College Graduate Male Missionaries

Some years ago Dialogue published Tracie Lamb’s interesting essay on her experience as a sister missionary. (25/2, page 137) Some of her comments stemmed from being older than the average male missionary. I do not recall seeing any similar discussion by an older male missionary. (Perhaps you know of one?) One of my nephews, a recent college graduate from a Little Ivy, will begin his mission to Japan Sept. 9. In two years he will resume his dream of a career in an area of cell biology. In addition to having met very exacting academic standards, he boasts a real love of people, a warm personality, a highly trained and excellent singing voice, and a sincere desire to serve a mission. He seems well suited for success in a mission and in life. However, I wonder, what unique challenges and opportunities does the more mature young male missionary face?


  1. What challenges does a mature young male missionary face? Immature young male missionaries.

  2. I believe it is quite certain that his experience will be a gift and potentiate his service. I am not aware of any studies or narratives, but many of the native elders that served in my mission were older as they had obligatory military service. I don’t think there is any question that their maturity and talents drastically enhanced their missions.

    Back at the turn of the 20th century, the church started moving away from calling established men with families and church experience to younger people. There are a number of First Presidency correspondences highlighting the miserable state of these young candidates and they consequently established a year long course of study and then a correspondence course to help bridge the gap. I think the lowering of the ages of service under McKay and then the general delayed adolescence of recent decades is a tremendous challenge for the missionary program. Your nephew will be a blessing to his mission.

  3. I joined the Church in Philadelphia two years after my 19th birthday. Within six months I was attending BYU (my first plane trip was to SLC). Due to parental resistance, I waited for two more years before putting in my papers in May 1984. I received my call in August 1984 but was not scheduled to go into the MTC until December of that year – a full 2 1/2 years after my baptism. I was four months away from my 23rd birthday.

    The most interesting part for me was the perception of the other missionaries that somehow I must be much more spiritual because I was a convert. Even though I had no desire for leadership positions (and my mission President was kind enough not to give me any except senior companion) I was still treated as a knowledgeable gospel “scholar”. I found that treatment strange since most of the missionaries were seminary graduates and had been life-long members.

    I think the extra maturity allowed me to keep things in perspective. I also know that being raised Irish Catholic was very useful in tracting in Italy. I was able to articulate better the restored gospel and its differences from Catholicism.

    Overall, I think your nephew will enjoy the experience more (despite the immaturity of the younger male missionaries as observer quite rightly observes).

    And since he attended one of the Little Ivies then he will have the added bonus of the “northeastern experience” which provides a much needed balance to the myopic mountain west culture.

    I wish him the best.

  4. Many of his native companions in Japan (who may comprise around 1/3 of the mission) may be his age or older, since it is very common to complete college, apprenticeship or basic work experience before going on a mission there. Most of the Japanese elders from my time there were in their mid- to late 20s. His increased experience and maturity will be like a breath of fresh air there as, in some cases, the members seem to have grown weary of the immaturity and antics of the younger U.S. missionaries.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    In my mission in Colorado, the few older male missionaries we had (college degrees or military service) were among the very best elders in the mission. I, on the other hand, was of the immature 19-year old variety.

    I hope that someone who had that experience will feel inspired to write about it and submit the essay to Kristine for Dialogue. It would make a nice companion piece to Tracie Lamb’s essay.

  6. I knew an elder that was 28 when he went out. He had already graduated from college and had worked for a couple of years. He was a great missionary. He was out there because he wanted to be there and not because of outside pressure. As stated above he had to deal with some immature elders, but he was a good sport about it. This elder may have been a bit on the shy side, but he was well liked by everyone as far as I could tell.

    Many elders could do with some more maturity, but I can understand why the age is what it is.

  7. Terrakota says:

    My husband, a convert, was 24 when he went on a mission, after 3 years in the obligatory military (navy in his case) service. So, he got some tuff assignments, like being a branch president in a new city with no church members. Also, he was against the repetitive, memorized discussions – he wanted to talk by the Spirit, and he did, for which he was criticised by other elders. That was before “Preach My Gospel” times.

