Why (Really) Did You Go on a Mission?

 

Mission-call

A guest post by Mette Harrison on Jana’s Flunking Sainthood blog caused me to ask the question in the title of myself. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what the answer was.

The one thing I was pretty sure it wasn’t was having dreams of being another Ammon, some incredible missionary who would convert hordes of people to the faith. I’m too much of a realist to think that was going to happen (and indeed, it didn’t). So why did I go? Upon reflection, it was probably some cocktail of the following:

  1. (Unstated) familial expectation. I don’t remember really talking about my going on a mission with my family; rather, it was always an unstated assumption. Of course I would be going. The only explicit discussion of it was when my father talked about finances. His deal with me when I went to college was he would give me four years’ worth of tuition at BYU in a lump sum (so no covering increases), and that was it, I was on my own for the rest. On the mission front he said he would cover $2,000 and I would be responsible for the rest. I went from 1977-79, before cost equalization, so if I had gone to London or some such I would have been in trouble. But no, I went to Colorado, and in a couple of areas we lived rent-free in members’ basements, so while my mission cost more than $2,000 it wasn’t a lot more. (And in fact my Dad never tried to collect on the excess over two grand that he paid.)
  2. My friends were all going. Both at BYU and back home in DeKalb, Illinois, virtually all of my church friends were going on missions themselves. It was just the thing to do, so I did it, too.
  3. Missionaries showing me the ropes. We happened to have a couple of really outstanding missionaries when I was like a senior in high school. They were just cool, cool guys, and they took me tracting several times and talked to me about what it was like to serve a mission. I genuinely admired those guys, and they gave me a certain comfort level that I could actually do it myself.
  4. I wanted to get married someday. I know what I’m about to say is going to sound kind of ridiculous. But I seriously had the idea that no Mormon girl would ever marry me if I didn’t serve a mission. While the notion seems absurd to me now, at the time it seemed very believable. BYU girls were acculturated to strongly prefer RMs, and I guess I sort of absorbed that bit of culture. Going on a mission was the price one had to pay to get married.

None of this is the great spiritual feast of motivation we like to imagine is at the root of a decision to serve a mission. But even if they weren’t spiritual reasons, they were reasons enough, and I went (and I’m glad that I did).

So now I’m really curious. What made you decide to go on a mission? Was it a hard decision, or a no-brainer for you? Did you have more of a spiritual take on the question than I did? Are you glad you went, or do you have regrets for some reason? Was the mission about what you expected, or did it surprise you in some way? Tell us your stories.

 

Comments

  1. A cocktail for me as well, but at least one of the ingredients was some element of faith. I wasn’t 100% sure that I believed any of this stuff (but that’s what faith is, right?), but some part of me believed in it. And if I believed in it, serving was the right thing to do.

    I do recall an explicit conversation with my family about serving and it was actually awesome. I said something to the effect of, “well, don’t I have to go?” to which they replied, “well, no, it’s your decision.” That was a big moment that led me to actually think about it myself rather than just assume it.

  2. Family/community expectations and all my friends were going. The MTC was so horrible that I decided I’d quit unless I received a strong confirmation to continue. I got that strong confirmation. So shallow reasons to go, good reasons to continue past the first month or so.

  3. Expectations 90%, friends going 9%, faith 1%

  4. I went on a mission out of some mixture or family/social/BYU cultural expectation. In the MTC, it dawned on me that 2 years is an awfully long time to do something, especially when that something is seeking to convert people in Central America to a religion to which I had a waivering conviction. I knew the only way I would hack it was if I got some sort of spiritual conviction that the church was “true.” So I prayed pretty earnestly. Unexpectedly, my answer was less that the church was true, and more an overwhelming feeling that the mission was where I should be and that everything would be ok. So I guess I stayed the course because of that answer to my prayer.

  5. I didn’t want to disappoint my mom.

  6. My husband joined the Church at 20 and went on a mission when he was 21 because he wanted others to experience the joy he felt. He loved his mission. Bruce R. McConkie,his mission president, was loving, patient, and kind to his missionaries. Our sons went because they wanted to. We did not force, expect, or demand that they go. It was a personal decision for each of them. Our granddaughter is serving now because she wanted to go. She has struggled with severe depression and I was concerned that she was going, but she has had a wonderful experience and is repeatedly saying that she has never been happier. She is a very honest person and I know she wouldn’t lie to me. I know great missionaries who come home for mental health issues and do not want to marginalize their pain, but in this one specific case, the mission has been wonderful for my granddaughter. I am experiencing a lot of pressure from friends and family to go now that I am retired and have no interest to go with my husband. I believe NO ONE should be pressured to go on a mission. It is a personal decision.

