Reach Out with Love to Less-Active Returned Missionaries
Contributed by By Suzanne Young, Seminaries and Institutes staff writer
Despite enjoying successful missions, some returned missionaries return home only to later drift into inactivity.
Josh loved his mission experience in the California Ventura Mission, but he found the transition home harder than he had anticipated.
“It’s just really difficult,” he said. “When I came home from my mission I thought life would be a lot different and it wasn’t.” After a year and a half of feeling frustrated, Josh went inactive for about eight months.
Josh said his inactivity was not immediate, but happened over several months. “I wouldn’t say my prayers every day, then not studying my scriptures, and pretty soon I wasn’t attending church anymore,” he said.
In a 2001 general conference talk, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve acknowledged that “the adjustment associated with leaving the mission field and returning to the world” is sometimes difficult. Then he asked, “Wouldn't this be a good time for a little self-evaluation to determine if we still have the same relationship with our Father in Heaven that we enjoyed in the mission field?” (“The Returned Missionary,” Oct. 2001 general conference).
Elder Perry had three suggestions for returned missionaries: pray more frequently, study the scriptures regularly, and continue to share the gospel.
Pray More Frequently
“If the world has diverted us from the practice of prayer,” Elder Perry said, “we then have lost a great spiritual power. Maybe it is time that we rekindle our missionary spirit through more frequent, consistent, and mighty prayer.”
Study the Scriptures Regularly
Elder Perry also encouraged returned missionaries to engage in daily personal scripture study as well as studying them with roommates, a spouse, or other family members. ”The practice of holding regular study classes would help keep the doctrines of the kingdom clear in our minds and offset the persistent intrusion of worldly concerns,“ he said.
Continue to Share the Gospel
Returned missionaries don't need a badge to share the gospel, Elder Perry said. ”I call on you returned missionaries to rededicate yourselves, to become reinfused with the desire and spirit of missionary service.“
Jennifer also loved her 18-month mission in the Canada Edmonton Mission. When she returned, she was active until she met and started dating a nonmember.
“In the end we did break up because of religion,” Jennifer said. “But we had hashed it out so much that at the end of it, I didn’t even know what I believed anymore. I decided to start looking into other churches and be more open-hearted.”
Unlike Josh, Jennifer has not found her way back to activity in the Church. “I don’t have any resentment to the Church,” she said. “I feel so blessed to have grown up in the LDS Church, … but I still feel confused because I don’t have answers to everything yet.”
in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 110).
After Dan returned from serving in the Colorado Colorado Springs Mission, he got a job and enrolled in school. School and work were headed in the right direction, but Dan soon became discouraged with his social life, particularly dating. “I was trying to find people to hang out with and click with, and it was no one in the Church,” he said.
Dan's friends drank alcohol and eventually Dan started drinking too. “It got to the point that I was so frustrated that I kept on drinking every night. … I felt guilty for my actions and I felt like I couldn’t come back.”
President Ken Peterson, mission president over the Ohio Cleveland Mission from 2006 to 2009, said some less-active returned missionaries “feel ostracized because inwardly they feel like they are disappointing people. As a result, they pull away from those they feel they have disappointed.”
Parents, friends, and leaders can help, President Peterson said. “Be a good example without preaching. Reach out to them.”
That is exactly what happened to Dan when he and his roommates attended his ward’s family home evening. “[Ward members] just swarmed us,” Dan continued. “It felt good, and I knew that I wanted to be around these people. They were friendly and inviting and welcoming.” His experience that night was something he never forgot. After five years of inactivity, Dan returned to the Church in 2012 and was recently married in the Salt Lake Temple.
Josh, Jennifer, Dan, and all agree that criticizing or reprimanding returned missionaries for not going to church only pushes them farther away. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” Josh said. “You don’t know what they’re going through in their life. The most important thing to do is be their friend.”
Jennifer agreed. “You never know where people are coming from,” she said. I feel like often people don’t get to know my heart; they just judge.”
President Peterson has seen a few of his own missionaries fall away and agreed. “It’s important that we love them. It’s a pretty tough world we live in, and a lot of times we are completely unaware of individual struggles.”
President Thomas S. Monson said: “Life is perfect for none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing [his or] her best to deal with the challenges which come [his or] her way, and may we strive to do our best to help out” (“Charity Never Faileth,” Sept. 2010 general Relief Society meeting).