Why My Mission was Hard

I’ve heard lots of people discuss how their missions caused a spiritual crisis for them. So did mine. I’ve heard a lot of people who served in Latin America talk about how their faith was tried (or destroyed) by numbers-driven kiddie baptisms and managerial techniques by mission leaders that rewarded hard-driving hypocrites and demeaned the gospel. My mission also had some unsavory episodes of pressure to baptize children — entirely from local leaders in my case — and I saw some incidents of missionaries behaving badly. I had a mission president who was fond of Covey, although his love of the Gospel, his missionaries, the members, and the people of Korea was so palpable that it never bothered me.

What tried my faith was rejection. Nigh on constant unremitting rejection. Some of it was polite. Much of it was not. However, it was more or less omnipresent. This is basically the norm for most missionaries, although I suspect that it is more pronounced in some areas — like Northern Asia — than in others. The rejection didn’t create a cultural or intellectual crisis for me. I didn’t develop some self-loathing perception of myself as an agent of American cultural imperialism. Nor was I particularly surprised. I was reared on stories of my father tracting out the monumental indifference of Quebec in the 1960s. (It was always cold and they tracted uphill both ways.) It is a big old world, and despite the notes of triumphalism in General Conference, the scriptures speak of salt and leaven — tiny particles amidst an infinitely larger mass. I didn’t expect constant success.

Rather rejection was hard for a simpler, much more visceral reason. Day in and day out, I put forth that which was most precious and sacred to be trampled under the feet of an unheeding world. I still remember the palpable, physical feeling of pain at watching pearls ground into the mud.

The slow and constant ache of that pain was my missionary crisis.

266 comments for “Why My Mission was Hard

  1. My mission was also hard for similar, and also different, reasons.

    I always cast a suspicious eye at anyone who says that their mission was the best two years of their life and that they pine to return and would go back in a heartbeat. Not that such feelings might be possible. Only that I never saw such feeling from any missionary in my mission who consistently tried to do what we were asked to do (and what we were asked to do was “the impossible”).

    It took every ounce of my strength (and more) to try and meet mission goals. And then there was sleeping on hard beds, spending hours and hours a day on my feet. Stopping people in the streets, knocking on doors, actually feeling surprised when someone wanted to talk to us (and then instantly assuming that they probably had some sort of mental imbalance if they were talking to us – as one of my friends once said to me, “I think it was my calling to tract into and teach a first discussion to every crazy person in Madrid.”). Then conferences where a visiting general leader would “gently” reprimand us and chastise us for not reaching our mission potential (i.e. hard-number baptismal goals).

    And all along, I, like Nate, felt this bursting urge to share my joy and happiness, my pearls, with this people I was called to serve. Then to be repeatedly rejected, it was tough. And I served in South America. I think I was called there b/c I personally could not have served in an East Asian or European mission . . . the total and complete indifference and acceptance to the message would’ve probably kept me in bed all day.

    At least in Buenos Aires we met with occasional success. And my mission presidents were both incredible men, and “realists” who knew when to push us and when to lay off (whereas some members of the first Area Presidency [not the 2nd one, which was incredible] seemed to have lacked this same acuity). But it was clear that we were there to WORK. And work we did. Incessantly.

    So, when I got to the end of my mission, I was READY to head back home, rest up, and nurture my ever-tried faith a bit . . . My mission was a constant refiners fire. And, like most fires, I was glad to be out of it. I was (and am) forever grateful for the experiences and growth, and for how it molded my character and blessed me. But would I want to keep doing it indefinitely? Do I pine for it? Do I long for it?


    The best I can say is that (1) I’m glad I did it, and (2) I’m glad that it’s in my rear-view mirror.

  2. I know what you mean–I served in Japan and was generally rejected as a travelling salesman would have been. It was thoughtless and I was an annoyance to them, yet I carried a message that could have been such a positive force. That incongruity was extremly frustrating.

    This is perhaps why I feel that my mission was for my benefit rather than primarily for others: I had precious few chances to affect anyone else. I don’t think that is right, and it makes me feel selfish to say that my mission helped me more than anyone else.

  3. My mission was hard too. That is one of the things I remember most about it. If I could go back and re-make that decision to serve a mission, I’d still make the same decision without hesitation. I’m so grateful for all the mission experiences and what I learned during that time period. But yes, it was difficult. I remember breaking down uncontrollably into tears on a few occasions during my mission. And I am not a crier.

    There were also times during the mission where I laughed hard too. Especially when we’d have the weekly district meetings and a “planchar” victim would be chosen. “Planchar” means “to iron” (clothes). The victim would be tackled and the elders would pile in succession on top of him. Poor guy.

  4. Out of all the things that caused me spiritual and physical pain on my mission–and there were many things, and much pain–oddly enough, that wasn’t one of them.

    It was very easy for me to believe that people who rejected the message I had to offer didn’t really understand it, that they simply weren’t ready to take the time and be sincere and open their hearts so that they could get it. I felt like I was holding out a wrapped gift for the people behind each door, and they were turning it down without even seeing what was inside. Even if they heard a discussion or two, they had only taken off the bow, the wrapping paper, maybe opened the first box, but they hadn’t opened the inner box that contained the pearl. I knew that other missionaries would be back within months or years with the same wrapped gift, and maybe at that point they would be ready, or at least more curious.

    I think one shortcoming of the trampled pearl metaphor is that it implies that the message is somehow sullied or damaged by sharing it. Did you really feel at the time that your message any the less for your trying to share it with people who rejected it without understanding it, perhaps without even hearing it?

  5. I had similar feelings. When I knew I had the restored gospel, something that was so true and so good, yet at times seemed rejected at every turn, how could I not take it personally? I internalized it, thinking at times that I was the cause of the rejection.

  6. My mission was a disaster. It would have been better if I had listened to my father, an imposing and driven career Air Fioce office. Before I left, he told me of his missionary experiences in New Zealand and warned: “Remember, most of the people you meet won’t believe what you say, won’t care how you say it, and probably won’t be bothered telling you that.” Unlike John Lennon, I couldn’t say that “nobody told me there’d by days like these….”

  7. Beijing: Rationally, my beliefs were more or less exactly like yours. I didn’t feel like those who rejected me were going to be damned or something. Furthermore, there rejection made quite a bit of sense — after all, would you transform your life on the basis of what someone who doesn’t really speak your language and who looks really strange says to you while riding the subway? Nor do I think that the message was demeaned by the rejection.

    Nevertheless, there was still the pain for me. It was almost like watching a blasphemy, although in another way it was the absolute antithesis of blasphemy. In a sense, I suppose that Christ on the Cross is a similar kind of image. He himself understood that his rejection was natural and implored God to forgive his tormentors, who knew not what they did. Furthermore, we understand the sacrifice as being integral to the Atonement and the triumph over sin and death. Nevertheless, the image of Christ on the Cross is horrific.

    I disagree with you about the pearl metaphor. A pearl is hard and cannot be easily stained. If it is ground into the mud, one can pluck it up, wipe it off, and it has the same luster.

  8. My mission was both hard and wonderful at the same time. It depended on who my comps were and what area I was in. My mission president was not a crazy goal setter he lived in the real world and knew the challenges we faced in the turbulent years in South Africa right around the end of the Apartheid government in SA. We had 100 baptisms in the 2 years I was there 1993-1995. Currently the mission has in excess of 1000 annually and two new stakes have been created.

    On balance it was a positive.

  9. Nate, I too served in South Korea. One day we happened to be tracting behind a couple of Buddist monks begging door to door for their daily rice. At one house they were turned away by the woman who said *I’m a Christian.* They went on their way. When we go to the door, she said *I’m a Buddist.*

    Usually it’s the hedonists that turn us (and the Buddists) away. I wanted to make sure that I could not be accused of not doing my darnedest to share the gospel with the Koreans. Actually, everyone, not just Koreans. We even baptized an American serviceman. I was the only Elder in my district who knew the discussions in English.

    BTW my mission pres had a football team. One of the criteria to be called to the MH was experience on the gridiron. I just spent my time teaching families.

  10. My mission was pretty easy for two reasons:

    First and foremost, I found everyone on my mission to be very accepting except for one person. It just so happened that he was Tiny Grant, the MTC President–he rejected me.

    Second (and related to the first), my mission lasted only 12 days.

    In short, my mission was the best two weeks of my life.

  11. My mission was hard because it tugged at my soul. The rejection of those who never listened at all didn’t hurt, but watching some of our newly-baptized members go inactive was wrenching. I loved my mission, though – it was wonderful to feel like I was part of something that really mattered. When the mission was good, it was spectacular.

  12. I had a wise and understanding mission president who didn’t impose arbitrary rules or goals, great companions for the most part, lots of family support, and, for a 19y.o, a pretty strong testimony. My mission was still very difficult.

    I’m not sure I would call my difficulty a sense of rejection. It was more like a sense of futility, that what we were doing didn’t matter. I brought up my feelings once in an interview with the MP, and he just said “Yes elder, you’re right. Usually when we are doing the Lord’s work, it feels like we’re trying to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon.”

  13. I share many of the same feelings. I am and will forever be grateful that I served a mission. I don’t have words to describe the joy I feel for those who accepted the message we taught (and, particularly, those who are still our “brethren in the Lord.”

    But, darn, it was cold. And that in a relatively temperate land–central Japan. It rarely got below freezing, but I froze the whole first winter, and had a cold that wouldn’t end. All day out tracting or street contacting and freezing, and freezing in the February rain, and then back to a cold, apartment without central heating–just a sekiyu (literally “rock oil”) stove that heated a small part of the room it was in, and then, finally, relief: seven hours under a thick, fluffy futon. Of course, when the alarm rang, it was back into a cold, unheated apartment–the stoves were shut off at night, so the temperature inside would be about the same as the temperature outside by morning.

    I don’t know how the missionaries in Chicago, or Winnipeg, or Novosibersk, avoid freezing to death.

  14. Costanza, I have yet to meet a person with fond memories of Tiny Grant (but there’s got to be someone out there somewhere…)

  15. Add Osorno, Chile, to that list of people freezing to death. Rain was a welcome respite from the cold, but that meant that the rats would go indoors and bring the fleas with them.

    I had 12 companions in 24 months. One lasted for 3, one for 1, and the rest for 2 months each. It was almost like clockwork. My mission president gave me counsel when I left along the lines of, “you’ve been changing diapers for 2 years, give yourself some time before you think about getting married.” I took his advice (and got married 2.5 years later, when my wife, the great LF, came home from her mission). There were four who were legitimately interested in the work. I trained 2 of them, one went home sick (the 1-month companion), and one came to me ready and willing to work, but the Gulf War (I) kind of killed the work.

    The EQ in my ward and I have a running argument about our missions being the lowest-baptizing in South America during our tenures. In my case, it wasn’t like we weren’t trying, it was just that there weren’t any people! We had a lot of missionaries in cities of 25K who’ve had their doors knocked 15 times, and where the elders were in the branch presidencies (I was the BP in my last area).

    I don’t have any “regrets” per se, except that I didn’t quite completely shed my pathological shyness (I’ve managed to largely defeat that thanks to grad school and my career). When I came home, I was still as shy as I had been in English, but in Spanish, I could overcome. For several years, I continually thought my mission was just ‘different’, that I hadn’t been called to baptize, but to strengthen the units. I had a mini-personal revelation about that years later when we went to visit my in-laws who were serving in Russia. The recent article about the Church in Chile and Elder Holland’s retention focus was practically an answer to prayer.

  16. There were two painful themes in my mission. The first was like yours Nate, but perhaps amplified and harmonized with my vanity. The second was after about 18 months, I really began to empathize with the French. I started seeing the world through their eyes. By the end of my mission, I had to leave. If I would have stayed, I would have had to change my work too drastically.

    Depite this, I look with fondness to my mission. This is the time when I truely began to understand the power of faith and work it into my life. While my “testimony” is greater now then it was then, I have demonstrably less faith.

  17. Going on a mission is a little bit like having to ask out homecoming queens or head cheerleaders on a date 100 times a day, and being rejected every time. Ouch!

  18. [Incidentally, I think the Russian missions must be incredibly tough, logistics-wise. If you’re in St. Petersburg or one of the Moscows, it’s probably OK. If you’re in Yekaterinburg, Vladivistok, or Novosibirsk, it’s probably very tough. I’m basing that opinion mostly on family members and ward members who have been in Russia .]

  19. My wife says that she served in the best of both words — US mission, foreign language. Her description that it was like living in a foreign country and still having 7-11.

  20. We may have to agree to disagree about the pearl metaphor. I know from sad experience that pearl earrings are easily scratched. Real pearl necklaces have to have knots put between the pearls so they don’t get damaged by rubbing against each other. Some pearls that I wore frequently for a couple of years became discolored just from the oils and perspiration on my skin. Literally trampling a pearl in the mud would definitely damage it, especially if done repeatedly. Of course we agree that such damage does not occur to a message that is rejected.

  21. Just don’t even get me started! An experience was horrific, terrible. Occasionally I’d seen a missionary who somehow retained an inward light of mystical belief and hope, but mostly missionaries I felt to have been “knee-jerk, worldly” mere-believers who hadn’t hesitated to stoop to dingy means to put up whatever fake appearances necessary to “succeed” within the institutional milieu to be found there and through such means they “had.” Sorry, nothing to report but an unredeemably ugly picture from which it’s best to turn your head. Which is what I ended up doing through apostasy.

  22. Even in relatively high-baptizing Latin American missions the most common response is simple rejection. The second most common response: acceptance that is either insincere or just not supported by the personal resources to make it stick. How many people committed to me to read the Book of Mormon, attend church, get baptized, etc. and never actually did? Lots. Probably thousands.I found it hard to get my hopes up for these people only have them repeatedly dashed. It became such a common pattern that I anticipated it and sometimes found humor in the way people didn’t follow through. I particularly liked it when people sent their children, Book of Mormon in hand, to tell us that their parents weren’t home. From the street, we could often hear the parents directing their children “tell them I’m not home!”

  23. Nate, thanks for the reminder about the salt and leaven metaphor. I lose site of that often and get discouraged at the thought of the masses who either haven’t found the truth or don’t care to find it and the particles who have it and either won’t share it or get rejected when they do. But, I guess that is the way it was to be.

    My mission haunts me every day of my life because I failed in it.

    When I arrived in Chile, my soul shuttered at what I found. Some of the shuttering stemmed from my fears and faithlessness. Some stemmed from the shock of change. Most, I think, stemmed from the disobedience, the numbers games, the inactivity, the salesmanship, the empty baptisms, and, yes, the rejection. The rejection hit hardest when families, good families, the kind that glow in discussions with love and respect for the Savior and each other, decide as a group to just say no to the message we shared.

    That said, the rejection did not cause my failure. Far from it. Nor did the disobedience, the hard-sell tactics, the child baptisms, etc. No, I am the one who caused my failure in the mission field. And that has made all the difference.

  24. DKL and Castanza

    I grew up in Rexburg, and new ‘Tiny’ Grant and his family on a personal level. His son Trent and I were friends. Particularly for the year after the Teton Dam flood. I also knew his son Kendal a little. I have fond memories of him ‘Tiny’ as a little league coach. I think coaching is probably a strong point for him. I could see him perhaps running a mission like a football team.

  25. A’course we know that metaphor ain’t really Nate’s coinage but Jesus’s — the meaning of which is, should a pearl be emblematic of some immutable (Platonic) “Ideal,” for such to be manifested in the real world of women and men it apparently must be safeguarded?

  26. And I would like to add that two tracting missionaries, who had been rejected thousands of time, found me. And others. And that we are immensely grateful for their patience, courage, suffering and endless knocking on doors.

  27. I loved my mission. I loved talking to the Germans. From the beginning, I was blessed (for some reason) to understand when they weren’t interested. The rejection was still difficult, but I was lucky to be in a mission where there was nothing even remotely similar to the soccer baptisms and other unfortunate methods that people talk about in some other missions to drive baptismal numbers up. Pretty much everyone was on the same page in my mission — open your mouth to as many people as possible and teach them the Gospel. Very few were interested and still fewer got baptized. One effect of this on many missionaries was simply discouragement, rather than attempting to use coersive methods to baptize. Some would just give up and lay around in their apartments all day, slouching off to cd stores whenever they could find another missionary willing to do it with them. Those missionaries had really hard missions.

    Still, my mission was extremely hard, for many of the same reasons Nate mentions. I wanted more Germans to be interested but knew that if I were one of them, I probably wouldn’t have been interested either. I couldn’t blame them; rather, I could only marvel, literally, at those who were patient and open enough to even give our message a moment’s thought. When they actually accepted it, I recognized it as even more of the miracle that it really was. But going out onto the street faithfully everyday and knocking on the doors of people hostile to both America and religion was what I knew I had to do. I’m very glad I did it.

  28. Drex–
    What mission in BA? I was in the North in the early 90s.

    Rejection was horrible. But I have to add that I have had some experiences that show that we never know what seeds are planted. We taught a complete family. It seemed they were open. As it turned out, their Catholic roots were just too strong. However, 13 years later, I got an email from one of the daughters, who was then about 12 or so. She joined the Church as a young adult and served a mission. She hunted me down to share how she still remembered when we were there teaching….and how it helped prepare her for her future conversion. So, in all that rejection, maybe there’s someone who remembers your words, your spirit, your testimony….but just hasn’t been able to track you down!

  29. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea though. Rejection was horrible — for the completely natural reasons. It made me feel exposed and stupid. Often Germans were straightforward in their rejection, telling me (us) that we were idiots for believing in such stuff and for trying to get them to believe in it. “Argue with reasons,” they would say, “why we should believe any of this stuff.” We did our best, and a few believed. I have never felt my mission was a failure. In fact, I am vain enough to think it was a huge success, if for no other reason than I talked to thousands of people about the Restored Gospel and that was my duty, and I did it.

  30. Reminds me of Alma as he was heading out of Ammonihah, before the angel told him to return. Just rejected.

    8 And it came to pass that when Alma had come to the city of Ammonihah he began to preach the word of God unto them.

    9 Now Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people of the city of Ammonihah; therefore they would not hearken unto the words of Alma.

    10 Nevertheless Alma labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance.

    11 Nevertheless, they hardened their hearts, saying unto him: Behold, we know that thou art Alma; and we know that thou art high priest over the church which thou hast established in many parts of the land, according to your tradition; and we are not of thy church, and we do not believe in such foolish traditions.

    12 And now we know that because we are not of thy church we know that thou hast no power over us; and thou hast delivered up the judgment-seat unto Nephihah; therefore thou art not the chief judge over us.

    13 Now when the people had said this, and withstood all his words, and reviled him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city, he departed thence and took his journey towards the city which was called Aaron.

    14 And it came to pass that while he was journeying thither, being weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul, because of the wickedness of the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, it came to pass while Alma was thus weighed down with sorrow, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto him, saying:

    15 Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him. Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you.

    Alma 8:8-16

    It was rough, it still is rough to be rejected. But blessed is he who has been faithful in doing the Lords work. (Whatever blessed means in your situation)

  31. I must be too young for the Tiny Grant references. My only connection is hearing about him through my wife’s family. They were established Rexburg, both Grandparents were professors (one in agriculture the other in the athletic program).

    My mission was hard in that I found it wasn’t enough to just follow the program. All my life, in school, church etc, I just had to follow the program and show up. In classes we had assigned reading, assigned class lessons, in church, assigned activities, assigned service, etc. You basically just had to show up, go with the flow and strap yourself to the machine. On the mission I found this wasn’t quite enough, at least for me. It was also a hardship for my elite self image not to have automatic success (I didn’t get called to a foreign mission, despite speaking japanese and some other knowledge of language), I got called to a place I hadn’t heard of that seemed just one step up from Fresno. I didn’t get the honor of AP, I didn’t advance as quickly as others etc. I didn’t baptize a lot. I wasn’t the most popular. I did gain a great testimony, learn from a wonderful mission president, and gain confidence that I could be a successful independant person and my worth didn’t depend on external reinforcements such as baptism awards and leadership assignments.

    It was hard. Standing in the rain wasn’t so bad. Biking in it was (Sweaty on the inside of your rubber suit and wet on the outside getting in). Learning the people you taught went inactive was horrible. Hearing them go through the temple was great.

    It is very difficult for me to relate to people who had such negative experiences on their mission. I know it happens, as it did to my uncle (long story, involving not taking down the picture of his girlfriend) and my brother (who had a horrible companion, a less than understanding MP i guess and a bout of depression in the extreme poverty of Peru). But I suppose I should just be grateful that the experience I had was positive.

  32. Nathan, I understand the rejection. But for me the hardest part was not the overt rejection but the half hearted acceptance. The guy who would welcome you in just to talk, or who couldn’t get over his vice, or was slighltly mentally ill, or was to wishy washy to say no, but wouldn’t do anything. Because with the overt rejection, I knew it wasn’t me, but that they weren’t ready.

    With the lukewarm people, we would feel joy at the beginning and then have it dashed when they backed out or became in active. I would also feel extreme heartache and stress wondering if it was my fault or my weakness or my failure in someway that prevented them from progressing. Although this self searching is good in someways, too critical analysis is harmful and extremely painful.

  33. Talk about cold; my mission was in Norway! I’ve got three kids so I guess my “nads” finally thawed out.

    Typical Norwegian story: my companion and I enter a gate and proceed to walk down the gravel driveway. Lady of the house spots us from her open kitchen window. “Go away, I’m not interested!”
    Me: “You don’t even know who we are.”
    Her: “Yeah, you’re the Jehovah’s Witnesses”.
    Me: “No, we’re not.”
    Her: “Who are you then?”
    Me: “The Mormons”.
    Her: “Oh xxxx! That’s even worse!”
    Me: “Have a nice day!”

  34. Tiny Grant was a bully who abused his position of authority to threaten and demean those who were so foolish (Christian?) as to try to help him. The MTC was easily the worst part of my mission and I feel he is accountable for a portion of that. Luckily it only lasted nine weeks.

    The rest of my mission featured scenes of constant abuse an rejection but none of it was as soul-crushing as the MTC under Tiny Grant.

  35. I had multiple sets of missionaries before I was finally baptized. With each companionship, I would take a couple of discussions and then have to say “no” because my parents didn’t want me to. Looking back, yes–I’m sure they were all frustrated with being rejected, but I was not ready. A couple of weeks after my baptism, I wrote one of the missionaries and told him all that had happened to me in the year since I had seen him. He wrote back telling me that he had photocopied my letter and sent it to his family and that I was the success story of his mission. I say this to show that none of us has any idea if someone is or is not prepared to accept the gospel. Even if you’re rejected, I think it’s fair to say that at some point, your message and testimony will be remembered and will be appreciated.

    While I have not served a mission–yet–I do have the responsibility of bringing my parents and my brother to the gospel. I’ve been working with them for three and a half years now…no progress. Only, I’m not bitter or down trodden…I’m hopeful. I know that I can never be faulted for trying, even if none of my family gets baptised or goes to the temple in mortality. I am grateful that Heavenly Father knows our hearts and blesses us even when the world sees our actions and dismisses us.

  36. Cyril:

    Cut yourself a break. While some might not have accepted, don’t ever think you “failed”.

    Two stories:

    My wife is Chilean. Her family first took the discussions in the early 1970s, and came close to being baptized. She still remembers the blonde American elders who taught them, remembers how they played with her. She also still remembers their disappointment when her parents rejected them. She joined the church in the 1980s, served a mission, and her parents were baptized the month before she left for Buenos Aires. Those guys are probably pushing 50 now, and they might think they failed with her family.

    I returned to Argentina in 1998. While waiting for a taxi, I started talking with the dispatcher, a woman in her 60s. I noticed there was a BoM next to the telephone and asked if she was a member. She said she wasn’t, but had taken the discussions years ago and often read the book. It made her feel good, knowing God had a plan for her and loved her as a daughter no matter what. I asked to see it, opened it, and found a dedication in it from the two missionaries who’d taught her–it was dated June 1965.

  37. Yes, rejection is hard to take.
    But, there are people who are willing to listen to the missionaries and accept their messages. Because of the missionary effort amid this disheartening rejection, church has been growing although its progress seems to slow down last few years.

    More than 30 years ago, my father happened to meet two American missionaries on the bus in Seoul. That was the first time my family heard about the church.
    Within two months, my father, mother, sister and I were baptized.
    My parents served as couple missionaries and
    I served my mission in Korea as a local missionary.
    Currently my first son is serving his mission in US. And I have two more sons to go.
    Several years ago we visited the home of one of the missionaries who baptized my family .
    You can imagine how happy he was to see us again.

