a mission. In retrospect, Bullock commented, “I thought I had dealt with his death, but it turned out I hadn’t gotten over it.”
The late Church President Gordon B. Hinckley in a 2003 Worldwide Leadership Training broadcast commented on the importance of good physical and mental health:
Good physical and mental health is vital. There are parents who say, ‘If only we can get Johnny on a mission, then the Lord will bless him with health.’ It seems not to work out that way. Rather, whatever ailment or physical or mental shortcoming a missionary has when he comes into the field only becomes aggravated under the stress of the work.
There must be health and strength, both physical and mental, for the work is demanding, the hours are long, and the stress can be heavy.
Help With the Transition Process
In reference to missionaries who return early from their missions because of health or other problems, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in his October 2013 General Conference address titled “Like a Broken Vessel” stated, “Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental and kind.” Therefore, members of the congregation need to be less judgmental, and more warm and accepting of returned missionaries, whether they were able to serve a full mission or not.
The returned missionary can also help lessen the stress and confusion they may feel after returning home by becoming actively involved in their wards and branches. They should also find good friends, and Church leaders who will take the time to listen, as well as close family members to share their feelings with.
Bruce L. Olsen in his address titled “Home from a Mission” counseled,
Establish a pattern of steadfastness in the gospel and serve well in whatever Church service to which you are called. Talk about your feelings with your parents, Bishop, Relief Society President, or home teachers. And remember, baptisms are not the only measure of a successful mission. Equally important are helping to fellowship new members of the Church, encouraging less-active members toward full activity in the Church, giving Christian service, planting for a future gospel harvest, helping companions, and deepening your own conversion.
Advice for Returned Missionaries
LDS psychologist, Wendy Ulrich, suggests that the first thing returned missionaries need is a vacation – a time to relax and unwind. They have basically gone non-stop during their time of missionary service and need a small break, but she also suggests that the break should not last longer than a couple of weeks. As soon as possible, they should begin to look for something concrete to do.
She also suggest that there needs to be a shift in spiritual thinking, “Instead of being in the middle of God’s work, you have to bring God into your work—the work of preparing for your future.” She continues, “Keep communicating with the Lord. Be patient: answers to prayers may not come as quickly or directly. But the Spirit isn’t going to leave you just because you’re not baptizing people.”
She encourages those who come home early from their mission to accept their release and keep pressing forward by faith. She further commented that coming home early “is not the defining experience of your life. It can be lonely. But the Lord will find ways to use every experience of our lives for our good.”
Don’t forsake everything in the spiritual dimension of your life. Maintain a high degree of spirituality in public and private religious practice. Strongly urge your Bishop to give you a calling—and then magnify it.
They can be seen speaking to people on the streets of rural communities or in bustling metropolitan areas around the country. They can also be found not only throughout the United States, but also in various foreign speaking countries of the world. Some ride bicycles to and fro, some drive cars, and others walk many miles each day. Depending on the area where they are assigned, they may also be seen on local buses and trains and they travel from location to another throughout their day, but they are always seen traveling at least two-by-two. The mission is the same for each of them – to teach the restored gospel, and to bring souls unto Christ. Who is this valiant army of stripling warriors? They are missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A Rapid Increase in Those Willing to Serve
A Salt Lake Tribune article dated 15 August 2013, reports that there are presently 75,000 missionaries laboring in the Lord’s vineyard in more than 400 missions located throughout the world. This continuous influx of young men and young women, who can now begin serving full-time missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church by the media and others) as early as 18 years of age and 19 years of age respectively, comes as a result of the announcement of the lowering of age requirements made by President Thomas S. Monson, during the opening session of the October 2012 Semiannual General Conference.
Before the monumental announcement, The Church of Jesus Christ reported that there were some 58, 500 missionaries serving throughout the world. This significant growth in the number of missionaries now serving full-time missions represents a 28 percent increase in the worldwide missionary force. Read more
Chances are you’ve seen Mormon missionaries canvassing the streets at least once. Not sure? Have you seen a pair of young men dressed in dark suits going door-to-door? I bet you those are Mormon missionaries. Mormon missionaries represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently referred to as the Mormon church), and they’ve maintained a conservative dress standard for decades. The Church of Jesus Christ recently issued an update to the dress code that will give missionaries greater flexibility in their dress while still allowing them to remember who they stand for.
