The Boys Are Alright

mormon-missionariesIn my new ward, my husband (that is still SO weird for me to say) and I have been called as Ward Missionaries. The last time I was really involved with the missionaries was 12 years ago when I walked up to them after Sacrament meeting, baby in my arms, and asked what I had to do to be baptized (Hi Elder Fish and Elder Pendlebury!). After my divorce, it was ridiculously hard for me and my kids to have regular contact with the Elders- and I missed it. (The rules can be explained ten ways from Sunday, but it’s still a drag single mamas aren’t able to have the Elders over for dinner.) With my new calling and marital status, the world has again shifted.

I live in the greater DC Metro area, and we have two sets of Elders. The wards are geographically large, and our Elders don’t have a car; they do a ton of bike riding and walking. I’ve been given two main responsibilities in my “missionary” work- I manage the meals calendar for both sets of Elders, and I am their chauffeur on P-Day.  Apparently, after a mishap trying to ride with four jugs of milk on the handlebars of their bikes, an executive decision was made to recruit a ride. Enter: Me.

Suddenly, I’m hanging with the boys. Every Monday, I drive the four of them to the public library where they can use public computers and exchange emails with their families. I offered to let them use the computers at my house, but that’s verboten, and I guess I can understand why. They’re usually at the library for about two hours before we head to lunch.  I let them pick our lunch spot, and then we head to the grocery store. This schedule has give me some real time to talk with and get to know these guys- and while many of you with a lot of experience (or who have served) might already know these things, I want to share some of what I’ve learned.

  • The eighteen-year old age lowering has made a big difference, and the guys know it. All the Elders I’ve had here in my ward have been from the west, with the exception of one from Ohio. They chat candidly while we’re at lunch and in the car, and they openly acknowledge coming out at 18 is now expected, not the exception. A brand new boy from Idaho, just 18, told me in his ward if you don’t go at 18, people wonder what’s wrong with you, what sin you’ve committed, and it’s put a lot more pressure on the young men to go before any college or other experience. All the guys have agreed with this perception.
  • There is broad general agreement that the sisters serving at 19 is going to mean great things for the Church. It surprised me they had been pondering and considering this, and we had a spirited conversation one day about the desirable characteristics more likely in a partner who has served others and experienced leadership. They expressed reservations about young women going from their parents’ homes to being married, and they hope for more independence for their sisters and their future partners. This is surprising and heartening.
  • There’s a huuuuuge different between an 18 year-old Elder and a 20 or 21-year old Elder. Watching this maturation process makes me really hope my own children choose to serve. I’ve witnessed it from afar, but being part of the process makes me respect it more.
  • They still like going to Toys R Us, and a fight with foam swords in the parking lot makes everyone happy.
  • These are really good kids, homesick and far from the familiar, even though still stateside, and they really do have great intentions. They try really hard to follow the rules, to listen to the spirit, to love people. I watch them try and talk to everyone, everywhere we go, and they get shot down again and again and again. Yesterday, at lunch, they brought a spanish BoM to the restaurant to give to the waiter. They wrote the most sincere message inside, in stilted spanish, and made a point of handing it to him personally. There is much to admire in these young men.
  • We’ve got to do something about the policy of not allowing Elders to visit single women. They already travel in pairs, which is double-deep for everyone’s safety. I’m not interested in anecdotal evidence of what may have happened to some Elder somewhere- I’m interested in the countless women who are unable to experience having these guys over for a lesson or a meal, and whose children are missing out at the same time. It hasn’t escaped me that I’m with the Elders all the time now— my husband is at work while I’m with them on P-Day— and the only thing that’s changed is that I have a ring on my finger. Single women (and their families) need to be included in the ministering of these missionaries. It’s good for everyone.
  • The amount of food these boys put away is unholy. They’re sick of pizza. Please make them breakfast for dinner.

Comments

  1. Cheers, Tracy. You’re doing good work and I know that you are being memorialized in mission journals for your aid. I also agree that there’s a huge difference between 18 and 19…

  2. Is it possible for Elders to be sick of pizza? I’m skeptical.

  3. I was skeptical too- and asked for clarification. 3 of the 4 yes that, yes, they are kind of sick of it. It’s not uncommon for dinner plans to fall through, and usually that means someone drops a pizza off. Pizza several times a week, apparently even to a 19 year old, kinda gets old.

