Time Travel: Christian Identity Loss

perros-2I recently returned from a trip back to the Canary Islands, where I served my mission over 27 years ago. I’ve been back a couple times before, but this was my first time back to the island of Gran Canaria where the mission home was, where I spent my first day, and where I spent about half my mission. As we went to various places in Las Palmas, I kept having flashbacks to the emotions I felt on my first day as a missionary as well as on subsequent pivotal occasions. It was weird.

When I started my mission, I had some strange ideas about the need to slough off my identity, to leave behind the identifiable parts of myself in favor of a new, bland, passive Christian identity that was really no identity at all. I had the idea that I was entering a monastic order, similar to an abbey. I envisioned myself as a sort of Mormon nun, having transcended or at least forsaken my own interests and personality and ready to just be an empty vessel for the word of God, a conduit for a will other than my own. There was no room for defensiveness or for my need to be understood or known. Being misunderstood by others gave me a chance to let go of my identity, to kill the natural (wo)man.

Obviously this lasted about 5 minutes.[1] 

I had already spent most of my time in the MTC feeling misunderstood. This was partly my own fault because being a “good” Mormon was still somewhat new to me. I had always seen myself as a bit on the fringe, not fitting in at BYU or in the church. That really never changed. I didn’t dress or talk like people from Utah. I hadn’t dated any Mormon boys before. I was a loner, Dotty, a rebel. So in deciding to go on a mission, I felt like my identity was unsuitable anyway. I needed to be silent and milquetoast if I couldn’t be that pastel-wearing smile machine that seemed to be the desired stereotype. Since I was mostly pretend-dour in the MTC, my district didn’t really like me. They thought I was a killjoy (me! a killjoy!), and they would hum the Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch theme whenever I came in the room. My companion was cool and didn’t see me that way, but I silently let the elders think that, considering the loss of identity my necessary cross to bear. Then I got sick for a couple weeks, sick enough that I couldn’t go to the classroom. It was one of those awesome illnesses where you lose 10 pounds just like that! In the meantime, my companion grew closer to our district, and I was even more estranged. But again, I figured that it was part of that necessary step of losing my identity. Not feeling defensive and not reacting when they thought I was judgmental and witchy (when I was really just trying to be a complete cipher) seemed like an important part of becoming a missionary to me at that time.

Two scriptures I thought a lot about at this time were Matthew 10:39: “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” and Luke 2:19: “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

 

09-las-palmasI didn’t have that same self-aggrandizement that I had seen in the much younger elders when they left for their missions. There was a boy I met when I was a freshman at BYU who sent me letters from his mission in Washington D.C. sealed with a sticker saying the letter was from my favorite missionary (which wasn’t warranted since I only considered him a bare acquaintance). He said he had been humbled greatly because he thought he would be preaching the gospel with the tongue of angels on the floor of the senate, but he didn’t realize that D.C. largely comprised of poverty-ridden areas and hitherto unfamiliar-to-him minorities. I laughed it off as some quirk of his, but later encountered other elders who had these ideas that they were going to be some amazing preacher, converting dozens or thousands in a single St-Crispins-Day style speech. I suppose it was a byproduct of too little travel outside of Utah coupled with too much literal reading of the Book of Mormon. I always assumed the Book of Mormon mass conversions were hyperbole, and even if not, they weren’t likely to go down like that in 1989. So, no, I didn’t really suffer from taking myself too seriously or imagining myself to be the savior of mankind. I didn’t invent some super-personality that I thought I needed to adopt as a missionary. For me, a Christian identity was more about erasing myself.

My first day as a missionary is a little blurry. One of the first things that happened was that the office elders took me to an alley a few blocks from the office where someone took my picture for my visa. The paper explaining my purpose for being in the country said that I was a minister. I hadn’t specifically thought of myself as a minister before. Clearly, that epiphany was a big change in how I saw myself.

