Dear Missionary….It’s your call

My son Andrew (Drew) is due to receive his mission call literally any day now. He’s been checking the mail several times a day, hoping for that much anticipated white envelope. I remember going through the same anticipation with Anthony. I was a ball of nerves! Yesterday he checked the mail like four times, even though he knew the answer wasn’t going to change. Not today friend, not today. It’s killing us!

In the past few years, social media has let us share beautiful moments with those that wouldn’t otherwise get to be a part of watching a mission call being opened. Mission call parties are becoming a fairly common occurrence. With these developments, have come some unintended consequences.

This season of our lives always strikes up a lot of comrade with members all over the world. Get missionary parents in a room and proudly, it’s all we talk about. Mom’s are the worst. 🙂 This makes me privy to a lot of stories and experiences, some hilarious, some informational, and some very eye opening.

I share the following story with the permission:

After much self reflection and prayer, my friend’s daughter made the amazing and heart wrenching decision to serve a mission. Several appointments, interviews and hours spent on the computer later, she clicked “SUBMIT”. Everything in her life was about to change. How, when and where it would change, all depended on that “Great White Envelope”. Everyone was on high alert, just waiting for the word on when it arrived.

After several trips to the mailbox that week, it finally came!!! She was beside herself with joy. Blissful calls went out to friends and family. She wanted all the people that mean the most to her to come and witness her big day! She couldn’t wait to share this moment with them.

With her cherished ones gathered around her, she read the following words,

“Dear Sister ______, You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – You are assigned to labor in the Charlotte, North Carolina Mission.”

Tears went down her face. She was thrilled. She knew when she read those words it was where God wanted her to be. When you watch the video, she was completely joyful. She looked like she won the lottery. Everything about it felt good, it felt right. Her parents were through the moon.

As her friends came up to hug her, she anticipated congratulatory remarks, and a lot were. However, a lot of what she heard was the following:

“Awww, Are you ok?”
“Are you disappointed?”
“Are you so sad?”
“Do you still want to go?”
“Are you still going to serve?”
“Awww, I was hoping you’d go somewhere cool.”

By the end of the night, something that had been a very joyful and sacred moment for her in the beginning – turned into a three hour sob session, where her pillow was drenched in tears. Not tears of her own disappointment, but the disappointment of others. She was made to feel that her offering to the Lord just didn’t measure up. It took a little time for her to block out their words out of her mind and become centered in her own feelings again.

All I can say to that story is, First – Not cool. Second – Completely inaccurate way of thinking.

When my friend told me this story, she shared it with me to somewhat protect us when Drew opens his mission call. She didn’t want what happened to her daughter, to happen to Drew. Her word of warning made me rethink sharing this beautiful moment with others, because their reactions may be less than ideal.  I’m grateful that she was honest with me, because she confirmed a trend I had been noticing and what other parents had also shared with me.

I have a million people on my social media feeds. I get the honor of watching a lot of mission call openings.  If it is a foreign call, its met with cheers and loud screams of exhilaration. If it’s state side – I hate to even say this – but a lot of times its an awkward pause, followed by a few sharing a little “Woo hoo” condolence cheer. Now to be fair, there are some families and friends that ROCK being excited no matter what – so I need to put that out there too.

It merits the discussion though. The thing about culture – we use it to create beautiful traditions or we can use it to do unintended harm.

In an effort to course correct, I’ve taken some time to poll a ton of missionaries. Both in person and online.  Some were recently returned and some seasoned vets. Here is what I found: (and my commentary to these findings, lol)

1. Most Missionaries to varying degrees feel pressure to get a “good call” when opening that envelope. The excitement/acceptance of their peers and family is crucial. That weighs heavily in their own personal joy of the experience. This was less of an issue for older returned missionaries, but has become more prevalent because of social media.

2. “You’re not a real missionary.” – Missionaries expressed that getting called to the states has varying stigmas associated with it.

East and West Coast Missions being more desirable or more culturally accepted, especially when a foreign language was attached with it. Hence the “I was called to the California, Riverside Mission – Spanish Speaking” responses, in hopes that it validated their call more in the eyes of some.  State side Missionaries want it to be acknowledged that they can have just as foreign of an experience. Some may never speak English their whole mission, or even teach American whites at all.