  38. Nate: Other than a two-week mission when I was senior in high school, I did not serve. Recently I served as a bishop, and always wondered how the missionaires could deal with the pressures that seemed to be put upon them, and with all the rejection the received day after day. How they seemed to keep their spririts so high, I could never quite fathom. Your comments and some of the others are interesting.

    However, I don’t quite follow what you meant by your statement: “I had a mission president who was fond of Covey, although his love of the Gospel, his missionaries, the members, and the people of Korea was so palpable that it never bothered me.” If you could explain what you meant by that, I would probably gain more from what you wrote.

  39. a random john: Tiny Grant was a bully who abused his position of authority to threaten and demean

    I was thinking that, but I hadn’t planned to come right out and say it. I like to think that I got sent home because I wouldn’t take Tiny Grant’s guff. As a parting shot, before he sent me home, he told me (after a long, thoughtful pause), “People like you shouldn’t go on missions.” (Unfortunately, my bishop didn’t find this persuasive when he released me from my calling in YM and called me to be the ward mission leader this time last year. He may have come around, however. After about two months, he released and called me back into YM–that being the second time I was sent back from a mission.)

    The problem, of course, is that there is a stigma associated with getting sent home from your mission. People assume that you weren’t ready or mature enough or disciplined enough–or worse, that you were a fornicator (I have an alibi–I continued going to BYU after my two week hiatus, thereby demonstrating that I was still in good standing). One of Tiny Grant’s problems was that he was all too willing to wield the threat of this stigma as a weapon.

    There are a few reasons why I so freely declare that I got sent home from my mission. First of all, after having been an atheist for more than a decade, it honestly seems trivial. Second, stigmas persist because people hide from them. Third, in a free society, it is most often ignorance that enables people to abuse their power.

    It leaves open an interesting question. Perhaps there are people in Fukuoka, Japan that I never tracked out and that will never join the church because Tiny Grant sent me home. Or, on the other hand, maybe the good members in the Japan Fukuoka mission are better off for having been spared the disruption of my missionary service. Which is correct? Tiny Grant, it seems, is committed to the second. And to the extant that I played any role in my getting thrown out, I’d do it all over again.

  40. Nehringk: There is no special meaning to my statement. A fairly common complain among disillusioned RM’s is the claim that for them their missionary experience was cheapened by various managerial techniques used to run their missions. My point was simply that while my mission president was a businessman who clearly used various mangerial methods for running his mission, it didn’t bother me because it was clear (at least to me) that a deep and genuine love for others was a far more defining element of his character.

  41. “And to the extant that I played any role in my getting thrown out, I’d do it all over again.”

    Would you do it over again even if you knew that by modifying your behavior (even if the behavior was ultimately innocent) you could be the means of bringing some soul in Fukuoka Japan to the gospel?

  42. Woulda, coulda, shoulda…

    Would Tiny have still kicked him out given the same hypothesis?

  43. DKL: Fair enough. It was not meant as a gotcha question. I am just wondering to what extent you are making an existentialist point and to what extent its just garden variety bravado.

    arJ: One would hope not…

  44. FWIW, I cannot think of a single person that I taught on my mission where my participation was somehow necessary. IOW, I never had the experience of thinking, “Gee, here is a person that ONLY I could reach.” I was a more or less interchangable cog. This is not meant as a rage against the machine. Just a statement of fact.

  45. I’m surprised to hear so many who had a lot more close contact with mission presidents than I did. I do remember one conversation with the president of the LTM (Language Training Mission), because he wanted to hear from me if I thought my companion would ever be able to speak a sentence in Japanese, and I remember a few interviews with the two mission presidents in Japan–but none were particularly memorable, and they seemed to have been few and far between.

    So, even if I had had a “Tiny” Grant for a mission president, I’m not sure that I would have noticed.

  46. Never a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed idealist about my ability to induce mass conversion, perhaps I enjoyed my mission so much because I started with low expectations.

    Although constant rejection during the endless grind of tracting we did in Japan sometimes seemed hard, I basically understood from the get go that in the eyes of the “people” I would be indistinguishable from any other door to door salesman. Except for the few who responded to the approach on some level. For some reason those few, and the even fewer that I still keep contact with ten years later, made all of the rejection worth it.

    The other reason general proselytizing didn’t seem hard is because I always felt a sense of adventure about it. Getting rejected in new and unique ways provided interest, and catching glimpses into the incredible diversity of life that otherwise lurks behind closed doors made me feel like a Victorian anthropologist.

    To the extent we occasionally attend mission reunions and keep in touch with a few old companions, missions are a substitute for a stint in the army or the peace corps. I got to have an objectively “hard” experience in an obscure corner of the world to draw on as experience and wisdom in other areas of life.

    Even my mission president was up front about us not really being there to win a bunch of converts. He said the order of priority was 1) have an opportunity to work out your own salvation, 2) help your companion work out his salvation, 3) help people in your area come to Christ.

    Since I made at least some progress on #1 and #3 it was a success and good experience for me.

  47. Nate, would it be fair to say that the preceding comments suggest two basic ways for missions to be hard? Several comments, like your original post, talk about the trial of rejection. Missionaries understand that rejection is part of proselytizing; they expect their work to be hard because of it. (For my part, I got to be pretty good at taking “no” for an answer, but sometimes I was still surprised how much it could hurt.)
    Then there are the other comments focusing on difficulties not expected to be part of missionary work: abusive leaders, oddly motivated colleagues, a soulless focus on numbers. Because they’re unexpected, they can be particularly disorienting. (For my part, I experienced a fair number of migraine-inducing zone conferences, although I can’t really complain, but of the other missionaries I knew, not even the numbskulls were there for the wrong reasons.)

    What is the actual relationship between these two difficulties? Does the pain one went through in meetings once a week and in another once a month outweigh everything that happened in between? I know for some people, zone meetings were a monthly highlight, while for others, it was something you tried to escape from as soon as possible. But is it the core of one’s mission experience? (Perhaps it can be for some people, if in every discussion your mission president or the numbers report is an unseen but constant and intrusive interlocutor.)

  48. My first MTC companion convinced Tiny Grant to let him go home. He seemed like an okay guy to me at the time. It seems a little unfair for us to hear snippets of stories that make him out to be a monster when we don’t know what precipitated the conversation, and probably won’t hear it here in an unbiased manner, as he isn’t here to defend himself. I would imagine it would be hard to have as your calling the basic responsibility to inform missionaries that the part of their lives where they are the center of the universe is over, and that now they are to take a more organic approach to everything they do. I’m sure repeating it to every missionary who wants to “do it their way” would be similarly tedious. Perhaps a little perspective would be useful.

  49. I had a happy mission. I generally enjoyed my mission president, most of my companions, leaders, members, and investigators. I, and most of the missionaries around me, pretty much obeyed the rules, which were for the most part reasonable and helpful. I had fun. I was never involved in the baptism of someone who I thought wasn’t ready for baptism. I think I served creditably. Cliche or not, it was the best two years of my life, up to that point (and each of the ten years following have been better than the preceding year). I don’t say this to rub Nate’s or anyone else’s nose in it. But the mission for me was a good time. Rejection was certainly a part of it. But the pain of rejection for me was like feeling someone else’s pain, that is, feeling pain on behalf of the person who rejected the message. It fit in with the whole theme of the mission, which was worrying about other people’s problems instead of my own for two years.

    And if I were told today that I was being sent back to the mission field to repeat the experience, I would snatch the letter opener off of my desk and stick it in my neck.

    DKL, we’re all interested in hearing more about your mission experience. I’ve never heard of Tiny Grant, though for all I know he was the MTC president when I was there. Not having been expelled, I had no reason to meet the MTC president. I remember liking the MTC, though I do recall that I absenteed myself from the “Large Group Meetings” because I thought that the teacher who led them was an insufferable name-dropper and jerk.

  50. I know the feeling all too well. You’re in an apartment complex somewhere in Europe, you knock on a door, and you get the usual rude, irritated brush off from someone who seems to be a complete jerk. And as you’re leaving someone else gets out of the elevator and knocks on the same door, and the jerk becomes a completely different person: a broad smile, a pat on the back, a “Hi! You made it!”, a question about the family, an immediate invitation inside, etc.

    The contrast makes the loneliness even harder to bear. You think, “How would it be to knock on the door of somebody who was genuinely happy to see me? Was there really ever a time in my life when people treated me that way?”

    On the other hand, I imagine it’s easier than being a foot soldier in Iraq… sure, everyone TELLS you that are doing far more harm than good for their country — that you are at best an annoyance, at worst scum or mold or an embodiment of American imperialism — but at least they’re not shooting at you. (Well, there was that one guy who pointed a rifle at us and ordered us out of the building, but I’m not even sure it was loaded…)

    Moreover, you get used to it. You make some friends. You have some truly rewarding moments. Some beautiful testimonies. You toughen up. And the rest of your life seems very easy by comparison.

    But when I think of sending my own little kids out into the field, I find myself hoping that European proselyting missions are abolished and replaced by, say, medical missions in Africa, or computer programming missions in San Jose, or just about any kind of mission in which their individual talents would be more fully utilized, more appreciated, more effective…

    I feel a little bit the way I do about the Americans in Iraq — so much incredible “best the world has known” talent, so much heartfelt enthusiasm, so much effort to do good, so much potential, so many little examples of success, and yet… do the generals know what they’re doing? As a missionary/foot soldier you focus on a testimony and obedience and faith and you try not to dwell on such questions. But as a parent, you can’t help but wonder.

  51. “I don’t say this to rub Nate’s . . . nose in it.”

    Hah! Admit it, gst, you are just out to make me miserable by bragging about your happiness…

  52. The hardest and most painful part of my mission was trying to proselyte every afternoon and evening while getting very sleepy. I remember awakening more than once in the middle of teaching a lesson. In my mission, our president modified the standard mission rules so that the most sleep you could get, and still be within the rules, was 7-1/2 hours. I’ve always admired the ability to get by on little sleep, but for me, it just makes me very sleepy during the day and eventually sick. We’re not all created the same.

  53. gst and jimbob, it disappoints me to say that I’m not sure that this is an appropriate forum to discuss that.

  54. my mom is one of those noncommital “investigators” who let the Elders back in maybe a dozen times ot teach her but never had any interest, she was just such a pushover she’d never say no to their company. I’m sure they felt frustrated or like they wasted time.

    Well, last summer, my little sister was home during a few of those visits. She was intrigued but scared to say so in front of mom. Away at college, she contacted the church, and is being bapitzed this month. Many companionships came through that house and I don’t know if even one of them knows they taught my sister!

    I am thrilled and if I knew who to write, I’d let them know. Instead, I’ll let all you RMs hear it.

  55. We’ve had two missionaries from our ward come home in the last two weeks. Both left recently.. One was in Arkansas and one was in the MTC.

    I bet my bishop feels really brown.

  56. Nate: Thanks for the explanation about your Covey statement. I was trying to read too much into it. The fact that you could have a miserable mission yet still see good qualities in your mission president speaks well for you. Without trying to exaggerate the point, there may be some food for thought in the idea that Christ found much rejection in his ministry, and that many who followed him were poor souls who may have been looking for comfort instead of true religion. As a bishop I dealt with some of thse kinds of folks, and always felt the need to be kind to them. (This did not always go over well with everyone in the ward.) We have so much to learn, so far to grow. Some peole have miserable expereinces in the temple. Some on missions. Some with their families, or their children. But the gospel can help us with all these trials.

  57. I’m not sure how typical my mission experience was. I had my share of discouragement, but I don’t recall much of it being due to people refusing to listen to our message (I remember being very down once when a family we’d been teaching told us we could not come back). Most of my discouragement was related to difficult companions. I guess I was too stupid to realize people were rejecting me :)

  58. “Quebec in the 1960s. (It was always cold and they tracted uphill both ways.)”

    My wife served in Quebec and frequently testifies that it was very, very cold, and uphill both ways. (I’ve long since quit arguing with her that perhaps my mission was colder in Russia Moscow and Novosibirsk, but if anyone knows a place to check regarding this, I’d be curious…. Also, these stories are making me feel guilty all over again for having two incredible presidents, both professors of Russian literature, Gary Browning and Richard Chapple. And for me it wasn’t the rejection that was hard as much as having to work up the gumption of bothering people who I know didn’t want to be bothered, even though I strongly believed I was offering them a chance at greater happiness….)

  59. “I remember awakening more than once in the middle of teaching a lesson.”

    Not only did I fall asleep in discussions, I once fell asleep while teaching a principle. The sound of the investigator’s voice snapped me out of it: “I can tell you are really tired.”

    Those were the times that tried men’s souls. I am glad I didn’t miss it.

  60. DKL 11, 42, 45: “I was thinking that, but I hadn’t planned to come right out and say it. I like to think that I got sent home because I wouldn’t take Tiny Grant’s guff.”

    What’s the glory in being a rebel? I don’t get it. What’s the point?

  61. I found my mission difficult not so much because of the rejection but because of the sheer exhaustion of approaching strangers all day. I have a really hard time making small talk with people I don’t know. It remains one of my least favorite activities.

    I’ve never regretted going, but I wasn’t a great missionary by any stretch of the imagination. I’d be curious to hear how other chronic introverts coped.

  62. About half way through my mission I learned that by not putting to much pressure on myself or my investigators rejection became much more simple to tolerate. Keeping a proper perspective and a sense of humor helped too. I went into my mission knowing that the whole purpose of my mission wasnt about numbers or stats, it was about obedience to the mission rules and becomming a selfless servant to those I came in contact with. Due to my lack of maturity I have some minor regrets about my mission, but for the most part when I think of my time in the Philippines I chuckle to myself and feel total gratitude to our Heavenly Father for such a wonderful experience.

  63. “To the extent we occasionally attend mission reunions and keep in touch with a few old companions, missions are a substitute for a stint in the army or the peace corps.”

    Heh. I did both, and Peace Corps Bolivia didn’t even come close to comparing to the trials of the California-Oakland mission. For me it was not so much the rejection as constantly worrying that I was not measuring up. Of course now I am a husband and a father so I have gotten used to that feeling!

    In many ways the highlight of our Peace Corps service was participating in a Ward where we were able to pick up where the missionaries left off and help the under-experienced and over-taxed YW and EQ leaders we served as counselors to with the little experience we had.

  64. A long thread here so far but I’m gonna post somethin anyway. And Times & Season’s would be justified to send me a “therapy” bill for allowing me to vent here. For which I’m very thankful for, by the way! You Mormon people here just are the best, I guess — thanks so much! So (ahem) anyway . . . . . . .

    I thought the people I met on my mission were really cool. Oh, and, ironcially, I helped in the process of teaching and baptising a fair number of people, believe it or not. But my experience with the missionaries — or, to be more precise, with the sytem in place in the mission field I served in (to wit: my mish prez) was– Sighing– less than ideal!

    And well maybe it’s possible that I probably had a “propensity for craziness,” somehow, even BEFORE before my mission’s REALLY making me TRULY crazy — so, as a philosophical point, I don’t know how much I can FULLY blame it? But, still, in no way, shape or form was my mission experience one that was in any way nurturing or careful with me and my apparently delicately balanced sanity, that’s for sure!

    I was in the mission field only a handfull of days and I got a telephone call from my mission president. He was yelling at me through the receiver (I had to hold it away from my ear!) at the top of his voice, at what was “could be heard across the street though office walls,” no doubt, decibles: “FOLLOW YOUR COMPANION, ELDER HUNT!!!!!!!,” he screamed. Oh, and incidentally he asked me for absolutely no imput (not his style, I suppose. A very weird, strange, and I’d venture to say himself mentally ill man, according to my deepest sense of things at the time, and according to what in general I picked up to be other’s sort of “take” on him, as well.)

    The thing was, my trainer companion did nothing but go over to a members house each and every day and watch T.V. all day and make up his hours. I’d casually mentioned in my very first letter to the prez that “I pray Elder S——- will grow to love the work. It saddens me that he’s a bit off the plan.”

    My prez wasn’t a yeller just with me, he did that, I was told.

    Finally I told my trainer that I’d be speaking to the zonies after he called in our hours that night, so we should do something for real that day.

    He said, “Don’t tell me what to do.” (This was probably the longest sentence I’ve ever heard him utter. He was sullen and uncommunicative otherwise.)

    That night I told the zonies we hadn’t done anything.

    I was transferred. Anyway, at the next interview (at a zone conference) I had with the prez, the prez told me (AFTER HE AGAIN YELLED AT ME AT IMPOSSIBLY LOUD OF DECIBALS AGAIN . . . . .), “I know Elder S______ wasn’t doing the work! That’s none of your business, Elder Hunt!”

    However, I’d never even had a chance to bring this subject up with the prez. The prez had unsolicitedly just thought to bring this point up with me just in case I’d wanted to talk to him about it, I guess.

    Could I really be all that evil, I wondered? And: completely unwittingly, I might add? All I’d done was to let the cat out of the bag that the mission’s numbers were fake? Couldn’t it have simply been calmly told me that they were fake without out all the hystrionics on the prez’s part though?

    As, you see, it was later confirmed to me through a hundered thousand examples that the prez didn’t care about liars . . . or rather, excuse me, that he LIKED ’em — that he much prefered them and he simply really and truly didn’t want people to be so honest they’d mess up superficially perfect reports.

    I’ve wondered to myself some if maybe he himself wasn’t the author of this culture, somehow? and that he just inherited this veiw, somehow, for all I know? But, still, the fact remains that even if this should be the case, he most definatly carried it on!

    Oh, incidentally: A few years after my mission, my mish prez was called to serve in the Seventy as a General Authority for the church for a few, short years (((((((um, ta which I thought ta misself at the time of his calling: Huhh??!!)))))))

    So: How did this make me “crazy” (the gentle “skimmer-over of this tale” out there might wonder)?

    Well, at the time of my mission, I tried to make rational sense of — all the above; and basically I had to determine to believe that any kind of supposed “rationality” in the face of all of this was, well, impossible . . . and that I’d just had to believe leaders in the Church were right and my own intelligence and feeling must be wrong! So, it’s a long and complicated story and there are a lot of philosophical twists and turns you don’t have time to skim through with me here (well, even if the occasional reader of this string might even want to, maybe) — but, basically, let me just say that this dynamic that I’ve in some substantial part described here did end up “making me crazy”, really, y’know?

    But, like I said, maybe I wasn’t wound too tightly to begin with or something, you never know, right? Anyway, I served 25 years ago and I’m still traumatized by it to a certain extent — even though I can almost smile about it now.

    You see, at first I just thought (ironically) I was “evil”(!) to have been UNABLE at first to be able to just go along with such wholesale lying (which just happened to have ended up being a pretty “‘schiz’-producing double bind” for me if ever there was one!)

    Sorry to vent. Sort of.

    Love and “sincerely — ‘”in the name of Jesus,” should such a thing still mean anything at all to me, “amen.”

    Kimball Leigh Hunt
    “former Mormon”

  65. Jed, I think that falling asleep is a fairly extreme manifestation of the spirit of comfort.

    But you ask, “What’s the glory in being a rebel? I don’t get it. What’s the point?

    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but your questions seem to presuppose the following kind of narrative: DKL went to the MTC, he didn’t like it, he caused problems, they sent him home, and now he fancies himself a maverick. This assumes an awful lot about what happened at the MTC and about me. Perhaps you should rethink these assumptions.

    Regarding the MTC, this is probably not the right place to publish a something like a transcript of an argument with a church leader. Sure, it may have been avoidable if I’d have just “kept my mouth shut.” But it’s easy to use “greater good” to justify enabling a bully. I am not the kind of person who is risk-averse or who worries much about being in harm’s way. I believe I have a responsibility to not enable bullies–whether it involves me or those around me. I can’t win every battle, but I won’t make it easy. And I did not make it easy for the MTC president.

    Hopefully, this helps explain my answer (#45) to Nate’s question (#44) about whether I’d behave the same way now. Whether this is just garden variety bravado is not a question that I’m in a position to answer.

    As far as any perceived “rebel” status with regard to how I behave in the bloggernacle, I’m not just some vain misanthrope pissing in other people’s sandboxes. I believe that the description that I gave of my own behavior nearly a year ago on BCC holds true, and it makes me a more polite participant in the bloggernacle than most of those who have been my detractors.

  66. Rejection didn’t seem to bother me on my mission. Perhaps because I was a convert, and at an early part of my life had disdained Christianity, so I knew where those people were coming from.

  67. DKL:
    I was in the MTC in April-June 1984. I noticed that the MTC pres and the majority of BP’s (my BP, and the ones I heard speak at the weekly assemblies) were all the bully-type personalities, condescending, arrogant, holier-than-thou, accusatory, and not letting you have your say in an interview. If a bishop or EQ pres has treated me like that in the 2 years I had been a member, I probably would have left the church.
    I considered myself a volunteer, and I was wondering why the MTC leadership was not kissing the butts of the missionary “volunteers” like other organizations treat their volunteers. Only a burned in testimony kept me from walking out of the MTC, and thinking on the scripture that says “He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.”
    I went inactive one year after returning from my mission, and it took me another 15 years before I came back to church. One of my first concerns was whether the MTC leadership still used an abusive and bully style of management.
    It’s been pointed out to me that high-spirited 19-year olds often need a “heavy hand” to keep them in line. But Section 121 clearly prohibits the abuse I saw there.

    However, if what I saw was not a blip, and was representative of the times others were there, maybe that heavy-handed style is or was intentional.

  68. Kimball,
    My experience with other missionaries in the field played a big part in my leaving the church. I was on a mission 84-86, went inactive in 87, requested name removal in 91, and finally came back to church in 2002. Leave a private comment on my blog if you want to talk some time.

    I think I know what you mean by the schiz-producing double-bind.

    The Ultimate Judge knows how to take into account the degree of difficulty of our lives.

  69. My mission was difficult, but was a great time! I had crazy (certifiable) companions, bad branches, bad areas, bad beds and bad food. I laughed every day.

    I had a companion who used to get in the shower and I could hear him talk to himself. And one day, I asked who he was having this rather ethusiastic conversation with. He was basically talking himself into being enthusiastic about the day ahead. One day at a time, he’d get fired up. I learned a great lesson from him about my own attitude.

    Well, when I was with less than fired up companions, I’d get myself fired up by talking in the shower. I put on foot in front of the other and kept moving. I dragged my companions through some really bad days.

    We pounded on doors, but I refused to get down about rejection. I was doing my part of the work, no matter how fruitless it seemed. I did not waste time with people who were “curious” about the gospel. If they weren’t interested, I left them alone. Why waste both our times?

    It was the best two years of my life (to that point my, wife points out) because it was hard. Would you want it any other way?

    I missed the madness of the MTC, as I was on my mission when they only had “12 sections of the D & C”. All of my sons indicate the Provo MTC was the worst experience of their mission. I’ve often wondered what they are trying to do in Provo?

  70. Someone I’ve always marvelled with is how people look back on their missions more harshly than they look back on any two-year period of time in their lives where their success was dependent on the actions of other people and their interactions within. Logistics/language/weather are one thing — but the interpersonal interactions are another. It’s no different than your boss, or your coworkers — except in this case, your “boss” is probably learning on the job as well and your coworkers are clueless idiots as well as you.

    No one else thinks that the Lord designed it this way?

    Let’s look at it from another angle: Suppose we had limitless funds and our families were frozen in time for 2 years. Would our experience be any different if we all went right now and served? [I’d love to see DKL and Nate as mission companions, with Ronan as their zone leader.]

  71. 74 – *Someone I’ve always marvelled with* should be *Something I’ve always marvelled about*

    Sorry, these early Saturday morning kids’ soccer games get earlier and earlier.

  72. AnnGB: “We’ve had two missionaries from our ward come home in the last two weeks. Both left recently.. One was in Arkansas and one was in the MTC.I bet my bishop feels really brown.”

    Anne, I don’t know how your bishop feels, but I bet it is nothing compared with what those two poor kids are in for. I just hope the ignore the crap that they are going to get from some church members.

  73. Kimball, couldn’t you have simply concluded your mission president was a butthole and rejected him instead of the whole church? There are jerks everywhere.

    Costanza, our ward is pretty good in these situations. Because we have so many of them, not only missionaries coming home, we’ve really been through a lot and the leaders, those who are strong in personality, not necessarily the bishop, etc., people like me, will strongly support them.

    Our bishop is a very gentle kind man. I can see, though, the stake presidency coming down hard on them.

