Health Preparation for Missionaries
Physical and mental preparation should begin at least two years before a full-time mission.
During 35 years of practice as a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, I performed thousands of operations on the heart. After cardiac surgery, patients would often ask me how they could prevent future surgery. And even if they didn’t ask, I felt obligated to advise them anyway. I would talk to them about the importance of a healthy diet, appropriate weight, aerobic exercise, adequate rest, and stress reduction. Those who acted on my advice were generally blessed with years of comfortable living. Many of those who lacked the resolve to make the necessary lifestyle changes had to face the surgical knife again—often sooner rather than later.
Preventive measures are also essential for young adults who are preparing to serve missions. Today about 3 percent of missionaries have their missions shortened by either physical or mental health problems. Losing 3 out of 100 missionaries may not seem like very many. But to the individual and his or her family, it is very significant.
For more than a year, I have served in a calling where I observe the health problems missionaries encounter. Based on my experiences in this assignment, I would offer the following information to help young people who are preparing to become missionaries reduce the likelihood of developing these health problems.
Fortunately, many of the health problems that missionaries encounter are preventable with proper preparation. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated, “The single most important thing you can do to prepare for a call to serve is to become a missionary long before you go on a mission.” 1
I recommend that health preparation begin at least two years in advance of the anticipated missionary service. Those who wait to prepare until the last minute or until after they have received the call to serve may not be ready and may even have their missions delayed.
Physical health preparation usually includes a routine office consultation with a medical doctor and a dentist. In some cases, mental health preparation may require evaluation by a mental health professional.
Physical Health Preparation
Regular (daily) exercise. A missionary must be able to walk an average of six miles (10 km) per day and ride a bicycle 12 miles (19 km) per day. Prospective missionaries who aren’t walking more than from the car to a class or a job will likely get sore feet and blisters when they reach the mission field. Those who are not used to riding a bicycle regularly will also become very “saddle sore” when a bike becomes their primary means of transportation. A missionary who is out of shape will be fatigued by missionary work, and a tired missionary is more open to discouragement and health concerns than a missionary who is physically fit.
Prospective missionaries can prepare for the rigors of missionary life by establishing a regular pattern of aerobic exercise—walking, running, or cycling for one hour every day. Those whose primary form of exercise is playing electronic games or text messaging will take at least four months to achieve the level of conditioning that will allow them to actually enjoy a workout.
Adequate sleep. Although sleep needs vary, young adults generally need to sleep seven to eight hours per day. Ideally, they should be in bed by 10:30 to midnight and out of bed by 6:30 to 8:00 a.m. Staying up until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. and sleeping until 10:00 a.m. leaves a person feeling tired all the time and wanting to sleep until noon. Staying up all night to cram for examinations, playing video games most of the night, or working a graveyard shift can be detrimental because it resets the body’s clock. Missionaries live a scheduled life. They are in bed by 10:30 p.m. and up by 6:30 a.m. every day. This schedule will be difficult unless prospective missionaries get into a similar routine well in advance of the call to service.
Healthy eating habits. Rather than living on sugar and fat, young people should learn to enjoy meals consisting of protein and fiber, such as lean meat, yogurt, vegetables, and fruit. Also, drinking more than 12 ounces of carbonated beverage per day is too much.
The Missionary Department requires that missionaries have a body mass index no higher than 37. This is actually on the border between obesity and morbid obesity. Prospective missionaries should strive to keep their weight in the normal range, thereby avoiding obesity-related health problems. Being markedly under normal weight can also have serious health consequences.
Meal preparation skills. Parents can help their sons and daughters learn how to prepare simple, healthy meals. I stress the word simple because missionaries often cook food on a hot plate or a single gas burner and may not have an oven. Every prospective missionary needs to know the basics of cooking and sanitary food handling. Since dishwashers are rarely found in missionary living quarters, it is also important to know how to clean up after meals with hot water and soap.