    They all miss their moms, and have had me text photos of them on several occasions. And they all miss the things their mom would make for them. It’s led me to contact a few moms and ask for favorite recipes. It’s a small thing, and sure they’ll be fine without it, but I hope someone is as kind to one of my kids someday. Seeing them get rejected so often and so hard has really softened me towards caring for them.

  4. A Happy Hubby says:

    I loved this. Having a son out on a mission sure makes you think about all the missionaries and what they are going through.

    I hear you on the Elders visiting with a sister. I heard about a dinner appointment where the husband got stuck at work. So the Elders had to eat their multi-course meal on the front porch! I mean the rest of the family was there (with several kids around). It just makes us look odd – like we are scared to death of sex (OK, it seems some are) and makes even the member laugh and scratch their head. I mean parents with lots of kids have a hard enough time finding “private time”. Limiting the time would be good as we don’t want the missionaries hanging out with a single sister for hours a week.

    There is a flip side to this also. With so many sister missionaries, as a guy we have the same issue. I can’t help them much and they are on bikes in a hot, humid location. I can’t see them and go take them out to lunch in my car. I miss being able to do that.

  5. My MP could be a bit of a hardliner, but there was a tacit understanding in the mission that the rule against teaching women alone wasn’t going to be enforced. Somehow I resisted all the temptations and escaped with chastity intact.

  6. I really think it’s a mistake that 18 is now the de facto expected age rather than merely an option that could be employed as an exception, as it was very clearly presented when the policy was first changed. https://bycommonconsent.com/2013/03/01/mouths-of-babes-does-can-mean-should/

  7. John, yes. Every missionary I’ve had agrees- they don’t like it. And yet, culturally, that’s now the perception. I do remember the announcement, and it was clearly stated to be an exception. I wonder if it’s just more prevalent in the Mormon belt? As I said, these guys have all been from Utah, Idaho, Arizona. The newest, a greenie just barely 18, said it’s a real problem- but had he waited, people would have assumed he was doing something wrong. He’s from Utah.

  8. I was worried from the get-go that the age change would become a new measuring stick, and I’m always a little disappointed to hear that confirmed from more sources. That said: Tracy, this post and your follow-up comment warmed my heart. The world is a better place with you in it.

  9. carrie lundell says:

    I haven’t been able to have the elders over for dinner in ages because my husband is never home for dinner…or at least I can never plan for him to be home (I’ve had to package up dinner at the last minute and hand it to the elders at the door because a meeting came up). Luckily, we have sister missionaries in our ward now and we LOVE to have them over. It really is a shame that some families have to miss out on the experience.

  10. Thanks for the breakfast for dinner tip! I never like to sign up anymore with one vegan son and one vegetarian (praise be that my daughter dropped it), bit I can do pancakes.

  11. John Mansfield says:

    One of Tracy M’s concerns brought to mind a photo from this morning’s newspaper: link. ‘Tis the spirit of the age. (Twenty years ago, people drove down that road.)

  12. Yes, they all agreed they miss hot breakfasts- they almost always just have cold cereal, and breakfast for dinner is both easy to do, and everyone likes it! It’s my new go-to for dinner.

  13. As a ward mission leader currently, amen to everything you said. We had multiple sets of sisters for two years, and that really restricted what we could do. We now have elders, and it flips the problem around so that two of our ward members, one the wife of the stake president and the other a single sister, who are ward missionaries, are now limited to what they can do. But it really is amazing to work with these young men and women, see their testimonies in action, and see them work tirelessly and boldly under difficult circumstances. Our mission president is pretty strict about the gender mixing rules.

    We will have to try breakfast for dinner next time we have the elders over.

  14. With the OP and the other comments, I too am so disheartened to hear that 18 is the new norm in the BofM Belt (and probably some regions beyond). I’m in the Philly area, thus far we don’t have enough ym in the ward for me to say that there is a norm or not for here….in fact, of the 2 ym going who graduated high school last year, both went to college for this year (one to BYU the other to BYU-I). I really, really, really hope that Bishops and parents and Stake Presidents and others with influence start to change this trend. Going out at 18 could have its reasons for some, but for so many others it would seem that a year of being away from home, living with others, and learning about how to be an independent adult would benefit them more than going straight to a mission out of high school.