    I asked this before and no one answered, maybe you thought it was improper, but have any of you noticed the trend of female missionaries realizing they’ve been abused on their missions, or finding it difficult to navigate the mission waters because of abuse? It’s not relevant to this situation, but I’d be interested. [email protected]

  74. I was in the MTC in the first months of 1983. I loved it there, though I was ready to leave when the time came. I had no personal contact with the President (Joe J. Christiansen), though he seemed like a nice guy. I’m not sure how representative my experience there was, but I only have good memories of the MTC.

    Regarding the stigma felt by missionaries who return home early: I’m glad that was there when I served, because it, frankly, was part of the motivation that kept me there. I actually thought about quitting my mission, but I wasn’t going to go home.

  75. It’s no different than your boss, or your coworkers — except in this case, your “boss� is probably learning on the job as well and your coworkers are clueless idiots as well as you.

    Beg to differ. Bosses and co-workers (usually) do not claim that they are acting in God’s name. You can (usually) get away from bosses and co-workers, perhaps to be by yourself, perhaps to do something entirely different and unrelated to your work, in order to de-compress before returning to the firing line. Bosses and co-workers do not (usually) claim that you are going to eternal damnation if you quit and find a better job.

    I qualify those statements with “usually” because you can likely find mission-type working conditions at, say, BYU. But that is the exception that proves the rule.

  76. “Correct me if I’m mistaken, but your questions seem to presuppose the following kind of narrative: DKL went to the MTC, he didn’t like it, he caused problems, they sent him home, and now he fancies himself a maverick.”

    Couple that with sin and longing for girlfriends, and you’re looking at the only three reasons I’ve ever seen someone leave the MTC. I willing to “rethink my assumptions” when someone demonstrates I need to.

  77. Anne, to try to answer your question from my very limited experience, I knew of several women in my mission who had been abused physically or sexually, but none (that I knew of, anyway) who realized they’d been abused while on their missions. In some cases, at least, I think abuse and the psychological consequences definitely did make mission life more difficult to navigate. However, one companion who confided in me that she’d been sexually abused by her father seemed to have compartmentalized her experience from her mission life and seemed to function just fine. Maybe she had already dealt with the issue to such an extent that it didn’t really interfere with her mission life, or maybe she simply hadn’t deal with the experience at all. I don’t know. But she was a very effective missionary and one of my favorite companions.

  78. Nate,

    This post was a good reminder of the frustrations that I experienced in Taiwan. After being rejected hundreds of times per week, the challenge became one of how to perform well without expecting rejection. People who accepted discussion invitations were probably a little put off when my companion and I acted like we had just won the lottery.

    As an aside, the year prior to going on my mission I worked a lot of construction. The crew always played country music while we worked and being a punk teenager, I hated it. To my surprise, there were few things more comforting to me on those long bike rides home in the dark and rainy Taiwanese streets than humming a sad Dwight Yoakam or Johnny Cash song. I guess we all deal with it in our own ways.

  79. Thanks Wilfried, Sara Steed, and cchrissy for reminding us the upside to contacting!

  80. Queuno: “Something I’ve always marvelled about is how people look back on their missions more harshly than they look back on any two-year period of time in their lives where their success was dependent on the actions of other people and their interactions within.”

    Part of my harsh feelings were from thinking I was lied to by church leaders as to the nature of what kind of young men were accepted for missions. Had I known how many had been rubber-stamped and sent out with a wink and a nudge, having no belief in the gospel, let alone a committment, I would not have applied to go a mission.

    Had I know the bully-style of management in practice in the MTC and in the field, I would have not have applied.

    I’ve softened a bit, I now believe I was merely “not given the full picture.” Elder Nelson’s CES talk about how the Brethren teach the rules, and the exceptions are left to the individual went a long way to resolving my “double-bind.”

    Yes, It does look like the bully-style of management in the MTC and among mission presidents is intentional. But how do we resolve that with Section 121? Is the missionary program an exception to Section 121? Does the Lord have some special rules that have not been revealed to the rank-and-file?

    The gospel is true, and the church is true. So what’s the resolution? Is the missionary department out of line with the Lord’s will in the matter? Or does the apparent problem exist in accordance with the Lord’s will as a test for us?

    My thoughts are leaning in the direction of that the heavy-handed management style, though less than perfect and has a negative impact on some, is what a critical mass of the missionaries actually need.

    If the church’s 19-year olds (and the parents who raised them) were more perfect, then perhaps a closer-to-perfect management style could be used. But given that so many rough, incomplete or ill-raised 19-year olds were being sent off, maybe the missionary department has been reacting the best it could.

  81. jimbob,

    You forgot the other common reason people leave the MTC: health problems. Of course, the public reason for every missionary’s early return is “health problems,” but there are a lot of zealous missionaries with desires to serve, who convince their local leaders that they’re sufficiently healthy, and only learn in the MTC or the field that they’re health problems are incompatible with the demands placed on missionaries.

  82. Jimbob,
    I would add that another reason for walking out of the MTC or voluntarily leaving the mission field is not willing to submit to emotional, psychological, verbal, and sometimes even physical, abuse.

    I was 26 when I entered the MTC, and had held 3 different full time jobs, though all in the same industry. One of my “rules of life” was never to work someplace where I didn’t respect my boss or managers or coworkers. In other words, I vowed never to work for or with buttholes.

    Had I continued to follow that rule, I would have walked out of the MTC.

  83. I really like DKL on the blogs etc., but I am a little skeptical about the idea of getting sent home from the MTC for “innocent” behavior (unless by innocent you mean only no serious sins, but exclude disobedience generally and a desire to not serve). I can’t imagine a healthy, worthy, obedient, missionary who wants to be a missionary being sent home against his wishes–no matter how authortarian the mission president. Is there an important conspiracy theory or something else that I am missing?

  84. “I would add that another reason for walking out of the MTC or voluntarily leaving the mission field is not willing to submit to emotional, psychological, verbal, and sometimes even physical, abuse.” Amen

  85. Constanza:

    Even assuming the “abuse” you speak of is real (and not just a sensitive 19 year old with a chip on his shoulder’s reaction to authority and the “boot camp” aspect of the MTC that is going to be inherent), you are talking only about reasons missionaries might choose to leave with emphasis on the *choose*, right?

  86. jimbob: Couple that with sin and longing for girlfriends, and you’re looking at the only three reasons I’ve ever seen someone leave the MTC. I willing to “rethink my assumptions� when someone demonstrates I need to.

    And how many people does your sample include that you think it justifies these assumptions. Do you really know why they that many people were sent home? Very few of the people that I know who left their mission early (in the MTC or later) left because of the reasons you identify. Most of them came home quietly, didn’t much talk about things, and eventually went inactive.

    Your freewheeling judgmental attitude is offensive. It reminds me of the experience a friend of mine had who left his mission after 20 months when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Before he was diagnosed, he had suffered fatigue and weakness for months, barely being able to walk across the apartment on some days. This was, no doubt, the first time that his mission president had seen something like this. His mission president told missionaries that because my friend had come from a very wealthy family, that he just wasn’t accustomed to working hard. You can imagine how ferociously the missionaries ran with this. It’s a very wicked man indeed who makes one feel like a cancer diagnosis is a validation.

    The end of my mission began when I arranged to take the shuttle to go get gas-permeable contacts at the Orem mall, and one of my teachers didn’t get the paperwork. MTC president called me into his office to deal with my supposed truancy. I point out the mix up, and he left to go check this out. He returned, announcing that he’d verified my story. Taking a rather blustery tone, he started into a bunch of “you’ve got to understand…” and “we do things here for a reason…” type statements, and he finally settled into a rather laborious lecture about the importance of the MTC rules. The lecture consisted of reading each rule from a small laminated card, pausing between each rule to look me in the eye and explain the importance of that rule.

    I was not amused, and once it became obvious to me that he actually intended to read every rule, I interrupted him and pointed out that I hadn’t actually broken any rules, and I politely asked why we were talking about rules; for example, was it the spirit that had prompted him to start into this well-rehearsed lecture on the rules?

    At this point, he dropped the laminated card and told me that he wasn’t sure that I really wanted to go on a mission. I responded by asking him, “Now is that what you really think? or is that just something you say to try to make young missionaries defensive?”

    This was the start of a 45 minute conversation in which he tried every trick he could muster to brow-beat and intimidate me. The conversation came to an abrupt end when he stood up, bent over his desk, pointed his finger in my face, and shouted, “You don’t have the spirit, Elder, and if you don’t have the spirit, you’re not going on a mission!” At this point, I smiled broadly and observed that he didn’t appear to have the spirit either.

    That was in the early 1990s. I was 21 when I went on my mission–older than most of the guys there. My long record of failure in academics and my prior experience running a successful business left me unusually independent from the sanctions of authority by any measure, but especially for a boy of that age. Still, something strikes me as singularly filthy about the entire affair–filthy because the Dickensonian boy-school aspect of the MTC, filthy because the reaction that people like you have to those who get sent home, filthy because of the way that your reaction empowers the church’s petty dictators.

  87. DKL:

    I know you were responding to Jim Bob, but your response definitely relates to my questions on this thread. How sad that the President behaved as he did. That should not be condoned (and I don’t think it would be by 99% of the church membership). But it strikes me as even more sad that you let a 45 minute plus incident or conversation keep you from serving a mission that could have consisted of two years of significant experience with the gospel, benefiting you and those you would have contacted.

    I won’t ask you whether what you’ve just related is the whole story, but I am curious to know if things would have been different if you would have quietly let him think what he thought and in a non-confrontational way simply told him you would try to obey all the rules going forward–neither of which would have been dishonest.

    It just makes me wonder, which empowers the petty dictator more, fighting back to the point that you are sent home for innocent offenses (mostly for fighting back) or taking some undeserved lumps while keeping your eye on the prize (the full time mission you were there to serve) and letting him get his at judgment, if not sooner?

  88. Pete, if you will look closely, you will see that I was simply quoting and then affirming a post written by someone else. However, I will answer your question by ignoring the aside about “real” abuse verses imagined abuse (because my sense is that we would never be able to agree about the definitions of real verses imagined abuse) and point out that the original post explicitly stated that such abuse constituted “another reason for walking out of the MTC or voluntarily leaving the mission….” So the answer to your question,”[is the post] talking only about reasons missionaries might choose to leave [?]” is yes.

  89. Hm. I have had school teachers who were irrational enough that it is not hard for me to imagine some authority figure in the MTC being irrational and having a chip on his shoulder and sending someone home for a petty reason. Or for disputing his authority over some point of indifference. I wouldn’t think it would happen often, but particularly given how obnoxious some well-meaning people can sometimes be who might be on the other end . . .

    Fortunately when I was in the MTC the prez knew how to pick his battles. I wrote a letter complaining about the meat-centered menu in the dining hall! piously citing the D&C passage about “it is pleasing unto me if you eat it not at all, save in times of winter or famine”. Hah! He (or perhaps his wife?) just wrote back that he felt that was something best left to the individual choice of the missionaries. Hard to be self-righteous about that.

    I got really tired of sitting on those hard chairs in the classroom ten hours a day, but one thing that helped make the MTC bearable was running into my math teacher from the semester before, who was a BP there. I ran into him in the men’s room one day, and he must have been pretty shocked to see me there because he had written a rather grave note to me on my “notebook” of work just a few weeks prior, about how I needed to quit being such a rebel! It still makes me laugh out loud, thinking about it.

    Similarly, I knew three or four annoying ZLs and at least one very annoying AP who I thought were not serving out of love for the people we were trying to teach, well, or only half out of love. But both of my mission presidents were so sincere and reasonable and kind that I couldn’t really get bent out of shape about the other stuff. No matter how many other folks seemed clearly out of touch with the Spirit, whenever I met with the prez it was as clear as day that he was, and suddenly all the other problems seemed like they didn’t matter all that much.

  90. As you can tell from the story above, I was actually just the sort of smart-alecky guy who might have been sent home by a prez a little more protective of his authority! Not for having done anything gravely sinful, except questioning his authority on some picky point, and, say, showing no sympathy for his position. If he’d caught me in a bad mood anyway. Now I am embarrassed that I wrote that letter. I was so sincere about it at the time, but had such an incredibly limited perspective on how the church actually works, and of course how many kinds of imperfection we have to accept in each other, forgiving our debtors as we are forgiven etc.

  91. : ) I actually was composing my comment #92 when DKL’s explanation came up! Exactly what I thought might have happened! And yes, exactly the sort of thing I might have done if I’d been in a bad mood.

    Pete, no, a 45-minute conversation that went south is not a good reason not to serve a mission. It is not worth being self-righteous about it. But we’re talking about a young kid here! What do you expect? You expect the kid to have a vastly larger perspective on this event than the president? Not fair, Pete. DKL surely has a larger perspective now, but the arrow has flown.

    I was lucky; because I had had so much academic success I had little more concern for authority than DKL apparently did when I went. I was just more prone to brush off annoying authorities than he was that day. And I was lucky to have presidents who, unlike my trainer, did not take it as a threat when I questioned their authority.

    The president made a grave accusation falsely, was embarrassed, DKL rubbed his face in it, and boom, he is going home. The explanation? Evidently, routine human flaws, combined that day in a stupendously unlucky combination. Ouch.

  92. So, now on the flip side: DKL, I can understand why you would think the pres who blamed that one kid’s fatigue on being a rich kid was evil. But try another explanation: ignorance and bureaucratic overextension. He had 200 missionaries to worry about, he wasn’t a physician, the kid has a weird rare disease despite being in the prime of life, and whose fault was it that it took so long to figure it out? To blame it all on the pres seems a bit much. I think what you are doing here is a lot like what Peter was doing to you. Peter loves the church and doesn’t want to think such a thing could happen. It makes him dizzy to think it. So he attributes evil

    We all have a tendency to look for evil as an explanation when things go badly wrong. It feels better to be able to point to a cause. Our lives feel less unpredictable that way. Evil often does lead to things going badly wrong in the world, but there are other explanations too. Like a moderate dose of human frailty combined with plain bad luck. Let’s be a bit kinder. It is not easy when the hurt is deep, but . . .

  93. Someone tell me if I’m wrong, but I believe Matthew 18:15-17 (and DC 42:88-89) still applies between a superior and a subordinate in church matters. (If thy brother or sister offends thee…)

    “Browbeating,” though unpleasant, is what (it looks to me) many church leaders use to keep high-spirited youth in line. But browbeating carried too far becomes abuse and manipulation.

    What would have been a better response on DKL’s part upon receiving offensive treatment at the hand of the MTC Pres? Should he have just shut up and allowed himself to be unfairly accused and abused?

    Or should he have stood his ground, appealed his dismissal, and made formal complaint against the MTC president through priesthood channels?

  94. 96. Ben H, I agree with your point about kindness and forgiving others, including church leaders. Because they are just human. But it is more difficult to excuse human shortcomings such as having 200 missionaries to worry about and not being a physician, when one has been led to expect miraculous gifts of inspiration and healing beyond human capacity. I guess it goes back to a version of the theodicy question, which I’d imagine a lot of 19-21-year-olds don’t have great answers to. Why would God allow a mission president to make a sick kid’s life a living hell, when all it would have taken was a swift kick from the Holy Ghost to make the man understand?

  95. Honestly, I didn’t mean to threadjack Nate’s post and convert it from a discussion about general rejection of missionaris into a discussion about rejecting me (sorry, Nate). All I really wanted to do was make a wise crack about my mission being “the best two weeks of my life.” I often make this kind of joke. I also joke by boasting how super-devoted my girlfriend was, because she waited my whole mission, and she didn’t even go on a single date.

    In any case, the real problem isn’t whether some church leader abuses their power. History is replete with examples; from John Bennett to the Mountain Meadows Massacre to the September 6. It happens, and the fact that it happens is old news. (Ironically, one of the September 6 was excommunicated for cataloging the history of ecclesiastical abuse.)

    The problem is that the church could excommunicate me, and then nearly everyone on this thread would automatically think that what I was saying is sour grapes or hypocrisy. It may already be the case that readers think this, just because Tiny Grant abused his power to send me home from my mission. (We’ve seen evidence of this already in a few comments.) I’ve described this elsewhere as one of “the more cult-like propensities of Mormonism.”

    This is not a problem with the church’s excommunication policy. It’s a problem with the church membership, which needs to be reminded that Christ rebuked the pious and ate with the sinners. The problem with the predominant outlook is that takes a church that brings sinners to salvation, and it transforms it into a caste system whose taxonomy relies on people’s outward sign of righteousness and their worldly achievements.

  96. In order to survive the challeges of a mission all you need to do is be a little creative. When my mission in the Philippines got tuff I just took a bottle of hydrogen peroxcide and bleached my hair totally white. It was a great way to be a little rebellious, reclaim my individual identity and investigators seemed to like it too. When my Pres saw my new hair color he didnt really say anything, and his wife just laughed. For the next few months I had the nick name “blondy” and went on to serve a mission where everyday was pretty much a BLAST. To me mission isnt about personal comforts, stats, being coddled, or demanding everything go your way all the time. Its about being mindful of the Savior and having charity for all. Its about obedience and sevice…and maybe a little harmless self expression once in while. It saddens me to read so many post on this thread where individuals forsook thier mission calls because of what I perceive to be rather innocuous, self absorbed and exaggerated reasons.

  97. “the best two weeks of my life�

    I thought it was worth a good laugh, DKL : )

  98. I can not express how difficult this post has been to read. I suppose that my feelings stem from being the mother of two teenage boys. One of my sons hopefully will be serving a mission in a year. I would be so mad if I voluntarily sent my child on a mission (at great expense and disruption to his/her schooling); and those who I entrusted him to, bullied him/her in the ways that have been described here. All I can add is that having gone through something similar a few years ago as a middle-aged woman by a Priesthood leader; I understand. As hard as it was for me; I can not fathom how destructive this spiritual abuse would be for a young man. So for what it’s worth DKL, Kimball Hunt, Bookslinger and any others I may have inadvertently overlooked; you all are in my prayers.

  99. DKL: “(sorry, Nate)”

    Thanks. The problem about having an open discussion is that you don’t get to control the discussion. Fine with me. The benefits more than outweigh the costs…

  100. Since people are sharing stories about the MTC president, here’s mine. I forget his name, he was serving as president in March 1992.

    Obedience to the mission rules had been stressed and stressed in the MTC, and one of my pet peeves was someone quoting D&C 82:10 (the Lord is bound when we do what he says) when it was *their* rule. (An MTC teacher used it to encourage us to follow his advice that we speak spanish only at lunch time, for example.) Another aggravation were the incredibly long meal lines. We spent 20 minutes of our 45 minute dinner break standing in line.

    Dinner was served at the MTC between like 5:00 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Our district was assigned to eat at 5:45. After dinner we were supposed to return to our classroom and read the scriptures for 30 minutes before our evening class. When I noticed is that the line for dinner at 5:45 was a mile longer than the dinner line at 6:30, I realized that if we read our scriptures before dinner rather than after, we could spend 15 more minutes studying instead of standing in line. Everyone agreed and that’s what we started to do.

    A few days into our new routine our afternoon teacher noticed that we pulled out our scriptures as he prepared to leave. He asked what were we doing, didn’t we have dinner now? I explained the situation to him and why I thought it made sense to spend the time studying rather than in line; and besides, we were making the line shorter for the early crowd, and weren’t open to the accusation that we were being self-serving because we were postponing eating. Our teacher wasn’t impressed by this reasoning and recited, as solemnly as he could muster, D&C 82:10. I reluctantly put my scriptures away and went to stand in line.

    That night I wrote an impassioned letter to the mission president about the rampant misuse of D&C 82:10 and our dinner-time/scripture-time swapping incident in particular. The whole district knew of my letter and were rather surprised that I dared send it.

    That Sunday, with about 10 minutes remaining in Sacrament meeting, the mission president walked into our meeting and sat at the back. Everyone knew why he was there. After the meeting he asked me if my companion and I would join him in his office. I had know idea what to expect.

    He probably spent 30 minutes speaking to me, asking me questions and getting my feedback on the MTC. He told me that the dinner schedule, and all of the administrative rules, weren’t God’s rules, they were just there to help the MTC run smoothly. And if there was a longer line at 5:45 than at 6:30, we were doing them a favor to come at the later hour. The meal times are assigned evenly, he said, and he surmised that some districts that are supposed to read first and eat second must be jumping into the 5:45 meal line. He told us he agreed that it was better to spend the spare time reading than standing in line, and said we should tell our teacher that we had his permission to do it this way.

    Who knows how many letters he got from guys like Ben and me, but I was grateful he took the time to hear me out, and even encouraged our efficiency-minded thinking. And of course it was hard to supress our pleasure when telling our teacher that the mission president sided with us.

  101. Well, JA, I think you can do a lot to ensure your son has a good experience by starting a conversation now, so that if any problems arise he knows there’s someone he can talk to about them, who won’t pretend there aren’t any. A conversation with my cousin and uncle about my cousin’s experience on his mission before I went did a lot for me. He gave me an idea of some of the friction I might encounter with companions (which there is sure to be some of). Then it wasn’t jarring, and I just worked through it, because I was ready for it, and all told it was a great experience.

  102. Matt Evans,

    Your MTC president was Tiny Grant. I wrote a somewhat similar letter and got screamed at for half an hour over it and he questioned if I wanted to be a missionary. My concern was that our fire alarms were going off everyday at 4 am initially but then getting earlier and earlier. Each day we had to evacuate and wait for the alarm to be shut off, which always took at least half an hour. After the second day I told the people that came to look at the problem what the problem was. They laughed at me. Each day I told the people again what the problem was. After a week some people were refusing to get out of bed. Probably because Tiny had already given us an hour less to sleep than the white handbook dictated. If you’re blessed for getting up at 6:30 imagine how blessed you’ll be for getting up at 5:30! At that point I wrote a letter to President Grant informing him of the problem, telling him what the solution was, and mentioning that I had told the correct people what the problem was for several days now and that they refused to listen to me. Most of my floor and all of my district signed it.

    I got pulled out of class, as did my district leader and brought into Pres. Grant’s office, while the dl waited for his turn. Tiny basically berated me for 30 minutes, questioned my testimony, and didn’t allow me to speak. I was shell shocked. I thought he was there to help missionaries and solve problems but it seemed to me that bringing a problem to his attention was not allowed.

    Then my DL got it for 10 minutes for letting me deliver such a letter.

    Most of the MTC experience was, as I said earlier, soul-crushing. Classes were uninspiring, we were allowed limited exercise and that was often taken away, given meaningless “service” projects, and subjected to twice a week interviews in which the interviewer assumed you were the spawn of Satan and was trying to wring a confession out of you. But among all these insults to my body, spirit, and committment, my 30 minutes with President Grant were the low point not only of the MTC but of my entire mission.

  103. I’ve never regretted going, but I wasn’t a great missionary by any stretch of the imagination. I’d be curious to hear how other chronic introverts coped.
    I was in introvert before my mission. Believing I’d come home with a love for public speaking, I was a little surprised I hated talking to people even more after those two years. Tracting seemed to work even less for someone like me, and after having success with spending large amounts of time in service, I was told to stop because it wasn’t “following the program”.

    A conversation with my cousin and uncle about my cousin’s experience on his mission before I went did a lot for me. He gave me an idea of some of the friction I might encounter with companions (which there is sure to be some of). Then it wasn’t jarring, and I just worked through it, because I was ready for it, and all told it was a great experience.
    I would have appreciated something like that instead of everyone robotically saying it was “the best two years of my life”.

  104. Oh, I forgot to mention the high point. Several days later when they fixed the problem I asked the guy that fixed it what it was. Interestingly enough, it was exactly what I had said it was. That being, a hot water pipe was leaking on a smoke detector. People were getting up earlier and earlier to take showers since we only had enough hot water for about 1/3rd of the people crammed into the building. If you got up on time the hot water had already been gone for some time, so people who really valued hot water would get up at 4 am, causing the leaky pipe to drip on the smoke detector.

    I felt like writing another letter at that point, what figured that it would do no good.

  105. I don’t remember the name of the President when I was in the MTC in 1993. All i know about him is he was friends with my companions father. So three times a week, during Cantonese class, my companion and I were excused from class to board a shuttle heading to FHP. My companion suffered from different problems depending on what day it was, sometimes migraines, sometimes an old baseball injury flairing up. His father was a doctor at FHP, and Elder Jackson would be taken into his office for a couple of hours for treatment that usually included Olive Garden takeout and a copy of a movie he liked on VHS. I spent many hours brushing up on my Cantonese discussion while sitting in that waiting room, but that didn’t help much when it came to actgually speaking the language. My classmates were learning to speak, I was learning some kind of hybrid self-taught language that nobody else understood.