The most stigma associated (and therefore highest experienced anxiety) were calls to Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada. Missionaries who served there say that often times they get the, “You’re not a real missionary” speech. Due to the high concentration of members, some view their mission is/must have been a cake walk. That the members line up all of their friends in front of the font and after taking a dip, have baptism dance offs. Missionaries serving in those states are pampered with dinners and gifts. To this I say – Lol! Are you for real? I am a ward missionary. Our missionaries work their tails off. They may get more meals than some other places in the world, but then those missionaries get more of something else.

The second most culturally “less desired” was a call to the Midwest. (Whaaaaaaaaat?!) I’m from Iowa dudes! Nebraska and Missouri are practically my close cousins. Craig served his mission in St. Louis! The Midwest ROCKS. It took an army of missionaries being called to the Nebraska, Omaha Mission to get me in that font. A years worth of people investing in me, one by one. Miracles happened, generations were changed. And now…look at that circle as it continues to grow, it’s crazy beautiful! And none of that happened abroad in some remote tropical location. It happened right in the middle of nowhere, Iowa. I am so grateful that my missionaries didn’t turn their nose up at their call, because of the expectations of others. I wouldn’t be here writing this blog post.

Some other Funny (and sad!) Utah Mission Call Misconceptions

– One Elder got called serve on temple square for part of his mission. He reported that he kept having to explain to people throughout his time there that he wasn’t slow or special needs. That he really got called there while being completely normal. Wait, Whaaaat? Elders aren’t special needs because they work on temple square. That’s disrespectful to anyone who is special needs and to anyone who isn’t. The work is the work, no matter who’s doing it, or what they are doing. 

– Only pretty Sisters get called to Temple Square, or any visitor center around the world for that matter.

Let’s just call this “debunked.” First, I haven’t ever met an ugly person. Not once in my life. Second, my friends daughter is gorgeous – (seriously, I don’t think I have seen a more beautiful human being on the planet.) She didn’t get a call to the visitors center, she got called to the Philippians and served the poorest of the poor. She tracted in the literal jungle. She would write home about living in a shack next to a pig slaughter house, and how she would hear the screams of the pig all day and night. Her sleeping conditions consisted of a foam pad on the floor, each night further mastering the skill of staying just awake enough to chuck huge spiders against the wall on instinct. Her testimony floored me. She had immeasurable depth and beauty, none of which had anything to do with her face. Sister Missionaries are warriors too – so much more than a pretty face. Please tell me we can give them a little more credit than being Barbies at the Church Visitor Centers. That’s laughable. The ones that get called to Temple Square and Visitor Centers throughout the world work just as hard as anyone else.

Here is the heart of the lesson friends,

Every time an 18-26 year decides to go on a mission, we know that at minimum almost two decades have been put into this moment in time, at huge sacrifice to both the missionary and the parents. On a daily basis, parents step away from the world and choose the harder road to raise their children in righteousness. As a mother of eight, I can attest that this is no small feat.

By the time most children are raised up in the gospel of Jesus Christ, he or she has attended:

988 Sunday Services
624 Weekly Activities
720 days of Seminary Attendance (for some kids that’s at 6am every morning)
12 Spiritual Summer Camps (that’s if they don’t go to EFY in addition to the normal ward or stake level camps)

At minimum, they have given hundreds if not thousands of hours of community service throughout their association with the church and held numerous leadership positions.

Young men and women have had ecclesiastical interviews every few months throughout their teenage years. Interviews that hold them accountable to gospel standards. Sometimes a great deal of repentance has been required to get back on track.

They’ve had countless leaders invest in them. A minimum of 120 people serving them per year since 18 months of age. Including bishops, counselors, primary leaders, youth leaders, seminary leaders, stake leaders, various teachers, etc.

