Early-Returned Missionary

Brian Smith, Australia Brisbane Mission (Mental Health)

"As I came across (Jonah's story again), it had a new meaning.  In all my years studying the scriptures, I never gave this verse a second look.  As I have gone through these experiences though, the verse makes perfect sense.  This life, I believe, is to find joy - whatever that joy is. "

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For almost twenty years this story has been one of anger, but over time the anger began to leave...

                My story starts on a plane leaving Brisbane Australia on October 3, 1997, I was only six months into my mission.  You see my family and I moved from the “flat lands” of Colorado just over a year prior.  We lived in a small farming community and were the only Latter-Day Saints within a 25 mile radius.  The school we attended was just as small.  Again we were the only members of the church that attended.  With that, for me, a since of pride, and not the good kind.  We didn’t really have interaction with the youth of the church, so our friends were mostly non-members, in some ways this was a good thing because it kept me in check.  I could not do anything outside the LDS norm.  The branch that I grew up in had about 50 members.  It was there that the feeling to serve a mission grew, and I started my paperwork there as well.

                The summer of 96’ we moved to Salt Lake City.  The ward we moved into had about 200 members.  It was also during that time when the urge to serve a mission was fading.  While I was in high school I met a girl from another State while at a youth conference.  We would write each other over the course of two and a half years.  Toward my last year in high school we talked about what we wanted to do when we graduated.  It was then that marriage was brought up, and in February of 97’ my call to serve a mission came.  I was to report to the MTC in April, and like many young kids, I felt like I had everything all planed out.  I had a job to come back to, a girl to marry, and I was set.  What could go wrong with this plan?

                The MTC was everything I heard it would be - very spiritual.  Time seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, I was at the airport with family seeing me off.  Within the first four months in the mission field I went through two missionary companions, and both were at the end of their missions.  I was in my first area for five and a half months.  Within those four months I helped baptize four new members into the church, but it was also during this time that something was changing inside of me.  I was no longer feeling the “spiritual high” from the MTC, the rejection and insults were starting to leave their mark on me, and I was starting to take them personally. 

             I was also struggling with my own testimony.  I never really had a testimony of my own, and was going off of my parent’s testimony - which manifested itself at a zone meeting.  My zone leader had everyone put their chairs in a circle, and had us go around and bear our testimonies.  As it came my turn to stand and bear mine, I couldn’t say anything.  I couldn’t say that the church was true, because I didn’t have that confirmation of the truth.  That was scary for me, because the one thing that a missionary has in his or her defense is a testimony.  I would write my mother and express feelings about everything, and she would write uplifting letters back with love in her heart, would say that she believed in me and loved me. She said that the Lord sent me there to find those who need the gospel in their lives.  I held on to those letters for years after I came home. 

                 I have often heard members say that a mission is where you can get a testimony - and that is true, to some extent.  For me, it felt that I was too far gone, and the anger that was starting to grow was unbelievable.  I had never felt anything like it before.  It was a deep anger, and it was showing signs everywhere.  I started to hate the mission, my missionary companions, and the Wards that I was serving in.  It was around this time that I was writing my girlfriend back home, and would tell her my about my mission and that I was thinking of coming home. One day I received a letter from her mother, and it haunted me for months after I came home.  In one of the paragraphs it said “be the kind of missionary that will take my daughter through the temple.” That was just one of the many letters I received in the final weeks of my mission. 

                Three weeks before I went home, I was transferred to the city of Brisbane.  It felt like everything was coming apart.  My last week before I went home, my companion and I were on splits with the AP’s, and as we were walking the AP asked me something that, again, has hunted me to this very day.  He asked “what are you going to do when your Ward judges you for coming home?”  I fired back that they would have to walk a mile in my shoes before they can judge me.  I didn’t realize how wrong I was.

                As I was on my last leg of my journey home, I boarded a plane with about five or six missionaries going home as well.  I didn’t think too much of it at first, but as we landed in Salt Lake I had to walk through almost everyone’s “welcome home” parties.  My mom, my sister, my older brother, his wife and newborn son were the only ones at the airport to welcome me home - no ward members, and no bishop.  It was one of the most depressing walks I had to do.  As my mom drove me home I remember looking at the sky and it was full of very dark looking clouds.  That should have been a sign of what was to come.

