Voice of early-returned LDS missionaries

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Missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints enter the mission field anticipating to serve the full time of 24-months for men or 18-months for women. However, some missionaries find themselves back home before that time period. Many people, both inside and outside of the LDS Church, don’t understand an early-returned missionary’s experience. While this topic is explored in-depth in an accompanying article, this piece highlights seven early-returned missionaries’ experiences in their own words. In order to guide them, each was given a series of questions.

– Blakely Gull


“This, I suppose, is one of those moments where you are literally holding onto the ‘iron rod’ as tight as you can and you can’t see your own hand in front of you.”

By Brendan Estrada

I decided to serve a mission because I genuinely wanted to serve Heavenly Father and be useful to him. I wouldn’t say I had a “successful” life up until my mission (flunking high school, barely graduating, partying way too much, that sort of thing) and I wanted to change, and be better. I wanted to serve, and re-correct the course of my life and really forget myself and serve him. There was no pressure from Family or anything else. It was all my choice, and I wanted to prove to Heavenly Father I could do this, and love him more than I have before. My call was to Torreon, Mexico, but I only made it to the MTC. I served at the MTC for 8 weeks, and was sent home before I had the opportunity to go out to the field.

When I was sent home early it felt surreal…I did not want to go home at all. It wasn’t my choice to go home, they made me go from the MTC and it felt like my opportunity to serve was swiped away from me. I felt like maybe I was being punished, or maybe I had done something wrong to deserve something like this to happen to me. I didn’t understand… I was completely worthy to be on my mission, I had repented, I had a clean conscience, I was ready to serve, but being told I was being sent home was a huge slap in the face. It made me feel like I wasn’t in control of my own life and my own choices. I cried a lot…. it was painful, I felt like a failure, I thought my parents were going to be way disappointed in me. I was dead scared, and I felt dread and lots of anxiety.

I expected to be received well from my family, friends, and church members. My family was there for me, and so were my friends, but my fellow church members… not so much. I was incredibly sick, with a severe panic/ anxiety/ depression disorder, and no one in my ward really seemed to care about me, they all were concerned on whether or not I was going to be going back out soon to finish my Mission. I didn’t look sick, or broken, so I think people just did not understand how I couldn’t serve. People didn’t talk to me the same way after that, in my ward, instead of people saying, “Hey Branden!” With a happy smile or whatever, they seemed to be more reserved towards me as if to think, “Oh, Branden’s home now, I wonder why… he’s probably unworthy.” Some of my friends told me God would never bless me life again if I didn’t make it back to my mission and that I’m unworthy for blessings. Some of it was really harsh. People would give talks in church and mention me and say something like “We all have a good feeling that you’ll be going back out” and that really stunned me because I was really sick.

It just felt like a dream. I was experiencing “derealization” which is a symptom of severe anxiety, so I didn’t really feel like it was all real. It was super uncomfortable being home, I knew I was sick, but I felt very guilty for not being able to serve. I had this internal battle within me, where I wanted to force myself to just suck it up and go back out, but I also realized I needed help. I fought with myself a lot on this matter. It was miserable… I had multiple panic attacks each and every day, and each day they seemed to be getting more and more severe. I couldn’t function normally anymore.. it was all just a blur.. I felt as if I were in a vegetative state. I know that sounds dramatic but it’s true… I’ve seen people with cancer, and missing Limbs function more normally than I was able to at that time. That’s what being home consisted of for the first few weeks, and it was hard.

Surprisingly being sent home didn’t affect my church activity, although I had many questions as to why my body was failing me, and why I was barely able to live normally I kept going and doing my best. This I suppose, is one of those moments where you are literally holding onto the ‘iron rod’ as tight as you can and you can’t see your own hand in front of you. I didn’t know if I was going to get better, to me, I was convinced I was dying (and I very well could have without proper care) but I could not see any answers, I couldn’t see God, I couldn’t feel the love of God, I couldn’t feel anything, The mist was incredibly dark when I came home, but I knew I had to hold on. So yes I was affected, but I chose to hold on for as long as I could.. if that makes sense?

I wish I could go back, and get more professional help more quickly. But then again, it’s hard for me to say I would want to change anything because this experience has made me super unique. But everything I experienced has really been beneficial to me, although it’s still hard to this day to live with a panic/depressive disorder, Heavenly Father was really able to let me be broken down for my benefit. I feel like my whole being gained the ability to love more deeply, be more understanding, and really care about people. It was like experiencing all this pain, enabled me to achieve a higher level of compassion, and mercy, like a super power!! I think I understand to a very small degree, of how Jesus now thinks of us. Jesus understands us perfectly because he experienced what we experienced. Whenever someone tells me they have a mental health disorder, I almost feel as if I am moved with compassion and love towards them automatically, does that make sense?

