Guest post: mission call

This is a guest post by Ray, who describes himself as the following:

Ray is a husband of 21 years and a father of six children (including four daughters), so he understands fatigue and emotional trauma.  He participates a little bit, here and there, around the Bloggernacle.  He agreed to step it up and come out of his shell to share some things with us.

My oldest son received his mission call today, Friday.  He will be reporting to the MTC on June 24th for three weeks, after which he will travel to the Washington, Everett Mission for the remainder of his two year service.

This is a very concise, sincere post – focused on a simple question:  What advice would you give my son before he enters the MTC?

NOTE: I have only one request. I am looking for any constructive advice, even that which is focused on potential negative aspects of serving a mission.  I would love to have him read the comments from this  post and gain a better understanding of both serving a mission and preparing to do so.  What I am not soliciting is condemnations of the Church – or suggestions to “discover the truth before you make a horrible mistake”.  Please respect those minimal restrictions and give him any advice you feel will help him as he serves.  I have asked the admins to delete any comments that do not conform to this very simple, heartfelt wish.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

26 thoughts on “Guest post: mission call

  1. Congrats to Papa Ray and Jr Ray!

    I got engaged on my 21st birthday so I didn’t serve a mission, even though I always wanted to (looking forward to couples’ mission). But I did have two experiences of leaving home and going to a strange place–once for college and another for study abroad. Both were incredibly exciting, but there were also moments of profound loneliness. It’s amazing how lonely it is possible to be in a new place, even when surrounded by friendly people. On a particularly difficult night halfway across the world, feeling like I was thousands of miles from anyone who really knew or cared about me, I stumbled on this verse (Alma 26:36)

    …blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land.

    You will have your companion, and the MP and his wife, and many others watching over you and caring about your welfare, yet I hear from some RMs is that there can still be moments of feeling alone emotionally. But God will always be mindful of you, no matter how far you are from home. Good luck, Jr Ray.

  2. 1. The leaders (teachers, branch presidents, administrators) at the MTC will be very different people from the local leaders in your home ward and stake. Allow them to be different. Different is not bad.

    2. Many, if not most, of your fellow elders will be very different from the guys in your home ward/stake. Allow them to be different. Different is not bad.

    3. The leaders (teachers, branch presidents, and administrators) will put a lot of pressure on the elders and sisters in order to make them (or even you) confess any sins that disqualify someone (even if it’s only a temporary disqualification, for the repentence process) from missionary service. Don’t take that pressure as an accusation, even if it comes across that way. If you have nothing to confess in the worthiness department, just let it all roll off you. It’s just part of the filtering process.

    4. The leadership style at the MTC may appear very “heavy handed” to you. You may feel “bullied”. That’s normal. There are just too many missionaries and too few leaders, and not enough time to give everyone the kid-glove handling that you probably got in your home ward. Most 19 year old men/boys are very “high spirited”, high-impulse, lots-of-testoserone kind of people, and the heavy-handedness is what normal men resort to when they don’t naturally have the leadership or people-skills to handle thousands of “high spirited” young men at the same time.

    However, don’t YOU use “heavy-handed” techniques on your comp or those under you if you are DL/ZL.

    5. If you see bad examples in fellow missionaries, unless it impacts you directly, ignore it.

    6. If you see bad examples in the ecclesiastical leadership (branch presidents or mission president) ignore it. The Lord knows they aren’t perfect, but those people were put there as being the best fit for the majority of missionaries at the MTC, even if they are not the best fit for you.

    7. If you feel the need to give feedback on your teacher, do that through proper channels.

    8. Your fellow elders will have different _kinds_ and different _levels_ (strengths) of testimony of the gospel and the church. That’s okay.

    9. After 1 week in the MTC, and every week thereafter for the next 2 years, ask your comp, who ever he is, junior, senior, greenie, whatever: “How can I be a better companion?”

    10. After 1 week in the field, and every week thereafter, ask your comp, as above, “How can I be a better missionary?”

    11. Don’t narc on comps or other elders for petty stuff like sleeping in 5 minutes, or sloppiness in your room/apartment. Always tell your MTC branch pres, and your mission pres, about the good things about your comp.