The missionary has sacrificed greatly just to be worthy to go. They will sacrifice everything, when they go – Family, friends, school, work, holidays, and all the comforts of home. For the missionary and their family, that separation is brutal.
They are trading being loved, nurtured and celebrated at home for grueling 15 hour days of rejection, culture shock, loneliness and some days – complete despair. There are beautiful moments too of course, but lets be honest – it’s mostly hard. Like everything worth doing is.

Wanna know how many people are actually willing to give up a year or two of their lives to be a missionary? {to our church standard}

Current world population –  7.5 Billion*
Current Missionaries Serving – 70,946*

That means that in the world, at any given moment – there less than
one-ten thousandth of a percent of people are willing to do this work. (.00000945946 to be exact)

So I guess what I am saying is this…STOP MINIMIZING THEIR SACRIFICE. Sometimes – within in the culture of the church, we are so flippant about missions. We don’t give credit where credit is due. Like a mission is just something kids do, no biggie. I’m sorry, but this is HUGE! Maybe it’s because I am a convert, but I don’t understand this mentality. I know we should “beware of pride” and all that, but I think we take that a little too far. I think we are being aware of the wrong pride. We should be thrilled and verbally praising to our children who are in every sense WARRIORS. They fought their to be worthy to go and do the hardest things that can be asked of an 18-26 year old. That is a pretty impressive resume in my book. These kids are a pretty big deal, no matter where they serve (or in some cases, how long they serve, or if they serve in this way -but that’s a whole other box we will open on a different day.) The pride we should be aware of in our culture, is always feeling the need to put one thing above another. Like mission calls, or church calls, or people. If you have a spring in your step cause you are proud of yourself or your kid for doing a beautiful thing – that’s just as it should be. However if you feel your nose or arrogance rise when sharing your mission or your children’s mission, then there is some growth that needs to take place. There is no better than or less than. The pride should be in the WORK. Not the place.

We shouldn’t be saying anything to diminish what any of these missionaries have worked so hard to achieve. We need to stop making comments and jokes about certain places being horrible to get called to. I’m sorry, but are those souls living in the Intermountain West less in the sight of God? No, they aren’t.

As for me….I’m more of the “LOOK ERRRRYBODY! MY KID LOVES HIM/HER SOME JESUS!” kind of Mom. Not that I am arrogantly boastful, cause no one wants to hear that.  However, I do think it is important for our children to hear that we are proud of them. That we are thrilled at their choices and sacrifices. Acknowledgement of how far they’ve come in a world that teaches dramatically different values is vital. Come on, this is amazing!!!! It’s so beautiful and I can hardly talk about how proud I am of ALL of our kids without tears!

One thing that is incredible to note, every single missionary I have talked LOVED THEIR MISSION! Even if they felt some cultural pressure in the beginning, it didn’t take long before they knew it was where exactly where the Lord needed them.

So I say this to you missionaries – BE DANG PROUD!
Your contribution is irreplaceable. The work is just as sacred no matter where you go. You WILL have a foreign experience, no matter what. It will be different than how you grew up, what you have witnessed, etc. God’s gonna use your good heart for his sacred work. You’ve worked so hard to be here, and I am SO PROUD OF YOU. Shout your call out proudly. You’ve earned it.

BOTTOM LINE – You are called where YOU PROMISED. I believe that a long time ago, we all made promises. Promises to find each other. To help each other. To save each other. Jesus Christ is the only one that can atone for our sins, but if we are to truly live a Christ like life – saving each other to the degree of our capability is a vital part of our own earthly ministry. Sometimes saving each other is just a matter of showing up. Of loving and serving even the ones that aren’t ready for the truth. Love is the most vital thing you can give another human being. Do that and watch it change everything about yourself.

So I say ROCK ON CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS! Go where you promised! Love the ones your with! Be thrilled you have this beautiful chance to leave the world for two years and do only God’s work. It is the only time in your life you’ll get this chance, to this degree. Man…..I love you!

P.S. You can bet your bottom dollar that I’m gonna be screaming just as loud for Ogden, Utah as I would be for Scotland! Hurrah for Israel!

 

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34 comments

  1. Next topic please: announcing your elders position in the field. Not everyone can be chiefs..Need more Indians! Stepping off my soap box! Your article was amazing! Thought provoking! Spot on!