  15. All a single member has to do to have the elders/sisters to dinner is invite a guest of the elders’/sisters’ gender. One of my favorite recent examples was the single sister who said that she went to her male neighbor, told him she wanted to have the elders to dinner but couldn’t do it alone, and invited him to come. He was delighted–and after the missionaries gave their lesson and left, asked when they would do it again. Of course, that could have just been that she was a good cook ….

    And as someone who used to follow Dandelion Mama, what’s this? Your “husband”? Congrats.

  16. I too think the rule about the elders visiting single women is dumb. It makes it really hard on my missionaries (I was WML for the last 3 years and we just moved and am now a branch missionary) since their mission president is unusually strict when it comes to the White Bible and things of that nature My second mission president relaxed that rule somewhat by saying we could visit single women as long as we had an adult member (didn’t matter what gender) with us. That made a HUGE difference since we could teach women and bring people like the RS president or a sister in the ward that had a similar background or whatever and actually get our investigators and less-actives connected to people they identified with. The rule was also relaxed for meals so we could eat with any members, no matter their situation. He’s now a General Authority, so I’m hopefully that some changes can be made.

  17. This is really great, Tracy.

    As a bit of anecdotal evidence, I don’t think we have had a single 18 year-old go out from our ward. And I am unaware of any that are planning. 19 is still the rule at least my ward.

  18. Shucks, it’s not just single women. My mother-in-law had a heck of a time getting the missionary discussions, because I wasn’t always available to be around and apparently my wife was insufficient protection for, uh, whomever it was that needed protecting. My mother-in-law? The Elders? My yappy little dogs?

    Some really horrible incident must have taken place that set up this rule, because I was taught by sister missionaries as a single (male) in my late teens back in 1994, and we used to drive all over and hang out without chaperones. And we somehow managed to keep our respective hands off of each other, even though one of the sisters bore a strong resemblance to Sharon Stone. Yowza.

  19. Cinnamon french toast is the standard go to when we have the Elders over, and it is always consumed with enthusiasm.

  20. How much of the perception of “if you don’t go at 18, something must be wrong with you” is just standard teen paranoia? Do we have a lot of anecdotes of people whispering in hallways? Did some worried parent get up in Fast and Testimony to declare “don’t worry bout my boy – he’s just got some internet issues he’s working on with the Bishop, he’ll be out soon!”?

    Isn’t it a bit soon to be going “told ya so” with the missionary age change?

  21. I didn’t think the Elders were allowed to be alone with any woman, married or otherwise. We had them scheduled for dinner one time and I was running late so they waited outside until I arrived.

    On my mission we were aware of the policy but did not adhere to it very strictly (With respect to married or single sisters.). Nor did the sisters with respect to single men. Live and let live.

  22. Mr. Tracy M. says:

    It has been [mumble mumble] years since I wore the short-sleeved white shirt with the sun-bleached tie and the faded docker slacks that was the standard missionary uniform for Brazil. I always cherished the members who made me feel at home and treated me like family rather than a formal church-ordered visitor. Tracy and I have made it a point to let these boys know they always have a place to come when all other appointments or activities fail.

    I can only hope that when the time comes for our sons to serve – should they so choose – they find members like my beautiful, talented and exceptionally gifted wife who will take time from their lives to run errands the Servants of the Lord.

  23. Erik, she’s “allowed” to do this because she’s with four of them, not two of them.

  24. JrL, you can read about it here:
    http://dandelionmama.com/2014/06/12/married-yes-married/

    And here:
    http://dandelionmama.com/2014/06/17/for-em-wherever-i-might-find-her/

    John F speaks the truth- because there are four of them, it’s apparently okay.

    And Mr. Tracy M.? You’re very cute, husband.

  25. Most of the young men in my stake have been in the 18 1/2 to 19 range. We have had a couple leave the summer after high school (and I live 2,000 miles from Salt Lake) but our stake president has been clear that leaving right at 18 is not the general rule. My biggest observation is that with the large influx of 19 year old sister missionaries, flirting among the elders and sisters has increased significantly. That’s not altogether bad, and I imagine there will be many more instances of men and women “meeting” on their missions and then dating/marrying post mission. It would be tough to be a MP at this point in the game as I imagine the lack of age difference (19/21 versus 18/19) and shear numbers makes life interesting.