I met with the president in his office at his house for my initial interview. He asked me how many people I was going to baptize on my mission. I said I had no way of knowing that, thinking he was asking me for a prediction. I didn’t quite grasp that he was asking me to set a goal. The idea of setting a goal about such a thing still strikes me as a little off, all these years later. I demurred. He said I should set a goal to baptize many, many of the Lord’s elect (something like that). I said I would teach the gospel to the best of my ability to the people who wanted to hear it, and the rest was out of my hands, between God & them. That was a belief I stuck to throughout my mission. I never did like the numbers game as a motivator. It always seemed to motivate unethical behaviors as much as it motivated getting work done. I didn’t really care what the president thought of me since I was kind of unsure what he had to do with my mission anyway. As a sister, I wasn’t inside of the leadership structure. I saw myself as mostly autonomous, more of a contractor than an employee.

After the interview, one of the APs took me a few blocks away to the ugliest piso (apartment) I had ever seen.[2] There was a graffiti picture of a very large penis facing the gated entry to the building that I awkwardly pretended not to notice. I eventually spent 5 months of my mission living in that piso, and that graffiti penis obscenely greeted me every day for those 5 months. I was sent out on splits with a sister named Hermana B. She was from the peninsula, a native Spaniard. As we boarded a city bus, I naively asked her (in Spanish) if she spoke any English. She rounded on me with a righteous fury and hissed “En que pais crees que estamos?”[3] I put up my hands and quickly said it was no big deal, just to speak slowly, and I’d do my best. Or at least I think that’s what I said. For whatever reason, despite this inauspicious beginning, this sister ended up being someone who really liked me, although she had a reputation as a rather prickly sister, especially hostile toward the Americans. We were never companions. I did eventually inherit and pay several of her long distance phone bills due to transfers (phone bills in Spain had a few months’ lag).

10-las-palmasOne of our first stops was at a house where she said there were some investigators. It was a young edgy looking couple in punk clothes. They were painting pro-Communist protest signs for a rally. She started to paint signs with them. I was a little confused about the whole thing. After we left I asked why we were painting protest signs for a political rally. That query resulted in another earful about how not everyone is an American, and that Communism would be good for Spain. Then we stopped at a pay phone so she could call her boyfriend, and I waited for her to talk to him for about a half hour. She said he was on a mission in mainland Spain. Then we took a bus down by the capilla (chapel) where there was a baptism taking place. It gave us a chance to meet some other missionaries, a few of whom spoke English which felt like a relief because I was getting a headache from trying to follow along combined with some serious jet lag. One of those missionaries I met that day later became my husband, although I don’t specifically remember our meeting.

Last week, during our visit, we stopped by the capilla again, and as I reached out to try the door, memories came flooding back. An elder about the same age as my sons poked his head out of the church. Then two sister missionaries walked out. They had an investigator there being interviewed. After a few minutes, another pair of elders stopped by, one from Murcia who unsuccessfully attempted to pump us for 27 year old referrals. Talking to these elders and sisters reminded me of the relief it always was to meet up with other missionaries; it probably feels something like the break room at a used car lot, where the sales people can let their hair down and talk about their frustrating customers with colleagues without having to have their game face on.

Later that night, we were walking back to the hotel through the crowds dressed for Carnaval who were making their way to the make-shift arena where dance music was loudly thumping. While I felt a kinship with these local party-goers based on my time in the islands, I felt an even stronger pull toward those young missionaries, knowing what their days are like, understanding their joys and frustrations, and seeing that familiar camaraderie among them. I remembered another day at that same capilla toward the end of my mission when the local branch held a dance for the members. My companion was on the floor dancing with a boy who had Down’s Syndrome, and all the members were laughing and dancing and having a good time. One of the elders made eye contact with me and nodded toward the dance floor, raising his eyebrows in invitation which made me laugh. Obviously, we weren’t actually going to dance, but it was a reminder to me at the time that all missionaries feel like we’ve given up our identity, and the dance felt like a break from our role, a moment in time when we could imagine we were real people again.

Perhaps all missionaries feel as I did, at least initially, that letting go of our identity was a necessary prerequisite to being a good missionary or even a good Christian. But putting your life on hold doesn’t really mean you have to erase your entire personality. That was something I figured out in time.

  • What ideas did you change from the beginning of your mission?
  • Do you think elders & sisters have different ideas about their identity as a missionary based on age, how the church sees them, etc?
  • How do you interpret the idea that you have to lose your life to save it?
  • Do you think missionaries have to erase their personality to be successful? If so, to what extent? Do you think all Christians have to let go of their identity to follow Christ?

Discuss.