    12. If you have negative criticism, wait until your comp asks YOU “How can I be a better comp?” or “How can I be a better missionary?”. If after a few weeks he doesn’t ask, and you have some negative criticism you feel you must give, make a “compliment sandwhich”. Preface criticism with a compliment, and follow it up with a compliment.

    13. Respect and work with bishops and ward mission leaders. Your #1 question of local leaders (after the MTC) should be: “How can we help you?” and “What would you like us to do?”.

    14. Do not put up with verbal or physical abuse. Report it immediately to your mission pres, or to the branch pres or MTC pres when in the MTC. If you feel your classroom teacher is abusive in any way, report it to your Branch pres. If you feel your branch pres is being abusive, report it to the MTC pres. But remember #3, “pressure to confess” is part of the management style at the MTC, and #4, heavy-handed type leadership is to be expected. However, don’t YOU use “heavy-handed” techniques on your comp or those under you if you are DL/ZL.

    15. In the mission field, talk to everyone. 2 rules:
    a) When a person makes eye contact they are giving you permission to speak to that them
    b) Whenn a person makes eye contact and smiles, they are giving you an _invitation_ to speak to them.

    16. It is only after you have demonstrated that you are willing to talk to _everyone_, that the Lord will lead you to the specific people he wants/needs you to talk to. He will also lead them to you.

    17. The Lord will reveal things to you that you thought were impossible. He can give you driving directions while driving/biking. He can give you addresses by revelation.

    18. You really can give out a Book of Mormon a day. Have the ward you are serving in buy and supply you and your comp with 25 or 30 additional each month, beyond the 10 or so you get from the office every transfer. Keep a list of foreign language translations of the BoM, from They make wonderful ESL material.

    Have joy. Don’t be grim-faced. You’re allowed to have joy on your mission.

  3. Listen to your investigators. Once you master that, then work on actually listening to your investigators.

    (Hint: there’s a difference between “listening for things you want to hear” and “listening to what people are actually saying.”)

  4. Wow, Ray! You gave me quite a scare. You see, I have an uncle who has been married 21 years, has six children, and whose eldest son reports to the MTC June 24th on his way to the Washington Everett Mission. Fortunately, before I accused you of being him, I recalled that three of his children are daughters, not four.

    So my first recommendation to your son would be to get to know Elder Pratt in the MTC. Maybe you two will get along really well, and maybe you won’t, but odds are he will be a treasured friend long after you’ve completed your mission.

    I echo the above comments, and add a bit of advice one of my companions taught me: you can love someone before you even know them. Start right now praying for love for the people in the Everett area. You will find an increased capacity for love as you serve those people.

  5. Tell your son he is very lucky to be going a great mission! I live in the Everett mission boundaries, in the most productive ward area—and he’s in for an adventure. Which language will he serve in, to start? (warning: flexibly is a virtue! quite a few have been called to speak English, until they get through the MTC, when they abruptly switch to Spanish, or visa versa. The poor guy from Japan, new in our ward, had never spoken English until the MTC, and now he is in a Spanish branch, where once again, he cannot speak)

    Recently, a handful of elders (also from our ward; we had 6) were all sent home early, including the one in his first area and the one with under a month left. Whatever degree of laxness may have existed before has vanished–and there was not much!. Your son will be well served to prepare to hit the ground running. He should be very very familiar with PMG; the latest greenie last week not only taught a lesson with 4 minutes notice, but quoted passages, with page numbers, adding a testimony that showed he knew his stuff. The ability to pray, through good times and monotony, will help.

    Tell your son that the MTC has little basis in reality; it is a parallel universe where his testimony will be flooded with a compost tea of nourishment…along with some of the other bits one often finds in compost. Tell him to be humble; even if he does know it all, no one wants to hear it. Tell him to not be so humble that he cannot ask for help. (I was livid not long ago. As Activities leaders, I snagged the missionaries after a dinner, and told them to get a box and take home the leftovers. One young elder looked like he wanted to hug me! He said softly, “We ran out of food 4 days ago, and this means a lot. Prayers answered, huh?”) He may not have the same luxuries as at home, but sacrifice does not mean going without necessities.