  8. StillConfused says:

    This can be a concern. My daughter graduated college at 19. So if she were to serve a mission, she would be putting her ongoing career on hold. My son has no interest in serving a mission. But even if he did, he would be a college graduate at the time. I can see that that would be an issue.

  9. I was a college graduate (and convert) when I started my mission. (I was 23) There are three unique challenges I think He will face being a more mature and more educated male in the mission field.

    1. You will have leadership thrust upon you because you are older and more spiritually mature. This means you will have to deal with more problems of other missionaries like fights, debates, sex, etc. I was given a few “problem” companions to help in my time as well as dealing with stuff throughout the mission.
    2. You will be in the MTC with people who have never read the Book of Mormon and who went on a mission for cultural reasons. This was very painful for me. Especially when a guy in my district threatened to beat up a temple worker. Maybe it was worse because I was a convert, but it was hard.
    3. When your mission draws toward a close, you will feel alone as all your friends talk about going to college (and the Wasatch front) together and you will not be among them. These guys who you thought were idiots in the MTC will have grown up and you will love them, and you will feel sad at the separation you feel from them.

    Other than that, tell your nephew good luck and God speed. He will make miracles.

  10. I served my mission after the Army so I was an older missionary. I don’t know if I was any better, but I was very happy that I got to sleep in until 6:30. I also found the sister missionaries far more captivating than my companions.

  11. Peter LLC says:

    And since he attended one of the Little Ivies then he will have the added bonus of the “northeastern experience” which provides a much needed balance to the myopic mountain west culture.

    Pray tell–how will this “balance” play out? Will he draw on the imagery of a Shakespearean sonnet to share fresh insights while his companion crudely sketches his point with a worn-out sports metaphor? Will he don a fitted 100% organic cotton t-shirt on p-day while his comp pulls on a soiled Jordan High School Beetdigger jersey with a stretched out neck for the third week in a row? Will he rise early and polish a manuscript on the role of the gospel in promoting social responsibility while the immature elder assigned to him saws logs?

  12. I grew up in the East and graduated college (albeit in three years) before heading out on my mission. I felt it a great asset and I think that added perspective and maturity served me well. But it led me to be misjudged many times.

    On the very first day of MTC orientation everything from the Presidency going over rules, procedures, etc. repeatedly mentioned “We know you sisters are more mature, so sorry we have to go through all this, but the elders…” There was a very open attitude that we were all a bunch of inexperienced juveniles, which I resented.

    The companion with whom I served longest and grew the closest also related that a previous companion (whom I’d never met personally) had warned him early on that I was older (if it’s possible to say that in a derogatory tone) and that I was pretty prideful because of my education. While I was probably guilty as charged to some degree, after actually meeting me and later serving together my comp related, “They were wrong with everything they said about you!” (What else they said, I don’t know.)

    On the flip side, I think my mission president trusted me with very particular assignments:
    -making me a senior companion very early on (in a foreign language mission)
    -putting me in only four areas: two where I served in the Branch Presidency and two where we had to mend relations with the local bishops and members after they’d grown openly distrustful of the previous missionaries (not) working there
    -assigning me several companions who were struggling with various issues to help strengthen them

    So it cut both ways in terms of how I was perceived, and I was glad I went when I did. We had another elder, one of the first Moldovan converts and missionaries, who was 27 and pretty universally loved and respected in the mission, but everyone knew he was an exceptional case, not just an anomaly. There were some inevitable differences in perspective and frustrations with the “Utah-born, entered-the-MTC-on-my-19th-birthday” crowd, but I found everyone’s mission experience is very unique and has it’s great and small challenges. I think I was a different kind of missionary because of my age & experience, and was okay being different, particularly seeing the unique ways I was able to be useful.