One of the biggest changes missionaries will see is an expansion of the allowable suit colors. Traditionally Mormon missionaries were directed to wear dark suits every day. Now they can wear not only lighter suits but also nice khakis without a suit coat. In some missions with warmer climates, missionaries are allowed to wear short-sleeved white collared shirts and khakis, reserving their suits for Sundays and other special meetings. (I should note that missions have always allowed for some flexibility regarding climate.) Read more
Mormon Missionaries in the News
Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which church is often inadvertently referred to as the “Mormon Church”) have increasingly been in the news, both national and local. The Deseret News reported in late July 2013 about a young missionary who was tragically killed while serving in Guatemala. Another missionary was involved in the massive train derailment in Spain, on his way to his first teaching area. Elder Ward, serving in Spain, was injured in the accident, but has since been released from the hospital and is continuing his missionary service. And nearly every major news organization was jumping last October with President Monson’s announcement lowering the age at which young Latter-day Saints can serve missions.
These are just a few of the many stories concerning Latter-day Saint (“Mormon”) missionaries around the world. While most missionaries don’t face life-threatening circumstances while away from home, as Elder Burton in Guatemala and Elder Ward in Spain both did, letters from countless other missionaries report other difficulties such as illnesses, facing constant rejection, homesickness, challenges in assisting investigators, as well as personal tragedies such as the death of a family member or loved one while the missionary is away from home. Read more
On July 20, 2013, 23-year old Josh Burton of Alberta, Canada, a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the “Mormon Church”), passed away after being struck by a truck during a service project he and other missionaries were engaged in.
While performing service, Elder Burton and six other people were struck by a truck that went down an embankment. Elder Burton was transported to an area hospital where doctors said he fractured two vertebrae, a broken shoulder and had a concussion.
Elder Burton died Tuesday after suffering several heart attacks, according to the stake’s Facebook page. Read more
Dictionary.com defines the word “conversion” as, “a change of attitude, emotion, or viewpoint from one of indifference, disbelief, or antagonism to one of acceptance, faith, or enthusiastic support, especially such a change in a person’s religion.” Therefore, to be converted entails a transformation of character, or nature of a person. In the spiritual sense, it is a change from sinfulness to righteousness. “It is such a significant change that the Lord and His prophets refer to it as a rebirth, a change of heart, and a baptism of fire.” 
24 For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit. Read more
Ever since the announcement made by President and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church by the media and others), Thomas S. Monson, during the opening session of the 182nd Semiannual General Conference, concerning the new age requirements for those desiring to serve full-time missions, more and more young men and young women are answering the call to serve.
President Monson gave these remarks concerning the prayerful decision to lower the age requirements:
I am pleased to announce that effective immediately all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.
As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, we have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve. Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21. Read more
After His resurrection from the dead, Jesus continued to minister to His disciples in Palestine. As He prepared to ascend again to heaven, He charged His disciples saying, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). His restored Church in modern times, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the Mormon Church) continues to heed His great commission to take His gospel to all the world.
Young adult Latter-day Saints (Mormons) serve as missionaries for 18-24 months. In 1992 and 1993, when I served as a Mormon missionary in Scotland, I followed strict guidelines about conduct and interaction with the Scottish people. Our focus as missionaries was to contact interested people on the streets and in their homes to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ preparing them to follow His example by being baptized.
On June 23, 2013, I watched a worldwide broadcast where leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ spoke about missionary work. During the broadcast, leaders announced that missionaries would use social media to contact interested people to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I felt ecstatic knowing that as cultural and interpersonal norms change, The Church of Jesus Christ’s approach is designed to reach people where they are comfortable.
The strategy shift reflects the growing importance of social media and people’s preference to connect over sites such as Facebook rather than opening their homes to strangers, church leaders said. Read more
A basic definition of the word “missionary” states, “A person sent on a religious mission, especially one sent to promote Christianity in a foreign country.” An even broader definition of the word “missionary” could state, “A person who is strongly in favor of a program or a set of principles who is sent on a mission by a church into an area for the purpose of attempting to persuade or convert others, or for other activities such as educational or hospital work.”