[1] Well, maybe more like a few months. I did later realize that it was kind of a dumb idea and that we were more effective if we allowed ourselves to be real people and not just interchangeable robots.

[2] My initial reaction was “It looks like D.I. threw up in here.”

[3] Roughly “What country do you think this is?”

Comments

  1. dalecameronlowry says:

    I lived in Spain at a much younger age and about 10 years before you, but the graffiti genitals were all over the place even then. I’d largely forgotten about them until reading this, but as soon as you said “graffiti penis” the memories came flooding back. Ha!

  2. I can identify with some of your experiences. I had forgotten the advice my RM cousin gave me at my farewell, “Just be yourself.” At a district meeting that I’d just been transferred to, I learned that my reputation of being a little too buttoned up must have preceded me. When discussing a possible district activity and I mentioned mission rules, one of the sister missionaries made a comment to me like, “Oh, you’re THAT guy, well, that’s not how we do things around here.” She wasn’t proposing any debauchery or rebellion, just something similar to the dance you mention. Gradually I learned to take my cousin’s advice, and enjoyed the mission more and was probably more effective because of it. I hope losing our life to find it doesn’t mean our identity or personality, unless to the extent that involves our “natural man.”

  3. Deborah Christensen says:

    On my mission I saw people struggle with trying to be the perfect missionary. They did this by trying to be extra spiritual, AKA not themselves. I was warned about this before my missionary to just be myself. Follow the rules since they are there because someone screwed up. But be myself. I felt I was sent to find certain people that only I could find because of my unique personality. In hind site that was the best advise I received.

  4. Really great post. I had similar thoughts initially but ended up viewing the impulse more in the frame of trying to do the work with a good attitude, along the lines of Moroni 7:8: “For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.”

    In other words, instead of trying to subdue my true personality in the interest of becoming a bland generic clone Christian I tried to be myself, though of course policing actions for good/positive behavior and subduing selfish desires to slack off the work or to do the work with a bad attitude or “grudgingly.”

    I really love mission memoirs, by the way. I’d love to read one by you sort of in the Way Below the Angels vein (Harline, 2014).

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    A really nice post. It took me a while to figure it out, but I eventually realized that all I could do was be myself, and that that was the gift I had to lay on the alter and that was the only way I would in any respect be effective.

    I went to Colorado in the late 70s. The very best missionaries in my mission baptized way more than I did, like three times as much over the course of two years. These were the apes and the very top ZLs (who constituted the pool from which apes were chosen). But that was a pretty limited group. I would say in general they had very extroverted, outgoing personalities, and they tended to be a little older and have other successes under their belts (athletes, had served in the military, that sort of thing). That was a stratosphere I just wasn’t going to hit.

    But that was a limited subset of star performers. I baptized substantially more than the mission average. And I always felt that I reached people *because* of my easy going, laid back personality and approach that the hard charging mission stars never could have reached.

  6. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I was never really good at sharing the gospel as a youth. I had mostly non-LDS friends in high school and some of them didn’t learn I was LDS right away because I would agree that some of our LDS peers demonstrated behaviors that were not very friendly. They thought I was dissing on the Mormons, which I wasn’t. I was intellectual and selective in making friends. Probably was thought of by others as geeky, though I didn’t self identify as such

    I thought of my mission call as an intellectual adventure–and with a foreign language, it was that. I thought of my calling as teaching other people (through the scriptures and lessons) to feel the spirit. If I had done that, then I had accomplished my goal and if they were converted by the spirit, then that was the Lord’s job. I wasn’t big on numeric baptism goals, but had great longings that the special individuals I met would convert. I did maintain a foreign language personality through which I avoided taking rejections personally, and maintained my American personality with the other missionaries who were generally willing to revert to English.

    Towards the end of my mission, I was in an area that had a Technical College and having learned throughout my earlier months that younger adults were more likely to meet with us compared to older adults, I focused a lot of our tracting efforts at the student housing. I ended up, with the help of those students, becoming part of the highest lesson teaching companionship in our zone, save this awesome Sister who was the mission record holder of lessons and baptisms throughout our mission.

    I was a pretty obedient missionary for the most part and endured lots of Zone Conference talks on being obedient that left me sort of shocked that preaching about such immaturish behavior was necessary. I do remember certain joys of our mission that gradually got cut out along the way as our mid-term mission president change led to some ‘cracking down’.