    He will also do better if he can cultivate relationships with bishops and mission leaders in the wards he serves in, and the confidence to speak up. In our ward, missionaries are expected to report clearly, with details, plans, progress, etc at a moments’ notice. They are also called upon to help wherever needed; cover a lesson, move a table, HT a family, etc. We had elders long ago who actively avoided members, refused to even make eye contact. That really is not tolerated; even from the first day, expect to be a fully functioning remember of the area he’s in. There are an assortment of people in this mission, ranging from dirt-poor immigrants (Russian, Ukrainian, and South/Central American mostly, although our ward with dependent branch has at least 19 other countries represented) to stunningly wealthy.

    Not going to tell much about the mission president, because unless I count wrong, I think he’ll be released before your boy arrives here. Well, a tiny bit, because some may carry over. He runs a tight ship, has minimal sense of humor, and kept the Dear John Board outside his office from the previous president. It’s a large bulletin board, facing the bench where to-be-interviewed missionaries sit. Missionaries who receive Dear John Letters are encouraged to post them there for all to read —and score cards are provided! They are to rate them on creativity, originality, sincerity, etc. Seems a tad cold-hearted to me, but the elders swear it aids the wounded heart’s healing.

    Sorry this is so long… one more thing. My son just returned from a very tough European mission last summer. He had a very hard adjustment; culture shock, downright abusive trainer, language problems, his first area had active prostitution 4 feet from his door most nights, he was told by the mission president to lie about his nationality for safety’s sake…it was tougher than many missions! My son stubbornly decided “I’ll show them! I’ll work circles around every one else, I’ll be fanatically obedient to every stupid rule, I’ll set higher goals, I’ll prove this mission is horrible!” Naturally, his hard work was rewarded— the Lord sorta backfired his plan. When he was pressured to set goals, he rebelliously set them 3, 5, 8 times higher than anyone else’s…then outworked most of the others, as well. As he said “We set goals, we met goals, we passed goals, we left goals far in the dust, and I love my mission.” Okay, his motives were bad… but that one branch, the one with 23 members when he arrived and 79 when he left, called him legendary. If your son can make up his mind to work that hard, be that obedient, actually devote his whole effort, without leaving one foot at home, he will thrive here. My son wears a ring on his thumb that he bought early on his mission. It has a bar code etched into it. He says it reminded him that it’s not about numbers, but about souls, and that the Savior has already paid for those souls.

    Sigh…just ONE more thing! .. Impress upon your son the need to write concise, detailed emails or letters home. He won’t have time for epistles, but he can get good at telling whole stories in a few lines. As a mom, the dearth of details was killer.

  6. Goodness. you’d have thought I’d be out of words after that last post~! We were told that Everett Mission will go from 145 missionaries currently to 280 by August—so there will be a lot of new ones coming in.

  7. Bookslinger, your list is impressive. May I swipe it, please, for a almost -gone young friend who’s quite sure he will never be ready?

  8. Ben — I will watch for Elder Pratt. There are Pratts in my ward — amazing people. Wally spoke at both my parents funerals. If he gets to Ferndale or Arlington, he can watch out for the funny-looking tall guy with the hat that looks very sleepy (and in Arlington, who is likely to be wearing jeans).

    Deb — I’m in Bellingham Stake. Where are you?

    I already told Ray a few things about the mission on another blog.

  9. You might tell your son to start weaning himself of media and electronic devices. I hear some elders who quit texting or gaming cold turkey can have withdrawal symptoms. It might be good for him to spend the next couple of months working out, strengthening himself and improving his endurance. If he has any buddies entering the MTC this summer, maybe it would be useful for them to get together for PMG study sessions. And he should be asking himself if he has any chinks in his testimony armor, because every missionary needs to solidify their testimony before leaving.

  10. Thank you, everyone. I appreciate the comments thus far.

    Just to clear up one thing, Ben, I am “Papa D” on my personal blog. Everywhere else, I am Ray. I definitely will tell Ryan to look for Elder Pratt; tell him to look for Elder DeGraw.