                My first Sunday back in my home ward, I had an elderly couple approach me and asked “what are you doing here?”  I tried to explain, but before I knew it she said that she was glad that the missionaries that taught her family the gospel never quit, and she turned and walked away.  It felt like someone just punched me in the stomach.  I had received comments like that and others in the weeks that followed.  It got to the point where I gave up on saying my prayers, I lost faith and started a deep decline into depression.  The plan that I had going for me by that time was destroyed.  I had no girl, and no job.  I was alone and that was not good for me at that time.  It was within the first four months of being home that I began thinking of suicide.  I wanted the pain to stop.  Nobody wanted to be seen with me, friends turned their back on me, and I had a bishop that didn’t believe me.  I had no one to turn to. No priesthood leadership to help me.  I was put in the Young Men’s Presidency, but that didn’t help.  All I got was put downs.  I stopped praying because in my mind I gave up on His mission, so why would he help me in my time of need?  It is sad to say, but it was true.  In my mind it was drilled that I failed, I didn’t serve the full two years, it was a failure.  My parents tried their best to try and talk to me about what happened on my mission, but I did what I had always done - I close myself off.  I would lash out in anger over the smallest of things. I would be by myself most of the time, and didn’t let anyone get too close to me.  I asked myself what the point was - I failed that was the end of it.  I could count on one hand how many ward members reached out to me. 

                The only bright spot was that I had a loving Stake President.  He saw me as a son God who tried his best to serve.  He was the only one that I could turn to, but it still didn’t take the pain away.  I remember being released from my mission, and I sat in the chapel and cried my eyes out.  The anger and the pain was growing faster now than in the field.  One night I reached a breaking point, a night that the pain was unbearable.  That night I was going to make it stop: suicide. 

                      My cousin wanted me to go with him to a young single adult dance, and I think he knew that something was up.  I met him at his parents’ house and we went to the dance.  As we arrived, we made our way up to the second floor of the building.  I was in a spot that I could see the dance floor.  I saw a girl that I hung out with before my mission, but then I noticed a girl, and that was all I could see.  As we made our way down to the dance floor, I ran into this same girl, and she asked me to dance, but I told her “no.”  She was with a girl that turned her back on me, and I didn’t want to be around her.  She didn’t move, but asked me again.  She said that she would protect me from the girl who had hurt me.  I was taken back a bit.  I didn’t know this girl, but she knew me.  We danced, and for the first time in six months I felt protected, and as though I was not alone.  This girl later became my wife! 

                 The struggles I experienced continued while dating my (future) wife.  One Sunday I was so upset that I walked out of a meeting at church, and vowed that I would never come back again.  I was told while on my mission that for the ones who come home early, their spiritual side stops progressing.  I didn’t want to believe that, but it was true for me in that period of my life.  For the longest time, my spiritual side stopped growing.

                The other side of the story is this, a choice.  I had many choices to make back in those early days when I returned home from my mission.  I could have chosen to take the “high road” and let the comments roll off, instead, I chose to take them personally.  Another more important choice was forgiveness.  This was something new for me to understand.  Forgiveness, for the longest time, just stuck in my throat, my thought was “I did nothing wrong, why do I need to seek forgiveness?”  As I take a closer look, I can see that I did everything wrong - including finding fault in the leaders and in the members. 

                 As I studied the scriptures, I found D&C section 64 verse 10 “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”  Another one is found in the book of Jonah.  In chapter 4, Jonah becomes angry because Nineveh begins to repent.  In verse 4 the Lord is speaking with Jonah, and the Lord asked Jonah a question.  “Then said the Lord, Doest well to be angry?”  Later on in the chapter, the Lord repeats the same question.  That question stayed with me for some time.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt that the verse was speaking to me.  Then you throw in 2 Nephi 2: 25, “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.”  As I came across this, it had a new meaning.  In all my years studying the scriptures, I never gave this verse a second look.  As I have gone through these experiences though, the verse makes perfect sense.  This life, I believe, is to find joy - whatever that joy is. 

