Today’s guest post is by Megan.
What’s the cost of a mission?
There’s a monetary cost, of course, money spent in preparation and then more money paid every month in support. My father took a second job to help pay for the cost of sending my brother and me into the mission field, while he was concurrently the Bishop of our small ward. I’m not sure if he ever got any sleep during that time and I know that there’s nothing that I could do to repay him for that sacrifice (not that he would want, expect, or ask for repayment, but still). Missions cost money, this is a given.
But what about the other costs, the ones that go beyond money? Missions are hard; they cost the missionary in physical labor, stress, and strain. Missions sometimes cost a missionary their naiveté, they go out with a certain view on the world and have their eyes opened to new and astounding points of view. Missions cost in emotional toil, in companionship drama, in illness in faraway countries (or countries close to home). No matter how you measure it, missions cost and the cost a lot.
Over the past year or so there has been a ground swell of discussion about the negative aspects of missions. And there are negative aspects that can have a real and lasting impact on the missionary. I know this, I’ve experienced them myself. We send out an army of young people every year and we expect them all to fit into the same mold of the ideal missionary and we don’t provide the kinds of services that those who don’t fit the mold may need. We don’t provide mental health support, we don’t provide transition support (either transitioning into or out of the mission), and we don’t always provide the appropriate spiritual support.
We see missionaries as a massed force of white shirts and black nametags. But each missionary is an individual and deserves individual attention as they devote their lives (for however long a time) to intensive and laser-focused service to God. There should not be a rigid, “one size fits all” approach, there should be enough flexibility so that every missionary receives the support they need, not just the ones who fit the pre-fabricated model.
I don’t say any of this to condemn or smear the missionary program, far from it. I say it because I’ve seen both sides of the equation, I’ve been the pre-fab missionary and the one who slips out of the mold. I was the laser-focused sort of missionary; while in the MTC I dedicated myself to being a missionary and nothing but a missionary, it was my life. And I loved it. I ate, drank, and slept missionary work. I followed the rules to the letter and preached the good word all the livelong day. Never before or after have I experienced that kind of joy in service. I was Christ’s minister and it was fantastic.
Until it wasn’t; until I became ill with a mysterious disease that no one seemed to understand, that impeded my service and sent me home a transfer early. My readjustment did not go very smoothly, I had changed, my world had changed, and I was the puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit anymore. I was lonely and it took me years to resolve all of the lingering effects.
So yeah, I know how much it costs to be a missionary. Now we come to the real question, was it worth it? Did the gain outweigh the pain?
That’s a question every missionary has to answer for themselves. For me the answer is yes, absolutely. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else in this world. But we need to be ready and able to support the missionaries who answer the opposite. As an institution and a people we need to be ready, willing, and able to give every missionary the support, compassion, and love they need. Especially the dissatisfied ones, especially the disobedient ones, especially the ones who come home injured or disillusioned. There can be blessing in sacrifice, but there can also be pain, and we should not, cannot, celebrate the one without succoring the other.
It’s a hard-knock life, without a doubt. But it doesn’t cost much at all to help each other along the way.