  2. Awesome post, Dawn! So sad that people need to be reminded of this! Why it matters where someone severs, I will never understand!!! Whether it’s Salt Lake City, or Timbucktu, it doesn’t matter! A missionaries willingness and desire to serve God, is ALL THAT MATTERS, and that’s what makes them a Missionary, who is called to serve!

  3. Thank you so much Dawn!! I just turned in my papers and EVERY one asks the hardest question: “Where do you want to go?” Even before I even started on papers, I would get asked. It started to drive me crazy! I started thinking about where I wanted to go and the I realized that it might make me sad if I didn’t end up going there. I could tell it was becoming a problem. My first thought was “Why think of somewhere that I want to go when there is a good chance I won’t go there. I don’t want to get my hopes up.” Then it turned into “It’s not up to me! I want to go where God calls me to serve His sons and daughters. He knows where is best for me!” To make myself believe it I stared telling people that. It was still a distraction that Satan was using, thinking who I wanted to be there when I opened my call and what would happen etc. A close friends sent me your me your message about receiving a call. This is what I needed at this time!! Everything you covered helped bring all my thoughts and feelings together and now I feel like could be called ANYWHERE and be super excited and know that is where God wants me! Now when I think about getting that beautiful, white envelop I feel a peace that you can not get anywhere but from on high #bestfeelingever!
    Thanks again!! <3

    1. All of these cultural pressures and expectations sure make it hard. Just GO! And leave the rest. It’s a beautiful journey that you will take with you for the rest of your life. You are so loved and will be an amazing missionary. I love that your heart and your mind came to an agreement on faith and trusting God! You are going to be fabulous.

  4. Well, Dawn, as a resident in the DC South Mission, we look forward to possibly meeting your son when he gets here. And having a son who served in the zone with the most stigma attached (in his case, Idaho), I would say missionaries called to those states have it just as “hard” as those in the third-world countries, just for a different reason. Imagine having goals for lessons taught, baptisms, new member discussions, and other such goals in an area that is 75 percent LDS and has been tracted out ad nauseam. And just because the member ratio is so high does NOT mean dinners and gifts every night.

    So you’re right, there is no such thing as an easy mission. They each have their own set of blessings and challen… opportunities for growth. We do our youth a disservice when we set up our own biases for missions as gospel truth. It is not where they are called that matters, it is the level and commitment of their service, as Elder Bednar pointed out in his Saturday night address of the April General Conference.

    1. That would be so awesome! He is such a good hearted kid, who works hard. I am sure a mission will teach him a new level of hard work, no doubt. It’s nice to know there are people there already willing to look in on him. It does a momma’s heart good. Everything you said is so very true!

  5. LOVE this statement! “You are called where YOU PROMISED. I believe that a long time ago, we all made promises. Promises to find each other. To help each other. To save each other.” My son just returned from serving a state side mission and there was at least one person during his mission that he was meant to find and baptize.

  6. Awesome Dawn!!!! My son just got called to Utah Logan mission and oh the comments! This is my second to serve in Utah and are excited for him to have just wonderful experiences as his sister did . You keep telling it like it is Sister!!!

  7. Lovely article, one criticism however, Scotland, one t not two!

    1. Thank spell check. I do my best. 😉

  8. I’m just as proud of my son who served our country as a US Marine in 2 Iraq tours as my daughter who served a mission in Utah.

    1. As you should be (that was the part of the talk that said “even if they don’t choose to serve in this way”. I love our military! Best people in the world. Please thank him for all of us. What a sacrifice!

  9. My goodness powerful article – as a missionary mom most of time than not I feel very conscious when I announce my daughter is serving in Brazil that there may be a comparative jealousy by others as I know it was her forordained mission. So be it. It’s not an easy mission for her she loves it! I am so glad this article was posted I agree no matter where your kids are called – it’s the Lord work! Bless your heart!