                Now to those that maybe going down this path like I have, I would like to share with you some things that my mother shared with me many years ago.  I would like to share some quotes from that letter that may shed some light in your darken path.  She said: “Accept your life as it is today, and move forward with your life, and keep the Lord by your side.” “You can overcome anything that Satan can throw at you. If he can keep you from going to church, doubt your testimony, and doubt the decisions you have made in your life, then he has succeeded in turning your heart from the Lord.” “You can’t go back and change anything that happened in the past, except ask the Lord for forgiveness and then you have to let those things go, never worry about them again.”  Here is the one that stands out on its own: Not one of us is perfect, and we can’t judge others about anything, we should be busy keeping ourselves in tune with the Lord.   

            I want to say, as I have had time to really take another look at my experience, I realize that I have been on both sides of the spiritual spectrum. I have been on the prideful side, and on the humble side. I’ve also learned lessons on forgiveness and on self-power. Self-power is something new that I have learned, and would explain a lot of what I went through. When you take the word of offense personal, you give your power to those people that offend. When this happens, your forward progressions stops in that moment. It takes a long time to get that power back. You pretty much stop caring about everything, going to church, saying prayers, and going to the temple. This list can go on. Where I want to be spiritually, and where I am today, is still so behind the curve, and I have to fight each day to stay on track.

            I have also taken a different look at my mission as well. I have come to terms with it all. I have seen for the first time in a long time what a blessing my mission was in my life. In those six months I saw first-hand the power of the Lord. I was able to see his hand in everything. Yes, I came home. Yes, things were said. Yes, I reacted foolishly. I have come to see that the time I served was served honorably. Was it the full two years? No, it wasn’t, but I gave it my all. For the longest time I saw it as a failure, and that was because I gave my power away. It put a dark cloud over what truly matters. For years, I kept all of my mission belongings in a box. Year after year, move after move, that box stayed with me. A few years ago I started to get into BBQ grilling. It was around this same time that I decided that I needed to get rid of the contents in that box. I had all of my letters and mission letters in this box. One Saturday I was out of fuel for my grill, so all of the contents in that box went up in smoke. Those were some of the better tasting burgers I have ever made!

            In closing, my story comes from a different generation. My story has some turns, and some regrets, but the major thing that I have come to learn is that we are all God’s children. We are all on the same path. We are all in different stages of the path, but still on that same path. Some stumble, some have to crawl, some take a little longer, but are we not all pointed in the same direction? I was asked a few questions a while ago: “Why don’t you leave the church? If you are not happy, why not find another church?” I told the guy that I would have been lying if it hadn’t crossed my mind, but why would I leave something as awesome as this? Yeah, things were said, but I take full responsibility for acting the way I did. My Stake President at that time said it best – “We can’t control what our members say.” It’s true! I have worried for many, many years about those comments. It doesn’t mean the church is not true, and my wife taught me that as well. She told me repeatedly that the gospel is true, not the members. If I would have listened to her back then, I think I would have come to terms with this a long time ago. I couldn’t find another church that gives you opportunities to improve yourself, that teaches you never to give up, and to keep trying. It’s the gospel that teaches you about forgiveness and the power of self-worth. It teaches us to “perfect the saints.” I’ve witnessed too many miracles on my mission to doubt the truthfulness of the gospel.

                I leave with you my testimony:  I know the church is true, I know that God lives, I have a firm testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, I know that the Lord had me go through this to teach me about humility and forgiveness.  I don’t think I would have learned it any other way.  May this help whoever reads it. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.      

 

Submit your experience!

Mission Fortify will now be using a blog to publish experiences from Early-Returned Missionaries. If you are interested in sharing your experience with others, or if you have any questions, then please submit an email to info@missionfortify.org

Those who submit their experiences are free to choose whether to remain anonymous, or to have their name listed. Because you will be writing about what lead to you returning home earlier than planned, we would like to include that reason within the title of the blog post, but if you'd prefer that we not include this information then we are more than willing to respect your wishes.