  13. Latter-day Guy says:

    Wow, Peter. Bitter much? Maybe you were just joking. Anyway, when I lived on the east coast (no Ivy League for me!) I felt like my eyes were opened a little bit. The church members were more of a minority there, so the ward culture was subtly different. Folks tended to be more educated generally, so their theological concerns were often different from what I was used to hearing (having lived for several years in AZ). So yeah, I could see how living in that area might yield various insights to an LDS person. That is not to say that New England living is the only broadening experience out there. I’m sure there are lots of places that might have some of the same effects vis-à-vis a person’s understanding of the church/gospel. (Living in the Ozarks was also very educational for me!) ;-)

  14. Matt W:
    >You will be in the MTC with people who have never read the Book of Mormon and who went on a mission for cultural reasons.

    Oh, buddy. I was four months shy of 20 when I went into the MTC and amazed at my district. 14 missionaries, only 1 besides myself had read the Book of Mormon all the way through. My companion was there simply because he’d been promised a new BMW when he got home. I was the only one in my district going to my mission. I later heard that my MTC companion had disappeared in the field, and showed up on his parent’s doorstep in Idaho three years later – he’d walked out on a wife and two kids.

    But, he wasn’t my worst companion. The worst one, by far, was an elder who had started his mission at 25. He’d only gone because as a college dropout in Utah, marriage possibilities were getting even thinner than his hair.

    One of my cousins married a nice guy who’d finished pharmacy school before he went on a mission. He ended up as the mission health czar, and even served on a remote island for a while. He’s a good guy, crazy smart, and went for the right reasons.

  15. I had a companion (mid-80s) who had graduated from college in the ROTC, completed his military duty as an officer and been married and divorced. (Much of this occurred before he became active in the church.) I was his 20-yr old senior companion. He was a good, hard-working missionary.

  16. Peter LLC says:

    Wow, Peter. Bitter much? Maybe you were just joking.

    I’m afraid I have no dog in this fight; I call Old Europe home and consider myself above the provincial frays that take place in the colonies. Still, I do enjoy engaging the occasional whopper from my less enlightened brethren from across the way.

  17. I can’t speak to the experiences of college graduate elders, as there weren’t any in my mission, but I can speak to my experience as a college graduate sister.

    I experienced some animosity directed my way from other missionaries. (Mostly from the other sisters, not the elders.) I like to think I was a good missionary who worked hard. Granted, I probably had some blind spots, but we all do. I remember being told in the MTC that I couldn’t be a good missionary because I was educated, and the gospel is supposed to be preached by the unlearned. I brought that up with my branch president, and he promptly corrected that mistaken notion and said that God has a work for everyone who is called.

    When I arrived in the field, I didn’t flaunt my degree, but when people (members and investigators) asked me what I had done before my mission, I told them. The reception was chilly. I served in an area where college education was rare all around and almost unheard of for women, so I think there were surrounding cultural issues.

    However, I still think it was useful for me to serve a mission. I learned a lot, and I had a chance to serve. Kudos to your nephew. I’m sure he’ll be a blessing to the people of Japan.

  18. I was a 19 y/o missionary, though not of the mountain west kind. I feel there were three types of older missionaries on my mission.
    1. The ones who were just as immature as everyone else and you didn’t know they were older until you got to know them.
    2. The ones who screamed old man. They were weird and hard to make friends with, but good and hard working.
    3. The ones who you could tell they were older. They worked hard but didn’t have a stick up their hind quarters like type 2. They were usually the better leaders.
    Tell your nephew to be type 3.

  19. My FIL had a graduate of one of the “technical Ivies” (ya know, because if you want an engineering degree, most of the Ivies shrivel in comparison) when he was the MP in an Eastern European mission. As I recall, he found the missionary to be of exceptional leadership capacity compared to the younger missionaries and found ways to utilize that (to the benefit of both the MP and the missionary in question).

  20. Some of the best missionaries in my mission were the older type. One of my favorite ZLs had received a law degree before he left. He was a good missionary, but, his one flaw was that he wasn’t big on some of the rules. He decided that, on P-day the rules no longer applied. He left the mission, listened to Metallica and other things. He also had non-alcoholic beer in his fridge. lol.