    About six weeks into it, and multiple unanswered letters to whoever I could think of, I finally convinced him the best thing to do was to go home. He had woke me up early in the morning to tell me he’d seen an angel outside our window, this angel had told him he should be District leader for our final weeks of the MTC. I told him he was crazy and would probably end up killing somebody if he stayed. Finally I was free to start learning a language I’d only use for half of my mission.

  106. I had two crises on my mission. The first was persuading myself that I was doing the right thing. That happened on my first area when my trainer showed me pictures of his girlfriend (a recent member in a local branch) and the butt pictures that were being passed around (best I could tell it was a contest to see who could generate the most vulgar picture of himself). He was a successful baptizer and well respected. He was also a 20 year old boy.
    I thought I’d have been better off in the Peace Corps (naively: i have come to know the life of the Peace Corps, and my mission was positively monastic in comparison), but this made me decide why I was on my mission, and I very shortly became an incredibly intense missionary, garnering baptisms and roles of authority in the mission hierarchy.

    The second crisis came a few months after my mission, when I looked back with abhorrence and realized what I had become. My college friends who weren’t Mormon thought I had become a brainwashed Oral Roberts clone; my Mormon friends thought I had become unbearably self-righteous.

    When I looked back at the mission, I realized how many fragile people I had wounded, how many boys hoping to be men (or girls hoping to be women) I had judged, snubbed, and belittled. I had followed every possible rule, had worked 80-110 hours a week and had brashly invited everyone I could meet to repent and be baptized (my mission president encouraged us to boldly proclaim the gospel, so I used to knock on doors and invite baptism in strong terms before even teaching a first discussion).

    It took me a long time to connect again with God and people after that sustained period of self-righteousness. Clearly I did a bad job–over 90% of my converts were baptized on the basis of my personal influence and left the church within a few months of my transfer. I’ve since been grateful for the lesson I learned, though i remain skeptical of the utility of the self-righteous, hyper-critical approach. At the time, it was a huge power rush to know that I felt almost in total control of my moral agency. Having so many rules and knowing that I wasn’t disobeying any of them was like a drug. I think I understand anorexics a bit better, this sense that you can control the world through the meticulous exercise of your own agency. I have to say I didn’t have Nate’s problem. I loved the rejection: it validated my hard work and judgmental tone. It was proof the world was fallen and I and my religion were the only solution. Plus it’s a lot easier to proclaim and argue than it is to love and nurture. They used to call me out to argue with anti-mormon ministers, and I loved it.

    I’m not sure I’d like a second chance. The best two years of my life have generally been the most recent two years (though somtimes I’ve had to reach back one or two more). I’d rather apply the lessons I learned in other settings.

  107. a random john, your description of Tiny Grant’s behavior is completely consistent with my experience. You may not have been able to tell from the way that I related, because I tried to keep my description as bland as possible. Throughout our meeting, President Grant behaved in such a manner that if there had been a group of spectators there, they’d hardly have blamed me if I’d clocked him in face. I forbore. And though my story is less interesting as a result, I do expect to have accumulated some store blessings in heaven in return for my forbearance.

    Kimball Hunt, Beijing, Costanza, and Ben, I appreciate the a less judgmental tact that you seem to have taken to these kinds of stories.

    Matt, I’m glad to hear of Tiny Grant’s good behavior. Perhaps he got a talking-to himself from some higher ups.

    JA Benson, my girlfriend’s mother was quite concerned about the fact that her daughter’s boyfriend had been sent home from the MTC. I think that it continued to be an issue with her until (sadly) two of her boys got sent home (I had nothing to do with it–honest!). In any case, it is ignorance that allows such abuse to occur and that preserves its most damaging consequences. It’s just my opinion, but I think that it’s wise for you talk to your sons about things like this as part of their missionary preparation.

  108. I’m pretty sure President Grant was the MTC president when I was there October-December 1993. Although I later heard from a companion in the field that there had been some frustration with him, I have to say in his defense that he was once very kind to me. While in the MTC, I learned from my mother that I there had been some complications with my graduation, and although I had thought everything was in order before I left, I was no longer set to graduate. I asked my branch president for permission to make some calls to get things straightened out, and he said no, that it wasn’t an emergency. I could see his point–it wasn’t, strictly speaking; nobody was dying–but I was so frustrated and stressed out by the whole thing that I lost it in the lobby of the MTC and started to cry (to the consternation of my long-suffering companion). President Grant happened by, asked me what was wrong, and very kindly told me that of course my graduation was important and to go ahead and make the calls I needed to make.

    I don’t know entirely what to conclude from the differences in experience. First, it’s possible I had a different mission president than the one some of you are describing here. Second, it’s possible that he was just nicer to sisters, especially sisters in visible distress (although I swear that I did not begin to cry with any idea of gaining sympathy–I didn’t even know anyone was around). And third, it’s possible that he mellowed and got kinder toward the end of his tenure.

    Whatever the reasons, and whatever the man’s other shortcomings, I’ll always appreciate him for that moment of kindness.

  109. I would agree with DKL that it’s probably a wise idea to discuss with future missionaries the nastier techniques that some mission authorities like to employ. In my experience, those who enjoy motivating others to teach the gospel of truth, love, and compassion by bearing down on them in guilt, deceit, and manipulation are in the minority, but they can be a pretty loud minority, and they tend to climb the leadership ranks.

    I haven’t seen Preach My Gospel yet, but does it offer hope that some of this stuff will dissipate from missionary culture?

  110. DKL, I could hardly be anything but non-judgmental. After all, the only real difference between my experience and yours is that you have the guts to talk about it.

  111. 95 – “But we’re talking about a young kid here! What do you expect? You expect the kid to have a vastly larger perspective on this event than the president? Not fair, Pete. DKL surely has a larger perspective now, but the arrow has flown.”

    The problem Ben H, is that DKL’s line is explicitly “Tiny Grant abused his power and sent me home” and implicitly “it was against my wishes, and I could not have done anything better under the circumstances.” Yes, the arrow has flown, but now the flying of the arrow is attributed 100% to Tiny Grant and 0% to DKL. Speaking of fair, is it fair to lay all the blame for DKL not serving more than a 12 day mission at the feet of Tiny Grant?

    96 – “I think what you are doing here is a lot like what Peter was doing to you. Peter loves the church and doesn’t want to think such a thing could happen. It makes him dizzy to think it. So he attributes evil.”

    What/who is this referring to? Who is Peter? If you are simply saying people attribute evil to human behaviors they consider to be evil and that they are sometimes wrong, you’ll get no disagreement from me.

    99 – DKL, its one thing to say Tiny Grant abused his power and sent me home, but bringing John Bennett and the September 6 into the discussion is a little much.

    Yes Christ rebuked the pious and ate with the sinners (all of us, last I checked). But he could do so, in part, because he was a) perfectly righteous and b) God. While I can certainly understand the impulse to do so, I hope you are not laying all the blame on Tiny Grant for your brief mission experience. It’s not very credible that he did everything wrong and you did everything right–if that is not what you’re implying, I apologize.

  112. Eve, I don’t believe that President Grant wasn’t all bad. He wasn’t called to be a mission president because he was a monster. I’m sure he had good days as well as bad days, soft spots as well as pet peeves, strengths as well as weaknesses (I sure have mine). I’m very happy to hear that people had good experiences with him.

    Ben H., as far as the mission president and my friend with the weird disease, I think that it’s a bit much to say that a kid who is basically bedridden is just lazy. But still, every mission president is entitled to his opinion. The real problem is that the mission president spread gossip about the condition of one of his own missionaries by casually communicating his opinion on multiple occasions to other missionaries (as though the fact that this would get back to my sick friend would motivate him).

    I remember hearing a Stake President speak with humility about some of the stupid mistakes that he’d made when he was much younger in some of his first leadership roles. There’s two ways to take that. The first is to say, “Fat lot of good that does for the people that paid for his mistakes.” The second is to say, “I hope that I can learn from my mistakes the way that he has from his.” I prefer the second.

    Many people are squeamish when it comes to talking about these kinds of things, because of the problem associated with “speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed.” But it’s important to talk about these things. Experiences like this are more common than many people imagine, and it leaves many people very isolated and confused (and sometimes disaffected) when they first experience them. Everybody’s life is complicated in some way, and we mustn’t pretend that things are simpler than they appear just because it makes us look like better mormons.

  113. oops, that first sentence should read, “Eve, I don’t believe that President Grant was all bad…”

  114. Eve,

    I’m not sure that Preach My Gospel can do anything change the missionary culture as long as it is a performance-driven environment driven from the top down. There was an article a couple of issues back in Sunstone that did a fairly good job of analyzing the changes. The author did a podcast on it as well at the sunstone blog.

    Tiny Grant looks familiar, but I’m not sure if he was the president while I was there in 1990 or not. My only vivid memories of the MTC include taking the MTC van entrusted to our district for our service project (renovating a motel for couple missionaries) on pizza runs. I guess if Tiny Grant were my president, and he had seen the stacks of pizza for sale to other districts, my mission might have been short-lived as well.

  115. “Many people are squeamish when it comes to talking about these kinds of things, because of the problem associated with “speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed.â€? But it’s important to talk about these things. Experiences like this are more common than many people imagine, and it leaves many people very isolated and confused (and sometimes disaffected) when they first experience them. Everybody’s life is complicated in some way, and we mustn’t pretend that things are simpler than they appear just because it makes us look like better mormons.”

    I tend to agree with your statement here, DKL, and I’m truly sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience. I had a few unpleasant encounters with authority on my mission, but nothing on that scale. I agree that being mistreated by a church authority can be a profoundly isolating experience because the rhetoric constantly tends to reinforce the leader’s rightness. (“If you do not love our worker’s paradise, we have a bed in the psychiatric hospital for you!”)

    But I do wonder (and this is a serious question–I honestly have no idea what I think about this!)–at what point is criticism evilspeaking? I should clarify that I’m not asking to accuse anyone on the thread of having done that. I’m just wondering. But of course, that’s probably material for another thread.

  116. Thankyou, JA.

    I’ve just loved posting here about my mish and to actually have it read by people: It’s great! I have talkd with my very wise older brother about my mish and his thinking basically corresponds with what Anne says to me in post 77.

    But as they say these days that what tends to work the best “healing” is, well — support groups! Right? And best comments I’ve ever received in my life, when I’ve on rare occasions attempted to relate a word or two about my mish experiences, were those of Bookslinger’s about his being able to understand suffeing some kind of schiz inducing double-bind: wow! ‘Caus in a strange way I don’t really believe my suffering confusion myself, especially if no one else can seem to comprehend it; but then here’s Bookslinger who’s experienced it too! Thank God I’m not alone! Well, not I’m necessarily glad that he’s suffered, I hope.

    But, in answer to my dear older brother — and also to Anne — I don’t really think my mission president isn’t really to blame for my suffering as it really was my religion that’s to blame.

    * * *
    There’s really two stories to tell, mine and my mission president’s. Although I don’t know for sure, perhaps my mission president’s story concerning his actions with regard to me is a pretty simple one, really. And maybe that’s why it should be prefered? And maybe it just goes like this: Dumb ass missionary bothers him, thinks he knows what’s best. He rebukes him. End of story. That this missionary should come to waver in his faith? Well, it obvously wan’t too strong to begin with, was it!: Boom.


    As a reader I think I’d prefer this or whatever I imagine might be his own actual story to that of my own, which I’m not particularly fond of — even abhor. Which goes like this:

    “Young man apparently lacks enough faith to be able to comprehend his mission president and/or, really, the Gospel; doesn’t gain a stong testimony by obedience while on mission, as he had been promised; falls away.”

    Which you can take as the extract of the mass of text below and save yourself a lot of time.

    * * *
    But for any who are interested: I was extremely surprised I was even called on a mission. I told my brother in law (who was my bishop) that I hoped first to solidify my testimony of the Gospel and then I’d be ready to truly serve as a missionary. But my brother-in-law said what you do is you follow the Lord’s servants and serve and that’s how you strengthen your testimony (and that’s what the General Authority said in the old Missionary Home in Salt Lake City said to me, too). And he put in the papers and I was actually extremely happy to have been called; as for once in my lifetime I was being somehow recognized as somebody worthy to receive some kind of special calling in the Church! You see, the wild kids who yet knew how to charm the powers that be in the local church were considered the great lights of the upcoming generation, whereas I’d been some kind of longhaired yet super goody-goody chaste kid who was obnoxiously earnest about everything (my longhair and general California-ness a part of my “Mormon” religion — which don’t ask me to explain ‘caus this is long enough already, right?)

    So when I got to the mission home in Dubuque [Names and Places changed] we incoming new elders ate dinner with the mission president and his wife. (I can barely bring myself to discuss this!). I thought a mission president must be like a god. So he was telling us anytime we said “yeah” instead of “yes” we’d have to chip in a quarter, sort of like people do, of course, who want to stop swearing. Which I thought was cute. As here were these people of God telling me new things! It was great! Nonetheless I said “yeah” about a dozen times, so I ended up chipping in a few dollars, which I laughed about.

    I was sitting next to the mission president and I turned to him (“like” he was going to be my great spiritual mentor for the rest of my spiritual life, “like” I was Plato and he was Aristotle — but his is all intermal stuff, I’m turning to him in this manner in my head, but I suppose to him I’m just turning to him to ask a stupid question) and I say (with a perplexed yet earnest expression on my “California-ness is a part of my Mormon religion” face):

    “But it seems like Paul H. Dunn sort of likes t’ communicate with people in a sort of a vernacular kinda way, ya know? What really matters is what’s bein’ said than how it’s said, doesn’t it?”

    meaning something about how “tall tales teller” Dunn had been not all that formal in his delivery and how his connection with his audiences actually benefited from this and trying to draw a parallel between that and whether it truly would be advisable to set up utter formality of speech in all instances as yet another hard-and-fast religious; but I didn’t go any farther down that line of thought ‘caus I instead picked up the social cue not to from my mission president’s face, who looked just like he was the famous architect of the Salt Lake City Temple and I was some go-fer and hod carrier who’d just told him its aesthetic is marred for some utterly obscure reason having with my admiration of Parley P. Pratt or something. Which, incidentally, was the only thing I ever said to my mission president in the year and a half I served under him.

    My trainer loved Paul H. Dunn, which perhaps provided the spiritual prodding for my mission president to have assigned me to him. (This trainer, though, rarely spoke — other than to say aobut a gajillion thousand times that all the mission rules were merely “hoorah,” which he accented on the first syllable, an expression I’ve never heard before or since.)

    My tone of my very first letter to my mission presidnet had said I prayed my trainer would come to love doing the work, although he was unfortunately off the plan.

    And then of course the mission president had called me on the phone to scream at me.

    And then, after I’d sat in a members house every day for two months and, while my trainer watched sitcom reruns all day, myself literally stared at the wall and trying to block out the obnoxious dialogue of it while I contemplated spiritural things, since TV watching was against the mission rules and after I’d finally talked to the zonies and destroyed my trainer’s dishonest reporting of a perfect statistical record (a prerequisite to being in a position of leadership), I thereafter had been transferred.

    And at that interview at the zone confernence I had with President Harrison soon after my first transfer — where he’d decided to talk with me after all the elders, after all the sisters and after all the couples — and after a preliminary statement or two in a normal tone of voice, he’d gone into screaming at me. But one of those preliminary statements before his ridiculous screaming was his mention of this incidence of my having some comment about the “yeah” business to him when I’d first come into the field and that this was an example of my “not following my leaders.”

    But someone couldn’t possibly be somebody more interested in following his mission president’s every syllable than I already was! For example, in his letter mailed to us he’d said not to complain about our mission experiences home, so I hadn’t; in person he’d said to me not say “yeah” so I tried my best not to, and so on and so forth; verily, his every word was already to me the same as if it were Christ’s or the Spencer W. Kimball’s or God’s. But, indedd, it was true that I’d been foolish enough to have been I’d so full of haughty and rebellious self-righteousness to to have ventured to intellectualize, rationalize, discuss, think enough to have made the comment to him after I arrived. Which was extremely evil. So after he screamed at me I stopped doing that, too — or certainly tried to — and became a self-loathing, would-be “intellectual”(?) who instead tried to just have faith in my leaders.

    I didn’t have “perfect numbers reporting” companions (only leaders did that: the byword being, I suppose, you gotta be smart enough to fib in order to be truly celestial) but, depending on who I did have as a companion and to the circumstances at hand, we had no small amount of success.

    Then after I was out almost 18 months I got a particular elder, an Elder Smith, to be my co-equal companion who’d coincidentally been trained by my trainer.

    In co-equal companionships I made up the rule that every other day I would plan. Whatever work we really did I would turn in. On my companion’s day he could make up the numbers or do what he wanted to, just like had been intimated to me by the mission president was the mission policy. But Elder Smith said that my trainer had explained all about me as a teaching example to him when he first came in of how exactly you weren’t supposed to be on your mission. And in fact the mission president had talked to him on the telephone after he’d come into the field and had said that he himself had been petty for him to worry about reporting the correct hours, so the mission was run was for us to simply make up our hours wholesale and, as I should well know, that’s how everyone else who is anybody in the mission does it.

    I didn’t believe this; I thought maybe his trainer (who had also been my trainer) had manipulated the situation so that somehow — just as it had with me — it just somehow SEEMED that President Harrison would be saying something like this to him. But Elder Smith was adamant, challenging me to call president Harrison myself if I wanted to.

    So I said OK and called the mission home in Dubuque.

    I explained briefly to president Harrison that Elder Smith wasn’t really doing his hours but was wanting to turn in false reports not only on his days but on mine.

    President Harrison asked to talk to Elder Smith. Elder Smith got on the phone and I overheard him say, “Elder Hunt’s being petty, president.” Then he was immediately asked to turn the phone back to me.

    President Harrison said accusingly, “You’re being petty, Elder Hunt!”

    I said, “Yes, sir!”

    Then I started to turn in perfect reports and not to do anything. Ironically Harrison left at this time to be replaced by President Duncan. And I eventually became a do-nothing, “pretend perfect hours” district leader. But soon after Duncan came in, a missionary had to leave the field unexpectedly and there were an odd number of missionaries in the field and I was called to a three-man companionship with a dictrict leader and his companionship. We did nothing — swam, had fun, it was great! (and of course we were miraculously able to turn in perfect hours!) And they were both great guys, these two other missionaries, so I guess President Harrison’s (and the Mormon Church in general’s) system of having “people able to fib” to fulfill leadership roles worked in its own fashion.

    But, alas, religion is merely a claim to authority and faith in such a claim. But I could no longer abide by the cognitive dissonance to believe that a lie and the truth were the same and that to pretend to be perfect was the mark of spiritual celestial-ness. And I became agnostic in 1983, four years after my return from my mish.

    I’ll have to check the General Authorities site to see if that’s the year President Harrison was called to a serve for a period of time in the Seventy? Hah! I became unofficially non-Mormon in 1983 but he wasn’t called intil 1984. So my apostasy (which really was to caste off my own false religion of believing that priesthood leaders’ witness of reality must trump all other’s experiences thereof) can’t be thought to be tied to any reactio of mine to his elevation, but was merely a way for me to gain freedom from what, according to my own perception, I could only see as a burden of illogic and a source of spiritual abuse.

  117. I wasn’t very successful as a missionary. Had very few baptisms. Would not accept ridiculous goals set by my leaders. Was rejected all the time by the people I tracted. Had to tract in incredibly hot, humid conditions and try to sleep in the closest thing to a sauna that I could imagine. elt my mission president didn’t understand me, and resented being chastised by his wife.

    And yet…the most important watershed experience of my life. Gained an abiding testimony, and a knowledge of the doctine. Learned the value of persisting in the face of rejection and failure. Made some incredible life-long friends, felt I had served well and faithfully, and believe my mission was the basis for much of the success and happiness since that time.

    The 2 best years, up to that time. No doubt about it. Thank heavens for refining experiences.

  118. One more thing I should add. My mission was a wonderful experience. I’m glad I went and would go again. In fact I would go again if Tiny Grant were to be my president in the field.

  119. Perhaps one problem with missions is that those called to be president have no ‘right’ to refuse the calling. If they don’t want it, they still must smile and say yes inspite of their resentments. I can imagine giving up career or family or practice etc. to do an unwanted and thankless job far, far from home might turn some into screaming maniacs.

    Maybe missionaries would be better off if those called to be presidnets had a legitimate escape route — kind of like seminary teachers, you know. A ‘calling’ you can actually ponder and pray about and come to a real and honest answer.


  120. I wonder from reading this thread if President T. Grant (who I do not know) could be a bit bi-polar. Not to disparage bi-polar individuals. I have known many with this illness. Some are so dear and just dissolve into depression and tears when they are low. Others are as unpredictable as a seemingly cuddly grizzly bear who’s cuteness can turn on a dime and rip your throat out.

    I beg to differ with you Kimball. I don’t think it is the Gospel that rewards this abusive behavior, but sometimes our LDS culture. From what I have personally witnessed some of us “groove on the power WAY too much (see D&C 121)�. This sometimes shaming behavior by some of the members (currently and historically) is (IMHO) not LDS, but left over Puritan influences. There is good and bad in everyone. Jesus is going to have to sort these kinds of situations out himself. Any way I am glad you have found support. Times and Season is a good place for a lot of us.

  121. N.O.

    Trust me, mission presidents are no more required to accept their call than you are to serve as Relief Society President.

    We are so willing to blame the church, no? Why not accept that some just have intense personalities. My guess is that “Tiny” Grant did a lot more good than damage. This sampling seems a touch jaded. Ask around tomorrow–here’s guessing you’ll find some more positive reactions to President Grant.

    JA Benson,

    Missions are wonderful but have to be accepted for what they are. Ben H’s advice to discuss with your sons the fact that the missionary world is actually fallen kind of like the one we live in will go a long way to alleviate frustrations and heartbrake in the future.

    A healthy attitude of support for loving leaders will also provide a solid foundation.

    We need not be robotic–but we must yield our agenda to His when we are engaged in the work. I think most missionaries/presidents strike a solid, if imperfect, balance between individual desires and a yielding attitude.

  122. Trust me, mission presidents are no more required to accept their call than you are to serve as Relief Society President.

    Do go back and notice my punctuation: I said they have no ‘right’
    to refuse the calling. Of course they have the physical capacity to utter the ‘no’ word.
    But I doubt many of them have the, um, shall we say sufficiently well-developed sense of autonomy to do so.

    How many times have you heard the ‘never turn down a calling’ refrain? People do say no, but I doubt they’re the same people who’ve spent their lives jumping through the calling hoops potential mission presidents all seem to jump through [Bishop, Elder’s quorum President, Stake President, etc., etc — ever notice how similar the bio’s in the Church News are?] before they’re called.


  123. I don’t want to give the impression that I was without my own problems in the mission field either. I was a difficult companion to say the least, and looking back, I was also abusive as a DL. At the time I thought I was trying to do the “right things” and I was only trying to get everyone else to do the “right things”.

    Whether I was following my father’s example at that point, or whether I was trying to follow the example given by MTC leadership I don’t know. My standard line is “as soon as I was a senior companion I turned into my dad, acting how I thought someone ‘in charge’ was supposed to act.”

    Hey, after all, if the MTC pres, the MTC BP’s, and the Mish Pres all talked down to rank-and-file missionaries, that’s what missionary leaders such as DL’s and ZL’s were supposed to do too, follow their example, right?

    It wasn’t until after I had been home for 13 years that I had an epiphany, started to see myself as others saw me, and finally realized “Aaah, so that’s why everyone hated me.”

    KH: I didn’t become a goof-off and go swimming and watch TV, but I eventually (13 years later) became ashamed that I turned into the kind of butthole that I so much hated in others. If you and I are on the same frequency, part of your/our schizo-double-bind frustration is a guilty feeling on our part that we gave into peer-pressure and/or unrighteous-leadership-pressure instead of maintaining the behavior that we knew deep down in our hearts was right.

    Kind of like “Yeah, I turned into a jerk/liar/goofoff/whatever, but it was everyone else’s fault, because that’s the way everyone else was.” And at the same time, having a nagging guilty feeling that I _allowed_ them to influence me that way.

    Part of my recovery has to been to forgive the other guys, and to forgive _myself_.

    So forgive yourself for lieing about stats. Forgive yourself for going swimming and watching TV.