Following the announcement made by Thomas S. Monson, President and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church), during the opening session of the 182nd Semiannual General Conference concerning the new age requirements for missionaries, eligible young men may begin serving a mission at age 18, and eligible young women may serve a mission starting at age 19. These young missionaries do not choose where they will serve, but humbly and willingly go on the Lord’s errand to work in whatever area of His vineyard they are needed. Young men serve for two years and young women serve for a period of 18 months. Some may serve their mission not far from home, while others may be called to serve in faraway distant lands, all with the same intent and purpose – to preach and teach the gospel, and to bring precious souls unto Christ. Read more
Young Women Changing the Face of Mormon Missionary Work
When I knocked on strangers’ doors in Scotland sharing the message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the “Mormon Church”), most of them were shocked to discover that “Mormon girls were missionaries” too. Many Scots knew of the short-haired-young-men-with-white-shirts-and-ties variety of missionary, but few sister missionaries (as Mormon female missionaries are called) knocked on their doors. Phillip Leal told me that he never opened his door to the Elders (male missionaries), but our happy faces intrigued him and he listened to our message and subsequently prepared himself for baptism.
A Surge in Mormon Sister Missionaries’ Service
Until recently, young women served as Mormon missionaries after turning 21 years old. However in October 2012, Church President Thomas S. Monson lowered the minimum missionary age requirement to 19 for young women. Overjoyed at the announcement, I clung to every word of our living prophet.
As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, we have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve. Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.
We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty—and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable to respond to the call to serve. Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men. We assure the young sisters of the Church, however, that they make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service. 1
I was ecstatic because I knew so many wonderful, worthy young women with strong testimonies of the Savior Jesus Christ and a fervent desire to share His message with the world. Many of my assignments in the Church throughout the years revolved around the youth, specifically young women. They grew following Paul’s admonition to Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). I knew they would gladly accept President Monson’s invitation to serve a mission.
Three of my cousins’ 19 year-old daughters responded immediately to this announcement and submitted their applications to become missionaries. They were assigned to England, Nicaragua, and Poland. Thousands of young women throughout the Church have responded and are newly assigned as missionaries around the globe.
Young women’s increased desire to serve the Lord through missionary work reminded me of a prophecy of the Biblical prophet Joel, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit” (Joel 2:28-29).
Mormon Sister Missionaries at Work
Each missionary works in tandem with another missionary, known in Mormon terms as a companion. The companion can be an instant friend and confidant. The two missionaries live, study, and work together 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Companions change throughout a missionary’s service. Missionaries who focus on serving the Savior do not struggle with a companion’s personality. Both learn from and compliment the other’s strengths and weaknesses thereby becoming an amazing duo. Kimberly Jensen, my first companion, was fearless! While I felt reticent to approach a stranger, she did not see a stranger, but instead saw another child of God and felt compelled to offer His message to everyone. Her courage bolstered my own and within several months into my missionary service, I fearlessly approached every soul on the streets of Scotland. She hated memorization, which was one of my strengths, and I helped her memorize scriptures pertinent to our lessons.
After studying the scriptures individually and as companions, the missionaries leave the apartment each day to share the Gospel—either at appointments already scheduled or by approaching new individuals.
The Mormon Missionary Message
The message of the Mormon missionaries centers on the Savior Jesus Christ—who He is and what He came to do. Missionaries teach how a restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ became necessary after the Apostles of the New Testament era were killed, leaving no one with divine authority to act in God’s name. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His true Church on the earth today. The messages of hope discuss God’s plan of salvation for His children—where we came from, why we are here, where we go after we die. Because God is a loving Heavenly Father, He provides the Holy Spirit, living prophets, scriptures (like the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon), commandments and covenants to help us along life’s pathways. Because of His grace and mercy, we develop faith in Christ, hope in His Atonement and charity for mankind.
Sister Missionaries Desire to Save People
One of my favorite scriptural heroines is Esther. At the potential cost of her own life, she determined to save her people. And she did.
She explained the required task’s risks to her uncle Mordecai, and he concurred that the risks were great. He said she did not have to take the risks, that God would raise up another deliverer. But said Mordecai, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther responded, “So will I go…” (Esther 4:14-16).
Sister missionaries desire to save people as well to build up the Kingdom of God. They sacrifice their self-interest for 18 months of their lives risking storm, heat, homesickness, education, career opportunities, and rejection to find and teach souls who yearn to know Jesus Christ. Often one of those souls is their own.
If you would like to hear more about Mormon beliefs, Ask the Missionaries!