    Anyway, I turned 21 in the MTC, but admittedly, I was probably just as immature as the rest of the crew. I was given an array of semi-problem missionaries because of my more calm nature.

  21. In my mission, those coming in were helped by some life experience. I was 19, but had been in the Marines. Others had a year or two at BYU. Some were just older. These ‘types’ seemed to end up in the Mission leadership.
    #11, Peter, I was the big city kid placed in Montana. The local members had great fun making me skin a deer, ride a horse, doc a sheep. So it goes both ways.

  22. Not that there’s anything wrong with *young* missionaries (I entered the MTC 3 weeks after my 19th birthday and came home one week after my 21st birthday)… And I mostly did babysitting of bad missionaries on my mission…

  23. “And since he attended one of the Little Ivies then he will have the added bonus of the “northeastern experience” which provides a much needed balance to the myopic mountain west culture.”

    okaaaay, Michael.

    And I guess he will have the added bonus of being able to look all the way down his nose at those poor benighted elders from the mountain west. But maybe he can at least teach them how to wear shoes, bathe once a week and comb the hayseeds out of their hair.

    There was an older guy in my MTC district. He was much more mature, more educated and much wiser, but never looked down on the other elders. Being from Milwaukee he had a bit of an accent, and also had very curly hair and a jewish sounding name, so given all that, we called him “Rabbi.” He rolled with that, and in addition to being very different, he was very cool and one of the best missionaries I knew. He served in a lot of leadership positions including AP.

    He was a great missionary precisely because he was way too mature and wise to ever act like he was better (or less “myopic”) than anyone else.

  24. I started my mission after my first year of graduate school. I was almost 23. The mission went fine. My MTC companion was very 19 but with some counseling, we worked things out to a detente. I was able to work with the sister missionaries and understand their trials better than the younger missionaries. My schooling was in music and I feel that I had a lot to offer the church in that regard but they weren’t asking, so I directed my efforts elsewhere. It humbled me, but I trained 5 times, served in a branch presidency, later as branch president myself, and opened a city 13 hours by train from the mission office with a “greeny” at my side. It was a great two years.

    However, it destroyed the work I had done in school and the relationships with my professors. It took a long time to get things back and I wasn’t in a helpful environment for people desiring to follow alternative paths. I lost my assistantship teaching undergraduate classes and had to take out loans that I am still struggling to pay back. As of 1992, student loans are in forbearance for those serving religious missions so the interest accrues during the service and those carrying a balance from some “Little Ivy” should be prepared to fill out paperwork every six months to keep loans in good standing or have a rich and supportive parent who will do the leg (read:$) work.

    The best outcome I ever saw was from my then girlfriend with whom I submitted my papers. She went after graduating from undergraduate, and at the end of her mission, had a very helpful mom who who got her a spot at BYU (a very helpful environment for returned missionaries) studying violin toward a Masters degree. Your results may vary.

    I look back fondly on my mission and how it prepared me for further activity in the church but would caution others who would seek to do the same. Serving later in life will affect the graduate school track, the job track, and to a certain extent the personal development track, since you will be doing things that any 19 year old can do.

    Still, it was fun flirting with sister missionaries who were my age or younger, and I understand the church in a whole different way than I did before I went.

  25. Towards the end of my mission one elder estimated that he had been in third grade when I was a college freshman. Perhaps the main advantage was being the mission scholar, having used much of my extra prep time to become well read in all the latest Mormon scholarship. Serving in the Bible belt, that came in handy when investigators, new members, or less actives had advanced concerns or were confronted by a pervasive anti-Mormonism. Even sister missionaries would pick my brain at district meeting on how to handle this or that issue with their investigators.

  26. I might add that carrying $60,000 in student loans (as an example) while serving a mission at 6% interest, will add $7416 to the principal, nearly doubling the cost of this mission. The monthly bill for repayment of that loan will go from $666 to $748 per month for the ten year life of that student loan.