  7. Social expectation certainly played a major role, but in the midst of my serious depression problem my freshman year (that I talked about here http://juvenileinstructor.org/depression-and-missionary-work-confessions-of-a-suicidal-would-be-missionary/) I did the “let the scriptures fall open” thing, which opened to DC 16:6 “the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people.” In the midst of my psych problems, I was terrified about the future and that scripture was very comforting: go on a mission and the rest will take care of itself (that’s how I interpreted it). Played a major role.

  8. My family are all converts and no one had ever served a mission before. There was no pressure and when I called and told them I wanted to the response was a ‘Huh? You want to do what?”

    I decided to serve after watching my new cousin (via grandparent marriage) serve in the college town where I happened to be going to school. I was watching her and her companion goof around while walking to church one day and it hit me that I could do this. And then sitting behind them at church, it hit me that God wanted me to do this. And that was that.

    One of the things I struggle with now is the amount of pressure me young daughters are already receiving to go on a missions. I love that for me it was just about God and I – nothing else got between that and I ended up feeling like my mission was one of the few things in my entire life that I was able to give as a gift to Him. All the other people’s assumptions and corrections and preparations that my girls are under make the choice too much about the church and expectations rather than God.

  9. I did not want to serve a mission, and it was not in my life plan. I tried just about everything possible to avoid having to ask God any questions about missions. I came to a point in my life where I knew I was not asking the right questions about where my life was headed, and that I would not be happy until I had the courage to find out what He really wanted me to do. Once I got the guts to ask “what is thy will for me and please help me have the courage to accept it?” the answer was almost instantaneous. It was probably the most clear answer I’ve ever received and the most powerful spiritual experience of my life. (And I’ve been home for over 20 years and have had many decisions, answers to prayer, and spiritual experiences since then.) I had no doubt that I was supposed to serve a mission. My mission was very difficult. I dealt with depression, difficult companions, a very “rebellious” mission culture, and a wimpy mission president. I am still not entirely sure why I was supposed to be there, but clearly I was supposed to go. I went only because God told me to.

  10. I had a few reasons:

    The first reason was that the gospel made me happy and I wanted to share that with others.

    The second reason is that I felt it was unfair that serving a mission was expected (culturally mandatory, really) for men but optional for women. I didn’t think that it was right for me to be exempt from that sacrifice when my male friends were not exempt. So I put my money where my mouth was in the name of equality and I went, too. (If a draft had been instituted when I would have been young enough that I would have been drafted if I were a man, I would have volunteered for military service, too. I profoundly loathe anything that treats similarly situated men and women differently.)

  11. whizzbang says:

    I wanted to go on a mission since I was 14 ish. I went on splits and stuff with the missionaries from then until I was 19. I went to the YSA Branch Pres. and he told me I didn’t have enough money to go. I complained to the Stake Pres. he told me I wasn’t entitled to a mission however if I saved up enough in 3 months then we would revisit the idea. Going to Church for the next 3 months was almost impossible for me. I remember the CES guy in Institute saying if we had any questions about the gospel to write them down on a sheet of paper. I wrote down “Are missions for the rich?” well, he figured out who wrote it somehow and we talked a bit. So I ended up on a mission 6 months later then I expected but in hindsight I WAS SO GLAD!!!! The MP was a nutjob and he pushed baptism on the missionaries and they broke and it was awful and ridiculous. he told us in his last zone conference that he wouldn’t be surprised if he was called to be a GA in Oct. Still waiting for that to happen! I was only with him for 2 months but that was enough! His counselour was Tad Callister, the previous MP was Elder Bradley Foster and the MP in the next mission over was Elder Steven Snow of the 70.Incdentally Elder Foster came to our stake conference and I said I served in his mission just a few years after him and he asked if I was active! haha! I wanted to go I think because missions seemed fun and the elders seemed to like it and it was spiritual and things like that. I learned though that missions are 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration

  12. Villate says:

    I had no desire to serve a mission. My father had a good mission, but my mother had a terrible time. After college I worked for a while in a dead-end job but had a relatively satisfying social life. Then I got dumped by the guy I thought I wanted to marry and was adrift for several months. About the same time, Kurt Cobain committed suicide. It affected me a lot for some reason, as he was just a few years older than me and came from a similar background, though without the religious upbringing. One night I was reading my scriptures and feeling very sorry for myself when I came across 2 Nephi 10:20. As I was reading it, I realized that I had been feeling like I had been cut off from God because the plans I thought He had for me were really plans I was making for myself. Instead, I was on an “isle of the sea” and needed to reconcile myself to God’s will for me, which at that time was that I should serve a mission and try to bring the light of the gospel to people who had no light in their lives. I was so surprised that I was supposed to serve a mission. It had never even entered my mind, but as soon as the impression came I knew it was right. To this day that is one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. My bishop was very supportive (I was in a singles ward at the time). I had a great mission for the most part, and I had one conversation with one person in particular that I felt I was sent there specifically to find. I often wonder what happened to him. The decisions to serve a mission and to marry my husband are really the only decisions I’ve ever made that I was absolutely certain were correct and in accordance with what the Lord wanted me to do.

  13. If I tried to pick it apart my reasons would sound like the OP. I’d probably add some sense of obligation to set an example for my younger siblings. But in truth going on a mission was so wired in that it never occurred to me not to go. Also, I really believed. The interesting thing to me is that fairly quickly I came to understand that believing for myself, and believing it was right or necessary or important for someone else, are not the same thing, and I had the first but not the second. (Clearly I’m not built for sales.) Fortunately I had a mission president who told us that our job was to bring each person we met one step closer to Christ, from wherever they were at that moment. I could get behind that, whole heartedly.

  14. The Other Aussie Mormon says:

    Great question!

    I went for one reason – to surprise everyone!

    My bishop was speechless when I told him. A few weeks later my parents nearly fell over with shock when they found out. And members of the ward were gob-smacked. “Really? Him?”

    I found out fast that I was terribly unprepared and inadequate to the task.

    And that realisation changed everything. Prayer and fasting and pleading led to answers to prayer.

    And looking back I can literally trace every good thing in my life to that single decision to serve the Lord for two years. So grateful.

  15. A Happy Hubby says:

    For me it was mainly familial expectation and wanting to be able to marry a good Mormon girl – and a bit of it was a commandment. I didn’t have any outstanding missionaries and not all of my friends were going. Being in introvert, I knew there was no way I was going to be an Ammon.

    I had a bit of a spiritual experience before I left and that carried me through even though I had a hard time “testifying” given I didn’t feel like I had a solid testimony. Looking back it feels now like God wasn’t telling me, “this church is mine and it is all true”, but instead more of, “I am proud of you being willing to sacrifice and serve others.”

    I expected to have more spiritual experiences. Some of my companions said they were having such, but in my mind it was just mainly random events and confirmation bias (even though I didn’t know it by that label at the time).

    I struggle now with the question of, “are you glad you went?” I would have to say yes in that it was hard, but not to where it broke me. I can’t say I came back 100% converted (I was VERY glad when it was over), but it did help me to be able to be more outgoing and a bit more confident that I could do hard things.

    I had a few of my kids go on missions before my faith crisis/transition and a few since then. It is WAY harder now to see them go and hear of their struggles. I constantly (they would probably say incessantly) push them to “just love the people and don’t worry about the numbers.” As much as I push this, I still get back emails that say between the lines, “since I was so righteous, I got awarded a baptism.”

  16. I felt like it was the right thing to do, the next step for me personally and a divine call. It really felt like a very clear decision for me. Looking back now, I am not sure whether I knew what I was doing (pretty sure I was clueless!), but it was an enormously formative experience for me and a positive one.

  17. stephenchardy says:

    For me, like Steve Evans above, it was clearly the right thing to do. I also strongly suspected that it would be an experience that would build my testimony. I believed, but wanted to believe more strongly. I wanted to be more certain. My mission was a “foundation” experience for me. But not in the way I expected or predicted. I have remained active and have a life-long commitment to our church. But I returned from my mission much less “spiritual” than when I left.

  18. I went because it’s just what you did as a young Mormon man.

    The bigger, and more complex question is whether I’d do it again. On the one hand, because I like where I am now, and I’m the sum total of all my experiences, yes I’d go again. Many people I met on my mission decades ago continue to be among my most prized relationships. If the only way to have them in my life were a mission, I’d do it again today, no hesitation.

    But as a standalone activity, probably not. The experience was wholly different than what I’d been led to believe so it was quite disappointing. Even after I realized this and reconstructed my remaining time into something that resembled useful, the good I experienced was dwarfed by the amount of wasted time and hyper focus on irrelevant minutae.