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you. As the mother of a son who was just called to Idaho, your blog post was just what I needed to hear. If one more person asks me, “is he OK?” or says something like, “well, I guess they need smart missionaries in Idaho, too”, I think I might scream!!!! My niece recently told me that she knows young women who won’t date an RM if he served stateside because they feel that only men who served foreign missions are worthy of their attention. WHAT???!!!! As if anyone gets to choose where they are called!!!! We have -got- to somehow change this perception that the best young people serve outside the US and stateside missions are for those that are somehow lacking. This mentality is harmful and wrong and has to go away. I am so glad you wrote what you wrote. If more people can read things like this, we may just make strides towards eliminating this cultural problem.

  11. I am surprised. I never heard all this before. I live in Idaho and one of my young friends got called to Provo, four hours away. I personally wondered how he would feel, but I never heard that expresses, and as I both expected and delighted to hear, he loved it and got a baptism or two.

  12. Thank you so much for this post. I served at Temple square and I can’t tell you how many times I was told it was an easy mission, or asked about my “real” mission outbound for a couple months. I ended up serving in three different missions and they were all hard and challenging in their own ways, but in every mission I was in I knew I was there for a reason and that God was the architect there. Thanks for your inspiring example. While on my mission after watching meet the mormons, you gave me a Hug and told me it was from my mom… that was a small act but it was a big deal for me! Thank you!

  13. Best article ever!! We are from Utah and I have a son serving in California right now and another son that served there previously. My other son went to Nicaragua. I had several people ask me about how my son’s that went to California felt about their call’s. I was never asked that question about the son that went to Nicaragua. I certainly do agree that some people view a stateside mission, especially if it is in close proximity to where you live, not as prestigious or exciting of a call. No matter where these wonderful young men serve it is an amazing opportunity! No missionary should be made to feel degraded or sad that their mission call isn’t foreign. The Lord needs missionaries everywhere. We should all be careful to never let derogatory comments be said about any mission call no matter where it is on God’s green Earth!!

  14. Don’t forget they are CALLED to be a missionary and ASSIGNED to labor in a particular area. Everyone of God’s children is important to Him.

    1. I didn’t forget. <3

  15. Being called to a states mission is awesome! First if you speak english and are called to speak english you can bear your testimony the minute you get out in the field. That really is a blessing. Second you can basically have the comforts of home. I never had to know if i was ever going to get a shower unlike my husband who sometimes got to shower and sometimes didn’t. And you can always grab a burger from McDonalds and not have to spend a fortune on it. Loved serving stateside!! Such a great blessing.

  16. As one who served in Utah over 30 years ago, before sisters were even on the square (they started serving on temple square a few months before I left in Feb. of 87), I can tell you that serving in Wyoming, and Utah is AWESOME!!! At the time there were only TWO missions in Utah. The South Mission and the North Mission. I served in the North mission which went from 4500 S SLC, all the way into parts of Wyoming and Idaho. I LOVED serving in Wyoming as I was in cowboy country and spent most of my mission there. I served downtown SLC for seven months and had a great time and loved and served all kinds of wonderful people and had more baptisms right downtown than any other area. Where else can missionaries teach the gospel right on Temple Square? Where else can missionaries be waved to by General Authorities as they walk the streets? Where else can missionaries serve where over TWENTY SEVEN languages are spoken? Where else can you serve that is church headquarters for the world? Where else are you going to find as many zany and deeply spiritual members as SLC? It’s crazy awesome. YES, we were fed well, but it did not become a constant thing to feed the missionaries every day till the END of my mission…like the LAST few months. At least not for me and I’m soooo grateful I get to feed the missionaries that serve my area of SLC where I live now. Both of my kids who have chosen to serve missions have gone foriegn and dealt with the struggle of learning a language while enduring miserable heat and humidity, so I feel so blessed to have our Elders come eat with us here because I see the light of the gospel in their eyes and I know somewhere in the world my missionary is serving and if she’s lucky someone is feeding her too and feeling her glowing “Missionary spirit” just as I did last night when the Elders came to our home. Such a blessing and just let me say…WE, the Utah Mormons, NEED THE MISSIONARIES here like never before. Now there are so many missions in Utah I’ve lost count and I never remember what mission I’m living in, but I’m sooooo grateful I’ve been blessed to have so many awesome Elders, from around the world (some barely speaking English) either eat at my table or teach my children’s friends the gospel. We need strengthening too and I’m so grateful for the missionaries, who like me, excitedly come to Utah because it’s Awesome!