Personal hygiene. Personal cleanliness and good grooming habits are vital to missionary success. Favorable first impressions are lasting. Clean hands also help missionaries stay healthy and prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
Skin problems. Acne is a common teenage problem. Those with a severe acne problem should get help from a medical doctor well before entering the MTC. Some acne medicines require monitoring over time and are not used in the mission field.
Dental health. Prevention is the key to good dental health. This means a habit of brushing teeth at least morning and night, daily use of dental floss, and consistent visits to your dentist. Any required dental repair should be finished before the missionary recommendation is submitted. Orthodontic treatment—which often takes two years or more—must be completed before arrival at the MTC.
Chronic health issues. Headaches are a common, difficult health problem that may worsen during missionary service and that can be difficult to evaluate and treat in the field. Occasional stomach and bowel problems may also become chronic during missionary service. Heart problems and breathing problems such as asthma should be thoroughly evaluated before beginning missionary service. With proper treatment, many health problems become stable, making missionary service possible if treatment continues throughout the mission.
Bone and joint problems resulting from injury may require surgery. Orthopedic procedures, even arthroscopic operations, usually entail lengthy periods of rehabilitation. Prospective missionaries must obtain appropriate orthopedic care well in advance (four to six months) of entering missionary service. A young man or woman who arrived at the MTC on crutches two weeks after knee surgery would not be able to walk the distance required in the mission field.
Immunizations. Those preparing to serve missions should obtain all available routine vaccinations and booster injections at appropriate ages. Well before beginning their missionary service, they should also receive any special immunizations required for the particular country where they will serve.
The advantages of immunization overwhelmingly exceed the minuscule risks of receiving the vaccine. Immunization renders an individual resistant to the disease for varying time periods. Maintaining immunity may require a booster injection.
Mental Health Preparation
All people have moments of sadness, anxiety, and discouragement. This is normal, especially at times of loss and grief. However, any emotional difficulty that interferes with normal daily functioning needs to be dealt with before missionary service begins.
Any unresolved sins can affect both the mental and physical health of individuals. These should be resolved through full repentance as potential missionaries meet with their bishops before receiving a call. But once this is done, there still may be other conditions needing treatment.
Mood disorders. Those who suffer from chronic or recurring feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety, or fear should be evaluated by a doctor or mental health counselor. Mood swings, especially when they involve temper and anger, should also be evaluated. Treatment, including counseling and/or medication, often reduces or relieves mood disorders, making missionary service possible.
Abnormal thought patterns. Excessive worry and guilt can seriously impair a missionary’s ability to serve. Perfectionism, which is a consuming need to be perfect, can also become a crippling mental health issue. Recurring painful thoughts and repetitive behaviors such as excessive frequent hand washing are signs of obsessive-compulsive thought disorder. Counseling with a doctor or mental health professional can often effectively treat these abnormal thought patterns.
Learning disorders. Because the ability to learn and teach is the essence of missionary work, learning problems such as attention deficit disorder (ADD) can impair missionary success. However, evaluation and treatment of learning disorders may improve learning ability considerably. Some learning disabilities may not be compatible with missionary life. Parents and prospective missionaries should prayerfully counsel with their bishop and professionals on the viability of serving a full-time proselyting mission.
Eating disorders. Because people can use food to comfort themselves and relieve feelings of depression or anxiety, eating can become an addiction leading to obesity. On the other hand, social pressure to be lean or even underweight can lead to anorexia nervosa or bulimia, both of which create serious health risks. These disorders will not resolve themselves during a mission. Because they are so difficult to treat, they may not be compatible with missionary service.
Homesickness. While mild homesickness is a normal part of the mission experience, leaving parents and siblings can cause anxiety so intense that it interferes with the ability to sleep or eat. Rapid weight loss is common among missionaries with severe separation anxiety. To prevent these problems, prospective missionaries should become comfortable being away from home. Extended camping trips or living in a dormitory at school can reveal any tendency for severe separation anxiety. Those who do have problems functioning when they are away from home should seek treatment from a doctor or mental health professional.