  11. Congratulations to Elder DeGraw and to his parents.

    I agree with Bookslinger’s #9 and #13. My biggest regrets about my mission are that I was not a better companion and that I was not as supportive of the branches and wards where I served as I could have been.

  12. Arrange with an aunt or uncle or sibling to be his go-to guy at home, no questions asked, if he needs something he doesn’t want everybody to know and laugh about. Whatever that thing is, is different for everybody: Maybe he’ll discover he needs his pillow to smell the same as it does at home, so he needs his go-to guy to send him the same brand of face soap or fabric softener his mother buys. Maybe he’ll want balloons to magically appear at his girlfriend’s house on her birthday, with a personal note that doesn’t appear to have been mailed. There’s always something.

  13. Welcome Ray. It is nice to hear from you. Thank you for guest posting. Congratulations on your son’s mission call.

    Our oldest will be returning home from his mission in late July 2009. You have received a lot of good advice to give your son.

    My advice is more for you and the rest of the family. Sending out a missionary is a sacrifice. Oldest children are often their parent’s right hand man/woman. Everyone in the family feels the emptiness of the place that particular child inhabited. Despite missing our son, we felt immense pride at his decision to go on a mission. The younger kids liked to brag that their older brother was on a “mission trip” that lasted for 2 whole years! They could really wow their friends with that one as their friends where accustomed to a few months. We used thoughts he sent us for FHE. We had fun making an occasional care package.

    It is a tough thing to watch a child go on a mission. It is hard to realize that last goodbye will be for two years. Even though our missionary spent a year away at college we could easily pick up the phone and call him and we saw him frequently. The toughest thing was not being able to talk to him when we had something to share. Somedays especially in the beginning and on holidays we missed him a lot. It is okay to express these feelings. It is good for other family members to learn that doing the right and honorable thing is sometimes hard, but worth it.

    One thing that I have appreciated as a parent is that the US based missionaries are able to email home. We all look forward to Mondays (p-day). We have a pretty good estimate of when he will get on the computer to write us. It is a kind of slow instant messaging. We are able to ask questions and get clarification on anything he might have said. It is nice to have this weekly connection.

    We are careful not to share too much. We did not tell him we missed him, but let him know in our letters to him that we supported and encouraged him with positive language. If we were having a difficult trial as a family, we were careful not to divulge it to him until everything was resolved. We did not want him to worry about something he had no control over. Positive thoughts were always conveyed.

    Once again, Congratulations!

  14. Get a cheap copy of the Book of Mormon and read it straight through–like Parley P. Pratt if you can. Red pencil in hand, mark anything that strikes you. Do it fast–you’re not drawing a picture.

    Work with your mom on some simple, quick recipes. Have her email them to you once you arrive in Washington. I remember what generally horrid food I ate on my mission (Mom couldn’t give any advice about Japanese cooking)–but you don’t have to sacrifice all quality for speed and economy.

  15. Mark B, in our house, that would be “work with your DAD on some simple, quick recipes” – especially the excellent Japanese food I learned to make on my mission. *grin*

  16. Everyone, I thought you might be interested in a comment I wrote on a different blog in a thread similar to this one in response to a rabid anti-Mormon commenter (whose comments were edited creatively following my explanation of what I did and why). Here is my response:
    Btw, when I explained Andrew’s comments to my son, he laughed (loud laughter, actually) and said, essentially:

    “It’s not like I’m being plucked straight out of high school and forced to enlist. I’ve had two years of college at a school in the East where almost every other student raised “Mormon” is gay and/or non-practicing. I’m friends with all of them, including Honor Society leaders. It’s like a frat with standards – and, yes, I’m aware of how odd that would sound to members who think homosexuals have no standards. I’ve also been out of school working and preparing for another year.”
    He’s nearly twenty-one, and this was his choice after three years away from home. That’s just another reason for me to enforce my request in the post.

  17. Ray,

    another factor I’d like him to remember is the age/maturity difference.

    Remind him to constantly remind himself not to expect 19 year olds to act like 21 year olds. I hope he remembers to be gentle/patient with his comps, and not expect too much maturity of them too quickly.

    swipe away.

