Today my son entered the MTC. It’s curbside drop off now, instituted when the swine flu caused concerns about gathering in large crowds and the virus hit the MTC particularly hard. It used to be that there was a small meeting with all the incoming missionaries, where they showed you a kind of Mormon-ad for missionary work that manipulated everyone into tears. After, the missionaries went through one door and the tear-streaked families the other. I’ve had three previous sons go through that exit.

I expected the worse from the new drop-off system, but it was not bad. Cars were herded to one of about 30 places. Two elders greeted us and helped us get my son’s suitcases to the curb. It was not rushed and there was time for hugs and pictures. A woman from the MTC came, I’m not sure who she was really, but she seemed both official and kind. She chatted casually with us, asking my son where he was going (Finland) and welcoming him to the MTC. More hugs and then one of the elders said something like, “I’ll help you with your bags.” The perfect blend of finality and understatement in his words suggested politely and inoffensively that it was time to go. We watched as my son followed the Elder into crowd of missionaries making their way into the MTC, all dragging suitcases uncertainly behind them.

As I watch him go, I toy with the thought that my son begins a kind of archetypal hero’s journey. He goes into the forest alone and unrecognized. I hope he finds helping spirits and kind strangers on the way—as the tales suggest he should. I hope he destroys the demons and monsters that will rise to oppose him and that in the end he obtains the treasures he seeks. I pray his princely nature will be revealed and he returns at journey’s end to claim the kingdom.

I’m afraid though. My breath feels drained and uncertain. I know that it does not always end like it does in fairytales. I’m confronted with fear because I know monsters are real and dangerous. We’ve provisioned him as best we can, but now he must journey on without us. Alone.

But unexpectedly, as I continue to watch him go, I’m transfused with hope. I remember he is not alone. That you all are there. That there are helping hands on this and the other side of the veil. And that no matter what happens, in success or failure, he will be loved. He is a hero already. Of course.

We cry for a few minutes in the car and pull away.

And I breathe again.

Bookmark Departure


  1. Moving stuff, Steve. Thank you for letting us share it with you.

  2. We are all here, all around, lifting and holding each other up. Thank you for this poignant post, my friend.

  3. Andrea R. says:

    Very beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing. In the 16 years since my mission, I have often contemplated the LDS mission as an archetypal hero’s journey. Even though sharing the gospel and bringing people to Christ is the primary purpose of a mission, I think almost as important is the journey that Elders and Sisters take and the transformation that occurs in their time away. I saw it in myself and have seen it in so many others.

  4. Thanks, Steve. I remember all too vividly the meeting with the Mormon-Ad for missionary work, as well as the cold, cruel walk out the missionary door. The new system does indeed sound better. Thanks also for the reminder of the virtue and gift of hope.

  5. Perfectly always! love you all..

  6. We cry with you, for you…it’s hard to let them go. Next year we will say good-bye to two children as they head off on missions. We cry for you, we cry for us!

  7. There was a family in our ward who was there with you today. In my mind’s eye I could see him and his family in the MTC parking lot, doing just what you describe. Thanks for this.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    i like the hero’s journey idea.

    Serving a mission was hard, but there’s definitely something to be said for the transition to adulthood that comes from the experience. These young people return having lived and worked hard in remote areas of the world often in difficult circumstances facing numerous trials. And they return as men and women, brimming with confidence and study and people skills and filled to overflowing with rich, rich experiences. It’s like an education in life. It’s tough to watch your son go off to Finland for two years, but as a father you’ve got to appreciate the incredible growth that will come to him from the experience.

  9. Mark Brown says:

    Thank you, Steven.

  10. Thanks for this post. Even though my two sons have been home for awhile now, I was brought to tears remembering the goodbyes. The “mormonad” goodbye was almost unbearable for me. I’m glad it’s changed.
    I am pleased that both my sons returned better than they left and with many life-defining experiences to draw on when life gets hard.
    Best wishes to your family and your son.

  11. Saul Ray says:

    Yes, you are given a moment to breath again, but for two years you are always worried. That’s why there is prayer and revelation that more prayer might be needed. Aside from all they teach at the MTC the most important and the hardest for some to learn is that of BEING OBEDIENT. I have taught at the MTC in my graduate student days many many years ago and it hasn’t changed in that respect. If a missionary is obedient to the laws of God the heavens will open, revelation flows freely and he/she shall be able to call upon assistance from on high. What a marvelous opportunity that they are given if they are obedient. Ian will be returning home May 19th from the California Ventura Mission. If it is the one thing he has learned and experienced first hand is that being obedient to the will of God is one of the most important things a mortal can take with him from this earthly life. One does not breath easy until your son is sitting in front of you after two years and being released from his missionary calling, then and only then can you really relax except when he comes home and says, “Mom, Dad, I’m engaged.” My prayers are with ya, Steve.

  12. Oh, the unspeakable joy and sorrow of lending your child to God, who has already lent Him to you. May you find peace in the journey.