Social skills. Missionary work involves meeting and conversing with people of all ages and speaking before groups. Prospective missionaries should become comfortable talking to older people. They should practice being respectful and courteous, using proper table manners, and observing other social courtesies. Missionaries are also required to approach strangers and strike up a conversation. Therefore, prospective missionaries should learn to be comfortable in initiating contact and conversing with people outside their normal circle of family and friends. They should also be aware of cultural differences in the world.
Employment. Missionary work is just that, work. There is nothing easy about missionary work, so young people should develop the ability to work reliably. A regular job teaches such habits as getting to work on time, not missing work unnecessarily, doing assigned tasks well, looking for more work when the assigned task is completed, and not going home early. A job also helps young people understand the value of money. Where possible, the prospective missionary should plan to pay as much of the cost of the mission as possible, rather than depending on parents or donations from others. Helping pay for their own missions will help the prospective missionary learn to live within the stringent missionary allowance.
Other Mission Opportunities
During the course of preparing to serve, prospective missionaries may discover serious physical or emotional issues. Prospective missionaries and their parents should be completely candid in disclosing all health issues and medications on the missionary recommendation application.
Unfortunately, some health problems can present insurmountable obstacles to serving full-time proselytizing missions. The First Presidency has stated: “There are worthy individuals who desire to serve but do not qualify for the physical, mental, or emotional challenges of a mission. We ask stake presidents and bishops to express love and appreciation to these individuals and to honorably excuse them from full-time missionary labors.” 2 In such cases, service missions can be a great blessing, allowing individuals to live at home and receive appropriate medical care while growing and maturing in the service of the Lord. Parents, bishops, and stake presidents can help in encouraging and arranging appropriate opportunities.
Opportunities for service missions can also be found at the Church Web site www.lds.org. Select “Other Resources,” then “Mission and Service Opportunities.” Continuing higher education or technical training to allow better coping with chronic impairment is also an admirable alternative.
Here to Help
When prospective missionaries prepare themselves well in advance of submitting their recommendation applications, they can identify and resolve health problems, improve their physical strength, and be better mentally and emotionally prepared to withstand the rigorous life required of missionaries. They will then be much more likely to complete a successful mission free of significant health problems.
Unfortunately, some missionaries unpredictably become ill or injured while serving. More than 50 health-care professionals are serving as full-time missionaries throughout the world, with 200 additional volunteers serving at Church headquarters—all in support of missionary health. Speaking for this small army of health-care professionals, we will be there to help any missionary who becomes ill or injured. And we pray every day that our missionaries will remain healthy and safe from harm as they serve the Lord and His children.
“Becoming a Missionary,” Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2005, 45.
First Presidency letter, Jan. 30, 2004.
Church Marks 200th Anniversary of Wilford Woodruff’s Birth
March 1, 2007, marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Wilford Woodruff, the fourth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Born on March 1, 1807, and raised in Farmington, Connecticut, Wilford Woodruff was a flour mill operator. He joined the Church in 1833 and served two missions before being ordained an Apostle in 1839.
As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he completed four additional missions; presided over the temple in St. George, Utah; and served six years as Church Historian.
He was sustained as President of the Church on April 7, 1889. He dedicated the Manti Utah Temple and the long-awaited Salt Lake Temple, oversaw the organization of the Genealogical Society of Utah, and reemphasized the value of historical record keeping.
President Woodruff was a faithful pioneer, participating in Zion’s Camp with the Prophet Joseph Smith. At age 40 he entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, and was with Brigham Young when he proclaimed, “This is the right place.”
“God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (Hymns, no. 285) was President Woodruff’s favorite hymn. “‘He loved [that hymn],’ remarked President Heber J. Grant [1856–1945], who served as an Apostle when Wilford Woodruff was President of the Church. ‘We sang it, I am sure, sometimes twice a month in our weekly meetings in the Temple, and very seldom did a month pass by when that song was not called for by Brother Woodruff. He believed in this work with all his heart and soul, and labored with all the power that God gave him for its advancement’” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff , xv).