    One nice thing about the Atonement, is that it “pays” for those other guys’ (leaders’ or fellow members/missionaries’) sins against me, whether they repent or not. I don’t have to worry about their repentance. I can accept the check Jesus made out to me on the cross, without worrying about the status of “them.” And at the same time, as Jesus is the ultimate Judge, I am judged and will be judged based on _my_ sins, and whether or not I repent of my sins. He’s not going to judge me based on what others did or did not do, or whether or not _they_ repent. Sins are on the head of the sinners, not the victims.

    KH, my situation was perhaps a different than yours in that I did have a “burned in” testimony before I went on a mission, even before I was baptized at age 24. I did not lose my testimony of the Savior or of the church when I later went inactive or when I requested name-removal. I think part of my reasoning may have been like Oliver Cowdery’s, in thinking I shouldn’t have had to put up with all those things in the true church.

    The fact that you’re back here, at least in the Bloggernacle, might indicate you still have an ember of a testimony. Please believe that full return to the church and gospel is possible. Reconciliation, healing, answers, and peace are available. After I started re-attending, I wrote a 60 page letter to the Stake President. It wasn’t really for him, but the writing exercise over a period of a month or two really helped me. I poured my heart out on paper, and saw areas where I needed to learn, and areas where I needed to forgive, and area where I needed to repent.

    If you’re not already doing so, I suggest going ahead and attending church as a non-member. I don’t think anyone is going to ask you to leave. Church activity and scripture reading has helped me a lot. I can’t do home-teaching. But the people I sometimes visit in the hospitals and nursing homes never ask about my membership status or to see a temple-recommend.

  124. rd: My guess is that “Tiny� Grant did a lot more good than damage.

    My guess is that this is true, too. That doesn’t change the fact that when I met him, he behaved like a bully and had all the earmarks of one who had always behaved like a bully. Specifically, when he got frustrated he sought to demonstrate that he could hurt the target of his frustration. The fact that he couldn’t get any feedback from me in this respect is what led him to escalate the intensity of his anger beyond reason, eventually leading him to send me home for punitive reasons.

    Under different circumstances, circumstances that he found less frustrating, he probably had a lot to offer. It stands to reason that most missionaries were not as frustrating as I was.

    I’m sorry this strikes you as Jaded. I’m not bothered by positive accounts of Tiny Grant’s behavior. I’m curious why you seem bothered by negative accounts.

    rd: A healthy attitude of support for loving leaders will also provide a solid foundation.

    When you hear someone say something like this, bend over…

    I don’t see how this is any more meaningful than saying, “The working man deserves a fair shake.” It sounds fine on the surface, and it’s the kind of thing that everyone seems to think that they can agree to. But in reality it’s a fairly duplicitous thing to say, because “a fair shake” can mean anything at all. So it is with “a healthy attitude.”

    Unless your notion of “a healthy attitude” includes real accountability to those over whom the leaders stand, then you’re compounding the problem that I’ve been harping on throughout this thread.

    Eve, as far as evil speaking, I don’t know either. At times, the brethren seem to want it to include any criticism at all, but this is way too self-serving. Unless our votes to sustain them every April are completely meaningless, then we must have some leeway to hold leaders accountable for their actions short of withdrawing our sustaining vote.

    Kimball, I can understand why you’d hold the church accountable for the behavior of its leaders. I’m frankly surprised to hear so many people urge you to separate the church from its leaders. One would think that they’d welcome such accountability. Try reading the scriptures and praying. Go to church and listen. If you don’t like what you hear, try a different ward.

  125. Interesting, reading Kimball’s account.

    I have a lot of unresolved issues with my mission, and there were a lot of things that went on like what Kimball described, but –

    But, despite all the crap, hypocrisy, number laundering, statistic worship and position jockeying –
    well, I was glad I did it. My testimony became even stronger – it was a refiner’s fire.

    I would never say a mission was the best two years of my life (in fact, they were closer to the worst two years of my life), but I needed those experiences. The Lord means to try us in all things, and a mission was one of those intense trials for me. I don’t see any reason why anyone should expect a mission to be a breeze or free of stinky people in leadership positions – last I checked there was only one perfect person who ever lived.

  126. Not Ophelia: “Do go back and notice my punctuation: I said they have no ‘right’
    to refuse the calling. Of course they have the physical capacity to utter the ‘no’ word.”

    I’m trying to understand what you mean by that. Do you think a man would lose his temple recommend if he declined the calling to be a mission president?

    There are only 340-some mission presidents. And because they serve 3 years, that means that about 114 mission presidents have to be called every year. That’s less than the number of stake presidents called every year.

    Personally, I firmly believe that stake president callings and mission president callings are inspired, or at least approved/declind (yeah or nay) by the Lord.

  127. Bookslinger,

    Thanks for sharing #128 – it’s nice to see that perspective.

    My mission was also incredibly difficult, but mostly due to my own conflict in dealing with the performance culture. I was fortunate to have some interpersonal and teaching skills, and thus I was fairly successful baptizing. This naturally got some attention, and for most of my mission I was a DL. I never moved beyond that in the hierarchy, though, as I was generally a problem for the AP and ZL to deal with. I spent much of my time as a DL shielding my district from the incessant push for numbers – be it discussion numbers, commitment numbers, or baptismal numbers. It became a familiar and tiring game each night reporting the daily activities up the line, deflecting the barbs directed at the missionaries in my district, dodging the blatant attempts to impose guilt, and generally learning how to obfuscate without completely lying. (When Clinton made his famous “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”, I felt like that had been me for those two years, without the -ahem- fun)

    I’ve never been to a reunion, never had the desire to see any of those guys again. But, your post softens my position, and I wonder if those I served with also have regrets. I certainly do.

    That said, I’m glad I served.

  128. Like el Jefe, I was not what you would call a successful missionary. Initially, it was hard for me to adjust to a missionary-type lifestyle. I was raised by a single working mother, so basically I always had a modicum of autonomy – and I carried that with me into the mission field.

    I hated every minute I spent in the MTC. My BP was a stand-up guy but that was probably the only highlight of that period. I didn’t get along with most of my companions. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and was far, far more streetwise than many of those hicks from Idaho or Bountiful, Utah. (No offense to those from Idaho or Bountiful – just my companions)

    My Mission President was a decent man, but not a great speaker nor motivator. Think of Barney Fife and you will get the picture. I despised, however, his choices for his Assistants. I found them to be two-faced, sanctimonious sycophants who relished in telling everyone that “their” transfers were inspired and that there was no such thing as politics in the mission office.

    Zone conferences were a complete snore fest and most of the time I did not get up to bear my testimony. Not because I didn’t have one, but because sharing it in a paint-by-numbers atmosphere lacked any sincerity.

    The constant rejection was utterly depressing.

    Nevertheless, it was one of the most positive experiences in my life. I ventured to a foreign land (Spain) and learned a new language. I was able to share the gospel with those who were sincerely looking for it. I still maintain close relationships to those I met there. In short, the mission helped me to form an even greater testimony than the one I had then.

    The statement “the best two years” is so contrived, but I will say that it was two years very well spent.

  129. I loved mh’s post (#110) about his love of his mission/ having no problem with keeping all the rules, coupled in absolute faith in his righteousness.

    Yes, thankyou again JH (yet, setting aside the question of divinity, institutionally speaking even earthly governments — also once often considered divine — although deserving great respect, must have instituted within them checks, balances, accountability?)

  130. Just one more data point on Tiny Grant. He must of been the MP when I was in the MTC (Jan-Feb ’92), but I wouldn’t know him from Adam. Maybe I should reread my mission journal – every run-in with him recounted here sounds journal-worthy.

  131. I think it’s fine to look at the mission as something wonderful, but (thankfully) in the past. After all, when we’re through with this life, if we’ve worked hard and suffered through the refiners fire, we should be glad to have done it, but look back on it with a “glad that’s over with” attitude.

  132. I can’t resist a stab at rd’s #127: “Why not accept that some just have intense personalities?”

    Life’s weird: ( I ) One person encounters rough handling and it toughens the individual up so they can get involved in rough tumbles elsewhere and succeed. ( II ) But another person just crumbles.
    ( III ) One person takes the example of rough handling they’ve received to not inflict the same on others. ( IV ) Another sincerely or cynically takes it as the proper example for them to follow.

    I may be wrong, rd, but I’m putting you in with No.s ( I ) & ( IV )? In which case, Baby, ya wanna part of me? Bring it on! And if I get the better of you, after you dust yourself off, I’ll graciously offer ta buy ya a Coke. I guess that’s how it’s s’posed t’work, right? I know I certainly would have felt better if, as DKL did, I could have stiffened up and fought to argue my point with Harrison. Or felt free to take a taxi to the airport if I couldn’t. Or even to have pushed him fully clothed into a swimming pool. If he, say had been standing fully clothed in a receiving line next to one. But, hell, it’s almost as good just to type this stuff!

    Ya want that Coke now?


  133. Because problem missionaries can cause so much trouble in the mission field, it’s probably no accident that the MTC president and culture are tough. They’re weeders. It’s easier to send a missionary home before he’s travelled half-way around the world, disrupted an existing companionship, and met the ward. Besides creating work for MPs, problem missionaries can harm wards, members, and leave stretched MPs, bishops and branch presidents picking up the pieces. It’s better that problem missionaries never don the missionary uniform and stay instead in their home wards — this is the rationale behind “raise the bar” — but before that burden fell more heavily on the MTC. (Someone who worked at the MTC in the mid-90s told me that 15-20% of missionaries were sent home from the MTC.) One of my friends whose calling required him to work regularly with the full-time missionaries, when talking about all the grief caused by problem elders, told me, “Thank God for raise-the-bar. He answers my and my wife’s prayers!”

    With that in mind, when someone above wondered what President Grant thought of his encounter with DKL, my thought was, “he probably called DKL’s would-be mission president, ‘Hey Buddie, you and your local leaders owe me another steak and lobster dinner!'”

    (Yes, that’s a ribbing for DKL. He’s my friend, but like many of my friends, I’m not sad he wasn’t my mission companion!)

  134. #87″ I really like DKL on the blogs”–I thought I was the only one! LOL

    Tell you what, I wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes with somebody treating me like that President Grant. No way. I’d have been in jail.

    I’ve heard a few people liken the MTC to boot camp, but I didn’t think it was that mean.

    I apologize for the thread jack with the sexual abuse thing, I guess what I was referring to was PTSD, sister missionaries remembering (not being abused during their mission) abuse as children. My theory was that something about being all spiritual lets it come out. But now I’m thinking all the bad treatment makes sisters have PTSD and remember. It’s a pertinent question in my life at the moment. A theory, if you will.

    I’m also wondering if an inordinate number of women who are abused put off marriage and seek a mission as a dysfunctional way of coping. It sems like I’ve heard a lot about this.

  135. Oh, man, it’s another one of those threads where the comments have outrun the facts. A. Random John, back in comment #107, did you mean to insert “not” between “was” and “Tiny Grant” in the first line? Because, in response to Matt Evan’s comment #104, it sound like you’re saying that his MTC mission president in the early 90’s was Tiny Grant, although I suspect you meant the opposite. Ever since, people have been recovering their MTC memories of Tiny Grant in the 90’s, when the MTC president at the time was actually President Klein. My experiences with him in 1990 were OK, but my wife reports that he was the low point of her mission when she was in the MTC in 1992, so I assume the reported experiences from the 90’s are real. But let’s try to get the names straight, OK?

  136. Jonathan Green,

    My understanding is that Tiny Grant was president of the MTC from July of 1991 to then end of June 1994. I could be wrong about that. Maybe he started in 1992. He was certainly there (and not newly there) in July of 1993, screaming at me.

  137. Jonathan,

    The name Klein resonates with me more than Grant. I remember thinking that my MTC president (March 1992) was German and reminded me of Ed Koch (balding, stocky). The pictures of Tiny Grant look kind of like I remember, but I don’t remember him being so tall. So I’m guessing you’re right that it was Klein who spent 20 or 30 minutes with me discussing the administration of the MTC.

  138. Matt: … it’s probably no accident that the MTC president and culture are tough. They’re weeders. It’s easier to send a missionary home before he’s travelled half-way around the world, disrupted…

    That makes sense. But if the purpose is efficiency, why didn’t they raise the bar 20 or 30 years earlier?

    I once asked a 70, not in these words, but essentially: why didn’t they enforce the stated pre-requisites for missionary service? He said, essentially, that more stayed active in the church that way, than if they were held back from missionary service.

    I think it was Steve EM who strongly disagreed with “raise the bar” because it would have meant he wouldn’t have gone on a mission, and would not be active today.

    I am in favor of “raise the bar.” That came out in October 2002, just 4 months after the Lord had kicked my butt back to church in June 2002. “Raise the bar” was one of the things I really needed to hear, and it helped me resolve one of my big double-binds.

    My question is: Have they raised the bar for MTC presidents, MP BP’s, and Mission Presidents? Are they going to weed out those who are verbally/emotionally/spiritually abusive?

    I’ve had daydreams about casually walking into the MTC when they have their weekly assembly things, and listening in to see if the BPs still have the condescending and brow-beating manner of speaking to the missionaries.

  139. Matt Evans: President Grant… probably called DKL’s would-be mission president, ‘Hey Buddie, you and your local leaders owe me another steak and lobster dinner!’

    LOL! I’ll tell you what: If my MTC Mission President can make his way to Boston, I’ll buy him a steak and lobster dinner myself.

    In fact, I’ll make a standing offer to all my former church leaders: Give me a call and I’ll take you out for a steak dinner. Since I’m not exactly “church leadership material,” we can consider it my contribution to church leadership.

  140. Bookslinger: My question is: Have they raised the bar for MTC presidents, MP BP’s, and Mission Presidents? Are they going to weed out those who are verbally/emotionally/spiritually abusive?

    That’s the million dollar question. But the answer, of course, is no. As Matt Evans and so many others have expressed, the problem is always with the membership and not with the leaders.

  141. When I was in the MTC in August, missionaries were only required to wear their suit coats on Sunday. Since it was an extremely hot summer (and even being outside in just white shirts and long pants was almost unbearable), this was very merciful.

    However, my MTC district leader decided that he personally felt that all of the missionaries in his district should also wear their coat jackets every week on temple day. He particularly wanted us to look nice for the walk to the temple and back. I occasionally teased him about the idea. I observed that our being smelly and covered in sweat when we entered the temple would probably not enhance the endowment experience for either ourselves or those around us. He was not amused by the teasing. He had been called to lead the district, and he felt that we needed to wear our suit coats, and he expected his district to treat him with a little respect.

    So one day he set up a personal one-on-one “progress interview” with me (asking our companions to wait on the other side of a glass door, so we could speak privately but still not break the rule about not being separated from our companions). He expressed his love and concern for me, bore his testimony about the importance of coat-wearing on temple day, looked me in the eye, and asked, “Will you start wearing your suit coat when you visit the temple?”

    Of course, MTC district leaders have no authority to demand that their district members follow their preferences for dress and personal hygiene. My DL was, at the time, clearly a somewhat immature man. His pride had been wounded, and he was awkwardly trying to use his priesthood calling and the commitment pattern to reestablish his authority and win himself a little respect.

    But (and this was surprisingly difficult for me) I swalled all of the biting insults that came to mind and said “Okay.” and avoided the fight.

    This is what missionaries have to do all the time. They have to suffer fools gladly. It’s just part of the job description.
    When somebody with an IQ of about 85 tells you that all believers are weak and stupid people who pray to God for help simply because they are too lazy to go out and work for themselves. You have to be polite. You have to avoid confrontation and help people calm down and soothe their fragile egos. This applies equally to zone leaders and investigators.

  142. Well, I’ll tell ya. If I ever meet this Tiny Grant guy, I’ll smack him upside of the head for you guys.

    Eve, that is one of the reasons I love being a girl, you can cry. I bet if an elder had broken down in tears, he would have gotten screamed at.

    I feel very sorry for men for that reason. I would rather get to cry than have the priesthood.

  143. This is what missionaries have to do all the time. They have to suffer fools gladly. It’s just part of the job description.

    When somebody with an IQ of about 85 tells you that all believers are weak and stupid people who pray to God for help simply because they are too lazy to go out and work for themselves. You have to be polite. You have to avoid confrontation and help people calm down and soothe their fragile egos. This applies equally to zone leaders and investigators.

  144. According to the Church News, Richard K. Klein served as MTC president from July 1, 1990 to the end of June 1992. Charles Grant officially began service on July 1, 1992.

  145. Justin, thanks. That would explain things. But I thought there were comments to the effect that TG was MTC president way back in the 80’s, or something like that. Or maybe I just read those comments wrong.

  146. Justin Thanks for the info. Richard Klein would have been my MTC President, then. He must look something like Tiny Grant. A few weeks back, I saw the group photo that a random john linked to, and I immediately identified the guy on the far left as my mission president. Is it prejudiced to say that all these MTC President types look the same to me? (My apologies to President Grant for the confusion.)

    annegb, John Wayne didn’t cry. Neither did the protagonists in Ernest Hemmingway’s novels. That should be enough to convince any sensible person that real men do not cry. My wife and I have this debate sometimes where she insists that real men do cry. I say, “Name one real man who cries.” She names someone. I ask, “Does he cry?” She says yes. I say, “Then he’s not a real man. Name another.” As you may imagine, this “debate” doesn’t last long.

    One thing I think is great about this discussion is that it no longer reflects the judgmental tone of Jed and Pete and jimbob and others. We seem to have moved past this notion that people get sent home from the MTC mostly for fornicating and trouble making. Instead, we’re talking about why (for better or worse) the system works the way it does. Systems are not designed to work perfectly–they are designed to work optimally, because (in a fallen world) there is no perfect solution.

  147. According to the Church News, Richard K. Klein served as MTC president from July 1, 1990 to the end of June 1992.

    Well that ruined my day!


    If you ever run into Tiny Grant please treat him with respect and kindness. I would love to have a coversation with him at some point, but I have no desire to smack him upside the head and would feel badly if someone did such a thing for my sake.

  148. #149, Anne, You definitely have a point there. I do wonder if it had been an elder in tears if the reaction would have been different.

    On the other hand, I have to say that crying on my mission humiliated me far more often than it worked in my favor. I hate to cry in public partly because I tend to sob convulsively and uncontrollably, but sometimes it hits me and I can’t seem to stop. The day I went home, I remember sitting in the mission van with all of the elders who were going home and sobbing because I was so sad to leave. I couldn’t stop myself, and I could tell I was freaking them out–ew, a girl, crying, cooties. They all uncomfortably averted their eyes.

    Reading over this conversation has made me reflect on the way sisters fit, or don’t fit, into the sometimes boot-camp atmosphere of mission life. My guess is that we get exempted from at least some of it. I’m guessing that there are strong cultural mores that make it difficult for mission leaders to scream at or verbally abuse a woman to the same extent they might a man. I never got yelled at. I just remember feeling assailed by specious and manipulative reasoning on a number of occasions. For example, when I told my dl that I wasn’t crazy about the latest new program I knew someone in the mission office had cooked up, he asked me if I believed in Jesus Christ, and informed me that if I did, I had to support the apostles He had called, and therefore the mission president, who had called the APs, who had called the ZL, who had called him. He was Jesus Christ’s personal representative. No room for questions, no room for discussion: it was God’s will that I carry out the program that I knew would be replaced several months later by some even more inspired program. I get the sense from talking to other RMS that this rhetorical move is a mission classic.

  149. I enjoyed Bookslingers comment in 130 because it captured a thought I had yesterday as I was reading this thread–my failings as a missionary make me much more likely to look past the failings I saw in others. I should add that there is a certain irony to discovering that my failings as a missionary are not what I believed them to be at the time. I spent much of my mission with a slight-but-persistent feeling that I could have done better–a view I still hold, but for reasons very different than those I held as a missionary. That isn’t meant as commentary on anyone else’s experience here–I think DKL’s and others’ thoughts have been very interesting.

    I have been thinking lately about why some people are called to certain positions and I have begun to wonder if the pool of willing candidates just isn’t very deep. I’m completely serious about this. Surely one of the limiting factors that God continually runs up against is the poor material he has to work with.

  150. Matthew, I think you are right about the pool not being deep for any Church positions. It would be nice if it were always possible to call someone who was just right for the job, even if not perfect. The trouble is that there aren’t that many “just right” people running around, especially in a church with a lay clergy. The result is that we have to deal with leaders who are, too often, very much like the rest of us. There are a lot of good things about that, but there are also some not-so-good things.

  151. Jim F.,

    Excellent point. My MTC experience cleared up some misconceptions that I had about mission leadership. In the end the fact that the leadership had been brought back to earth was a great help in dealing with zone leaders and APs. Eventually I had a very important conversation with my mission president in the field that itself turned into a shouting match. This time I wasn’t so shell shocked and shouted back, and we yelled at each other for 90 minutes. At the end we reached an understanding and several months later he called me into his office for being willing to be forcefull enough to make my point and that it had a positive impact on the mission.

  152. Matthew: “…my failings as a missionary make me much more likely to look past the failings I saw in others. I should add that there is a certain irony to discovering that my failings as a missionary are not what I believed them to be at the time. I spent much of my mission with a slight-but-persistent feeling that I could have done better–a view I still hold, but for reasons very different than those I held as a missionary.”

    I know that feeling. I spent 15 years thinking I had had to put up with “those jerks,” and upon having that epiphany in 1999 I realized I was the bigger jerk that they had to put up with. Better late than never. Though my father softened up in the last few years of his life, he remained a verbal/emotional abuser.

    In the mission field, it was only the confrontational jerks who told me what a jerk I was, and of course I didn’t believe them, because I saw them as irreverent jerks who just wanted to goof off, stay out late, not keep the rules, do things to chase away the spirit, etc.. The missionaries I respected and whom I considered “the good guys” never took me aside and said “Here’s how you can handle that better…” Perhaps I gave the impression that I was not open to accept any kind of instruction.

    “…and I have begun to wonder if the pool of willing candidates just isn’t very deep. I’m completely serious about this. Surely one of the limiting factors that God continually runs up against is the poor material he has to work with.”

    As a friend once told me with the sarcasm that only a divorced woman could muster: [You’re looking for] “perfect men? There’s an oxymoron.”

  153. One resplendently allegorical biblical tale I like a lot, whether it is historical or not, of Jonah:

    He’s pleasantly surprised to be called to serve the Lord (check) albeit to some strange land (for me, Georgia/ Alabama) even though he’s a bit of a skeptic and/or a bit lazy ‘n’ whatever (check);

    so then he’s swallowed up inside a whale (say, “for ex,” having to endure in my particular case my bizarre trainer’s narcolepsy-inducing utterly statue-like non-regimen);

    but when he comes out from this punishment – slash – test he’s then caringly shielded from the sun while his body’s recuperating back to full health by the shade of a miraculously fast-growing GOURD plant: (in the original the “pod of the castor bean”; the totally humble and sincere elders I was privileged to work with and quite often even experience some success: Our thanks to you Lord. Smiles.

  154. “As Matt Evans and so many others have expressed, the problem is always with the membership and not with the leaders.”

    DKL, your leaders are pains in the neck to their leaders, just like a mission president’s pains in the neck are someone else’s Authority of God on Earth. Your leaders’ leaders get steak and lobster dinners, too. It’s steak and lobster dinners all the way to the top, baby!

  155. Jim,

    It is interesting to think about why the pool isn’t very deep. On one level it is because all mortals have failings. But lots of organizations find qualified people despite human weakness. While a religious organization has some unique difficulties in this respect, that fact alone shouldn’t prevent it from finding reasonable candidates for its top jobs.

    Two problems that make finding good candidates a problem for our church, however, are growth and high turn over. Our growth-oriented model means that every time a unit reaches a critical mass, we divide it–which results in dropping the pool of qualified candidates for any given position roughly in half. We also replace virtually all of our leadership on a regular basis. It might not be hard to find 150 great mission presidents once, twice or even ten times, but given the eligibility requirements (which, roughly speaking, I understand to be a healthy, married, worthy male priesthood holder with no business or family affairs that would prevent him from doing the job) finding that number every single year could be tricky. In a pinch, though, you could find people who met the criteria but might not be optimal, which is what we have always done.

    There is another problem: When I wrote of “willing candidates” I meant to imply that there is another group of candidates who, but for their lack of willingness, would fill a position well. I know some Mormons who possess exceptional talents but are deeply engaged in things other than church life. As a result they can not/will not serve in positions in which their unique skills could have greatest effect. The service pool is shallower because other priorities come first. I’m not debating whether or not these people have their priorities messed up–some surely do and others do not.