    Of course, if you can serve your mission during a period of hyper inflation, you might just make money on the deal; U.S. currency is pretty will protected from that though.

    I’m sure this promising young man will make a fantastic cell biologist though and numbers such as these will be as a trifle.

    Missions are cool. He’ll have a good time.

  27. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    RE: #16

    He said in all humility. Of course, his heart isn’t set too much on the things of this world, otherwise why would he be an “LLC”? Personally, I’ll stand by NEW England, Boston, and Harvard, et al, any day. Just as good as anything I’ve seen across the ‘pond’. Don’t ever forget, Peter, it was the fathers and grandfathers of your “less enlightened brethren” that made sure you wouldn’t be speaking German and singing Deutschland uber Alles today!

  28. otherwise why would he be an “LLC”?

    Someone who fances himself as a Grand Prince suggesting I’m the elitist? Nicely played 8)

    But since you asked: they are my initials and I use them to distinguish my valuable contributions from those by the plain old garden variety Peter (who incidentally has a law blog; you would think he’d have more use for the LLC).

    Don’t ever forget, Peter, it was the fathers and grandfathers of your “less enlightened brethren” that made sure you wouldn’t be speaking German and singing Deutschland uber Alles today!

    Really? Because I am speaking German to this day! And about the Deutschland über alles bit, well, what would you rather have your countrymen sing: Harvard über alles? Boston über alles? My myopic New England culture über alles?

    In fact, singing the “Song of Germany” was a way of demonstrating that one was willing to look beyond the narrow provincialism that had prevailed in the centuries before Germany was united. So unless you insist on reducing everything German to NAZI!, the sentiment behind Deutschland über alles isn’t sinister at all and might even hold a lesson or two for even self-styled Grand Princes.

  29. I was 21 when I entered the MTC. The biggest adjustment problems I had stemmed from the fact that I had been out of the house since 17, and earning my own living since 18. I worked, bought groceries, paid bills, and held callings in our branch. I learned that I needed to do certain things to keep the Spirit in my life, and quickly learned that the only person responsible for my spiritual growth was me. Then, when I entered the MTC, I was surrounded by young kids who had never been away from home, and didn’t have a clue about maintaining either a temporal nor spiritual standard of living. And just as bad was the fact that all of the rules in the MTC seemed to be geared to that exact mindset.

    On top of that, I objected to the way the companionship of the Holy Spirit was taught. At the time, it was treated as a very mechanical thing – ‘Start at A, move to B, get to C and – BAM – you have the Spirit’. It was more like operating a washing machine than developing a personal relationship.

  30. VK,
    Much as I appreciate the sacrifice of Americans in the War, don’t you dare suggest that somehow my freedom as an Englishman was won by Americans or I’ll ban your arse all the way back to Kievan Rus.

    Also, young PLLC is from unincorporated territory in California.

  31. And how appropriate to ban his backside back to Russia, since we really should be thanking the Russians for doing the heavy lifting (and dying) in the war that began 70 years ago today, and sparing us all (Brits and Yankees both) the trouble of learning the lyrics to the Horst Wessel Lied.

    And Peter’s right about the sentiments in the Deutschlandlied, but some Poles may beg to differ about how broadly the lines should be drawn.

  32. Molly Bennion says:

    Thanks for your many helpful observations and good wishes for my nephew. DCL, the older age of native born Japanese missionaries was especially good to know.

