by Kristen Reber

In my experience with talking with others, the most common reason for a missionary choosing to go home is that they did not feel prepared for the emotional trials of a mission. Often, missionaries are well prepared to teach the gospel and bear testimony because of excellent training given at the Missionary Training Centers around the world. However, as former mission president and former president of the Philippines MTC, Robert K. Wagstaff said, missionaries are generally not prepared for the following issues:

  • Finances
  • Homesickness
  • Living with a different person and in a different culture
  • Adjusting to missionary rules, schedule, and lifestyle
  • Learning a new language
  • Personal weaknesses

These things are difficult to adjust to, perhaps more difficult than sharing the gospel every day. If a person chooses to come home early, it is usually not because he or she no longer has a testimony or no longer desires to teach the gospel. It is because he or she does not feel prepared to do so or there are other emotional challenges getting in the way.

In my opinion, it is okay if a missionary comes home for these reasons. It is better that a missionary come home to resolve emotional challenges than stay on the mission where there is little time to resolve anything personal. Robert K. Wagstaff said, “According to Judi Moore, a doctor and former medical adviser in the South America South Area, stress may contribute to many of missionaries’ most common physical complaints, including headaches, back pain, heart palpitations, insomnia, fatigue, stomach problems, dry mouth, and even frequent sore throats. For some, stress can also lead to panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and difficulty functioning.” And trust me, these are NOT things you want to deal with on a mission.

If you came home early because you did not feel prepared to teach the gospel or because you did not feel emotionally prepared, I encourage you to take a step back and do some introspection. Then, if you still have desires to teach the gospel and to serve, take some time to prepare to do so. I recommend reading Robert K. Wagstaff’s talk that I have referenced. Then, when you feel ready, work with your priesthood leaders to resubmit your mission papers.

If you no longer have a desire to serve a full-time mission, that is okay. Missionary work is volunteer work, not required work. Don’t believe me? Check out Chapter 2 in the Missionary Preparation Student Manual.  In that chapter are many good points about missionaries being properly prepared to serve full-time missions, plus this quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley:

Missionary work is not a rite of passage in the Church. It is a call extended by the President of the Church to those who are worthy and able to accomplish it…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. We simply must face up to the facts. We are spending millions of dollars on medical care and countless hours assisting those with problems that make it impossible for them to perform the work. . . . There are other areas where those with serious limitations may work and have a satisfying experience. And the Lord will bless them for what they are able to do. . . . There should be an eagerness and a desire to serve the Lord as His ambassadors to the world. And 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.

Do what you are able to do. If you feel able to return to your mission, then great! If not, that is OKAY! You can still serve here. Missionary work is not just for full-time missionaries. It is for everyone.

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