President Woodruff is remembered for being an avid journal keeper. He kept a journal for most of his adult life, “making his final entry on August 31, 1898, two days before he died” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church, 125).
In one meeting, he taught a principle that can be applied to journals as well as to official Church records: “While walking in a rapid stream we cannot tread twice in the same water. Neither can we spend twice the same time. When we pass out of that door, the work of this meeting will be closed to us forever. We shall never spend the time of this evening again. Then should we not keep a record of our work, teachings, and counsel which we give in this meeting? We should” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church, 127).
He encouraged children to start keeping journals early in their lives: “If my young friends will begin to do this and continue it, it will be of far more worth than gold to them in a future day,” he said (Teachings of Presidents of the Church, 132).
After much pondering and prayer, President Woodruff received a revelation that the Latter-day Saints should cease the practice of plural marriage. In 1890 he wrote the Manifesto, testifying that the Church had ceased teaching the practice of plural marriage. In addition to being the Lord’s mouthpiece for that revelation, President Woodruff also left a legacy that emphasized missionary and temple work.
President Woodruff died in San Francisco, California, USA, on September 2, 1898, at age 91.
In 2006 members across the world learned of this prophet’s testimony from the manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff. In the manual are many stories from President Woodruff’s life and ministry.
While searching for the truth, President Woodruff felt a need to see a modern-day prophet: “In my early manhood I prayed day and night that I might live to see a prophet. I would have gone a thousand miles to have seen a prophet, or a man that could teach me the things that I read of in the Bible. I could not join any church, because I could not find any church at that time that advocated these principles” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church, xix–xx).
President Woodruff taught the importance of modern revelation: “The Church of God could not live twenty-four hours without revelation” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church, 47).
He also emphasized personal revelation through the Spirit: “You may have the administration of angels; you may see many miracles; … but I claim that the gift of the Holy Ghost is the greatest gift that can be bestowed upon man” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church, 49).
President Woodruff frequently exhorted his fellow Saints to partake of the blessings available in the temple. He said, “I consider that the building of temples is one of the important things required by the Lord of the Latter-day Saints in the dispensation of the fulness of times, that we may go into those temples and not only redeem the living but redeem our dead” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church, xxix). With characteristic diligence, he set an example of temple work, ensuring that temple work be done for thousands of his ancestors.
Like other prophets of his day, President Woodruff prophesied that the time would come when there would be temples all over the world.
Members Rally after Quake Strikes Hawaiian Islands
The magnitude 6.7 earthquake that struck the Hawaiian Islands early in the morning of Sunday, October 15, 2006, caused minor damage to the Kona Hawaii Temple and several meetinghouses, according to early estimates.
The temblor, which hit at about 7:07 a.m. local time, was centered 10 miles (16 km) north-northwest of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii and was felt throughout the islands, causing power outages on Oahu. On the Big Island, power was knocked out for several hours, and roads, bridges, and many other structures were damaged.
The Kona Hawaii Temple, located in Kailua-Kona, had some chandelier damage and other minor damage, but the temple was open for patrons two days later, according to Elder Eric B. Shumway, an Area Seventy and president of BYU–Hawaii. No members or missionaries were hurt, but all the meetinghouses on the Big Island received some damage, Elder Shumway added.
Elder Shumway noted that emergency and disaster plans quickly fell into place after the quake. “How wonderful it is to see members of the Church rallying together,” he said.
Aley K. Auna Jr., president of the Kona Hawaii Stake, said he was most impressed with the reaction of priesthood leaders and members to the stake’s emergency plans, which included a plan for an earthquake measuring 6.5 or higher. He said all stake members were immediately “contacted and confirmed safe.”