    In retrospect I’d look for some other formative experience, something more tangible in its service to those in need.

  19. My paternal grandmother joined the Church as a teenager. My paternal grandfather was a non-Mormon raised in Salt Lake. My father was technically a convert because he waited until his older brother was 16. My mother had a testimony of the Church because she decided to go to Primary on her own. I felt little social or family pressure to serve a mission.

    I went simply because I believed the Church was true and a prophet had asked every worthy young man to go.

    It surprised my ward. It surprised my family. It gave grandmother something to share with her friends in Salt Lake.

    In reality my mission was a lot of discouragement, frustration, and drudgery punctuated by some very memorable, exhilarating experiences. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

  20. it's a series of tubes says:

    25% desire to serve from hearing fathers and uncles mission stories
    25% friends were all going
    25% faith / testimony
    25% social and family expectation

    I served in England, which was at times awesome and at times horrific. And it was hard – not to the breaking point hard, but pretty close. But as someone posted above, I can directly or indirectly trace nearly every good thing that has happened to me since to my decision to serve. I’d make the same decision again. That being said, I hope I’ve become a bit more humble, empathetic, and a little less cocksure than I was as I missionary. Some of my journal entries make me smile. Others make me cringe :(

    I still have that nightmare every year or so, though, where you imagine you are back on your mission…

  21. jstricklan says:

    I chose to go because I desperately wanted to have the opportunity to minister. In terms of what a mission is actually like, I think I knew what I was getting into, and looking back I was mostly right, although that may have to do with the particularities of my mission.

    For myself, I understood that ti would be really, really hard for me to be so outgoing and, as I saw/see it, pushy, so I tried to prepare by joining the debate team on one hand and by preparing myself to accept that I might not be the missionary who talks to everyone all the time.

    Both of those concerns were allayed largely by the opportunity to try to serve as Jesus served. As much as what missionaries do is not always related to Jesus’ ministry, by taking that lens, I feel like I was able to achieve that in my very limited capacities. It also helped that I was guided into a lot of situations where ministering (usually to other missionaries and to members) was exactly what was required of me.

    Based on my experience, I would warmly recommend a mission to someone who’s interested and prepared to sacrifice in the specific ways a mission requires, but I sure wish it wasn’t considered mandatory so that people could make a decision that fits their temperament. There are so many ways to serve God that it seems a little silly to assume that this is the only (or even best) way your talents can be applied in God’s kingdom.

  22. Although I thought a mission was the right thing for me to do at the time, when I look back, I also see that I went because I didn’t know what else to do. I also loved the idea of an adventure, particularly in a foreign country. I was disappointed when I was called stateside.

    Clearly, I had no idea what a mission was about. I had some good experiences but I hated tracting the whole time. I also was part of a mission where everything we did had to be extra: we had to get up at 6 am instead of 6:30, we had to fast every Sunday instead of just fast Sunday, no dinner breaks ever, etc. We were supposed to commit people to baptism on their doorsteps, a practice I detested.

    My mission was where I really began questioning things and in hindsight I can see that it was one of the things that paved the way for me to eventually leave the Church altogether. I don’t regret that decision but I admit I am slightly envious of others who had more positive mission experiences.

  23. Tubes –
    I also still have nightmares about my mission. When I’m under a huge amount of stress it is what pops up in my dreams in weird ways (mostly that I have to serve one mission after another with no hope of ever being done or actually baptizing anyone). I’ve always wondered if other people had this problem. My husband doesn’t.

  24. After a full set of tumultuous teen years that included sexual abuse, sibling death, severe depression, anger issues, and chronic pain, I was adrift in having any idea what to do with my life as I became an adult. No one had any expectations of me (that I could hear through the depression), not at home or at church. I had no plans and nor was I really interested in what I’d do with my life. After being 19 for a while (I turned 20 in the MTC), the idea came that maybe I should serve a mission, as it was what you do at that age, though it was more of the “sure, why not” kind of non-decision that was pretty standard in my early adulthood.

    I was sent to Dallas, and got blessed with a truly amazing companion who endured two months with this out of shape, depressive, often sickly person before it became too much and I went home. Despite the difficulty and the massive ups and downs, we did pretty well. I count it as an amazing experience, a high in the middle of a 15 year stretch of mire in my life. I occasionally wish I could go back and do it again (with better medication).