  18. I think a lot of people have submitted excellent advice, and mine won’t be much different:
    1–get back on your bike. For lots of people, they haven’t ridden a bike in a long time, and it would behoove you to build up some endurance before you go.
    2–Study Preach my Gospel, read the BoM again, and study the Old and New Testaments–they will help you build on common beliefs with lots of investigators, and it is often embaressing what our Mormon youth, even Seminary graduates, do not know.
    3–Focus on the people–your companion (most importantly), your investigators (even those who don’t keep commitments), the people in your wards (even the ones who don’t invite you to dinner), and the people who reject you are all beloved children of God. You need to respect that.
    4–Enjoy the people–you will likely get to know many kinds of people you never would have associated with in “normal” life–enjoy it.
    5–Do not be negatively influenced by other missionaries–some will be comfortable working much less than you, some will tell ugly jokes, some will push the boundaries of mission rules. Be the best missionary you can be without being self-righteous and those around will probably mediate their behavior for your benefit.
    6–When you serve with sisters (and even when you don’t) please be mindful of them and their different kind of path. Be respectful. Do not make sister missionary jokes.
    7–Your testimony is more important than the stuff you have memorized to talk about.
    8–The MTC IS NOT your mission–just survive it (shouldn’t be too hard for 3 weeks).
    9–Break up with your girlfriend before you go; she’ll still be around if you are still interested later.
    10–Spend more time corresponding with your family than your friends.

  19. Dear Elder,

    All your life you’ve heard about the importance of member missionary work, how it’s up to the members to find people for the missionaries to teach, that only investigators brought into contact by members are any good. It’s time to forget all that. It’s just hyperbole intended to get all us lazy people doing something, anything to spread the gospel. When you are able to work with members, it’s a great thing. Even with people who come into contact with the Church through you, it will be important to bring them into fellowship with the Saints starting as early as workable.

    However, even if you are in a tiny branch with few members to work with, or a settled place where the members aren’t bringing any friends to you, you are not dependent on the members to fulfill your call. “Every member a missionary” is a great slogan—for members. If taken to heart by missionaries, then the corollary is “every missionary a haranguer.” In truth, though, you will be the one with the unique calling by God, set apart by the laying on of hands to preach the gospel. You, not the branch president, or the elders quorum.

    It’s a heavy responsibility, and sometimes you’ll feel like your efforts aren’t getting the job done. Don’t ever turn that feeling into blame directed at the members you will be serving among; leave that to their stake president. Spend your hours and days thinking of ways, some of which will even be inspired, to bring yourself into contact with those not of our church in a way that incites their interest in your message. Most people in the world don’t have a Mormon buddy, so member missionary work can’t reach most people. You and your companion, however, with your setting apart to a unique position, will be capable of reaching some that no other Mormons in town could.

  20. Pingback: One Last Book Before I Go | Times & Seasons, An Onymous Mormon Blog

  21. All your life you’ve heard about the importance of member missionary work, how it’s up to the members to find people for the missionaries to teach, that only investigators brought into contact by members are any good. It’s time to forget all that. It’s just hyperbole intended to get all us lazy people doing something, anything to spread the gospel.

    Yeah, that’s an interesting take as you transition from “regular member” to “missionary”.

  22. Ahh…this is hard when I don’t know your son or his personality or temperament. However, the advice that I would give is what I most regret from my mission. I was so focused on being “obedient” and “working hard” etc etc (all of those tthings that ARE important) that I prioritized them over people, especially companions. I wish that I had taken the time to realize my companion was depressed and needed more compassion from me and less pushing to go tracting. As someone who really followed the letter of the law and was very black and white, I wished that I had focused more on PEOPLE and INDIVIDUALS, and forgot myself more (even if that resulted in getting home 5 min. late etc….). Good luck to your son; I hope he has a marvelous experience.

  23. He says “Your son is sitting in a chair in my living room right now,” which was exactly what I was going to say. He seems to be healthy, and has rolled with the punches pretty well with the questions I threw on. Now we’re just hanging out.

    Sometimes the world gets very, very small. He’s doing a one-day in my ward, but has been in the next ward over for about a month.

    I asked if he wants to say anything, and he’s looking perplexed and says “I don’t know.” We’re going with that.

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