  17. I need to correct the something I said in my last statement. It should have read, a few months BEFORE I left in Feb. of 87, sisters started serving on Temple Square.

  18. I’ve been home for 15 years and still get this from people I meet in the church. I served in Arizona and my wife served in the Czech Repulic. When people ask about where we went on our missions I get an “oh” as a response to my mission. Whereas she gets a “wow, that is so cool” which usually leads to a long conversation about her mission. No one ever asks me more than where did you go.

    There is definitely a stigma, which is sad. I got my call well before social media existed and the internet was still an infant, but that pressure was still there.

    Looking back now with perspective it was exactly what I needed and where I was meant to be, but it took a lot of time and struggle to come to that realization.

    Thanks for a great article. There are a lot of cultural “doctrines” in the church and recognizing them helps us move past them and focus on the real doctrine of salvation.

  19. I was curious if you ever considered changing the page layout of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 images. Maybe you could space it out better?

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  21. Very nice article, just what I was looking for.

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  23. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It’s always helpful to read content from other authors and practice a little something from their web sites.

  24. This is the perfect webpage for anyone who wants to understand this topic. You know a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really would want to…HaHa). You definitely put a brand new spin on a topic that has been written about for many years. Excellent stuff, just excellent!

  25. There’s something to be said about being able to be a missionary in your own country, and what you can get out of the scriptures, as far as learning them so deeply in your native tongue. (Not saying that it can’t happen in other languages.) You’re just able to immediately immerse yourself in the doctrine without having the initial language barrier. How many missionaries get that opportunity? Many do, and it’s a wonderful experience! It definitely doesn’t make them LESSER than anyone serving outside their country. Whatever mission a person gets called to is direct revelation that is prayed about by the leaders of this Church. To downplay anyone’s calling, is downplaying Heavenly Father and the work He needs us to do, revelation, the leaders of our Church, and everyone else involved- like the blessed people who choose where to go as Senior Missionaries, who are helping these younger missionaries. This judgemental cattiness has got to STOP. We need to trust that Heavenly Father knows better than ANY of us that He knows what we need as individuals and the work that needs to be done. We need to support one another and be happy for one another and raise each other up. Our society is so extreme and just getting worse and harder to get through as a youth. Every youth choosing to go on a mission deserves nothing but praise and support for putting themselves out there and sometimes giving up some major scholarships to do it. There’s honor in choosing to go on a mission, and accepting where you are called to go. I love the missionaries, wherever they may be- on their REAL missions.

  26. Mrs. Armstrong, thank you so much for your article. It really touched my heart. I had those feelings of doubt when I received my call. I was living in Fort Worth, Texas at the time when I was called to the Texas Dallas Mission for three months (two transfers). There were many feelings of inadequacy and disappointment. Those were the best three months of my life. While I could have continued, my mission ended with the three months. While it is still hard to be home, to see friends be called to foreign lands, I was where I needed to be. It was a very real mission. I gained a relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ that I would not have been able to gain by not serving. My decision to come home was not taken lightly. Many blessings and countless prayers went into my decision. It was and is right. I served my full mission. It was very real and the best months of my life. They have changed me for the better and I would not trade them for any other mission, foreign, 18 month, or otherwise. People still give me a look when I say where I am from and where I served, but I always make sure to say that I loved it. It was wonderful. A Missionary’s call is from God. He knows where we need to be. We simply must trust in Him and allow the Spirit to guide.

  27. I am a convert to the church too and live in Oregon. My son is currently serving in Colombia. As we waited for his mission call, we gave him the choice on how he wanted to open it. I had seen the big mission opening parties on social media. Yet, I realized that every single call you receive from the Lord is usually done in private with the bishop. Those calls are not accepted publicly. The mission call comes from the Lord whuch seemed like even more reason to open your call and accept it with Him. But we left it up to our son and he chose to open it on his own first then skype us from BYU. I’m glad that when he has hard times on his mission that he can remember when he accepted the call with the Lord.

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