  25. The reasons I went were mixed, and included genuine faith, social expectation, and a sense of it being the next step in my life. I also put my papers in as soon as I was able because I desperately wanted to go to the temple.

    That said, I know that I 100% would not have gone had my friends also not been going. If I could have fast-forwarded the two years I would have done it — I’d had a taste of the BYU RM life, and it was good. I couldn’t wait to get there.

  26. As a convert, no one pressured me to go. My student ward bishop–a great guy–was the first to ask if I was interested in going on a mission. I said I didn’t really think it was for me (I cited all the lifelong Mormon kids who could recite hundreds of scriptures from memory). He said, “Do you have a girlfriend? No? Then there’s hope.”

    I had roommates and friends preparing for missions. I had joined the church a year or two earlier, and it had made a big impact on me–I wanted to share that with someone else. Like Kevin, I thought it would help in getting married (indeed, back in those days my wife would not have married a non-missionary, but she wasn’t part of the equation when I decided to go). Plus, it just seemed to be expected as a rite of passage.

  27. “None of this is the great spiritual feast of motivation we like to imagine is at the root of a decision to serve a mission.”

    I’m not sure I agree. What is the big difference between going because your family expects it vs going because God expects it vs going because I expect it of myself. I don’t think any of these are morally base.

  28. Kevin Christensen says:

    I went because I believed the Book of Mormon, having gotten my own personal spiritual oomph from Ether 12:39 on my third reading through. And I loved my Mormon culture and Utah upbringing. I had three brothers go before me, and I had seen numerous cousins and ward members come and go, noticing the profound difference in before and after. And I noticed that the young men of my age group who were choosing not to go to church, let alone go on missions, were not presenting a particularly enticing image to emulate, in comparison with brothers, cousins, ward members, friends, who did go, and came back much changed, showing growth and maturity and spirituality. There was no direct family pressure to go. I had an older brother who went a year after the usual age, who reported that my parents hadn’t even raised the subject of if or when until out of the blue, he announced to them that it was time for him.

    I was rather amazed to see one fellow quit from the Mission home, and to see two Missionaries (out of the 200 in the Leeds Mission in England), who clearly did not want to be there at all, and to see a couple more who clearly did not have particularly good reasons for being there. Nearly all of the many Elders I worked with were having a wonderful time, enjoying the adventure and the life focus.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    Just popping in to say that I’ve really been enjoying your stories; thanks for sharing.

  30. I joined the church at 18.75, and hadn’t really thought about going on a mission until I drove 2,000 miles to Provo over spring break with some friends from church, one of whom had joined the church a little before me and was planning on going. After visiting BYU, hanging around girls, and other RM’s that week, the light bulb went off in my head. The RM’s I met were all great guys, doing something positive with their lives. Losing two years did not appear to have stifled their desire for college education, and it just seemed that young women were attracted to them. So, I made the decision to serve after I’d been a member about 7 months. Took another 5 months to earn some money and get ready, but it was the pivotal experience I needed to be grounded in the gospel. I always knew the gospel was restored, and wanted to share that with others, but it took a little bit of gently prodding by external factors to give me the confidence to go. It didn’t hurt that I met a girl (who would eventually became my wife) who encouraged me to go in positive ways. She didn’t “wait” for me, but happened to not be married by the time I came home.

  31. As an aside, I always had a part time job in college, so when I got out of school in May of 1980, I went to work full time and worked through the middle of November when I left for my mission. My parents didn’t technically kick me out of the house or anything, but the weren’t happy with my decision to quit school and serve. (They envisioned me passing out flowers at an airport or something along those lines.) I had to pay for all my mission preparation, and my mission in Europe ran about $280 a month. I managed to save enough money to fund the preparation and first 14 or so months, then my ward helped me the last 10 months. (I sometimes wonder if my mother secretly donated money to the ward mission fund, but neither her nor my bishop ever mentioned it.) My parents’ hearts softened somewhat so that when I got off my mission, they helped me get back into college with room, board and tuition. After a semester I was married and facing the challenges that come with being the only member in one’s family. I credit my mission for letting my family understand my commitment to live the gospel

  32. jstricklan:
    “Based on my experience, I would warmly recommend a mission to someone who’s interested and prepared to sacrifice in the specific ways a mission requires, but I sure wish it wasn’t considered mandatory so that people could make a decision that fits their temperament. There are so many ways to serve God that it seems a little silly to assume that this is the only (or even best) way your talents can be applied in God’s kingdom.”

    Amen.
    Thank you.

