by Kristen Reber
Originally published December 13, 2013
“As missionaries we’re always told to return with honor. Since I came home early, I don’t know if I can.”
This was said by Samuel Adams in a 60-minute film he wrote, directed, and produced independently in 2006 called Returning with Honor . His statement echoes with many other missionaries who come home early, even if they are released with honor.
Samuel Adams served in the Philppines Bacolod Mission, which was at the time he served, combined with the Philippines Iloilo Mission where I served. He came home early because he was sick, but he was the only one who believed he was sick. The doctors in the Philippines and in the USA could not detect anything physically wrong with him. He was called a faker and told that it was all in his head. When he came home, his homecoming was lukewarm. Although his parents loved him, they did not understand what he was going through and did not understand why he couldn’t just “snap out of it.” Samuel became extremely frustrated and decided to figure out what was wrong with him. He rode his bike from Portland to San Francisco to both push his body to see if anything was wrong with him, to “find himself,” and to give himself a purpose again in life.
On his journey to San Francisco, Samuel could eat barely anything except cliff bars and gatorade and soon his money ran out. He encountered more and more trials and at one point in the film screamed in frustration, “Why can’t anything go right?!” I think early-returned missionaries often feel this way, particularly those that come home for physical or mental illnesses. Why can’t anything go right?
The movie is raw with the negative emotions of coming home early: confusion, guilt, frustration, anger, self-reflection, pondering, and faith. Faith is what Samuel Adams held onto to keep him going on his trip and at that time in his life. Although Samuel felt very frustrated at God for not protecting him as a missionary, for allowing him to become sick, when he had only been doing God’s work, he never gave up on his testimony that God was there and that he was mindful of Samuel, however distant God seemed at the time.
Throughout the movie, Samuel shared his testimony with his viewers, often after showing a hardship he went through on his trip or when he recalls thoughts he had during his mission or upon coming home. I loved the faith he expresses. As one who has gone through the struggle of coming home early and being okay and being able to look back with different perspective, his words really resonated with me. I’d like to share them now with anyone reading this blog, but especially those who came home early:
- “I don’t know what the purpose of suffering is except that when we’re not suffering, life is pretty good. And if it’s only for the reason that we can know the difference between pain and pleasure, maybe it’s worth it.”
- “It’s a miracle that I’m even alive. I had been bitter for so long. Why didn’t God take care of me? One of his own missionaries that was trying so hard. I thought so many times of things that I could blame it on, things that I wasn’t doing good enough. I put so much guilt and stress upon my body because of that. Sometimes we don’t get prayers answered fast enough in our minds. I had no idea that my prayers were being answered. I just didn’t realize how big of a miracle would have to happen in order to get what I wanted or thought I needed at that very moment.”
- “When I was little I had a friend with a lot of challenges. He said God was a jerk, and I thought about that for a long time. God’s just a really good father. Like any good father, he loves us. He looks at our potential and knows what we can become. He doesn’t look at all of our mistakes and all of our weaknesses, but he uses our weaknesses to help us become stronger. He pushes us, and picks us up when we can’t go any farther.”
- “People ask me a lot about my mission and if it was hard to come home early and it was. But over time it came to me that I did my best. I put forth all the effort I possibly could to the best of my ability and that brought me a lot of peace.”
Honorable releases are nice, and they certainly do mean something wonderful. I think that’s why in LDS culture we put so much emphasis on our missionaries to come home with honor. But unfortunately, sometimes those that should have been released honorably are not because as humans we don’t equate coming home early with returning honorably. Not being released honorably adds immensely to the guilt that missionaries feel upon returning home early. Sometimes guilt can be a good thing; it can be a call to action for many. But I personally believe that in the case of coming home early, for anything other than knowingly going against mission rules or sinning, guilt is unnecessary and useless. And for those that came home early because of a mistake, but who have repented and been forgiven, continued guilt is useless.
Honorable release or not, missionaries that come home early are good people. Even those that come home early because they’ve made a mistake. We all make mistakes, but unfortunately for those that come home early because of one their mistakes are in a spotlight to everyone else. I believe that returning with honor to God after this life is more important than returning home with honor from a mission. God knows our hearts and He knows what really happened at each difficult time in our life. I think Samuel is exactly right when he tells his viewers:
“Sometimes when things happen that are unexpected, they’re considered bad. We just go on and on thinking why did this happen to me? Why right now? Why at this time?…Sometimes things happen to people in life and they can’t understand why. They just keep asking why. A person can make themselves crazy always asking why. It’s really hard to do. Sometimes you gotta look ahead. and it’s only after, maybe only years after, that you realize why it was so good for it to happen to you at that time.”