  33. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    Peter “the Great”;

    That tongue in cheek title was given to me by a close Russian friend after learning of my genealogical connections to Kaiser Wilhelm II and Princess Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt. It’s origins go back to when we first established e-mail communications to co-ordinate my trips to Russia. It served as a moniker that made us both smile and a reminder of our journeys across the vast Russian land. But as you should well know, with your most august intelligence, that the title and a $1.50 (or its equivalent) will barely buy you a soft drink in the U.S. or elsewhere.
    Bully for you that you speak German to this day! Nearly half of all of my ancestors did as well. Drawing once again on your nonpareil education and intellect, you should be well aware that Harvard, Boston or New England never mainfested such a bellicose nature as to incite a war with their peaceful neighbors as was the case with both Prussia and ‘Old’ Germany. You should also know that Deutschland Uber Alles has had other, not so benign interpretations of it’s first line and it was to that I referred. “Germany, above everything the the world”. That’s pretty unequivocal don’t you think?
    “Limited Liability Corporation”, indeed. Obviously you take enormous pride in that since it has supplanted your family name. I believe that was the the point that Latter-day Guy was making. Pride, arrogance and condescension have become the hallmarks of very many corporate executives in the U.S., (who are, amazingly enough, very often LLC’s) and it would appear, in the E.U. as well. My point, in concord with Latter-day Guy, is that your ‘handle’ seems to indicate where your heart is. I won’t say that pride, arrogance and condescension are uniquely Germanic traits because that is a ridiculously false stereotype. However, those attitudes seem to be ubiquitous in the corporate world these days and the contagion has obviously spread to Europe. Why did you take such umbrage at such an innocuous comment as that? Did you see this as a challenge to your seemingly superior curriculum vitae? You shouldn’t have, since it had no reference to you. Certainly, from the documented comments, no one else found it so eggregiously offensive. Your recurrent tone of arrogance and condescension is out of place with the nature and purpose of this site. That was the point, and it remains so. Enough said.

  34. Grand Prince,

    Just as your nickname has a special meaning to you that is divorced from its well-documented historical meaning and usage, you can be assured that my use of LLC in place of my family name on this blog has nothing to do with the limited liability corporation, executive greed, financial crises or the price of butter in Manila.

    As for the rest, well, just keep in mind I’m not the one who came up with “since he attended one of the Little Ivies then he will have the added bonus of the ‘northeastern experience’ which provides a much needed balance to the myopic mountain west culture.”

    Pyotr Veliki

  35. Steve Evans says:

    Is butter expensive in Manila?

  36. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    Dear Brother Ronan,
    I meant no disrespect to Great Britain who stood alone against the onslaught of the Third Reich and whose people suffered so terribly. But the American government, and by extension the American people, sent ships, aircraft, tanks, trucks, artillery, weapons, ammunition, and pilots to help defend the ‘sceptered isle’. I’m glad that we did, and if the necessity ever arose again I would unequivocally back such support again in equal or greater magnitude.
    Mark B.; You are absolutely correct about the Russians doing the ‘heavy lifting’ in the European theatre during World War II, or as the Russians prefer call it, the Great Patriotic War. I have walked the streets of the former Stalingrad and explored the Mamayev Kurgan where some of the heaviest fighting occurred. The German bunkers near the crown of the hill remain there to this day. (They are fenced in so you can’t explore them.) That hill is now crowned by the giant statue of “Rodina Mat”, the motherland calling her children to her defense. This seige and battle of the city and its environs marketed the turning point of the war. The nearly all of the German 6th Army was lost. Of some 350,000 men, only 90,000 remained at the surrender and of those only 5,000 returned to Germany. This marked the beginnning of the end for the Reich. Von Manstein’s retreat after Paulus’ surrender only added to the growing German casualty lists.The German military reeled under these losses and never recovered. Russian casualties, civilian and military were even greater. To this day, human remains are constantly being uncovered in and around the city. Regrettably, it has become a hobby with some Russians to dig for these remains in the hopes of recovering war relics to be sold to tourists.
    But all these lost Russian lives can’t be blamed on the German offensive. Stalin did not allow for a complete civilian evacuation of the city, so many non-combatants were caught in the cross fire. He also sent squads of “SMERSH”
    agents whose job it was to shoot the Russian boys who tried to retreat. This is vividly shown in the opening scenes of the film “Enemy at the Gates”, which somewhat tells the story of Vassily Zaitsev, one of Russia’s great sharpshooters. His rifle is still on display in the war museum of Volgograd. It was Dzugashvili’s (a.k.a. Stalin) total indifference to human life that further raised the Russian casualty numbers. He repeatedly ordered his generals to use Russian soldiers as cannon fodder. To this day, this is a fact, that although known, is rarely spoken of in Russia for fear of recrimination. You see, the “Vozhd” (father & protector, great leader) is on the road to rehabilitation. We may yet see that Volgograd will become Stalingrad once again under the aegis of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