  33. I went because I wanted to serve the Lord. There was no other reason.

  34. As a woman, I knew I wasn’t duty-bound to serve, but I felt the Spirit confirm that I would when my patriarch blessed me with “a missionary spirit and a desire to serve a mission.” So, I went because I believed God wanted me to go, and also because it was a little unusual and I liked the notoriety of being in the minority. :)

  35. This was the process:
    1. I assumed I was going because of of the doctrine of preaching to every creature; the method (a LDS mission in my youth) was determined by path of least resistance/expectation.
    2. At 19, I decided *not* to go because my life was going so well (college almost done, career job almost in hand, girlfriend in arm, lack of caring about how other people got to the doctrine of Christ; general self-interest was my #1 priority)
    3. Later, I heard L. Tom Perry say over the GenConf pulpit: “And again we issue the call for every worthy young man to heed the voice of the prophet to serve as a full-time missionary” and it pierced me to the very center. My mind was switched 100% as my heart and mind flooded with communication directly from the Holy Ghost, telling me that I was called to serve a full-time mission. I had no other desire regarding a mission than to serve. 180 degrees from 10 seconds earlier.
    4. Quit my job, school, girlfriend, etc and put in my papers to go. Dental work delayed me leaving immediately. :)
    I would not have gone if I had not had the Spirit touch, and change, me. I am still grateful it happened.

  36. As a recent convert, I agonized over whether to serve or not. I spent a lot of time praying and asking the Lord to know if he would have me go. I had several moments where the Lord clearly suggested to me that I go. I will mention two of them.

    First, one morning I got up early and went to the Boston Temple grounds to pray about the question. That morning as the sun rose upon the temple I got the indelible impression that the most important thing that I could do with my time and efforts would be to preach the Gospel to others. Looking at the trumpet in Moroni’s hand,I felt an even greater desire to go out to the world and serve.

    Second, as I listened to the April 2009 general conference I was struck when Elder Rasband spoke about the process of selecting missionaries for service. At the time I had tentatively decided to serve but was vacillating. While listening to that talk the spirit whispered to me that I had to go and serve. I knew that the Lord would send me to exactly the place in the world where I could find people whom I could help come to Christ.

    I am so grateful for my choice to serve as it has blessed me more than anything else.

  37. wreddyornot says:

    It’ll soon be 50 years since I left for a German mission, and it’s hard, quite frankly, to remember why I went with the precision that I’d like.

    I finished reading *The Latter Days: A Memoir* by Judith Freeman yesterday. Judith was from Ogden, where I was born two years after she was born and raised (well, in a nearby town). She grew up in an active Mormon family. I didn’t. She quotes Joan Didion : “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.” So it is with me as to why I went.

    While I was raised in Mormondom, I wasn’t necessarily raised a Mormon. My father wasn’t a member (his mother had been converted in Holland at age 14 and came to Utah). His mother, my grandmother, was, as far as I ever knew, always vitriolic when it came to practicing members, and my father was quite passive as to religion in general, describing himself as a heathen. My mother had graduated from seminary but somewhere down the line became totally inactive. Her three brothers all served penitentiary time and her family was quite like my father’s mother, very caustic against faithful practitioners.

    My parents sent us kids to primary to get some free time from us. I suppose that initiation only took for me, but not for my siblings. I was baptized at 9, ordained at 12, etc. Anyway, after graduation from high school, I enrolled at Weber State and worked full time at Ogden Defense Depot, busy helping supply the Vietnam war. With a stable government job, if I wanted to keep it and enrolled in college, it’s hard to know what made me decide to go.

    I suppose a multitude of reasons existed. The milieu I was in. My past religious and spiritual experiences. My friends, my aspirations and the credibility to be derived from going. And all those who I aspired to emulate in some small measure. The sense that my God wanted me to go, which is, in no small part, the reason I will continue on.

  38. For me I knew as a primary kid that I wanted/would serve a mission. I remember singing “I Hope They Call me on a Mission” not knowing how that would happen exactly (because I am a girl) but that I wanted to serve. There was also a small part of me that wanted to do it for my dad, though there was no expectation of it. My older siblings had left the church by the time I was of age, but I was still going strong. My dad helped me develop my testimony and I felt like he should have at least one kid go on a mission. He was thrilled when I went and he loves that I can swap mission stories with him. We served in neighboring states so we met a lot of the same type of people.