    We had always tried to forward mail to Elders that had been transferred quickly so they would not miss out on news from home. Sometimes we would write brief notes on the back of the envelopes to cheer them up or give them a message about a progressing investigator. Well, we were directed by the mission home to send all mail for transferred Elders to the mission home and they would then forward it to the individual missionaries.

    Also, we used bikes everywhere on our missions and the sisters did too. When we found a single female investigator, we had traditionally met the sisters at an appointment address and gone to the home to introduce the investigators to the sisters, then leaving the sisters there to continue teaching them. It was an enjoyable experience to collaborate this way, as we otherwise didn’t see the sisters except on Sundays and district meetings. Well, I guess that simple interaction was deemed to be too much like a ‘double date’, so we were advised to no longer hold those meetings and to simply give the sisters the address and tell them to find the investigators themselves.

    I was in Japan and during our MTC preparation, we were told about the public baths that were in Japan and how they would rinse off, then soak in warmed tubs of water–some scented, some with mild electric currents. This was a social activity in Japanese culture.

    My first mission president had the philosophy that a soak in the warm bath would treat our ‘jet lag’, so as soon as we had reached the end of our first day at the mission home after arrival, the APs packed us into a van and took us to a nearby bath were we were suddenly getting nude and joining in the foreign social activity–complete with the older lady who sits at a desk and is permitted to view both sides of the divider the men and women. I will never forget my cocky companion going up to the scale and weighing himself in the nude, then turning to the woman and asking her if the scale was in pounds or kilograms.

    It sort of felt like that experience was a hazing with forced nudity. Though I have to say, that culture, like many other elements of that wonderful culture, became a part of me. Those baths cost money, so it wasn’t something we did often, but I remember those rare evenings of getting out of the cold and warming up in the bath with fondness.

  7. On my mission, I’m not sure anyone could have told the difference whether I was sacrificing my personality or not.

  8. I can recall being the chaperones at one of the youth dances. It was mostly the long walk home late at night that we asked to be there for. One of the sister missionaries in the ward next door back then even looked somewhat like Angela. I do not think that the sisters were at that dance, the blond sisters down in South America got hit on a lot. I think that I was so tall that it was somewhat intimidating for most of the locals. I maybe cultivated that look a little since my first area was a poorer neighborhood in the big city. You need to get the street punks a little off balance to stay safe.
    Some missionaries really tried to suppress parts of their personality that did not fit well the “ideal” missionary image. The amount of success was not well correlated with anything other than the willingness to work at teaching people. Some of the most wild and nonconformist missionaries had plenty of converts who had strong testimonies and had clearly been taught the true gospel.
    I think that a new missionary losing their identity, perhaps because they had not been a successful missionary before their call, and then slowly regaining it over time on the mission is one way to do it right. This is like a military recruit model of missionary growth.
    Another great post.

  9. A Happy Hubby says:

    I enjoyed this post and it reminded me a bit of the book “Way Below the Angels.”

    I have kids now on missions and I keep trying to get them to “just love the people and love the time you have there”, but even with all the preaching I sometimes get lettings stating, “We had X baptisms and we were blessed because we were awesomely 110% obedient!” I have to shake my head and say, “youth”.

  10. A Happy Hubby says:

    And now to answer some of your questions.

    I changed a bit on my mission, but I didn’t go into it with some “I am going to change the world.” It was more of a duty I was asked to fulfil. I didn’t do it with a heavy heart, but I would have to say now back then I didn’t have any confidence I knew how to call upon the Lord to convert others (still don’t).

    I didn’t feel I had to lose myself, but I do feel I had to put many of my interests on the back shelf. That was hard for me as some of that helps me enjoy life.

    I think too many people trying to be something they are not and I often see it causing issues. We certainly should be trying to be our best selves, but that is way different than being all the same.

  11. About once every six months I will have a vivid dream that I “get” to serve another two year mission in Argentina, only this time I get to leave my wife and kids. I end up waking up in a cold sweat. Of all my nightmares, those are the worst!

  12. A Happy Hubby says:

    Thor – funny you say that. The book I reference the author had the same dream (nightmare?) He asked a bunch of RM’s and it was approaching a universal experience. It is VERY common. I have had the same dream.