    My mother (the wife of a bishop) was fond of saying that anyone who wanted to be bishop deserved it. I think that is about right–so in the last several years I’ve found myself willing to cut my leaders a lot more slack, whether they “deserved” their callings or not. That isn’t to say that if a church leader who abused his/her power I wouldn’t discuss it with him or her. But I personally haven’t run into that situation, although I have witnessed it firsthand.

  156. Matt, fair enough. I hope I don’t come across as simply railing on church leadership. I haven’t mentioned that there aren’t any hard feelings or pent up frustration about it, because it strikes me as an odd thing to say: of course there aren’t. I can describe what happened in some detail, and I’m happy to relate my story and use myself as an example, because (as I note above) I don’t run from stigmas.

    It is very much like an injury that I suffered when I was 6 and I cut off my right index finger. A hand specialist sewed my finger back on with great success, and though it’s slightly crooked, it’s otherwise completely indistinguishable (in both appearance and function) from an uninjured index finger. I can relate the entire story in (gruesome) detail , but I assure you I don’t feel least bit of fear, pain, or anxiety when doing so–it is almost as though it happened to someone else. So it is with my mission stories.

    The point that I’ve been getting at throughout this thread may have gotten lost in spite of my dwelling on it tenaciously. Basically, the problem is the freewheeling judgmental outlook expressed by jimbob, Pete, Jed, and others–the idea that if you disagree with leadership or get in trouble in some sense, then there’s something seriously wrong with you. As I said in an earlier comment, “The problem with [this] outlook is that takes a church that brings sinners to salvation, and it transforms it into a caste system whose taxonomy relies on people’s outward sign of righteousness and their worldly achievements.”

  157. Bookslinger (#160): “I know that feeling. I spent 15 years thinking I had had to put up with “those jerks,â€? and upon having that epiphany in 1999 I realized I was the bigger jerk that they had to put up with. Better late than never.”

    This really resonates with me. When I remember some of the more painful parts of my mission, in all honesty I have to remember my own moments of unkindness and impatience. When I think back on my mission now, I don’t regret not having more baptisms or not stopping just one more person on the street, but my own immaturity and moments of insensitivity to others’ needs and the times I let exhaustion and sacrcasm get the better of me.

    I tend to think such regrets are an inevitable part of human life. By the time I’ve been out of any calling for a couple of years, I have regrets about things I’ve done in it and pity for the people who had to work with me.

    Matt Evans, I’m not sure if this is quite what you’re getting at, but it sometimes helped me feel a little more compassionate toward heavy-handed mission leaders to remember that the pressure they were putting on us was being passed down through them. They were getting it too, and quite likely they were getting worse than they were giving.

  158. I have enjoyed reading much that has been written.

    I guess I was lucky on my mission. I was an introvert, but my president was a soft spoken, patent man, that was allways kind and concerned about me. We had pressure for numbers in my mission but it was never so overwhelming that I, who usually fell short, was made to feel guilty about not making the set goals. I just got out there tried my best with, what was , for most of my mission, a strange language and people (Mandarin, South Taiwan). Really I tried to get quality in langage and apporach down over quanity. Converson was usually a long process, often lasting through the tenure of any one missionary, so I can’t say for certian if I was responsible for any baptisisms, but I did help some inactive people to rekindle their faith and come back to activity and fellowship.

    Of the APs and ZLs I knew, there were few that were glory hounds or stat monsters. Infact some of the ZLs were not particularly outstanding on the stat side, but eventually made good modivators and leaders, while some just ploped, and some were the stranger (in a good way) or more indivdualist missionaries.

    Reading over so many posts, it seems that this was the exception, rather than the rule (or is it that peole are just more modivated to talk about the bad points of their missions?). I don’t long for those days because they were long, sweaty, hard, and often confusing, but I do thank God for them.

  159. DKL,

    I don’t doubt your motives.

    My wife tells me I have issues with authority. I’m sure there is a reason for this somewhere, but whatever it is doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is that I don’t like being told what to do. So when cops pull me over I have a policy trying to get a rise out of them (harder than you might think). When a woman honked at me in the parking lot of Target yesterday, I stopped my car and asked her what she was honking at. I’ve got problems. Thankfully I’ve gotten to a point where my bull-headedness doesn’t lead me to believe every church leader is waiting to put me under their boot.

    I quit having major authority issues with church leaders about the time I felt free to disregard what they said. I firmly believe many, many people would benefit by getting to that point as soon as possible. It would make it a lot easier to hear what is actually being said and allow a more thoughtful response. We bring so much baggage with us into the chapel every week that saying anything of any use to anyone without upsetting someone is like picking your way through a mine field. I try not to begrudge those people who are willing to try. Again, this is not in reference to your mission experience–I’m just relating a part of my personal journey which has allowed me to have a more meaningful worship experience.

    To tell the truth, given its resources, I think the church does a pretty good job with its leadership. The last five bishops I’ve had have been wonderful, deeply caring men. Two of them gave me excellent personal counsel when I sought it. One married me and my wife. I had lunch last week with a member of my stake presidency and count him as a friend. My former stake president in Manhattan would make regular appearances in a ward with high turnover so he could learn people’s names. I know this because he would come to EQ and try to name everyone in the room.

    If a church leader were to try to put me under his/her boot, my response would likely be to ignore it. Maybe I would try and get them riled up for fun though. I’ll let you know if it happens.

  160. DKL,

    I see now you were responding to Matt Evans–feel free to disregard my comment.

  161. I will not be nice. But he will not know I am not being nice. Only because you asked. I’m very angry reading how young men are treated. Humor aside, I think young men are so much more fragile than women because they can’t cry.

    And we send our boys on missions to be treated terribly by their own leaders? I think not.

    Actually my son-in-law was talking fondly about his mission just tonight, laughing about the times when he was new and taking everything very seriously and when he was about to come home and much more relaxed.

    He also speaks fondly of high school, though.

  162. “And how many people does your sample include that you think it justifies these assumptions.”

    Probably about as many as you’re relying on to suggest that Tiny Grant was generally an abusive priesthood leader.

  163. jimbob, nice quip. The MTC president made a judgment about me. I’ve made a judgment about him. Turnabout is fair play. Besides, we’re talking about two different things: (a) Judgment calls about someone’s personality vs (b) judgement calls that you’re making about population samples.

    And if you’d have read many of the subsequent comments, you’d have learned that I was mistaken about Grant. It was Klein that I meant to label as a bully.

  164. N. Tolman,

    You’re absolutely right. Most people do tend to fixate on the negative experiences they had and ignore or forget about the positive experiences they had.

    A couple years after my mission, I looked through the letters I had sent home to my parents, which dad saved.

    I was horrified and utterly ashamed of myself. Rebellion! Unrighteous dominion! Un-Christlike! Hypocrit leaders! Inactivity trends! Bad companions!

    You’d think my mission was one continual period of darkness or something. I hadn’t even noticed that my letters were uniformly negative. It’s just that the negative stuff was so much sexier to my cynical, naive and unrealistic mind. So I wrote about that. I never bore my testimony, or shared a very many positive experiences.

    No wonder my dad thought I was going apostate.

    So honestly, most of the gripes I’ve heard about missions in the bloggernacle don’t really impress me much. A lot of the negative press is just the result of magical thinking and other pipe dreams.

  165. DKL: “Basically, the problem is the freewheeling judgmental outlook expressed by jimbob, Pete, Jed, and others–the idea that if you disagree with leadership or get in trouble in some sense….then there’s something seriously wrong with you.”

    David: I am sorry if I have offended you. I didn’t mean to do that. I wasn’t trying to chastise you for disagreeing with your leaders. I didn’t mean to imply something was seriously wrong with you, either. At #64, I was trying to ask why you frequently refererred to getting kicked out of the MTC. Three times here and at least three times elsewhere on the bloggernacle you have referred to the event, as though it was a badge of honor, a story of humor or courage, and not of tragedy, the very thing parents and leaders would find in such an event were their own son involved. The accounts seem to drain the event of all the emotions we might expect, which explains part of my curriosity. (I am probably misreading the tone.) I certainly acknowledge that missions are not for everyone, and that the MTC has a certain automatous quality that can be found terribly offensive. Again, sorry.

  166. Bookslinger: “My question is: Have they raised the bar for MTC presidents, MTC BP’s, and Mission Presidents? Are they going to weed out those who are verbally/emotionally/spiritually abusive?”

    DKL: “That’s the million dollar question. But the answer, of course, is no. As Matt Evans and so many others have expressed, the problem is always with the membership and not with the leaders.”

    I’m not sure how you mean that. Do you mean the membership pool available for leadership positions, or the membership pool of missionaries going into the MTC? Help me see what’s probably going on behind the scenes.

    Is it:

    a) The GA’s over the MTC purposely choose and call men (for the positions of MTC presidents and MTC BPs) who already happen to be arrogant, condescending, manipulative and confrontationally abusive men, so that this goal of “weeding out missionaries” just naturally occurs. Or,

    b) The GA’s over the MTC tell the MTC presidents and MTC BP’s “We need to weed out the missionaries, so we want you to be arrogant, condescending, manipulative, confrontational and abusive towards them in order to weed out the weak and the ones who have problems with authority.” Or is it,

    c) The pool of men in the Provo area who are available to serve as MTC presidents and MTC BPs are almost all just naturally arrogant, condescending, manipulative, confrontational and abusive. ??

    I found the salaried employees (kitchen workers, secretaries, bookstore cashiers, maintenance people) of the MTC to be very friendly towards the missionaries. On P-day when we went into town or the mall, the Provo-ites seemed to be generally nice people.

    I admired our three classroom teachers who delivered training and gospel teaching with appropriate attitudes. They were uplifting.

    Prior to the MTC, I went to a military school for college, one of the federal academies, though I did not graduate. So I know what “regimentation” is. The MTC was actually quite easy in terms of regimentation and rules. I had a companion in the mission who had been a non-com (sargeant) in the Army, and we both agreed the MTC was easy as far as regimentation goes. The rules and requirements were quite acceptable to me. The cafeteria food was good. And compared to other institutional food, it was absolutely fantastic.

    But it was the un-Christ-like and manipulative attitude of the leaders in the MTC that really confused me. Had they actually acted more like drill-sargeants, I could even have accepted that. I’ve never been able to resolve the dissonance between the gospel-related words that they spoke and the un-Christ-like attitudes and tone-of-voice with which they delivered them.

    One event over which I had many PTSD flashbacks was the assistant BP extending a calling after a very manipulative buildup. Had he just plainly asked me to do the calling, I could have said “Sure, no problem.” Had he just plainly ordered me to do it, I still could have cheerfully said “Yes, sir!” like in the military. But in the minutes prior to actually extending the calling, he verbally and emotionally backed me into corner, treating me as if I wouldn’t have accepted the calling without the manipulation. Perhaps unspoken implied insults hurt more than verbalized accusations. A false accusation gives you something to counter or explain. But the insinuations left me unable to respond. It was as if he “tricked” me into accepting a calling that I would have willingly accepted anyway. When I finally realized I was being manipulated, I decided to accept the calling because I would have accepted it anyway, had he not been manipulative.

    It was like being force-fed something that you would have willingly ate on your own, but the person force-feeding you thought you would reject it, and never even gave you the chance to eat it willingly. The encounter left me feeling emotionally and spiritually raped.

    Though younger than I was, DKL apparently had the ability to see what his MTC president was doing and call him on it.

    For me, the classroom was the only spiritual place at the MTC. And even there, as soon as the teacher left the room, two of the cut-ups in the class let loose and constantly chased away the Spirit. At this point, I can’t remember feeling the Spirit anyplace else in the MTC.

    Although I can see logic in both Matt Evans’ and DKL’s analyses, and even some logic in Pete, Jed and jimbob’s responses, nothing in the thread so far satisfactorily explains why the emotional atmosphere and culture of the MTC remains so un-Christ-like and in contradiction to the scriptures of how priesthood leadership should operate. It’s like we’re saying the ends justify the means, or the MTC and the missions are exceptions to section 121.

    If recordings had been made of the talks given by the BPs at the weekly assemblies back in 1984, and replayed to President Hinckley today, I can’t imagine him condoning the arrogance of the speakers, or their tendency to paint with a broad brush in accusing the missionaries in the audience.

    It sounds to me from other accounts in this thread, that that atmosphere and culture continued at least into the mid 1990’s. I’m curious to know if it has continued under President Hinckley’s tenure.

    Whatever the answers are, the church is still true.

  167. I was in the Language Training Mission 32 years ago, before it became the MTC. My brothers were in the MTC a couple of years later. I did not have direct interaction or run-ins of any sort with the president or leadership of the LTM. Nevertheless, I did not like it, and I was glad to get out and into the real mission field. I had good relationships with both of my mission presidents, who were natives of Mexico.

    One of my brothers aptly characterized the MTC to be like prison. When he was discouraged and upset in the MTC, and thinking about throwing in the towel, my mother wrote and told him to hang on, that he would find the real mission field to be much more enjoyable. And he did (and enjoyed it), and as a bishop and stake presidency member he has counseled many young men and women going on missions the same thing.

  168. “[some are saying] if you disagree with leadership or get in trouble in some sense, then there’s something seriously wrong with you.”


    There’s more to it than this. I don’t imagine that anyone believes that local church leaders are infallible. Enough of them have been excommunicated to disabuse people of that idea. The frustration people have with your story, I suspect, is your preoccupation over who was right. It seems to me that it’s like John McEnroe being kicked out of the Davis Cup for excessively protesting a bad line call, then expecting his teammates to be understanding rather than resent their team’s loss of a valuable player. The truth is that his teammates can fully agree that line judges make mistakes, and that this particular judge’s mistake was egregious, even, and still be upset that McEnroe didn’t look beyond that episode in order to keep playing for the team. That’s why I was sympathetic to Pete’s observation about a 45-minute obstacle keeping you from a two-year opportunity.

    It’s all water under the bridge now, of course, but I think the lesson to be learned from your story is that sometimes, to get what we want and deserve, we have to suffer unwarranted slings. The moral is not that church leaders and tennis umpires should make fewer mistakes. Everyone knows that already.

  169. Bookslinger: what I mean is that the tendency is to blame the people being led for the shortcomings of their leaders–much like President Carter did when he said that America suffered from a malaise. It was Reagan who said that it wasn’t Americans who were the problem, but their leaders. Within Mormonism, it’s not accepted practice to say that the leaders need the bar raised–just the individual. Not a terribly optimistic outlook if you ask me.

    Matt Evans:, it’s a shame that we seem to have been talking past each other the entire time. Honestly, I don’t much care whether you feel that I should have kept my mouth shut. For my part, I didn’t sign up to play in a tournament, and I didn’t agree implicitly or explicitly to let ol’ baldy in the president’s office brow beat me because he couldn’t keep his paperwork straight. But I suppose you can view the importance of refusing to lie down for bullies as debatable. In any case, it’s something that you and I can agree to disagree about. There is a larger issue at stake.

    There are two reasons why only a few people have spoken up in this thread about getting sent home:

    The first reason is this: Among people who got sent home but who stayed active, the wounds often run quite deep. People do make the assumption that you got sent home because you must have done something seriously wrong. It’s not a question of whether members generally believe in the abstract that leaders are fallible or that even worthy members fail to meet expectations. The fact is that most members regularly deny other people the benefit of doubt when their lives get complicated. Abusive priesthood leaders are just one part of the mix. Talk to people who were sent home for health reasons, and they’ll generally tell you the same thing I’m telling you. Too often, unless you serve all 24 months of your mission, when you get home you’ll be treated with shame and you’ll be gossiped about. This is the stigma that gives rise to a caste system, and it’s what I’ve been railing against.

    The second reason you haven’t heard a lot of input is that so many people who experience this leave the church. And who can blame them?

    People who know me don’t much care whether I got sent home from my mission. People who don’t know me are often uncomfortable with it, because they assume that it involved some great sin, like fornication (or at least an unwillingness to serve), and that it’s not appropriate to talk about it. The only time that I’ve ever felt accepted because of my missionary experience was one night when (by a wonderful accent of seating arrangements) I ate dinner with the family of one of the September 6 at last year’s MHA conference. Their oldest son recently completed his mission. We laughed about it and made jokes about being a heretic. I don’t expect most people to be that accepting, but I make it a point to try to make people like you less alienating about it.

  170. Grant looked familiar to me as well, but it turns out I was there under Klein, so I understand DKL’s mislabeling. Having only been there 3 weeks some 16 years ago, I couldn’t recall any names.

    There was one other incident that occured in the MTC that really turned me off of the tactics employed there. I grew up with one of the Elders who was killed in ’89 in Bolivia. It was a traumatic event churchwide, but especially for me as he was a very good friend.

    When I arrived at the MTC in 1990, their deaths were being used as a teaching opportunity. The line was this: They died because they were breaking the mission rules. Therefore, obey the rules.

    The problem was this line wasn’t based on a clear view of reality. Rather, their service and deaths were being used to brow-beat some fairly nervous young missionaries into obeying the rules, with the fear of horrible things happening if they didn’t.

    I challenged the first instructor who brought this up in our class. For the remainder of my time there it wasn’t used in our classes, though several of my friends in there at about the same time heard it repeatedly.

  171. DKL,

    I completely agree that we should welcome people to church despite their not serving a mission, or coming home early, and am genuinely sorry that you haven’t been fully welcomed. Though if I had to choose a guy to carry that burden ably, you’d be the one.

  172. Wow, I am reading all these stories and cannot relate. I can’t recall what the MTC president even looked like when I was there. I probably heard from him at a few of the LGMs but don’t recall any specifics. I don’t really remember my Branch President was like either. Nice enough, generically authoritive. I was only there for 4 weeks, so perhaps I would have been different if there for 8 weeks or 12 (as it happened to some of the missionaries in our branch). I really only remember the teachers and the horribly dreadful call center.

  173. mahuph, re: elders killed in ’89 in Bolivia.

    Is that ever deja vu. I was in the MTC in April 1984, and the MTC pres used the story of an elder dieing in Argentina while walking too close to a train track, and he was allegedly struck in the back of the head by the train’s rearview mirror.

    The MTC pres used it as part of his admonition to “don’t do stupid things” such as walk next to moving trains. But his word choice and attitude indicated he was accusing the whole audience of being stupid. And he accused the dead elder of being stupid. He left out an important point in the story, and I felt tempted to remind him (though I didn’t) of the scripture about confessing the Lord’s hand in all things. As it was an accident, maybe the Lord “called him home.” Being hit at high speed by an object in the lower back of the head, in the medulla oblongata, is instant and essentially painless death. That’s the “kill switch” in sniper terminology.

    In the mission field I met an elder who had personally known the guy who died in Argentina; he heard the same story at the MTC, and he was ticked off that the MTC pres had portrayed him as a “bad elder”, saying that he was one of the most righteous and obedient people he had known, and that the incident was terribly mischaracterized.

    The lesson that the Lord will not always protect us when we intentionally engage in risky behavior can be made without disparaging the dead or insulting the audience.

  174. I count myself fortunate to have been at the MTC when I was (Jan-Mar 1983), because nobody there ever browbeat me or shoved his authority in my face. I had a good experience and fond memories of that place (though it was not easy for a 19-year old). I made lots of friends, studied very, very hard, and learned a lot. Most importantly, I felt the spirit an awful lot there. Perhaps if I were more of an intellectual I’d have recognized the oppressive atmosphere of the MTC and its dictators.

  175. Mike,

    Why do you think intellectuals are especially good at recognizing oppressive atmospheres?

  176. john f: I had a great time at the MTC (August-September 1994). Sorry.

    I forgive you, john. After all, it’s not your fault–it’s the fault of your leaders.

  177. john f. (#183),

    Me too (with the exception of daily cold showers). I’d guess most people did, even if some parts weren’t as nice as others. Of course, as DKL points out, I am unable to quantify such estimations.

  178. Apparently, Tiny Grant was the MTC Pres while I was there, though I wouldn’t know him from Adam.

    queuno: “I had 12 companions in 24 months.” Amateur! I had 22 (in addition to an “honorary companion” with whom I spent more time on splits than I did with 2 real companions). I wasn’t a difficult companion, so I can’t really explain it. I think the hardest part of my mission was that just as my companion and I would get into a “groove”, one of us would be transferred. The low point came after I had been in the field (Portugal) for about 3 months. I was already on my 6th companion (Elder Johnson) and in my 3rd area. E. Johnson and I got along great and I was excited to finally have a companion I really liked. Things were going really well and after we passed the 2 week mark (which established a new longevity record for me at the time) I thought I might actually be able to finally have some stability. He was transferred a week later and I was devastated. To make matters worse, my new companion was just kind of going through the motions and was not very excited to be there. I got stuck with him for 2-1/2 months. Talk about a great way to crush the enthusiasm of a new missionary. To top it off, during this time with companion #7, I came down with strep throat. On Christmas. On the bright side, nothing that happened to me afterwards could even come close to being as difficult, so I generally had a positive outlook for the rest of my mission.

    Nate Oman: “FWIW, I cannot think of a single person that I taught on my mission where my participation was somehow necessary.” I tend to agree with this statement in general, but I did experience an exception. In one instance, I am convinced that the combination of my personality and my companion’s personality and they way we were able to interact with a certain investigator was uniquely suited for that individual’s concerns. Had it been just one or the other of us, or 2 other missionaries, I don’t think he would have been able to overcome his concerns or work through an issue that came up the day before his scheduled baptism that resulted in its postponement. Our personalities and our relationship with him were absolutely instrumental in helping him to trust in what he knew was right, regardless of the difficulties that interfered.

    a random John, we were in the MTC at the same time (July 93), cool! Although I hated the MTC for other reasons. An overbearing and self-righteous companion can really make 9 weeks in the MTC unbearable, especially for someone as laid back as me.

    Overall, my mission was a positive experience and one of the defining points in my life. I gained a solid testimony, learned to love serving the Lord, learned to love serving others (even if they were not willing to accept that service), and ended up with some mildly amusing stories to tell about it. I was always puzzled by the missionaries who were about to leave who would bear there testimonies in district or zone meetings and say that they wish they could start over and serve for 2 more years. Am I glad I went? Absolutely. Would I do it all over again? Absolutely not. (That is to say I would not serve a second 2-year mission.)

  179. To add insult to injury to all you MTC-bashers out there, I proudly returned from my mission and became a teacher there for two years. Double sorry.

  180. I agree with John F. I had no issues with the MTC, MTC leadership, My mission Pres, 98% (1bad) of my comps, The teaching program etc. I was involved with 5-6 good families that joined the church and remained active including an Anglican priest who’s son is now an RM

    I am wondering if some this has to do with individual personalities? I have 3 RM brothers. 3 out 4 of us had missions like mine. My other Bro has always had problems with Authority and still does. He often sounds like some of the other posters who had such a bad Exp. But he was like this as a child, teenager, missionary etc. He has lots of personality strengths of course. But getting along with authority figues and strict programs is not one of them.

  181. “getting along with authority figues and strict programs is not one of them”–sounds a little like the main character in the New Testmament. ;^)

  182. What I hated most about the MTC was the feeling that I had a strong testimony and that I had been called to bear it to the world, only to find out that that wasn’t good enough, I had to learn a “canned” approach. That grated on me from day one. The “insert testimony here” methodology went against everything I felt I had been taught growing up.

    One of my fondest memories of the MTC: Me and my companion sitting like glowing white shirted beacons in a sea of other elders who sat waiting patiently for the visiting GA to take off his suit coat before they would take off theirs. Our feeling was, we’re hot, solution: remove suit coat.

    Those around us were giving us looks like we were the spawn of Beelzebub. But it must be air conditioned in hell, because we were the only comfortable ones in the auditorium.

  183. My favorite MTC moment: Anxiously awaiting the arrival of the President Hunter and a few minutes before he entered having the head honcho say, “OK, when the choir leader stands up, that is your cue to begin your spontaneous singing of ‘We Thank Thee o God For a Prophet.”

  184. john f.: “To add insult to injury to all you MTC-bashers out there, I proudly returned from my mission and became a teacher there for two years.”

    Isn’t it the case that the title of the original post, which includes the word “hard,” fated the direction of the thread from the beginning? If Nate had written a post about how his mission was easy, or rewarding, or the best two years of his life, etc., the MTC stories might have piled on and included a larger cross section of experience. I agree with you that there does seem to be a fair amount of bashing here, told in words shocking to those of us who sailed through the MTC on calm waters, but I do think the initial theme seems to lend itself to catharsis more than rosy reminiscence.