  39. The marriage concern is not ridiculous. I am in female and in my late 20s, and I remember “only marry an RM” as an explicit and repeated lesson in YW. We were taught anything “less” was below what our standards should be and that this expectation would be a key factor in getting the boys to go.

    If this hasn’t changed yet, it should.

  40. Kevin Barney says:

    Rachel, you’re right. My “ridiculous” comment was partly a function of my age; church demographics being what they are, a breathing LDS man with a pulse would have no shortage of interest from good LDS women. But I suspect you’re right that the BYU-type culture of 20-something women only being open to marrying RMs is still very much in play. And I agree that that’s not a healthy dynamic for our leaders to encourage in our young people.

  41. Michael says:

    My daughter is 17 and presently getting the “Only marry an honorably returned missionary” messages all the time.

    I taught a really nice guy on my mission in central Maryland. He was a college graduate, had a good job, exceptionally nice guy. He was dating an LDS girl, but more importantly he worked with a ward Sunday School president. We taught him in the co-worker member’s home – four discussions in one day, church and two discussions the next day, baptismal interview that evening. He was baptized and called to serve as a stake missionary, and he was just gung ho about it, going out with his girlfriend three nights a week and out with the elders for the other four. Eventually, the girlfriend dumped the poor guy on the night he proposed, claiming she’d promised a Young Women leader that she would only marry a returned missionary and BYU graduate. Her dad just about slapped her, making it plain that a good Mormon convert with a U Maryland degree and a good career was a rare enough treasure in those parts.

    To his credit, the guy stayed active in the church.

  42. Kristen says:

    I was being somewhat pressured by my family but I absolutely did not want to go. I was at BYU at the time, and whenever the topic of serving a mission came up, I had some excuse as to why I couldn’t/shouldn’t go. One by one the excuses were resolved but I would always come up with new ones. The last two reasons I had for not serving were: 1. I don’t have the money (valid), and 2. What will I do with my car? (lame). A few days later I was hit by a reckless driver while driving to Provo from my Aunt’s house in Pleasant Grove, My car was totaled. No one was hurt in the accident and I suddenly had no car AND money (from insurance) for a mission. The thought came to me “no more excuses.” So I went. No regrets.

  43. Neither of my parents served missions, but we regularly had the missionaries over to the house while I was growing up. I also had the opportunity to serve a “mini mission” the summer before my senior year of high school, where I got to spend a week living with a companionship of sisters and doing everything with them. It was a lot of fun, but I still wasn’t really planning on serving a mission. Then during fall semester of my junior year at BYU I felt strong promptings that it was the right choice for me, so I put in my papers at the end of the school year and left during the summer. In some ways, it was fairly obvious since I was a nerdy girl who turned 21 without even dating much, and everyone who knew me wasn’t surprised at all that I was going. Really, though, my main motivation was the fact that I felt strongly prompted to go. It was a hard experience in many ways, but definitely life-changing.

  44. Ryan Mullen says:

    At 19, I was completely sincere in my conviction that serving a mission was the right thing to do and that the life of any person in the world could be improved by joining the LDS church. I also harbored unspoken ambition to be Ammon, the greatest AP ever, and “blow God’s freaking mind!”

    Looking back, I met incredible people that humbled me tremendously and I will always treasure those memories. However, the mission culture also reinforced a rules-are-more-important-than-people attitude that I used post-mission to justify being a jerk to people who “sin” differently than I do.

  45. I actually did not serve a mission. I wanted to go, while feeling great trepidation. When I prayed about it, I was told not to go. But at the time I was working in a well-paying job and decided to use my funds to financially support a young man in my ward whose father was not LDS and whom the ward was supporting. I never met him and only heard his name once. But I count his mission to Italy as part mine. He came home, his younger brother also went out, and I was able to help there as well before moving out of the ward. My goal had been to contribute as much as an average mission cost at the time. I finished up in the new ward.
    Why did I do this? I felt the Lord had incredibly blessed me and I wanted to share that. I also felt that funds given early in life for such an important cause could be worth so much more than if I gave later. The multiplier effect. I believe in the power of the gospel to change lives. I want others to have it.
    Life has not turned out financially as it began. I am now much poorer. But I rejoice when I see the construction of the Italian temple and the huge Italian family history indexing project going on. I feel I have a stake in this part of the work. I am glad I made the sacrifice.