  13. Thor YES!! I still have nightmares that I am back on the mission.

    I never had a desire to serve a mission, but when the time came I truly felt called. I filled out the papers because I believed that is what God wanted for me but through the whole process I kept hoping that something would stop me (which in my mind was marriage, because that’s what stops a young woman from going on a mission). I had been told many times throughout my life, and even in my patriarchal blessing that my intelligence would allow me to bring people to the gospel that others would not be able to reach. I never had any grandiose delusions that I was going to baptize large amounts of people, but I thought that there may be one or two people who needed my particular personality and views to be converted to the gospel. I met two people throughout my mission that I felt really loved my intellectual explanations of the gospel. Neither of them got baptized. In fact, there was only one baptism on my mission that I would attribute directly to something I did (not saying it was just me, but that may not have happened without me). He was the brother of a less active woman we visited two to three times a month. In all the years missionaries had been visiting her, no one had ever invited her brother who lived there to listen. I did one day and he got baptized a month later (I won’t go into my issues with that time frame). I was an extremely obedient missionary because it is something I could control. I don’t have the personality for sales (and in my mission obedience had almost nothing to do with baptism rate, it was all about the salesman personality) and no matter how hard I tried to follow every new sales approach taught to us by our mission president, I was never good at it. It took until almost the end of my mission for me to realize that I didn’t have some special gift that was going to magically convert people. It was both a sad and freeing realization.

  14. Jeannine L. says:

    Nice Pee Wee reference there at the beginning. It makes me like you even more.:)

  15. Angela, this is really great.

    I definitely changed over the course of my mission. I came to understand the idea of losing your life for Jesus’ sake to mean not giving up your personality, but giving up your pride, being willing to work just because it’s the right thing to do, not because you think it’s going to bring you success, and then being willing to accept whatever success the combination of the Lord’s will and the agency of others give you, or doesn’t give you. To the extent that you’ve built your identity on a conception of yourself as a successful missionary that will baptize lots of people, I think you need to lose that, but I don’t think you need to lose your personality.

    I also learned to be a lot more creative in finding ways to reach people. At the beginning of my mission we tried to do a lot of “member missionary work,” because it was drummed into our heads that tracting is the least effective way to find people. But I soon learned that while member referrals are great, browbeating members to give referrals is really not any better than tracting. So we would go tracting all the time, but we did it with an attitude of “let’s go see what hilarious and bizarre things people are up to, and maybe see if we can teach somebody” rather than making it a deadly serious affair. I know lots of missionaries hate tracting. It intimidated me at first, but I loved it because people are hilarious.

    I also learned to not be afraid to be upfront about the fact that we wanted people to get baptized. At first I was scared to bring it up. By the end, we’d make it part of our door approach much of the time.

    I only had sisters in two areas of my mission, but my impression was that the sisters seemed to be more grounded. The Sisters were obedient, but pretty laid back about it. Many of the Elders would take it in an almost military discipline direction a lot of the time.

  16. Whenever i have a chance to talk to 16 or 17-year olds about the mission, my #1 piece of advice is that you don’t have to change who you are to be a good missionary. This was my biggest revelation in the mission field. Every personality is needed to move the work forward. Sure there were some missionaries that didn’t seem to understand that notion and wanted to be in the spitting image of the mission president (oftentimes they were ZLs/APs), but the bulk of any mission is moved along by the quirky, the odd but talented, and the hard-workers…not the mindless clones.

  17. I went into my mission cursed with an earworm from some kindly church leader: “your future in the Church will be determined by the actual record of your mission–files kept at the COB.” (I don’t think it’s true, by the way. But I’ll never know.)
    Eventually enough failure piled up that I accepted the fact that on the record I was doomed. So I let go. Coincidentally, that was about the same time that a new mission president taught us that he would be responsible for numbers and we should simply make every conversation a way to bring people from where they were one step closer to Christ.
    Individual conversations in a one step closer to Christ model typified the last part of my mission and it was good.

  18. I’ve experienced that same dream that I get called to serve another mission for two years, but this time I have to leave the wife. Don’t sure if it’s a nightmare though, because even though she is the love of my life, the dream feels RIGHT. Funny thing.