  185. Well, as DKL pointed out earlier, all this MTC talk is actually a threadjack, but an interesting one, no doubt.

    I hope that none of my rosy MTC fulminations (two sentences) are taken as endorsement of “Tiny” Grant’s bullying. I would have disliked it as much as the next missionary, but I think that my desire to be on a mission would have been stronger such that I wouldn’t really have fought back against it.

    I have no idea who my mission president(s) was/were in the MTC. Unfortunately for that person, it was completely irrelevant to me and presumably tens of thousands of others. My two mission presidents in the field, however, were great. President Wunderlich was very much “hands-off” and just wanted people to focus on preaching the Gospel (absolutely no zone or mission conferences pushing sales/management techniques, after all, he had been a lawyer in his career; the conferences focused mostly on doctrine, German, and cheering up the missionaries). President Schubert was a German who owned hotels/spa resorts in Bavaria near the Austrian border (Bad Reichenhall). No sales/management techniques there either (for the three weeks I had him as a mission president) — just doctrine at the two conferences I experienced with him.

    The mission was still very hard despite the best of leaders.

  186. Jed, I don’t think that you can blame my threadjack on the tone of Nate’s title and post. When Rosalynde posted an upbeat portion of her journal in the MTC, I made a negative comment there, too. (Aside from my comments as Miranda, it was my sole foray into commenting here at T&S during the period in which I was banned.) The MTC mission president really only came up here because it fit into my gag line about rejection.

  187. With all due apologies because some have had issues, but I could not help be struck by the comparison between reading this thread and the following:


    I wonder how those who, early in this dispensation, left behind wives and children, served without purse or scrip, were spat upon and beaten, slept out of doors, had no contact with any other members of the Church, returned to find loved ones had died, would have felt about the complaints which have been posted here.

  188. Mathew: “Why do you think intellectuals are especially good at recognizing oppressive atmospheres?”

    Sorry. I was being facetious. Just responding to what appeared to be a generalization about the MTC being oppressive.

  189. john f:
    I’m glad it worked out for you and for the majority of missionaries who go through the MTC. You have my thanks for serving there as a teacher. I enjoyed the three teachers I had. I admired their enthusiasm, dedication, and patience.

    I don’t think it’s just the “intellectuals” (self-proclaimed or self-styled, or whatever) who had problems. Nor do I think it’s just those who had problems with authority. Other factors that might play a part are: those there for 8 or 9 weeks as opposed to 2 or 3, those from outside of Utah, those who had not experienced the management style of MTC leadership in other areas of the church, those who are converts, those who are older than 19 and have been living on their own, and those who had already learned some responsibility.

    As I ponder this, I’ve also thought how difficult it is for a man in a leadership positon to constantly vary his approach according to the needs of those over whom he presides. When speaking to large groups of 19-year olds, to which sub-set does one tailor his remarks? The average? The mean? The ones that need the most guidance? The ones that need the strongest degree of control/motivation?

    Perhaps I’m too judgemental of men who were unable to make quick and accurate assessments of someone and adjust their approach accordingly. Perhaps my taking offense at being talked down to in an arrogant and condescending fashion is due to a “takes one to know one” thing. Romans 2:1.

    One of my shortcomings was and still is taking offense at being misjudged and wrongfully accused.

  190. Now that you guys have me recollecting my MTC experience, my companion there had a Playboy calendar in his suitcase (I never actually saw it), and a poster of some rock star hanging on the door. I convinced another group on our floor to steal the poster when they left for the airport in the middle of the night. While practicing the discussions (in Japanese), this companion would swear whenever he made a mistake. I was no prude, but I had to practice patience with that one. To his credit, he finished his mission.

  191. When speaking to large groups of 19-year olds, to which sub-set does one tailor his remarks? The average? The mean? The ones that need the most guidance? The ones that need the strongest degree of control/motivation?

    Don’t you know that is a problem, with all sorts of groups, not just 19-year-olds.

    And realizing that they are 19-year-olds and not something else is a problem too. We had a mission president switch over while I was out. The old one had taught university students, the new one had been an executive vice president (what is now a CEO) of a very large and successful fortune 500 company. He had a very hard time understanding he was dealing with kids and not 45-year-old managers.

    On the other hand, he tried very, very hard, and the oportunity cost of serving as a mission president was probably six or seven million dollars or more for him.

  192. I’m sure it will shock you all to learn that my impression was that the MTC was geared towards those who were barely qualified to be there both spiritually and intellectually. Yes, I know, I am horrible. I had just come from an environment in which generally intelligent 18 year olds were given enormous free reign, treated more or less like adults, and seemed to do pretty well. The distrust of the MTC (both rules wise and interviews wise) and the slow pace and low expectations intellectually all combined to make the experience painfully shocking. Oh, and getting yelled at for having the audacity to complain about early morning evacuations… The mission field was much more whatever you made it to be.

  193. For the record, despite my positive interaction with President Klein and everyone else, I found MTC life to be dreary. The transition was tough. Having to spend almost all daylight hours cooped up indoors was hard, as was living by a strict schedule, wearing a suit every day, and relinquishing my autonomy generally. Luckily I had a great district, full of fun guys serving missions for the right reasons, and had instructors that lit us on fire to spread the word.

  194. I’ve read the guidelines for participation and the following doesn’t break ’em, that I can see. Still, if like DKL I’m to be disfellowshipped from participation for a season for droning on too much about my mission trauma — well, I can live with that. Smiles.

    But I anticipate what I write here will basically ignored: just another post to be skimmed or not, depending on any particular reader’s interest. No?

    Anyway, to jump into my sad tale again here: Before I left I was visited at my home by Brad Shores [Editor: names have been changed] from my ward who’d gone to the very same mission I was about to depart to. Brad told me that my particular mission was utterly crazy. He went into this traumatic tale of abuse at the hands of his pres and the craziness of the missionaries in the program there. But the thing was, his prez ther had been a president Meadowlake or something like that. And a new mission president had taken over. So certainly I didn’t even have to listen to what Brad was saying about how this crazy Meadowlake guy had abused missionaries such and stuff, I thought.

    So I basically looked at Brad like, “So why are you telling me this?!” (Which is how many of you are looking at me while you read this right now, dear readers, aren’t you?) And what I had thought to myself was, “Well, Brad didn’t have enought faith. He didn’t simply follow whatever was asked of him,” et cetera and so forth. And so I ignored him, just like most of you who read this will ignore me. But still I vaguely remembered of my hearing of his trauma; and so if you peruse what I write here, you will later vaguely remember what I write too, perhaps; so for this reason I’ll go ahead ‘n’ keep on to write here.

    And . . . if this weren’t some internet forum but instead some regimented institution as was headed by some authority figure forever “busy with more important things,” a figure assumed to posses mystical inspiration to guide this institution, well maybe such a leader wouldn’t feel he had time or an inclination to hear about them either and maybe instead he’d just vibe that I was too troubled by these thoughts and feelings that I express below, that I was brooding and distrustful and not in a spirit of affirmation of how things are going in this corner of Zion . . . and well maybe he’d feel an impulse to viciously and unprovoked-ly rebuke me.

    In the “thread next door” (re gay protesters at BYU) is concern over various LABELS (straight/gay, et cetera); anyway, before my mish I considered myself very upright, but not “square” — that was me: basically


    Then I get called on a mission, cut my hair, put on my Wall Street attire, and arrive in the mission field anxious to find out what mystical things await me in these mysteries of my Mo-mo tribe. And my mish prez hands us incoming missionaries these check off sheets before we go off to our first assignments in the field, which have all the mission rules on em, so that after each day we are to make a checkmark if we followed that particular rule.

    So I thought, “OK! This is great! My representative of God wants me to do this inspired assignment.”

    And we were told that only 100% accomplishment of all these missionary goals was Celestial, et cetera — and I fully accepted this idea and bought into it.

    I show the sheet to my trainer. He gruffly and inarticulately mutters, “That’s HOORAH” (a word accented on the first syllable).

    The first day — and every day thereafter — we drive to the same member lady’s house for him to sullenly watch TV all day. Well, actually, since he was a district leader, so some days we went on splits with the one companionship of elders he oversaw. So I went tracting and taught lessons with both of these missionaries during these first two months of my mission, actually.

    Then simultaneously to my mish prez receiving our companionships’ first mailed letter and report letter from the field, the prez calls me up and screams at me at the top of his voice to “FOLLOW YOUR COMPANION, ELDER HUNT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    Bookslinger, I never watched TV while with this elder. I stared at the wall the whole time. So in a way this is worse than solitary confinement in a prison ‘caus in solitary you have silence. I felt righteous not to watch TV so in this way this burden wasn’t so bad. But then to be so viciously excoriated by the mish prez?

    I never wrote negative things home (the prez had said not to). I never said slang terms (never saying only a last name without the title elder or president). I never backbit. I just wanted, in full and complete earnest, to be “Celestial.”

    And then at my interview with President Harrison after I’d informed the zonies that my trainer’s hours had been fabricated just one day (I’d intimated this in person to them before but nothing ever came of it), Harrison screamed at me mercilessly as some kind of pharisee.

    I don’t really just love rules, quite the contrary — nonetheless, if God through his legitimate leaders is going to give me certain rules to obey and is going to tell me that obeying them is the way to be Celestial (and I’ve been told such things as I’m going to end up in some freak accident if I break them, et cetera . . . ) and THEN when I try to follow them His divine representative’s gonna scream at me like I’m ultimate pharisaic spawn of Satan then I’m gonna have a traumatic stress inducing experience here, for sure. And I did.

    I didn’t respect my mish prez with my worldly eyes — as it was only too plain to see he was a clueless– Here I’m laughing to myself as I type this– that is, an ineffectual “SQUARE” (for which a poster in the string above uses the jocular cant-term “Barney Fife”) who had such a rigid belief in the absolute infallibility of the spiritually efficacious and mystical nature to the mission field’s hierarchical structure that he pretended to believe that no tesimony given by an elder in a superior position in the missionfield to another could be impeached by an elder who was placed in an inferior one. He pretended to believe that all the elders who stood up in the meetings to the question of whether they had followed each and every rule since the last mission conference was in fact the truth. He pretended to believe that those elders who claimed to be “Celestially” observant of all missionary rules, which thus enabled them to hold mission field positions of authority in the mission, were telling the truth. (You see, in mission conferences — which were held in parts of the mission constantly — all of the missionaries we were asked to stand up — many times, our standing up and sitting down, up and down and up and down — after a whole list of mission rules were enumerated from the stand.)

    My worldly eyes saw him as a self-deluded, ineffectual square but I couldn’t even voice such a thought, ‘caus my spiritual eyes believed him to be an inspired man of God.

    The funny thing is that my trainer was right, the way this “Celestial” uh biz (bid’ness — OK, even though I was a California product of the 70’s, I’ll say it: B-B-B-B-B-B-B-BUSINESS. Phew! It warn’t all that hard . . . Sorry for stutt-t-t-tering) was being bandied about and the manner it was being accounted for and rewarded was indeed yeah OK “hoorah” . . . . . . And so my trainer had indeed found in this mission field program his onus to basically hope to have a comps he could just hang with and have fun with or otherwise to sullenly just sit and watch TV all day if he happened to be burdened with a hyper sincere and honest and conscientious one like myself.

    Of course I eventually ended up with other non- “leadership over other companionship” missionaries as my senior companions, who would just try to get perfect numbers and sometimes fail but who were really into teaching the gospel. So it usually worked out: well, at least in that aspect of it. But I myself lost my “testimony” in it; as I lost my testimony or belief of there being any true and essential authority, inspiration, efficacy, intelligence, and basic goodness to necessarily be taken as a given within those in whatever Church callings — which faith in such authority had just happened to have been the whole linch pin and premise to my tentative belief in the Restored Gospel in the first place. And while OK sure I’d been “brainwashed” to fully believe in the Church and the Gospel since birth — and so, likewise to Bookslinger had had a basic belief in its truthfulness or a testimony burned INTO me — but whenever I allowed myself to really think about things my testimony wavered, since life and belief would tend to make just as much and perhaps even greater sense, to my mind, if I could only forego my belief in the Restored Gospel, y’know?

    So where do I go from here, you ask? Well, the fact is, I feel completely different about my mish experience now that I’ve participated in this string than ever before. Intellectually I know that Harrison — who was just as much as square as I had been, with no more blind faith in some kind of imperfect system of thought and belief as I myself had, his illogical belief in whatever structure of athoritarianism, rules, regimentation, hierachy no more than what was my own. But after expressing my tale to whomever should skim the same within this thread, I can much more sense and feel this forgiveness towards President Harrison’s rebuke, judgement, demonization, slander, shaming, pilloring, toxicity heaped upon me.

    Thank you. And I’m slightly smiling here but it’s not wanly smiling nor even wryly smiling let alone ironically smiling, no it’s probably more akin to meekly smiling: not in the sense of downtrodden-meek though, but humbly meekly. I think at least. Again, thankyou.

  195. Kimball’s experience is unfortunate, though it sounds a little caricatured. Everybody lied about how they were keeping the rules? I believe that his MP was a “weenie,” and that there were a number of missionaries in his mission who were “weenies.” It’s doubtful that his mission was unique in that respect. But he gives the impression that everybody was a fraud. I guess it could seem that way when you’re going through it. I’m curious as to how long ago his mission was.

  196. Yeah, there were a rare assistant to the prez who was uniquely cool and some elders fairly “reeked,” if you parson the term, of real and genuine spirituality, I say without any sarcasm whatsoever. Many probably were legit stats wise and lots of my comps were completely legit. But this is the third go through in this string of my missionary experience. And my prez yelled at me for caring about honesty. If he’s a weinie, he’s one who was called to be a general authority — not bad for a weinie, I’d say.

  197. Me: “When speaking to large groups of 19-year olds, to which sub-set does one tailor his remarks? The average? The mean? The ones that need the most guidance? The ones that need the strongest degree of control/motivation?”

    Stephen M: “Don’t you know that is a problem, with all sorts of groups, not just 19-year-olds.”

    In theory, yes. In practice, no. In my scant two years of membership prior to entering the MTC, I had never felt belittled, browbeat, abused, insulted, talked down to, or manipulated when listening to Sunday school teachers, Elders quorum instructors/presidents, Bishops, Stake Presidents, a regional rep, or by anyone speaking at General Conference. Somehow, all of them managed to convey that they did not view their entire audience as contemptible. Sure, some made calls to repentance, some encouraged better keeping of the commandments. But only one apostle and one 70 at general conference entered territory which I would call strident at most.

    And that raises another question: Is it acceptable to belittle, browbeat, abuse, insult, talk down to or manipulate those who are deemed to be “problem elders” ? At some point in the MTC, I consciously or unconsciously decided “yeah, they deserve it.” And I regret that.

  198. “At what point is criticism evilspeaking? I should clarify that I’m not asking to accuse anyone on the thread of having done that.”

    Good. You should certainly be much less eager to accuse anyone on this thread of evil-speaking than the people on this thread have been willing to accuse specific, named Saints who aren’t here to defend themselves of bullying and abuse. This should cease. Complain if you must; keep the identifying details out of it.

  199. #85: Yes, It does look like the bully-style of management in the MTC and among mission presidents is intentional. But how do we resolve that with Section 121? Is the missionary program an exception to Section 121? Does the Lord have some special rules that have not been revealed to the rank-and-file?

    If it helps any, my MTC experience was phenomenal. I think bullying is not the institutional norm; it is very dependent on personality of the leader. My first mission pres. was intense; first area pres. was laid back. My second miss. pres. was a “love us into working” kind of man; the area pres. was intense.

    (this comment is not to anyone in particular…just musing in general):
    I firmly believe that, as the Lord says he calls the weak things of the earth to thrash the nations, He calls imperfect people into positions all of the time. Although there might be some good here and there in sharing bad experiences, etc. and giving feedback and all of that, I think there is much, much wisdom in looking inward as well to figure out what I can do in response. I am not beyond thinking that even the bad experiences are put in our paths for our testing, growth and even blessing. I know for a fact that I was a maniac missionary for much of my mission. It was at the end of my mission that I really felt like I had a better idea about how to do missionary work. Even though that was over 15 years ago, I am still looking back and seeing how many things I did wrong. Don’t you think the Lord knows all of this? Don’t you think He knows that sometimes the people He calls are going to do stupid, stupid things? Can’t the fact that God knows all of this help us try to see that maybe He wants us to do something more than just try to change the system and everyone else around us?

  200. p.s. As an example of how the Lord isn’t all about efficiency and effectiveness, consider how many times Nephi and his brothers had to make the journey back and forth between wilderness and Jerusalem. Wouldn’t it have been a lot easier to get wives while they were getting the plates? What can we learn about how the Lord works in that simple story line? I think he cares about a lot more things that things working perfectly or to human beings’ standards of good and right and whatever other standards we might impose. I am not trying to justify bad behavior or systems that really are awful. But, more often than not, bad situations are anomalies (sp? — it’s late and I’m lazy) here and there; I think we need to be careful not to define the Lord’s work by such exceptions and instead look at such situations as opportunities to develop our Christlike characters, to give the benefit of the doubt, and to even reflect on what purpose there is in some of the insanity. “There must needs be opposition in all things….” — even in the Church and its functioning!

  201. re: mission presidents…as one who knows one very, very well, I cringe at general attacks on the weakness of mission presidents. I truly had no appreciation for how difficult their job is until getting a little more personal view into the life of one in the mud of it all now. Just because a mission president has the Spirit does not mean he will always know every little thing that is going on with every missionary, or that he will never make a mistake. Their lives are so swamped with fires and pressures and unexpected emergencies and planning and traveling and not sleeping and entertaining and training and preparing talks and a bazillion other things that it’s possible (as awful as the story about the cancer-stricken elder is) that the mission pres. just plain and innocently goofed. Please — give the leaders a break, eh? I know, I know, the miss. pres should have done the same thing, but really….

    Also, regarding the comment about mission presidents not having a chance to reject the calling — I’m not sure that is true. The couple I know had been approached by local leaders long before the actual call came…so they knew it was a possibility and gave permission for their names to be submitted. So don’t be so sure that this is an out-of-the-blue kind of thing. I would suspect the situation I saw is more the rule than the exception. The leaders know this is grueling and difficult work, and a sacrifice. I don’t think they will pull someone who can’t do it for financial or other reasons if they can avoid it.

  202. Nate Oman: “FWIW, I cannot think of a single person that I taught on my mission where my participation was somehow necessary.�

    How can we really know that, though?

  203. I broke a few rules at the MTC out of flat out contempt, but more to get away from my companion with whom I did not get along with at all, for a variety of reasons, some definitely my fault, and embarrassingly so.

    Other than the relatively juvenile restrictions at the MTC, my only complaint was that when the issue came to the attention of the Branch President, (and eventually the MTC President, I am sorry to say), neither would listen to my side of the story at all. I was delighted to hear Elder Featherstone state in a fireside not too long ago, “It is an awfully thin pancake that only has one side to it”.

    I respect the MTC president for allowing me to transfer to another MTC district and finish the rest of my mission though.

  204. I wholeheartedly concur with Adam’s statement in #208 and suggest that the names of any leaders not here to defend themselves be excised.

  205. Per #208 wouln’t it be best to excise the name of Tiny Grant which DKL later admits he misattributed to some other MTC president? Unless, that is, those who’ve said “any leaders” in actual fact only meant to reference president Harrison.

  206. I never served a mission but let me say that of all the missionaries I’ve met, I found them generally to be good men who were imperfect but tried their hardest to serve the Lord. But of Course I don’t know the inter-missionary strife and differences.

  207. Adam Greenwood: people on this thread have been willing to accuse specific, named Saints who aren’t here to defend themselves…

    You’re one to talk.

    Adam Greenwood This should cease. Complain if you must; keep the identifying details out of it.

    “complain if you must”? I can only imagine that you’re uncomfortable with this because you’re are anxious to avoid this kind of accountability for the positions that you abuse.

  208. Mark Butler: I wholeheartedly concur with Adam’s statement in #208 and suggest that the names of any leaders not here to defend themselves be excised.

    I disagree, Mark. Church leaders should welcome this kind of accountability–if they don’t do anything wrong, then they should have nothing to fear, right?. Moreover, keeping the details veiled in darkness is what perpetuates this stigma that I’ve been railing against. Name names. Point fingers. Do whatever you can, and push hard against this sentiment that blames an individual (tacitly or expressly) for failing to square with preconceived church ideals (This is about a lot more than just missions, btw. It’s also about marriage, spousal abuse, parental abuse, financial troubles, crises of faith, and so on.)

  209. I’ve been following this thread since Nate posted a few days ago, and have felt a bit uncomfortable with all the identifying information revealed here (most of which turns out to be false – and about a man who recently passed away), but I felt that these MTC experiences were valuable and therapeutic to share with people in similar situations. I think the stigma missionaries face who come home early from their missions is horribly destructive.

    That said, I wholeheartedly agree with Adam. If you feel you were abused by your MTC president – or anyone else in a position of authority in the Church – you should feel free to share your general situation with others here, but I think specific identities of the parties should be kept out of the public eye of the Internet.

  210. Name names. Point fingers. Do whatever you can, and push hard against this sentiment that blames an individual (tacitly or expressly) for failing to square with preconceived church ideals.

    DKL, please clarify this point. It can’t be that fighting the sentiment that blames an individual for failing to meet preconceived church ideals requires that people name and blame individuals for failing to meet preconceived church ideals.

  211. Matt Evans: It can’t be that fighting the sentiment that blames an individual for failing to meet preconceived church ideals requires that people name and blame individuals for failing to meet preconceived church ideals.

    Sure it can. What you say is only true if the individuals are on equal footing.

    Take an example a woman who is being treated poorly by her bishop during her divorce. She can say online, “My bishop is doing x, y, and z.” A lot of people will say, “I’m sorry.” And nothing will change. She can say online, “Bishop is doing x, y, and z.” and that may actually change something. Identifying the players involved ups the ante for those in authority who participate in creating a stigma (in this hypothetical example) or who use the stigma as a stick to beat others with.

  212. “Per #208 wouln’t it be best to excise the name of Tiny Grant which DKL later admits he misattributed to some other MTC president? Unless, that is, those who’ve said “any leadersâ€? in actual fact only meant to reference president Harrison. ”

    No discrimination meant, my friend. Just haven’t had the time yet. Also, since that conversation has been going on so long, I want to discuss it with the cobloggers before I act.

  213. “I can only imagine that you’re uncomfortable with this because you’re are anxious to avoid this kind of accountability for the positions that you abuse.”

    Since I was called to it, we open with the guillotine instead of prayer at the Cub Scout Committee.

    On the other hand, perhaps I have other reasons for thinking that folks shouldn’t come on Times and Seasons and accuse people by name of ecclesiastical bullying, marriage problems, spousal abuse, parental abuse, financial troubles, crises of faith and so on?

  214. DKL,

    I agree that a sister’s broadcasting her bishop’s faults online would likely effect his behavior, just as his broadcasting her faults online would likely effect hers. And while I think the missionary department’s publishing the name, address, and reason they were sent home early would result in a reduction in badly-behaving missionaries (and generate oodles of web traffic, to boot!), the consequences would be negative overall. Those who have been wronged should approach the person who offended them in private, or through settled channels. Public calls to repentance should be strenuously avoided.

  215. DKL,

    I haven’t read the whole thread, but if your response to Adam is the “only thing [you] can imagine” then you must have had some sort of recent and rather unsuccesful brain surgery. You’ve never had such a woeful failure of imagination before :).

  216. “Name names. Point fingers. Do whatever you can, and push hard against this sentiment that blames an individual (tacitly or expressly) for failing to square with preconceived church ideals.”

    Whatever happened to the humble, meek, mild follower of Christ, the kind King Benjamin props up as a model? I don’t see browbeating commended anywhere in the scriptures.

  217. DKL, I think the problem with your point of view is the same as mine, we suffer from iconoclasm. It’s not necessarily a terrible thing, but it does tend to stunt one’s view and get one in trouble from time to time. However, I suppose we are necessary to the world or nothing would change. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

  218. Adam,

    I have a proposal for you. Talk with Nate, since this is his thread. If the two of you both feel that what I’ve written is inappropriate then feel free to delete all of my comments on this thread. In exchange for that I want a single guest post on my advice to prospective missionaries which will include a few highlights from my mission that will not use names. I can promise you that I’ll lead with what Steve Evans has characterized as the best missionary advice he’s ever heard.