  46. Chadwick says:

    I believe I served because I felt I owed it to my family, who wanted me to serve, and to the Lord, who had blessed my life tremendously up to that point. I learned loads on my mission, but I think the things that have stuck with me the most include that fact that I was happiest when I made my companion my friend (not when I was having the most success, as I would have expected), I learned that sometimes revelation needs some help (point being, sometimes you have to TELL your MP when you are struggling as he really cannot receive revelation for 180+ people all at the same time), and I learned that some leaders really don’t know how to love (my city of service covered the Asia Authorities and well, to put it bluntly, they were mostly jerks).

    Fun topic!

  47. Matthew73 says:

    I went because I wanted to go. I was raised in a stable LDS family, mostly in Northern California, although my family (I was the 2nd of 10 children) moved to UT when I was halfway through high school. At about age 16 I started reading the scriptures every night and became convinced that the church was true and that the gospel had been restored (phrases that I embraced and believed without reservation as a teenager, but now really struggle to understand or define). I would have gone regardless because of family expectations, but I really did develop a sincere desire to serve a mission and proclaim the gospel. That was probably a good thing because I served in a challenging mission in western Europe. The food and living conditions were generally good, and of course living in Europe was very educational (in a good way); it was just very difficult to talk to people about Mormonism. My mission was not a particularly spiritual experience for me; I think I had more formative spiritual experiences (or at least what I perceived as spiritual experiences) in high school than I did on my mission; mostly my mission was a lot of hard work. But I did make some friendships which continue to this day, and I was exposed to some very heartbreaking (where a mother was baptized but the father deeply resented it and ended up fracturing a family, etc.) and thought-provoking situations which made me realize that, at least for me, the gospel was not at all black and white. It was on my mission that I first realized that people could be well-intentioned and sincere and not feel drawn to the Book of Mormon or Mormonism in general. All in all, I’m glad I went, and glad that some of my children have gone. Having said all of that, if I serve another mission I will look for one with a humanitarian, rather than a proselyting, focus.

  48. Steve G. says:

    Grew up singing “I Hope they call me on a mission” Just assumed I would from a young age. As a teenager, watched 2 older brothers go on missions still expected I would to. Remember hearing a talk at General Conference that all worthy Young Men were expected to serve a mission. I was worthy, therefore going to serve.

    Went to Ricks College, lived with some good RMs, listened to their fun stories, recognized that girls were only serious with RMs, though it wasn’t a deciding factor since I’d already decided. It was more of a realization that I wasn’t eligible material until after I’d served.

    Was looking forward to the adventure of serving, but anxious about actually doing the work. Figured God would make it work for me.

    Got my call to Germany, even more excited now. Adventure! Prepared by reading all of the Missionary Library. Really became converted to the Gospel during that time.

    Got to the MTC and was stuck in a District with a bunch of Elders who were there out of expectation to serve alone. Only one Elder besides me was really converted. The rest spent their MTC time doing anything but preparing. My companion was sent home before we flew out.

    Got to Germany and the rubber hit the road. Loved the adventure loved the people, but the work was harder than I expected. Suffered a lot in the two years, but the thought of quitting and going home never crossed my mind as a serious idea. Once I found ways to enjoy the work I did better. The two years went very slow.

    Was glad to come home. Had a lot of nightmares the first 10 years of being called again. No longer sing “I hope they call me on a Mission”, however since I did it once I can do it again if He calls me.

  49. I know I’m a few days late to the party, but I’ll add my “why I went on a mission.”
    I absolutely never planned on going on a mission, as a woman it was hardly expected of me. My childhood, youth and even early adulthood was very focused on academics. I had planned to be in graduate school by the time I was 21. I always hated missionary work (I’m a live and let live sort of soul). Just before my 20th birthday I got the only experience I’ve ever had that I can claim as a spiritual impression. While saying my nightly prayers, all of the sudden I was sure I needed to go on a mission. To be honest, I tried to ignore it, but the it sort of felt like I had no choice in the matter if I were to remain in good standing with God. I sort of assumed that God was testing me and that if I went forward with my plan, he would send something to stop me from going. When I told my Dad he was extremely disappointed. He told me that missions ruin people. He didn’t argue with me though. He just said, “I know you and you’re going to do whatever you want anyway, so I won’t stop you, and I’ll pay for it.” So I prepared for a year and God never sent anything to stop me, so I went. I do feel like I had a leg up on a lot of missionaries. When really hard times came, there was no doubt in my mind that God wanted me on the mission, even if I didn’t want to be there. It made dealing with disappointment after disappointment much easier.

  50. This is what zone leaders and APs always asked me. As in “why did you even go on a mission?”.