  13. Aaron R. says:

    I recall my mother telling me that letting one of first son go on mission was a major challenge of her faith. She kept asking herself ‘why God would allow her son to be taken from her without contact for two years?’

    Thanks for sharing.

  14. SteveP:

    May the Lord bless your son in Finland. I had the same exact feelings (sending a son into the wilderness) when my son was sent on a mission to that far away place south Salt Lake City. (Well, it was far away to us). One must be impressed with the sacrifices LDS parents make, letting alone the sacrifices made by our beloved missionaries.

  15. Coffinberry says:

    Sweetly told… congratulations to you, and best wishes to your son.

    Those of us not near an MTC have a different experience. I said goodbye to my son as he went out the door that morning, like any other morning. Only he wouldn’t be coming home that night. Which, really, wasn’t all that different from sending him off to college for a semester the year before that. Except he would be gone longer than a semester. This week is the 23rd week of his mission.

    You end up counting it by weeks, because every week comes an email (and maybe even one in between, if there’s been a disaster–my son is in southern Chile, and the mission president directed the missionaries to immediately send an email home to tell them that they were fine). That’s about the same way we kept in touch when he was at BYU, so in many ways, I have about as much contact with my missionary son as I would have had if he were in school and then doing a summer job, like his RM older brother already does.

  16. Wonderful. Thanks.

  17. SteveP, I love hearing about your interaction with your kids. You’re a great dad, and they were lucky to be raised by you. Cyber hugs coming your way.

  18. Red Emma says:

    Entering the MTC is an intensely spiritual and emotional experience, but it is not the beginning of a hero’s journey. The MTC is way, way too Kafkaesque. The appropriate literary genres for describing the actual experience of a mission–once you have been paroled from the MTC–are realism, satire, and farce, not romance–no need to invoke the chronically reductivist Joseph Campbell here.

  19. Ah the MTC. The missionary purgatory. May the chocolate milk always flow freely.

  20. I’m the oldest of six boys. I’d been out about 10 months, it was the night before Thanksgiving, and my mom was sitting at home wondering where her son would be.

    About that time she got a phone call from Sister Garrison. She was one of the stake missionaries in the ward where I was serving, and she let my mom know that I’d be in her home, with five other missionaries and her own four children the next day. We’d be having turkey and mashed potatoes and rolls and everything else, but I’d mentioned how I missed “cheesy carrots” that my mom made, so could my mom describe how to make them?

    About thirteen months later, my mom stood in Sacrament meeting and told that story, how she realized then that there were other mothers out there who were taking care of her son. At another point in my mission, I was serving in stake where a young man was serving in my parent’s ward back in Idaho. My zone leader worked out a companion exchange one night, and I had dinner with the family of a missionary serving in Idaho, and their son had dinner with my parents and brothers.

    Mom sent six boys on missions, and every time, there were other mothers out there to make sure we were looked after. When I broke my foot, Sister Salvania made sure I had everything I needed. When my asthma got out of control, Sister Fischer made her husband take me to his office for a checkup and a pocketful of medication samples. When another brother was hit by a drunk driver, the sisters in the ward where he was serving looked after him, helped change the bandages, and let the mission president know in no uncertain terms that this elder should NOT be on a bicycle with two blown knees and a blown hip (idiot President thought hard work and faith would cure everything, including being hit by a Pontiac).

    It’s true that bad stuff can and does happen to missionaries. But, in just the same way that you wouldn’t let a missionary in your ward suffer, there are moms out there who feel exactly the same way about your son or daughter, and will treat them with the same care and mercy that you would.

  21. Steve,

    Thanks for this touching post. I hope to experience this one day with one of mine. As it was, I entered the MTC by myself those many years ago, having left my mother standing at the gate at the airport in my hometown. Stepping into the jetway I felt such pain at leaving my mother behind (not that I missed her, but imagining she would miss me). As a parent I now see that there are few things that would bring me more joy than seeing a son or daughter choose to serve as I did.

    So far none has so chosen, but someday, perhaps.

  22. I entered the MTC by myself, too, manymany years ago. Nevertheless, I still loved the pathos and drama of the missionaries going out the one door and the parents out the other, accompanied by tears. I’ve sent three of my daughters through those doors, crying each time. (Their dad even shed a tear or two the first time, but after that his manly deportment kicked in.) I’m a bit sad that such a beautiful tradition has gone the way of the missionary farewell. But there will always be a stunning, bittersweet beauty about the sendoff at the MTC, as your post describes. I’m looking forward to another one in our family in August!

  23. It’s been a decade since I served in Finland (with a certain Scott B)…I hope your son finds the beauty in the place and the people.

    Because the language is a hot mess.

  24. Mickey Coombs says:

    Steve: My former neighbor, faithful Home Teacher and good friend, this is awesome. Even though 13 years stand between me and this moment for myself when hopefully Kai will go, it still made me tear up. Thanks for writing and sharing. Mickey

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