  19. I hope you didn’t become ‘bland.’ After all, we know Jesus wasn’t bland. He did and said what needed to be said and done, healing the sick, feeding the temporally starving poor and giving us the true word, we should do no less, and I suppose if he came down here and did it all over again it would still get him in trouble and many ‘Christians’ would turn against him in a world that has turned away from many needed Christian works of true compassion in so many ways including too much emphasis on worshipping “the almighty dollar” as many now do to the neglect and hurt of so many of the truly temporally destitute. Such as the fifteen have done.
    God Bless,
    Stephen Miller, BS: Criminal Justice (Retired)

  20. I definitely overcame my early blandness and let the real me come through, but that’s for future installments, if they happen!

    I too have had the “back on a mission” dream, only I suddenly realize while I’m serving this second mission that I have a husband and kids back in the states, and then I get a sort of panicked feeling I’m torn between obligations. I haven’t had that dream for a few years, but I used to have it somewhat routinely. I think all RMs do.

  21. Hola Hermana! I also served in the Canary Island (92-93) and your post made my heart sing. My first view of my first piso (on Tenerife) was of a large cockroach crawling out from under the rickety door as an elderly missionary tried to figure out the lock (my soon to be companion had gone to a party – it was a mission with loose rules). Our Piso had a no-English rule as one of the sisters only spoke Spanish. I very quickly learned that I suck at learning languages. I spent the first three weeks wandering around in a daze, not having any idea what was going on, and absolutely certain I was going to die and never see my family again. That sounds extreme, but I really thought my sacrifice would be my life.

    That wasn’t the hardest part for me though. We were averaging 2-3 baptisms a month for the entire mission (120ish missionaries?). It was endlessly impressed on us that we could change those numbers if we just worked harder and had more faith. The underlying message of that for me was that it was my fault I wasn’t having the baptism a month that our ZL and MP committed me to. At one point I went five months without teaching a single discussion. The sisters in the area before us had converted an entire family, so the MP told me when he sent me there that it was especially fertile ground. I reached a point where I decided it was all BS. Who joined the church and who did not had very little to do with me and much more to do with the person who decides to accept/reject the gospel. The only thing I did have control over was my attitude and willingness to work. I argued monthly for dropping the goal of number of baptisms, but never convinced a single ZL.

    I was the first ever missionary in our extended family (and my family wasn’t the type to have the missionaries over, etc.), so I had almost no preconceived ideas about serving a mission. I remember feeling like I had to give up the joys of my life in order to be successful. Finding any joy outside of the approved program was somehow wrong in my head.

    And that gets interesting, because that idea that the things that give me (personal me) joy are frowned on by God as frivolous compared to the ‘approved program’ is something I had to fight through as an adult. I’m an artist and I ended up severely blocked because I had an ingrained belief that what I do artistically was worthless and a waste of time to God. It took some work to come to realize that God loves my artistry. It’s the church system only that teaches that anything outside of its own needs is less important to God. There’s a good chance I learned that as a missionary. Guilt was very definitely a tool for motivation.

    And I also dream about being send back to the Mission when I am under too much stress. There’s always an element of ‘it will never end’ to my dreams. :)

  22. Early 90’s in Australia – I went out with business suits as a sister – going to be so straight/obedient and look like the US sisters, as an Australian I was in the minority – most missionaries were US. Within a few months I realised I could never be like that because I didn’t want to – I sent home for my Doc Martens. Then I wore clothes (and shoes) more comfortable for biking and tracting, and less about being a “Molly Mormon”. Few sisters would bike because of what it did their hair – I wore bike shorts under my skirts so I could bike more and cover more ground.

    I am not sure if the age has a lot to do with how missionaries see themselves but I think it has to do as where they are from. The Utah ones take time to break out of the mold and realise a personality is fine. That having differences is good. It’s not always the where as a place but their family and background as well.

    I believe we all have different paths to walk and different lessons to learn to return to our Heavenly Father. Trying to fit a cookie cutter mold as a member or missionary will not help us on our individual paths. I live a different path than I ever planned and hoped for – but this is where the Lord wants me. This is how I lose my life to save it.