At the time of this report, President Auna explained that assessments of the structural safety of stake buildings were still underway, noting that the Kohala Ward meetinghouse, in the community nearest the epicenter, had some cracks in the walls and damaged lighting fixtures. Some significant damage occurred at the Keei Ward meetinghouse when a satellite dish toppled from its base and damaged a corner of the missionary quarters located on the grounds. In addition, some false ceilings in the meetinghouse fell.
On Oahu, there was no damage reported to the Laie Hawaii Temple, and other than power outages, no damages have been reported from BYU–Hawaii or the adjacent Polynesian Cultural Center.
Adapted from Church News, October 21, 2006.
Call for Articles
The Liahona invites adults, youth, and children to share how your life is influenced by your testimony of the Savior. How do you live because you believe in Jesus Christ? What does His Atonement mean to you?
Please limit your submission to 500 words or fewer, label it “Testimony,” and send it by April 16, 2007, to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Liahona Editorial, 50 E. North Temple St., Room 2420, Salt Lake City, UT 84150-3220, USA.
Please include your name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, ward and stake (or branch and district), and a photo (including written permission to print the photo).
Additional Sharing Time Ideas, March 2007
The following are additional ideas Primary leaders may use with the Sharing Time printed in the March 2007 Liahona. For the lesson, instructions, and activity that correspond with these ideas, see
Bring a dictionary, some Bibles, and a hymnbook. Tell the children that they are going to use the books to study the scriptures. Explain that when we truly study the scriptures, we do more than just read them. Ask the children to look up James 1:5. Divide the Primary into groups, and give each group an assignment. Give one group a dictionary, and ask them to look up the difficult words such as liberally and upbraid. Have another group look up Joseph Smith—History 1:11 to find out why James 1:5 is so important. Have a group use the index in the hymnbook to find a hymn that relates to James 1:5. Have each group report on what the group learned, to more fully understand this important scripture. Joseph Smith read this scripture, and it prompted him to pray. Tell the children that Heavenly Father will answer our prayers too.
If possible, tell about a time when you received an answer by praying and studying the scriptures. Bear testimony of the blessings that come through prayer and scripture study.
Display a calendar, and ask the children which day is the Sabbath day. Tell them that before Jesus’s Resurrection, the Sabbath day was the seventh day, as it says in Genesis 2:2–3. Explain that two of the older children are going to explain more about the Sabbath. The week before, ask one child to prepare a summary of “History of the Sabbath” and another to prepare a summary of
“The Lord’s Day” from chapter 24 of the Gospel Principles Sunday School manual.
Invite the children to help you make a list of ways to keep the Sabbath day holy. The
numbered list in chapter 24 of Gospel Principles is an excellent resource. Focus on what we should do rather than on what we should not do.
Sing a song or hymn about the Sabbath. Display a picture of Jesus Christ. Express your love for the Savior and your happiness that we have a special day each week to remember the Lord, study His gospel, take the sacrament, rest from our work, and so on. Testify of His divinity.
Song presentation: “I’m Trying to Be like Jesus” (Children’s Songbook, 78–79; Tambulilit, Apr. 1990, F6–F7). Show the picture that accompanies the song. (If possible, enlarge the picture so that all can see it easily.) Ask the children to imagine why the little girl might be crying. Ask what the boy is doing and who he might be. Suggest that the boy might be the girl’s older brother. Sing “I’m Trying to Be like Jesus.” Explain that Jesus comforts us, teaches us, and loves us, just like the older brother in the picture. Teach the verse by having the children finger clap (two fingers of one hand tap against the palm of the other hand) the rhythm of the first line while you sing it. Point out the similarity in the second line. Have them sing the opening lines several times with you. Sing the second part of the verse. Invite them to look up John 13:34 and compare the words of the scripture with the words of the chorus. Sing the chorus while the children look at the scripture. Explain that when we love one another, we are keeping an important commandment because “these are the things Jesus taught.” After singing the chorus several times, practice going right from the verse into the chorus. Encourage the children to be like the boy in the picture by loving their families, friends, and neighbors. When they love as Jesus loved, they will be following His example. Bear testimony of the importance of following the Savior.