  37. As an older missionary… I would not really recommend being an older missionary. One can not predict how life turns out, but, in general, I came back to the States without a real plan. It was a scramble to reconnect, also being in an age when mail took a week. How can you apply to graduate school easily? Thank goodness for BYU. Of course it changed other things, for which I am eternally grateful, which compensated.

    I guess I was more successful and more thoughtful than most. I was certainly the most innovative missionary and started some real nice things that others copied because they were successful and helpful.

    I got so tired of knocking cold on doors so I wrote a letter of introduction which I passed out the day or two before tracting. It made a world of difference and came to be used over the mission: the “Fur Sie” letter. I pushed for street contacting, which became the norm after the Church lawyer looked into the legalities.

    In a mission where a single baptism over a mission was not uncommon, I was associated with about half a dozen. I did not get along with the Mission Pres who had no college and was a German. Mercy and ugh. If I had been less educated I would have presumed less and been more intimidated. I also started by knowing some conversational German, a huge advantage before MTCs.

    Old war stories.

  38. I arrived in the mission with a year of Ivy League education under my belt. I didn’t flaunt it or anything and I don’t recall thinking I was better than anyone. But my first companionship — a foursome (we split up in different two-by-twos every day) — was quite the challenge because I didn’t really have much to say in most of the conversations and they really didn’t like me. I tried, but we just had a hard time talking about much of anything given our different immediate backgrounds. I humbled myself and learned how to talk about things that weren’t of as much interest to me and had a great time for the rest of my mission. Training any shred of snobbery out of me has been an immeasurable blessing in my life and it was a fun attitude to go back to an Ivy League school with, mostly because of how farcical everyone around me seemed much of the time.

    I’m sure your nephew will be happy to learn to associate with people of all different attitudes and backgrounds. That’s one of the most important things for a missionary to learn, and it’s sad that some missionaries can’t even learn to associate well with other missionaries — much less the people they are supposedly serving.

  39. I agree with Peter LLC regarding the “northeastern experience” that is supposed to balance “the myopic mountain west culture.” I would agree that a polyphony of perspectives is helpful in missionary work because different missionaries with different backgrounds can speak to the different concerns or interests of the people they teach. I grew up on the Northeastern U.S., but I wouldn’t advocate that my viewpoints or those of my geographical counterparts are somehow more valuable.

    I think a mid-twenties male missionary would have much to offer in terms of experience and maturity, but I can think of some down sides. I entered missionary service just before I turned twenty, but I probably would have had a harder time following those inane little mission rules if I had four or five years of experience living on my own. To a certain extent, a more simplistic world view has its advantages.

    [LLC] are my initials and I use them to distinguish my valuable contributions from those by the plain old garden variety Peter (who incidentally has a law blog; you would think he’d have more use for the LLC).

    I have no need for the LLC, not being an incorporated entity. I suppose I could tack the Esq. after my name, but that seems pretentious. So I shall remain the garden variety Peter.

  40. It seems to me that one factor that is different for men than for women is that a man’s maturity and experience can be used in mission leadership positions, whereas a sister missionary is more frequently in the sometimes uncomfortable position of being required to defer to someone dramatically less mature and experienced than herself.

  41. Molly Bennion says:

    Peter, just Esq.? When I was practicing in Houston years ago, one of the district court judges insisted all attorneys be called “Dr” in his courtroom. Said too much about his pretensions and didn’t last long.

  42. My first in country companion was a native 28 year old elder who had been on his mission for over a year.

    I hated him. He hated me (and all other “gringos”).

    He went home early. But not early enough.