  26. My house was always the go-to house for the missionaries while I was growing up (especially during my teen years). I know it was partly the fact that my mom was enthusiastic about feeding them and supporting them, and then as a missionary myself I finally realized that at least part of their reason for stopping by was to attempt to work with my inactive father. He was often traveling for work or busy and I’m sure there were multiple times my mom fed them with just us kids around. I remember at least one or two times that my mom didn’t make it home from some reason and the kids provided dinner all by ourselves. I loved spending so much time with the missionaries and feel sad that this is something my kids will miss out on since we live in Utah and I’m a single parent. I find it interesting that so many of our youth go on missions from places like Utah and Idaho where they have hardly ever interacted with missionaries while growing up. I think the fact that I had spent a lot of time with the missionaries and served a mini-mission gave me a different perspective when I became a missionary.

  27. John Mansfield says:

    FoxyJ, My ward had one missionary return this summer from a Utah mission, and another left to the same mission. These two are stellar, high-achieving people (also very fast runners in high school) that a mission president or ward mission leader would find highly useful and trouble-free. My wife has speculated that they were sent to Utah so they could be examples to whole stakes of future missionaries.

  28. I know that we have missionaries here, John, and from my brief glimpses of them they are stellar. However, the logistics of having one set of missionaries serve multiple stakes just doesn’t allow for the same sort of interaction we had where I grew up, with one set of missionaries (or two sometimes) per ward. It is what it is and it’s not enough to convince me to move from Utah (there are many reasons why I am here), but it’s a change from my own childhood and youth that I don’t like.

  29. Top five dinners I remember from serving a mission:
    5. Thanksgiving where a special sister and mom in the ward called my mom for a recipe.
    4. Homemade sushi.
    3. Baltimore crabs.
    2. Nigerian fufu.
    1. Grilled cheese and tomato soup, made by a elderly high priest who hadn’t known his wife had signed them up to feed us, and then she went out of town.

    And yes, I can verify that 18 1/2 is the new age at which a young man is considered unredeemable if he’s not featured on a plaque outside the Bishop’s office. I’ve had to go as far as to ask a person or two when it was that the First Presidency announced “Every young man should serve a mission at 18”. Nobody seems able to find that conference address.

  30. I love this post. I make breakfast for dinner a lot when the missionaries come over. I figure it’s been a long time since they had a stack of pancakes and some bacon.

    I’m still hesistant about the age thing. I think that the elder’s concern about their future wives going straight from their parents house to married life is equally valid for the elders. I think that I would encourage my son to still wait til he had a year of college under his belt. It’s good for all parties involved to have spent time away from home on his/her own.

  31. Misty, absolutely. I was just impressed that the guys, when entertaining the idea of the women in their lives (including their siblings) were imagining a world where they would have served, and would have held leadership positions, and would know more of the world, making them more well-rounded people. I think that’s a shift. It’s something we’ve always imagined as part of the young men’s narrative, but not necessarily part of the young women’s.

  32. Love this post. cereal for breakfast? Brilliant. I also love Mathew’s idea of calling their Mom to get a favorite recipe that they might like. I have sometimes whined at BCC for lesser posts, but I love this one, for whatever it is worth.
    I too don’t understand the lack of flexibility with opposite sex dinners, with no exceptions. I feel fairly safe that the wiles of Octogenarian cougars will be unsuccessful in seducing the twosome who visit her.

  33. I am married with one teen child left at home. When we have male missionaries stop by my house unexpectedly they will not come in if my husband is not home.
    When I was on my mission we worked with single men all the time. Elders worked with single women all the time. There were problems though. For every missionary that follows the rules there is one that breaks the rules. There was a lot of rule breaking in my mission by both male and female missionaries.
    My mission was not an enjoyable experience. I even petitioned to be sent to another part of the country to a new mission.

    I come from a very small town and after thirty years of no missionaries the church sent missionaries back for another try. My parents rented apartments so it was perfect for the missionaries to be able to have member landlords. My parents did everything they could for the missionaries. Rides, laundry, meals, you name it my parents loved to help the missionaries. If my mother was home alone the Elders would not come in. Unfortunately one Elder messed it up and the missionaries were pulled out and the town shut down to missionaries. To this day. One of the Elders was sneaking out every night to spend the night with a single female “investigator”. The Elder who was doing the sneaking around threatened his companion to stay quiet. My father happened to find out what was going on by sheer circumstances. Both Elders were sent home of course. This happens more than what people know, among other things. Being a small town everyone knew what happened and the church had a black eye. It was hard growing up LDS in that town, and all it took was one rogue missionary to prove everyone right ( in the townspeople minds) about the Mormons.