    I think on my mission I learnt more about who I was and what I liked. I came home a lot more independent and individual – my parents did not like it. they wanted me to be like them. My personality blossomed more. I was not a big baptiser but I touched people, several years ago I came across a youth from one of my areas and they said it was because of me they served a mission. I realise the value of this now but back then I felt guilty about my lack of many baptisms.

    The missionaries that have made a difference to my children are those that allow their personality to shine. That not love our families geekiness but feel comfortable to share theirs with us. these are the ones we would introduce to our friends, not the cookie cutter missionaries.

  23. ReTX: I’m always excited to meet other chicharreros! I served in Tenerife for 5 months. That plus La Palma were probably my favorite islands. Tenerife was a more successful place as a missionary. La Palma could be demoralizing, but it was gorgeous.

    Our mission had super loose (and super weird) rules, although you must have served under a different president than I did. Mission rules should be its own post. Maybe I’ll work on that. It’s one reason I’m often skeptical about “rules” in general in the church. They are so obviously made up. I don’t really think they are divine in origin generally, just someone’s best ideas implemented, and some are not that smart. They always have unintended consequences.

  24. I got to serve on Lanzy for 5 months, talk about isolation :0 Great post OP 1999-2001…I can still remember the fireworks on Dec 31, 1999

  25. “Do you think missionaries have to erase their personality to be successful?”
    No, it’s the individual’s personality that made some successful and others not.
    “Do you think all Christians have to let go of their identity to follow Christ?”
    Again, no, though in the orthodox church the doctrine of theosis says that the closer we become to God the more we become one with God, blending ourselves totally with Him so in that sense will lose our identity.

  26. M: I started on Lanzy for 5 weeks, but that’s the only time I was there. As a tourist, it may have been my favorite island–loads of cool things to see. As a missionary, it wasn’t quite as good. Also, we had a pretty active branch there when I served, but before the end of my mission most of those families had moved off the island.

  27. I spent five months on Lanzy in 1993 and loved it (no baptisms, but I got to teach at least 10 discussions). We spent a good lot of our time cleaning up the branch list from messes earlier missionaries had made. (~Grin.) If I remember right, 2/3rd of the branch lived in the elders’ piso and had names that clearly said they weren’t Spaniards. I was told that earlier missionaries had been paying sailors to get baptized while they were in the islands.

  28. ReTx: Interesting. I never heard of them doing that on Lanzarote, but it was an open secret that guys in the Las Palmas port from Ghana were easy baptisms. Actually, I should revise that statement because we did have a man who was from Africa who was interviewed for baptism that first month when I was in Lanzarote. I only know that because I had to do the baptismal interview because nobody else spoke French. I don’t remember specifically that he was from the port, but it’s possible–or he might have lived there. Unlike most of the port baptisms, I know he attended church after his baptism at least once, so chances are he did actually live there, at least at the time. I believe he was friends with someone in the branch. I’d have to check through my journals to be sure, it was so long ago.

    If I do some follow up posts it will be abundantly clear why you spent so much time batting clean up. ;)

  29. I really appreciate this post, and I very much appreciated the comments about having nightmares, or at least existential dread, about being a missionary again. While I deeply value the lessons I learned as a missionary (I can honestly say it changed the course of my life), I did not have a good experience and if I had to do it over, I would not have served a mission. Reading and reflecting on this post raised two thoughts for me.

    1. I am from the U.S. and served stateside. I sometimes wonder if our mission identities are impacted at all by serving in a foreign country or speaking a foreign language vs. serving in our own countries and languages, either during the mission or in hindsight. It often seems to me that former missionaries have different perceptions of their purpose and experiences as missionaries depending on if they were in their own country/language or not. And I’ve found no small amount of tacit and overt disdain from American church members for those of us who served stateside.
    2. I wish our church culture was more honest about our collective mission experiences. As I get older, I’ve met so many people who had similar experiences to me. I’ve also gotten to the point that I tend to dismiss or distrust people who have nothing but praise for their mission or who regard it as the high point of their life.

  30. Chadwick says:

    As I look back on my mission 20 years later, it’s the fun experiences with good companions that I remember best. So my advice to the youth is that anything is better when your companion is your friend.

    I too have the same nightmares. I served in Hong Kong so in my dream it’s that China opens up to missionary work so they HAVE to send me and I HAVE to leave my family behind.

    Mission rules could fill a whole series of blog posts. Keep them coming!

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