  219. “Name names. Point fingers. Do whatever you can, and push hard against this sentiment that blames an individual (tacitly or expressly) for failing to square with preconceived church ideals”

    Whatever happened to the humble, meek, mild follower of Christ, the kind King Benjamin puts up as a model? Just because a leader do not follow the model does not license us to expose them publicly. I don’t see public browbeating promoted anywhere in the scriptures. To the contrary, it is private conversation, gently persuading between “he and thee,” that is encouraged in handly dispute.

  220. “I can only imagine that you’re uncomfortable with this because you’re are anxious to avoid this kind of accountability for the positions that you abuse.�

    DKL: This is nonsense. People can disagree with your approach to particular issues without having nefarious personal motives. As for Adam, I have known him for several years and frankly I find this accusation laughable.

  221. Anyone got Bro. Grant’s address/phone number? Loan him a computer or whatever…
    Let’s get him involved in this discussion. I want to see what kind of a Saint or demon this man is.

    Maybe he will repent and appologize?

    Matt 5:

    23.Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

    24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

    Notice that it is not enough to appologize for the offenses we inflict upon others, we must also go to those who screw us over and reconcile it with them. We must do whatever works to repair our relationships. This is hard; I can’t say I have the courage to follow it.

  222. I would suggest to some of those who were abused as a youth by mission leaders to consider seeking them out and humbly confronting their tormentors now as mature adults with more experience and perspective, from a position of social equality. (Memorize Matt 5 first before you do.) I think this has enormous healing potential, even more than blogging.

    I went to a 25 year mission reunion and one of the biggest asses (who made it to the top) told us he was sorry for the way he acted and it all seemed better, almost. We were just kids trying to do our best, but we were flawed in various ways that sometimes really hurt each other. (I did notice that 95% of those who I knew there made ZL or higher.)

    BTW I went through almost as a much hell in the old LTM as is described here and had many experiences both good and bad in the mission field and I think I have been on both sides of this issue. If anyone is interested in a 12 page explanation of the circumstances surrounding a fist fight (I wrote for my own sanity many years ago) entitled “Nightmare at the LTM” let me know.

  223. DKL: The purpose of this blog is not to “hold church leaders accountable,” whatever that might mean. That is not our mission, and it is not something that we are really interested in having our forum turned into a vehicle for. We are interested in ideas, discussion and conversation. To the extent that the blog gets transformed into some sort of a purely — or even mainly — political device like the Mormon Alliance, it will cease to be a productive place for discussion. Try to keep that it mind…

  224. Mike, #232

    I’m sure he is a saint. I’m also pretty sure that he won’t remember me or our interaction, such as it was. I doubt that he would want to engage in an open discussion of how you manage thousands of 19-year olds, but maybe I’m wrong. I would love to engage him on this topic though. As you might be able to tell, it has been bugging me. Chalk it up to immaturity on my part.

  225. a random John: Adam doesn’t have to consult with me before expressing an opinion on what is or is not an appropriate topic for public discussion.

  226. Nate,

    I’m not saying he does. In fact I have no idea how you guys operate other than that Kaimi keeps saying you’re all Ent-like in your slowness. My assumption was that since this is your thread, and that you’ve previously expressed no concern over the thread-jack, that you would be the one to take things down. Again I have no idea how things work and certainly have no power to suggest that things here should work one way or another.

  227. a random John: Actually, I have been fairly unhappy about the direction that this thread has gone. I was hoping that it would turn into a discussion about how one deals with the pain of other rejecting the Gospel, or whether or not one should feel such pain. In stead, it seems to have turned into a forum for sharing stories about bad experiences with mission leaders and MTC presidents, including some stories that seem to based mainly on rumor and hearsay. Frankly, I stopped reading the thread quite a while ago for the simple reason that I wasn’t horribly interested in these stories. I figured that moving on was a better response than vocally complainging, and people seemed to be having a lively discussion. As I said earlier, one of the perils of an open (mainly open?) forum is that you don’t get to control where the conversation goes. This is fine with me. It doesn’t mean, however, that I think that every conversation is a good idea or that agree with all or most of the opinions expressed.

  228. Adam, my statement about abuse of position was not intended to be taken seriously, nor does it appear to have been by people who know you. But for those who don’t, I’ll make it clear that it was an inappropriate thing to say. I apologize. (And it is good to see that you T&S folks are willing to step up to the plate to defend somebody) That said, my quip that “You’re one to talk”–that one still stands.

    Matt, your hypotheticals don’t address the point, because you keep wanting to pretend that leaders are on the same footing as non-leaders. The basis for unequal treatment is simple: Where more is given, more is expected.

    As far as being sent home from missions, there is nothing anonymous about it. Everybody paying attention knows. For my part, I would have been grateful for a statement that said I was sent home because I was contentious and irreverent. After all, everybody already knew that much.

    Mike, this isn’t about vendettas. I certainly do not hold any grudges. Part of the problem is that when you try to talk about this stuff, everybody says, “Forgive!” But out of the other side of their mouth, they say, “People typically get sent home from their mission because they’re unworthy.” Most members want everyone to be accepting of leaders faults, but then attach a stigma to those who can’t navigate the minefield of priesthood holders with issue. You can’t have it both ways. And the fact that you take my criticism to be indicative of bad motives on my part is part of the problem I’m railing against.

    Nate, I don’t pretend to tell you what the purpose of your blog is. You don’t need me to tell you that you can delete whatever comments you want. Shoot, you can even ban me.

    The blue wall of silence doesn’t help cops (no matter how useful it seems on the inside). Neither does a white wall of silence help us Mormons. It’s the bunker-mentality that leads one to think otherwise.

  229. Another fond MTC memory: The pop machine on the lower level of our building was left open after it was refilled. I went down to buy a chocolate bar from the other machine, only to witness the machine being emptied of its contents by jubilant elders. It was like a scene from an LA riot, where people walk out of a store with a big smile on their face carrying a new TV. I couldn’t believe it.

    One of the elders in my district went back for two loads, and had enough cans to build a stack that blocked out the window in his room.

  230. ” I don’t pretend to tell you what the purpose of your blog is.”

    No. But you do comment here alot, which I think is a good thing. Banning and editing are pretty hamfisted ways of keeping setting the tone of a place, so I thought I would appeal for a little sensitivity on your part. That’s all…

    “The blue wall of silence doesn’t help cops (no matter how useful it seems on the inside). Neither does a white wall of silence help us Mormons. It’s the bunker-mentality that leads one to think otherwise.”

    DKL: It seems to me that you are creating a falsely stark dicotomy in order to deflect criticisms of some of your comments and the comments of others. Not every criticism of how one goes about discussing failures by church leaders is a call for whitewashing and silence. It is rhetorically tempting to think that they are, since it allows one make pithy references to the “blue wall of silence” and “bunker-mentality.” On the other hand, I would point out that I have put at least some effort in to creating this blog, I did start this thread, and I have made basically no effort of any kind to keep people from posting what they please on this thread despite the fact that virtually none of it is related to what I thought was initially interested in, namely the pain that comes as a missionary when others reject the gospel. Hence, it is a little much for you to accuse me of a “bunker-mentality” aimed at quashing any critical discussion of church leaders.

    I don’t have anything like control over what goes on in this forum, nor do I want to. I do, however, want people to remember that at the end of the day it is about ideas and conversation, not political transformation of institutions. This means that we will from time to time nudge people in ways that will hopefully keep as a forum for conversation, even when the norms that we suggest may make political transformation more difficult.

  231. Nate,

    In my defense, if one is even possible, I started out by saying that the hardest part of my mission was not the constant rejection but the treatment I received at the hands of leaders. I thought it was somewhat on-topic. I am sorry I didn’t keep my comments more focused on the specific aspect of “why missions are hard” that you intended. It is just that to me the treatment I (and the Gospel) received at the hands of those that rejected the message was harsh, it wasn’t nearly as hard for me as other aspects of my misson.

  232. The church seems slow to change policies and programs, but it does change. The church does adapt. Some changes are public, like raise-the-bar, and the new Preach My Gospel teaching system. Others are internal to the point where they may not be seen by the rank-and-file members.

    Having read most of “Preach My Gospel”, I can say this is how the most effective missionaries were teaching 20 years ago, by putting things into their own words, and adapting them to the needs of the investigators, even though the “official” way back then was to be an organic tape-player.

    What I’m curious about, and I’ll make inquiries, is how currently returning missionaries are describing their experience with MTC and mission leadership. Also of note will be how they describe it a few years from now when they get off their “high” and can look back with more mature eyes. Also of note will be reports of those who completed their missions, but are a degree disgruntled, or the “wounded soldiers” as I call them.

    I’m going to take a gamble and say that President Hinckley probably did institute changes to the mission leadership system. If missionaries are to change the way they work, then I think it follows that how they are led and managed would be adjusted too.

    Unless I missed something, the negative comments in this thread about the MTC only seem to go up to 1995, so maybe something did change.

  233. I want everyone to know that the MTC is in very good hands these day. Steven Kohlert was one of my mission presidents in Ohio. He was incredible. There are so many stories that I could tell. He is one of my favorite people.

  234. Bookslinger:
    I was in the MTC before 1995, so I still say that any problems are (or were) more individual and not institutional.

  235. Reply to #240 from Mike

    I was not thinking that going to someone who deeply hurt you would change you in any way except in a way that you (not me or anyone else) would agree is for the better, however you wish to define it. What I see described here is a serious systemic leadership problem in the mission field. Beyond bitching about it, the road to overcoming it might be for someone who suffered much, with little else to loose, to go to one of the leaders involved and figure out how to say something that might help. It might be a journey of a 10,000 miles and this would be a first step. You seem to have maturity and experience and passion, probably in much greater abundance than when you were a missionary. I don’t know you but I just guessed that you or someone like you reading this would have what it takes to accomplish it. I am probably wrong, very wrong. (See below).

    I am listening and if I can see how to change anything here I will. I will be looking harder at the missionaries in my ward to see if there is any way that I can prevent or alleviate the kind of abuse described above. Sometimes the mishies used to come over to my house to horse around. I will look for opportunities. I also have friends who are in danger of becoming mission presidents who might listen.

    I have this perverse up-side-down view of church leadership. I think the Lord usually calls the worst available not the best or most worthy to be his leaders because he is giving them a chance to grow that the rest of us may not need. I base this on the idea that he loves all of us, not just the best. Some of the worst people I know are active in this church and on the front row. I am proud of the fact that I moved the slowest up the mission leadership chain and stopped at the lowest likely position (DL at 22 months) because I spent the most time actually teaching or trying to find investigators or helping new companions and very little time harassing other missionaries. I know I worked hard and did as much good and loved those people as much as I could. I admit that there were many better missionaries than I and some who served in leadership positions; I acknowledge and rejoice in their efforts too.

    I think a guy who is sent home from his mission due to the fault of a bad leader, who doesn’t get bailed out by minor miracles (like I was) is sort of being given a honorable release directly from the Lord, but has to bear the cross of the ignorant and proud who think he did something terribly wrong. You know what happened and you don’t have to explain one thing to anyone else. We on this blog should all be grateful that you open up with potentially embarassing personal experiences that might help some of us to grow in charity and understanding. Notice that many have opened up, hundreds, and only a few preach against it and only tangentially. You succeed!

    But for the grace of God I would have been sent home from my mission- I have felt the sting and am not defending the bad behavior of others and trying to sweep it all under the rug with the broom of faked forgiveness. That is another legitimate problem you bring up. Please forgive me if that is the impression I have left. If the truth was known I don’t think most of the missionaries are worthy to represent the Lord. I wasn’t. There are those who realize how unworthy they are – putting them in a position to repent and improve; there are those who think they are righteous – causing themselves and those around them to never repent and they are worse off for it. I know of no place that tries the hearts of men greater on this point than the LDS mission experience.

    J. Golden Kimball said that we could send half the missionaries home and not see a drop in the conversions; trouble is we don’t know which half to send home. J. Golden was smarter and more spiritual than any mission president alive today.

    P.S. Apparently Bro. Grant is going to need a special computer to respond; he has been called on another mission, you know the one we can avoid for a time but that none of us can get released from, the one called death. I hope he is doing a bang up job with it. DKL, I am not telling you where to go when I suggested you seek out Bro. Grant :) It is so easy to be misunderstood and to be wrong.

    Wait…. I am channeling with Bro. Grant right this minute… He tells me that… he is sorry for all the times he did not follow the Savior’s example in charitable leadership. He said he was sorry!

  236. m&m (#245):
    I’m glad that some/many others of my era didn’t see, or at least weren’t bothered by, the things I saw. I was 26 when I entered the MTC, having had already spent 1 year in a military college, dropped out, and then had worked and lived on my own for 7 years, (I had a job/car/apartment at 19) and had been a convert for 26 months. I was also a computer-geek with practically no people skills or interpersonal skills at all. I had a very strong testimony from the Holy Ghost. I did not know until after I got to the MTC that a 19 year old could be accepted for missionary service if he didn’t have a testimony. It never occurred to me before entering the MTC that any 19 year old in the church would enter full-time missionary service solely due to pressure from his family and the bishop, and not because he really wanted to on his own. It never occurred to me prior to the MTC that someone who “voluntarily” signed up for missionary service would not want to obey the rules of the program.

    Aside from my naivete, the MTC experience was not geared towards people like me. I did not fit the pattern that the leadership was geared for. I’ve always looked younger than I am, and I did not go around the MTC volunteering that I was 26 and a convert, not wanting to make a special case out of myself. I thought that the BP and his asst knew my age and that I was relatively new to Mormon culture, and completely new to Utah culture. But the BP and asst-BP may have assumed I was a 21 year old BIC who had not gone on a mission at 19 due to rebellion. Maybe my 26-year-old confidence came across as 21-year-old cockiness, so maybe what I perceived as their condescension was their attempt to beat me down. I think the asst BP was only a couple years older than me.

    I also later learned that mission presidents either don’t receive background info on missionaries or don’t bother to read it if they do. A friend told me her mission president belittled her for not knowing things taught in seminary. (IE, “You were supposed to learn that in seminary!” “Uh, pres, I’m a convert who joined at age 21. Weren’t you supposed to know that?”) Maybe mission pres’s or MTC BP’s just don’t expect to get adult-convert missionaries, and it never occurs to them to ask, or look at the missionary records. It never occured to me to volunteer the fact that I was an adult convert to the leaders at the MTC. I either thought they knew, or else I (mistakenly) thought it shouldn’t have made a difference.

    The application forms I filled out for missionary service never asked if my parents were members, and that scared me, because I didn’t want my parents to receive letters and information from the church that assumed they were members. That would have insulted and alienated them, and made the church look stupid.

  237. I think it is important to feel pain when rejected. After many long hours of tracting I wondered if I had become a robot, not able to feel any emotion when door after door was slammed in my face. I just didn’t care anymore. This deeply concerned me because I did not want to teach the gospel in that manner. I wanted to sincerely preach the gospel. I learned to deal with the pain on a door-to-door basis. It was difficult and often depressing to me that so many people rejected the gospel. But I always held out hope to find that one listening ear. And it happened, more than once. Without the pain, I would not of known how joyous it was to find that one willing heart.

  238. Nate, I’m not entirely thrilled with the way that this thread has turned out, but for entirely different reasons. I had a miserable MTC experience, and I had a bully for a priesthood leader there. But I’ve also seen people suffer much, much worse than I have from bad priesthood leadership, so I have no illusion about me being in an especially bad position.

    I’m also a magnanimous fellow, I’m tenaciously fair-minded, I freely admit when I’m wrong, I freely apologize, and I put my money where my mouth is. (E.g., when the MA folks were being jerks about who they linked to under what circumstances, my reaction was not to say, “Ha! They’re getting what they deserve–those jerks banned me anyway.” And that’s more than any of you T&S’ers have done for anyone.)

    Moreover, I’m on record for defending church leaders (both historical church leaders and living church leaders) from criticism in posts and comments as much or more than any other bloggernacle participant–most of you T&S folks seem more interested in joking about Languatron or pontificating about whether other couples should have children.

    Though costanza, a random John, annegb, Kimball Hunt, and Bookslinger did voice support, there was still a strong current of “well, you must have done something to deserve the stigma,” with several people talking about how it’s therapeutic or cathartic–something I need to get out of my system.

    This thread is largely illustrative of the exact problem I’ve been trying to identify. Moreover, it’s hard to explain exactly why I choose to have mostly non-Mormon friends–but I think that this thread provides some insight.

  239. DKL: I’m sincerely sorry that you had a rotten experience at the MTC. My comments are not meant to suggest that you are a rotten human being who ought to be stigmatized for getting in a fight with an overbearing priesthood leader and leaving the MTC. (I would much rather stigmatize you for being a logical positivist ;->.) I just don’t want T&S turned into an annex for the case reports of the Mormon Alliance, particularlly when folks are going to name names without actually even getting the names right.

    I am, of course, grateful for you relentless fair-mindedness, defense of church leaders, and the relative locations of your money and your mouth.

  240. Dave,

    Your qualities are so stellar, that I decided to change my middle name to match your name. Also, I named my firstborn son after you. I would have named my daughter after you too, but that would have been a bit weird. However, if I ever get a pet snail, you had better believe it will bear your moniker.

    I would encourage you to further list your good qualities, Dave. However, I cannot — or rather, I should not. The T&S database is constrained, not to mention bandwidth. If you tried to list even the hundredth part of your virtues, the blog — nay, the entire bloggernacle, and most likely the entire Gore-invented internet itself — would come to a crashing halt. Some things only God can count.

  241. DKL, by no means have I read this whole thread, but let me say that I didn’t think you were doing anything particularly inappropriate bringing up your run-in with the MTC prez. I thought it was basically appropriate: you were just talking about something frustrating and hard about your mission, like the thread was about. I think Adam was right to say we shouldn’t name names (and I think that’s been fixed), and of course I didn’t think you were completely fair, but I wasn’t there, and I thought your perspective was pretty understandable. Anyway, specifically I didn’t think you were bringing the guy up as some sort of come-uppance, or to try to apply some weird public pressure to the church. (T&S would be a poor choice anyway if that had been your goal) So I don’t see the thread about earning the right to complain as any sort of commentary on your participation in this thread (the part I read anyway), in case there was any doubt.

    : )

  242. DKL (#250): I’m also a magnanimous fellow, I’m tenaciously fair-minded, . . . that’s more than any of you T&S’ers have done for anyone.

    The ellipsis isn’t supposed to suggest that the second phrase was grammatically connected to the first. Nonetheless, the contrast between the first sentiment and the second is odd.

  243. My mission (I never want to read or hear the word “mish� again) experience is fairly recent, and I am happy to report a change in the way some things are done. We still reported numbers etc., but I always felt like my leaders were trying their best.

    One funny thing happened towards the end of my mission. We had a zone conference based on the 7 habits book where the APs tried to motivate us by envisioning the missionary we wanted to be when we got off the plane and working to be that missionary (the natives who say buy me were so confused because they would take trains back home).

    I thought the zone conference was a joke. On a subsequent split with one of the APs, he was talking about how great the 7 habits are etc., and I snidely said that I would rather just read the Book of Mormon. A few weeks later we had another split, and both the APs asked me what I didn’t like about the last zone conference. I told them we should be serving because of charity and not to impress the girl waiting for us when we got off the plane. I basically said that they were on the wrong track, and although it may have helped a few missionaries, there were nobler things to talk of at zone conference. A few weeks later I was called as ZL.

  244. The hardest part of my mission was not my leaders (who occasionally erred) or my fellow missionaries (who often erred).

    It was my own weaknesses and failings.

    I failed in many ways on my mission and it never had anything to do with other people.

  245. My Mission ended Almost 20 Years ago. It was hard. I served in the Pennsylania, Philadelphia Mission. I grew up in San Diego and Eastern PA, Southern Jersey, Delaware and Eastern Shore Maryland might as well have been the dark side of the moon. I had never seen a slum in my life and now I was living in one. Some of my friends smoked pot, drank beer and snorted coke. That was my expereience with subsance abuse. Then there I was being pulled into a rundown house my a desperate houswife because her husband was strung out on crack and threatening to kill himself. What does a 19 year old boy do in a situation like that? How do I deal with people I meet who know far more about church history than me and think it is all false? Or how do I answer the many African Americans who ask me why my church discriminated against them for so long? Well, I grew up, developed a testimony and had a successful mission. I’ve made it through college (BYU was a cakewalk) Law School (A lot harder than BYU) Got married, had three kids, I’ve been a prosecutor for over ten years. But still, at least one or twice a year I wake up in a cold sweat, dreaming that I’ve been called on another mission or returned to my old mission. In my dream I always agree to go again but the fear I feel is real.

  246. I think the Lord usually calls the worst available not the best or most worthy to be his leaders because he is giving them a chance to grow that the rest of us may not need.

    I think He might also do this to give the rest of us a chance to grow, too…esp. in charity. Actually, I think most of what is wrong with relationships and interrelationships in the Church gives us opportunities to seek for the gift of charity. This includes giving love, withholding judgment, giving the beneift of the doubt, forgiving, forgoing, believing, bearing difficulties…. The list goes on and on. I once heard it said that the Church would be great if it weren’t for all the darn people. But that is part of the brilliant program designed for our growth.

  247. I just flew over a good number of these blogs and I am truly moved by the many testimonies of faith and of hard word and of incredible sacrifice many missionaries are/have been experiencing in their time.
    I want everybody to know how much I respect you all. After taking off all of our human faults, and that includes leaders too, what is left is the work of the Lord going forward and filling the earth.
    I am a result of the work and sweat and tears of many missionaries. It took me – a convert living in a region on the Italian-Austrian border called South Tyrol – well over 2 years to understand the missionaries’ message. Even a trip to Utah and meeting N. Eldon Tanner personally didn’t do the miracle!
    But I did get baptized eventually, and now, almost 25 years later, I am still active in the Church. My life has been blessed beyond every understanding. At the time of my baptism I was a fine 21 years old young man filled with hopes and doubts. Now I am happily married to a fine woman I met and baptised later on, we have 7 wonderful children. Hundreds and thousands of my deceased ancestors have been given the ordinances of the Temple. During these years I have studied, I traveled the world, I worked myself up to now a successful professional: I feel I have accomplished all the dreams of my youth and more then I ever dared to expect.
    Next to the Lord, the ones I am deeply thankful for their efforts in order to help me understand – then a Catholic raised boy with many questions but also many barriers to overcome – was the dozens of missionaries who consumed their nerves and their knees over me. How I would like to see them again – most of them now forgotten – dearly embrace them and tell them how deeply grateful I am for their sacrifice! How many tears would flow as they would see how happy I am with my wife and my children who are themselves now struggling to grow up in this wonderful Gospel that these 20 year old American guys then tried to explain me in words that I could understand!
    I will never fully understand the sacrifice of those missionaries. I have not been a missionary myself so I do not know. But to any missionary who still remembers the wounds of sorrow and disappointment of the years spent in a foreign land trying to share the pearls of the Gospel with others I can only say that the results of a conversion, even if it only were for one single soul, are beautiful beyond any human understanding.

  248. Ben H: So I don’t see the thread about earning the right to complain as any sort of commentary on your participation in this thread (the part I read anyway), in case there was any doubt.

    Thanks, Ben. I didn’t take it that way. In fact, when I read it, I thought of my own attitude about Banner of Heaven–that (a) the loudest complainers and the people with the most derisive commentary were the ones who never so much as read Banner of Heaven, much less commented, and (b) that I repeatedly argued that such the non-particating complainers had no standing to do so. Do I think that this is an analog for complaining about the church? Sure.

  249. Gianpaolo, your expressions reminded me of a similar experience a few years back. Missionaries from the Guatemala-El Salvador mission gathered in Las Vegas. While there were a million gamblers on the Strip, there were only about 100 former Guat-El Sal missionaries in a chapel on the eastern bench near the temple. The Strip was in sight. But it spirit it was a universe away.

    A Latin American addressed us; told us of being a teenager who was “without hope in the world.” Then he had met the Mormon missionaries. He cried as he told us how much they had meant to him and the course of his life. Strangely, the missionaries who taught him had come several years after us. None of us had anything to do with him. Yet he felt this need to express to some missionaries — any missionaries — what it had all meant to him.

    A number of us thought at the time: If that were the only thanks we ever received for spending 2 years in Latin America, that would be more than enough.

  250. DLK, I’m late to this post. Thanks for relating your experiences and your perspective.

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