    The attitudes and culture towards missionaries drastically need to change but sadly it never will. I do not understand why Mormons are so judgemental. Some should never go on missions. And those that do not go should not be shamed and made to feel guilty. Some young people are pushed to serve missions and that is wrong too. Those that are forced to go on missions do not help the church.
    And if some want to wait until they are older they should be supported. The culture of the church hurts the church and impedes any progress.

  34. Kevin Barney says:

    Great post, Tracy.

    I’m always a little flummoxed by these tales of missionaries waiting on the porch for a husband to come home, etc. When I was a missionary in the late 70s, those kinds of rules didn’t exist, on what I assume was the presumption that a companionship entailed a constant built-in chaperone. Yes, that’s no guarantee of anything, but I recall it working pretty well.

  35. Whoever decreed that there should be no expectation of serving when 18 had apparently never met any actual Mormons before.

  36. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I’m a little perplexed how much coddling it takes for missionaries to function. Maybe biking in Japan made things different in that the places to bike were a bit more geographically concentrated. We could ride our bikes to do our own grocery shopping, hit the farmers market, department stores, our own trips to the library, our trips to the train stations, take ourselves sight seeing, use public busses, take ourselves out to a restaurant, and, rarely, to a movie. Not to mention that we navigated the train and bus routes by reading Japanese characters. And, we wore rubberized outerwear over our suits and switched to boots when riding in the rain was required. I can count on one hand the number of times we required rides from members.

    We learned from one elder to another how to make Japanese Curry, Mabodofu, Spaghetti, Oyakodonburi, cracked wheat, pancakes and of course…ramen. Appointments to be fed were occasional treats and much appreciated. I remember walking to the apartment from the church on snowy streets where we had picked up a bag of cracked wheat that had been ordered from the mission home and dropped off for us. The question from a man as to what we had in the bag led to the opportunity to explain who we were.

    It seems if jugs of milk are the obstacle for biking to the grocery store, then perhaps a mid-week stop to replenish the milk supply is in order rather then buying them all on P-day (is that blasphemy?), OR the ward could drop off milk jugs at their apartment on a schedule. That would require less time commitment than taking them shopping. I am glad you are fulfilled by the interaction, but when I send my son off on a mission, I want him to learn to do a few things by himself. I would like him to learn to find places from maps or directions or be a little hungry so he can plan to take care of his nutritional needs rather than being stuffed each day. Otherwise, I should just send his mom on his mission with him.

  37. Yeah, Rigel, you weren’t serving out in the suburbs in a typical U.S. city, where nothing is close together, there isn’t much public transportation, and stores aren’t in your area. When I served, we generally did need rides on p-day, or we wouldn’t have been able to get anything done – and it would have taken a large amount of time out of our week to make additional trips. I did serve in a city that had a great bus system, and it was much less stressful to just be able to use that, instead of arranging rides all the time. It actually felt much harder to arrange rides than to just be self-reliant, so I don’t really think it is coddling.

  38. Yeah…Megan is right. As I said, our wards are geographically huge. We’re suburban, and things are spread out. These boys ride their bikes everywhere all week long, and it’s a haul. After spending as much time as I do with them, I wouldn’t by any stretch say they’re coddled. They work hard, and they keep getting up. I don’t mind at all giving a few hours of my week to make things a little easier. It would cost me more in gas to run to their place midweek than it does just to take them with me to do my grocery shopping. It’s hardly a sacrifice or imposition for me- I have really come to appreciate how dedicated and how hard they actually work.

  39. My mom frequently does breakfast for dinner for the missionaries. One time she made waffles, and the mom of one of the missionaries sent her a thank you card and a fridge magnet. Feed them breakfast for dinner, guys.

  40. I have not lived here in Alaska long enough to understand all the ins and outs, but the top 10% of each graduating high school class gets automatic scholarships. To keep having them available and serve a mission, they need a minimum of 30-40 credits completed. (This is an area that I have gotten conflicting information on from a variety of sources, but even an over achiever would need to go 3 semesters) So they could go Summer/Fall/Spring or Fall/Spring/Summer, but most scholarship students seem to work summers and do 2 school years, before putting in mission papers, at least the Mormon students I have talked with in Honor’s Program.