  43. I have no need for the LLC, not being an incorporated entity. I suppose I could tack the Esq. after my name, but that seems pretentious. So I shall remain the garden variety Peter.


  44. I have been puzzled why bishops, mission presidents, and ward mission leaders often choose not to use the special experiences and talents of older elders. I have seen twice (in my four decades in church) when such personalization was used to maximize the elders’ effectiveness in sharing the gospel. Two older elders were companions for more than a year with the special assignment of initiating and cultivating a subset of our ward (a foreign language branch within a regular ward) and they were given permission to travel far to seek the best practices and learn from other wards with similar challenges and successes. They were given much encouragement to be creative. Needless to say, they were exceptionally capable young men and they ran with it to great success. They were also given permission to read church books (historical, scriptural commentaries, etc) to sustain and strengthen them as well as to be able to broaden their teachings. Another example was an older male missionary who was allowed to coordinate and execute highly professional musical firesides. He was a conservatory- trained musician and was able to connect with gifted musicians throughout the region – member or non-member. I would like to hear any insight from those who have been in leadership positions to provide such creative ‘outlets’ for these elders – besides making them the counselor/cheerleader to problem elders. Were you able to use them to their fullest? What “unorthodox” ideas did you use to maximize their service? Is BobW’s experience typical in that some good ideas could bring policy changes? Or do you, the leaders, feel older missionaries with life experiences often bring added challenges?

  45. I think #38 nails it. If I had served a mission AFTER having lived on my own for several years, the draconian mission rules would have been unbearable. They were tough enough after having only done my frosh year away from home.

    my MTC companion had just graduated from HS two weeks prior to entering the MTC. Whoa boy was that a tough companionship.

  46. Back in the dark ages (my mission), we had some college graduates, lots of Elders with two years of college under their belt — heck, we even had a former Marine! Weren’t nothing wrong with any of ’em!

  47. I was 24 when I went on my mission. I had graduated from BYU a year earlier and had worked to save up some money. I had only minor problems adjusting tomission life. A few younger Elders were “uncomfortable” with my vocabluary and I had to learn to tone it down. A great skill to have. But mostly my mission was a wonderful experience.

    When I got home, however, I found it hard to find a job. Most employers that were looking for college graduates with no experience were looking at college juniors & seniors. Not at people who were out of college for three years with little to sho for it. It took me a few more years to put my career on track. I would have been better of going when I was 19.

  48. I have just recently returned from my mission (this past July) and left after having received a degree. In fact, I turned 24 just this past June. I would have to say that the biggest challenges I faced on my mission were ones that came from within, not without. I say that because I had to learn (as others have said before me) to be humble, to listen, to be willing to learn from my companions. I ended up having a very, very wonderful mission – despite having very little support from my group of friends from college – and growing (I hope, anyway) immensely.

    I was asked to do various things that I don’t think a younger missionary would’ve been asked to do – oftentimes involving “problem” missionaries (though problem is hardly the word I would use – these were good guys) but I also had the opportunity to be able to serve the other missionaries as well. At the risk of sounding prideful, my experiences (my three-years prior of inactivity, amongst other things) were used by my Mission President as he put into positions where I could lift, inspire, teach and – most importantly – be taught.

    I’m not entirely sure if age is truly what matters for a missionary. In my limited understanding the Lord calls us when He needs us – and when He knows we’ll answer.

  49. Amen, Bruce. (#47) That’s the biggest reason I like missionaries to serve before college graduation – whether male or female.

    Personally, I think the ideal is after one or two years in college, but I think the number of missionaries would drop if that were the standard. It’s just too easy to have professors and college friends discourage you from going, especially outside the Inter-mountain West. Given that reality, 19 is a good age – despite the problems that can cause for immature individuals. I’d rather try to address the reasons for the immaturity than raise the age.

    Japan is an example of a country where it is MUCH better to go after college, since it is almost impossible to get into a good college if you go on a mission first – or get back into a good college if you leave to go on a mission.