Seminar for New Mission Presidents: Auxiliary General Presidents Discuss Coping with Stress

Contributed By Rachel Sterzer, Church News staff writer

  • 14 July 2016

From left, Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary General President; Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women General President; and Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society General President, speak at the 2016 Seminar for New Mission Presidents.

Article Highlights

  • The "Adjusting to Missionary Life Booklet" is a great resource for coping with stress.
  • Mission presidents and their wives are discouraged from layering unnecessary rules on their missionaries.
  • Sometimes all missionaries need is a little encouragement from those they respect, love, and trust.

“It is worth all efforts to understand through the Spirit what these precious sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father need most in order to help them work through their challenges.” —Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary General President

PROVO, UTAH

The women General Auxiliary Presidents came together during the 2016 Seminar for New Mission Presidents to discuss how mission presidents and their wives can offer counsel and guidance to missionaries as they cope with the various stresses and struggles that can accompany missionary service.

Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women General President, reminded new mission leaders—who would soon be departing for their various missions around the world—that their missionaries will come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and their personalities will be as diverse as they are.

“You will learn that [your missionaries] are amazing in their strengths and in their righteous desires to serve the Lord and in their strong testimonies,” she said. However, they will also most likely experience challenges.

Dealing with changes and challenges

In introducing the topic of their session, Sister Oscarson also introduced the booklet Adjusting to Missionary Life, which offers insights, instructions, suggestions, and tools as a resource to missionaries—as well as their presidents and presidents’ wives.

“Each of your missionaries will also have a copy of this booklet, but you are going to be a great help in teaching them and reminding them in how to use the information in this booklet,” Sister Oscarson said.

Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary General President, listed some of the major changes experienced in the lives of newly arrived missionaries, including new surroundings, companions, and expectations, as well as an often demanding schedule and sometimes a new culture and language. In addition, they will often experience rejection and discouragement.

Sister Jones recalled the experience of her oldest son as he traveled into 115-degree heat and sweltering humidity to begin his mission service. Mosquito-bitten and homesick, he tried to adjust to a new companion, language, and environment. He kept his struggles to himself, but his mission president sensed his need and shared with him a vision of what a powerful missionary he knew he could be.

The 15-minute interview bolstered her son’s faith that with the Lord’s help he could do what was required, Sister Jones said. “Your counsel and influence just might be the turning point in your missionaries’ lives too.”

Missionaries can experience physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual stress. “These issues are real and need to be acknowledged,” Sister Jones said and quoted a paragraph from Adjusting to Missionary Life, which reads: “Stress is not always bad. In fact, stress is a normal physical and emotional response to the changes and challenges of life and is necessary for growth.”

Sister Jones continued, “Just knowing that stress and anxiety or discouragement are normal reactions to the changes in their lives, and that most other missionaries experience similar feelings, can be a comfort and a help.”

Missionaries have given up many of the things they normally use to cope with stress, Sister Jones explained. She encouraged mission leaders to remind missionaries that they have access to many tools that can be helpful in handling stress, including “prayer, the scriptures, their companion, their leaders, conference talks, this booklet, and you.”

Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society General President, explained that sometimes physical symptoms are physical manifestations of emotional stress, something she learned while serving with her husband as he presided over the Korea Seoul West Mission.

Many missions have medical professionals who can be consulted regarding serious cases, Sister Burton said. “We encourage you to be very familiar with the information in this book so you can help missionaries identify what they are experiencing, assess their level of stress, and walk them through the steps they can make and the tools they can use to alleviate and work through their challenges,” she said.

Help them through love, trust, and respect

Sister Oscarson advised the mission presidents’ wives to foster relationships of love, trust, and respect with the missionaries. “It will be a great blessing to all.”

While there may be some need to give guidelines based on local situations and cultures, Sister Oscarson cautioned against adding many extra rules and instructions outside of the white missionary handbook.

She quoted the Prophet Joseph Smith who, when asked how he was able to govern so many people in perfect order, responded, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”

“Teach your missionaries principles in the missionary handbook,” Sister Oscarson said. “Don’t layer on unnecessary rules. Use judgment and listen to the Spirit, which will help you maintain the right balance of discipline in your mission.”

The power of encouragement

When faced with missionaries who want to go home early, especially in the first few months in the mission field, Sister Burton counseled mission leaders to be sensitive to their concerns and challenges. “You may find it helpful to get the most supportive individual on the phone with you and them to provide encouragement and support. Let the Spirit guide you in this.”

In the early weeks of their mission, Sister Burton and her husband sought to provide encouragement to a sister missionary who was struggling and wanted to go home, Sister Burton recalled. They asked the sister who was the greatest source of strength to her on her mission. She responded it was her mother, and President and Sister Burton allowed her to make a phone call to her mother.

“Her mother’s response was uplifting, encouraging, and supportive. She reminded her beloved daughter that their family had a history of being able to do hard things. She then assured her that her family members were in this together with her and they would do their part by increasing faith and fasting and prayers in her behalf.”

The sister stayed and, at the end of her mission, wept with joy and declared with gratitude, “We made it!”

“The point is,” Sister Burton said, “please utilize whoever might be of the greatest encouragement and help in order to allow these choice young men and young women to honorably complete their missions.”

Sister Jones then shared the example of President Gordon B. Hinckley, who, as a young missionary, wrote of his discouragement to his father, who responded with a letter that read, “Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion. Forget yourself and go to work.”

“Sometimes all it will take to inspire new courage and a renewed determination to work through problems is an arm around the shoulders, some loving encouragement, and an expression of confidence,” Sister Jones said.

Other cases may take time and counseling, however. “It is worth all efforts to understand through the Spirit what these precious sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father need most in order to help them work through their challenges,” Sister Jones said.

Sister Oscarson noted that the missionaries are not the only ones who need to understand the skills to overcome stress and discouragement.

“You mission presidents and wives also need to apply these principles in your daily lives,” she said.

Sister Oscarson counseled the couples to watch out for their spouse and to take their preparation day every week. “This is a glorious time of your lives—days never to be forgotten. Make sure that you nurture your own relationship. Take care of one another and don’t run faster than you are able. Apply the principles of stress management found in this booklet in your own lives.”