    For the engineering students it is an even harder choice, since more than 18 months out of the program means you have to pass the Calc II final, again, before you can continue. One young man who just got back is retaking Calc II and Physics this term because he didn’t pass the tests when he got back 28 months after he aced those finals with 95%+ grades.

    I ran into him a few hours after he found out he got below 80% on the re-exam, and he laid out how much he wished he had not gone on a mission. His mission president refused to let him spend the 4 hours a week studying, (to keep his brain in the game) that the Mormon engineering prof here, recommends to engineering majors heading out on missions. His books had been mailed back as soon as he got to the mission office, without anyone asking why he had them. He had 2 companions sent home for medical reasons, and he said there were sometimes whole weeks that they barely left the apartment. Those experiences just made the lack of his books even more frustrating, and that frustration is still apparent in many parts of his life, where we interact.

    Another RM, also an engineering major, had a completely different mission experience, that he feels blessed to have had. (It is a testament to their friendship before their missions that there is not a lot of resentment between them.) The second Elder’s mission president was a retired engineer, and did let him keep his books with specific restrictions against reading them on Sunday. The MP made sure they had at least one car ride a month together, with plenty of time to discuss how things were going, and to have him “help out” the MP, by reading engineering journals to him, while they drove, so the MP could watch out for goats and sheep wandering onto the highway. (Apparently the potential to hit sheep or goats is high in the area because you are still a greenie until you dent a car by hitting a sheep or goat, or dent one swerving to avoid them.) His MP also assigned him to help a humanitarian services missionary couple, who were working on a building project fairly near the mission office, during his last 3 months. (Well, last 4, since he ended up getting permission to stay an extra month so he could stay to complete the project.)

    I feel bad that these two really great young men, and future engineers, are having such different experiences. One had huge amounts of time he could have studied if the books hadn’t been sent home. He is only getting a partial scholarship this year, since he is retaking classes, and he is on Honor’s probation for it too. (Officially he should have been kicked out, but the board made an official probation of one year, and he can then petition to be reinstated as long as he is taking at least one Honor’s class a term and his GPA and other requirements are being met by then.)

    We have had a couple conversations, prior to the board making the decision, and he didn’t hate his mission, but he didn’t love it either. I think that his view would gave been significantly different if his Mission President had let him keep the books, and told him only on P-Day, or it’s okay to read them if your companion can’t go out for some reason. I am sure his MP probably didn’t think about it once the books left in the mail, but he also didn’t think about it enough to ask his newest missionary why he had brought the books, before he mailed them off.

    The other missionary won the MP lottery. He stayed caught up, and learned a lot he might not have in school by reading the journals aloud, and helping do almost every aspect of a building process. He proved he did enough hours for it to count for an internship, and he came home with recommendations from an LDS engineer and architect.

    Not everything was perfect of course. He has mentioned a few times in Institute a funny story about why missionaries should never make assumptions, like the one he made about the architect’s spouse. When he first met the couple, he told the husband that he was honored to be a third companion and learn everything that he could from him during his time as part of their companionship. The husband said that it had been his impression that the missionary wanted to do engineering work, but if he was that interested in learning about substance abuse interventions, he would be happy to cram as much as possible in, while they both helped out Sister Architect with getting the bridge done.

    I feel especially bad because both young men are truly brilliant, and I argued hard with the board to not kick the RM who lost at MP roulette, but without me advocating it would have been devastating to his chances to finish school. I knew that he had been in situation that had few good choice, and that he hadn’t been purposely been ignoring the need to stay current. While this will be a year he has to take out loans and pull himself up, at least he hasn’t lost all his scholarships, without a way to get the one that is specifically tied to the Honor’s designation.

    I feel the same way about a lot of strict mission rules that only seem to make missionaries miserable, and prevent members from helping them based on the sex of the missionary and the sex of the person that wants to help. If think if more time was spent figuring out how to find the “sneaking out at night bad apples” before they leave, and put more emphasis on personal standards and self control, it would be better for the church, the members and the missionaries. (Sorry this got so long.)

  41. South end of the Salt Lake Valley here and there are little or no expectations about leaving at 18 vs 19. About 75% are leaving at 18, but the other 25% are leaving after their freshman year.
    Our Stake YM are actually subtly encouraging the latter as they are often better prepared to be on their own.

  42. I love missionaries and love that you have found (been given) a calling to minister to them. Fabulous post! On behalf of missionary moms everywhere, thank you! My son and daughter served at the same time and the occasional stories they told about substitute moms in the field gave me a great sense of peace – especially in my daughter’s case. She was serving in Fiji (one of only four female missionaries aloud in the country from North America at any given time by the Fijian government.) She was no shrinking violet, but the kindness of the Fijian womenfolk went a long way to strengthen and sustain her in a rough environment. (Spectacular sunsets and turquoise water notwithstanding, it is a third world country.)

    I’ve already said it in the past — about the potential seductive threat of single women toward elders — t’s ludicrous. Boo. Blah. Stop that.

    Tracy, great stories! Thanks for sharing.

  43. What a wonderful post! Thanks, Tracy.

  44. it's a series of tubes says:

    His mission president refused to let him spend the 4 hours a week studying, (to keep his brain in the game) that the Mormon engineering prof here, recommends to engineering majors heading out on missions.

    Perhaps this “Mormon engineering prof” could benefit from reviewing the language in a missionary’s call letter: “As you devote your time and attention to serving the Lord, leaving behind all other personal affairs,…”

    /s/ full-ride Computer Engineering major who had to retake a class or two after his mission, and eventually lost his scholarship, but who thinks attempting to “keep up” with some external endeavors as a missionary is the height of folly

  45. If a young man or woman wants to read engineering and calculus textbooks on their P-Day, I can’t imagine the harm. What’s folly is a continuing culture of “I had to to suffer, so you must, too.”

  46. it's a series of tubes says:

    Tracy, I agree completely. If that’s a missionary’s choice – ON P-DAY – more power to them. I’m not for suffering for the point of suffering.

  47. it's a series of tubes says:

    And to be clear – I don’t view the uphill battle I had after a mission to drop right back into 300- and 400-level courses as “suffering”. (Well, maybe taking PDE was suffering, but I think that is inherent pain unless you are one of the few crazy people who love partial differential equations). It was simply the natural consequences of the choice I made to serve. The benefits I gained from setting engineering aside for two years far outweigh the costs, even though those costs were real and concrete. In the end, the Lord opened doors for me that I never could have opened for myself, even if I had completed my undergrad with a 4.0.

  48. 2 missionaries + 1 sister = bad

    1 bishop + 1 teenager/kid/sister/etc. alone in his office = Ok?

  49. We are inconsistent in many things, and that’s a legitimate concern. I personally don’t allow my kids in interviews alone, but ymmv.

  50. Rigel is spot on. I live in a suburban area and the elders or sisters use cars provided by the mission as has always been the case. We are not expected to chauffeur them around. And please, when you have them come for dinner, let them help prepare it. They have to learn how to do things on their own at some point. And if they never do, it just makes it harder on their future wife. We all love our sons but too much coddling and adoration hinders them from growing up.
    Yes, be supportive and sensitive to the individual missionary but remember, God supports his children in what they righteously do–He doesn’t simply do it Himself.

  51. Fairchild says:

    Wow, I feel like the only one who hates feeding the missionaries! Every time I do my family gets the hard sell on who can we refer to them? Last time they kept badgering my 13-year old son when he made a comment about discussing religion with a school acquaintance. My kid felt really put on the spot and it really upset me. It seems like this always happens. I don’t mind feeding them but they always put such pressure on us that it turns me off. My neighbors know we are Mormon and are all very happy in their own religions! We have a new set of elders now but I’m still so burned up about last time that I keep passing on the meal calendar.

  52. Jill, I would guess you never actually served a mission. Are you aware that many missionaries do not have cars that are assigned to them from the mission, and those that do often have very strict mileage limits that necessitate walking and biking whenever possible?

    Also, while having missionaries help prepare meals might not be a terrible idea, having dinner appointments that last longer than an hour is pretty much against mission rules, and can interfere with the time of day when missionaries are most likely to have appointments. If having the missionaries come to help prepare dinner makes it take a long time, you are putting those missionaries in a awkward position. While feeding the missionaries is about serving those young men and women who are serving the Lord, it is also supposed to be about moving missionary work forward. My guess would be that your average missionary would much prefer to be helping a member prepare dinner than our proselyting, but actually doing so would be likely to get them in trouble. I think most mission presidents would be horrified at your suggestion if it came at the expense of missionaries doing actually missionary work (I know mine would have been, and judging from all the times I’ve been in relief society and been asked to have dinner prepared right at 5:00 for the missionaries, the same is true of other mission presidents).

    Tracy, I didn’t say this in my last comment, but thank you for this post! It’s always nice to have insight into the lives of missionaries – who are often totally overwhelmed kids just trying to do their best. I recently spent some time with our ward’s sister missionaries, and have been impressed by how hard-working they are and how much crap they have to put up with on a daily basis. It makes me grateful to have had the opportunity to serve, and even more grateful to not have to be a full-time missionary again.

  53. What message does a boy get about females when the rules tell him to fear being alone with a woman –which he isn’t because his companion is with him—and yet he needs a mother with him at all times, even on his mission–which no previous generation has been entitled to have. But he may have to wait outside until her husband comes home–unless he lives with them–then that’s different for some unknown reason. Oh, and the mom isn’t allowed to give them a normal hug goodbye when they’re being transferred because they’re on a mission and supposed to avoid all women, except the ones serving them?? I thought the boys were on a mission to serve others.

  54. Megan, I could tell you about serving in Finland. Others I know could tell you about serving in Fiji and Ecuador. In my later years I’ve been a host family. I know missionary work. I wonder where you live. Here the elders spend lots of time with the ward families because there are so few nonmembers to teach. In my generation, bikes and walking were standard,cars were for zone leaders, and dinner was made by missionaries who still kept their teaching appointments and somehow the Church grew.Yes, the church has always limited car mileage and gas and yes, missionaries have always been expected to manage a tight budget.
    Interestingly, the elder who worked the hardest , cooked himself and asked how he could help others, came from a two room apt. in Taiwan. His mother cooked outside on the street.
    We and our missionaries have it really good in this country, Megan. May it always be so.

  55. I’ve been very clear: In my geographically huge ward, the missionaries do not have cars. They ride bikes and walk constantly. My service on Monday is the only time they have access to a car, and I don’t in any way see it as coddling. I am serving them, helping make what are frequently difficult and thankless days a little bit easier.

    I cannot understand the policing of kindness. These missionaries don’t ask anything of me- I was CALLED to do this by my bishop, and I willingly serve, just as they constantly serve others. A hot meal now and then (believe me, it’s not every night) is a small kindness and shouldn’t be served with a side of resentment. If you’re not comfortable feeding them, please don’t sign up. It’s purely voluntary.

    (As an aside, I do occasionally hug them, and no one has protested. Also, no missionary has ever pressured us for contacts, and if that were to happen, I would gently correct the conversation in a different direction.)

  56. We feed the missionaries dinner EVERY TIME. I once ate in 35x in a transfer and it was the best I ate the entire time.

    I’m glad to hear your elders are enthusiastic about the sisters. I have had long conversations with each set of missionaries who have come through my ward about the importance of sisters in the church and in missions–hopefully some of it is doing some good.

  57. Every time I do my family gets the hard sell on who can we refer to them. . . . My kid felt really put on the spot and it really upset me. It seems like this always happens. I don’t mind feeding them but they always put such pressure on us that it turns me off.

    This is the mission president’s fault when this happens. It’s a failure of leadership. And I agree that this shouldn’t be happening anymore. One would think that decades of experience with this sort of failure would be enough to teach us to take a different approach. But, no.

  58. “A hot meal now and then (believe me, it’s not every night) is a small kindness and shouldn’t be served with a side of resentment.”

    Great thought, Tracy! Thank you.

  59. Anonymous says:

    This post makes me feel old. There are now RMs almost seven years my junior.

  60. “This post makes me feel old. There are now RMs almost seven years my junior.”

    Perspectives are interesting. My oldest son will be that age relatively soon.

  61. Our stake president (and former mission president) has made it clear that it’s up to him when the missioonary is ready to leave, not a calendar. I have a relative who served as a MP in Europe with 18yos a decade ago, and he made it clear that a year *away* at school made for better missionaries.

    Personal experience is that the elders who left at 19yo or 20yo are much better than the 18yos.