I think Heavenly Father’s plan for me is very different. And although I was very miserable and it was the hardest and most trying time in my life… I think I would have been happier in ignorance if I served full time but not genuinely happy. I’m not to the point where I can say truthfully that I’m thankful for this trial, but I do know that it has changed my life completely. Serving a full time mission I don’t think would have enabled that change in me.

I’m not going to lie, I still feel somewhat bitter towards it… because it wasn’t my choice to come home. It’s hard to let go and move on completely, but I’m getting there. I’m surrounded by return missionaries and successful missionaries and temple worthy priesthood holders and I feel cheated in a way. They all got have experiences that I may never have. They served full time, everyone was proud of them when they came home, girls are always looking to date returned missionaries, they have high chins, and can feel very proud of what they accomplished and I feel sad because I wasn’t able to have those experiences. I sometimes feel as if God cares about them more, and enables more blessing in their lives, and it makes me very sad. I look at all them, and they have the ability to work normally, go to school, and I don’t have any of that… well… not yet at least. I still struggle with anxiety and depression, which makes living normally difficult. That’s why it’s so hard for me, and I feel left behind.

Instead of a mission, I experienced crippling depression, severe panic attacks, debilitating anxiety, and the want for suicide. Perhaps that was my mission… I cannot see the future but I believe if God’s plan is ultimately redemptive that through the atonement I will not be left behind by the slightest degree in the end. My body is imperfect for now, but it won’t be forever, I honestly believe that, but that doesn’t change the pain I feel while I live day to day.


“It was so hard to stand up that day. I think my whole entire body was shaking when I had to stand up and everybody looked at me and was confused as to why I was home already.”

By Brock Merrell

I decided to serve a mission because, like everyone else that’s grown up in the church, you’re told that you’re supposed to go. So it seemed like the normal thing to do, and what my mom wanted me to do. To be honest, I never had that experience that most people say they have where they KNOW for a surety that they’re supposed to go, that God told them that they needed to. I served in the Berlin Germany mission for about 4 months.

When I found out I was being sent home, I felt many things, happiness, sadness, fear, doubt, and a little bit of regret. I felt those because, well, first, I was very excited to see my family and friends again because it’s so hard being away from them while barely getting to talk to them for so long. Also I was fearful, doubtful, sad, about what was happening because I was so scared of how my mom/family/friends/ward members would take it. Whether I would be welcomed home or would be frowned upon for coming home. A lot was going through my mind the night I got the phone call from my mission president saying that he’d gotten a plane ticket to send me home. I don’t think I went to bed until about 2 in the morning that night. It was tough.

I honestly expected that everyone would think of me as a bad person for coming home, asking me why, and then they would go and tell other people and it would all spread so fast. I especially expected my ward members to look down on me.

The first few days I was home I kind of felt guilty. I didn’t talk to anyone outside of my house except for my girlfriend, because she wasn’t so judgmental and understood me. I purposely didn’t post anything on social media, and just kind of kept it all to myself a little bit. In my weekly emails home I didn’t even tell anybody on my last email that I would be home soon.

The experience hasn’t affected my church activity yet. It’s been 7 months and I still go to church every week. My bishop purposely gave me the calling of a Sunday school teacher to help me through all of it. And that was really hard for me at first because when you get called to do something, at church you have to stand up in front of everybody while they say your name and sustain you to that calling. It was so hard to stand up that day. I think my whole entire body was shaking when I had to stand up and everybody looked at me and was confused as to why I was home already.

If anything could have happened differently I would’ve wished when I came home, it would’ve been me not putting so much stress on myself thinking that everybody, and I mean everybody, was going to judge me and hate me for what I did. Because when I came home, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much more welcome in my ward/neighborhood, than I did when I got home. I don’t think anybody ever asked me why I came home. I never got that question. It was always “Oh welcome back Brock it’s good to see you again.” I was honestly so surprised.

Of course I think I’d have been happier if I’d served the full two years. Coming home was THE hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. It’s been so stressful on my mom. It’s affected some relationships a little bit. But at the same time, when I was contemplating on coming home, I knew things like that would happen. So it didn’t surprise me. But yes, serving the full two years would’ve been so much harder, but in the end, I think it would’ve been worth it and I would’ve been happier.

Looking back, I am so very glad that I served for 4 months. It was a great experience and I loved the people of Germany. I would say that my experience is a little different than others, but maybe not. It was a hard and stressful time being out in the field, but I’m glad I served a little bit. It’s also been so very hard to come home, but being welcomed home by so many people has been very eye opening and helping to me. To end, I would say that missions are hard. Very hard. Sometimes I regret not finishing it all, and sometimes I don’t. But in my opinion, a mission is a very sacred thing and has very life changing moments for everyone. If I could do it all over again, I honestly have to tell you that I don’t know if I would do it any differently. I loved serving, I did serve, and that’s that. Missions aren’t for everyone, but I still love the Lord and am thankful for the opportunity I had to serve.


“Overtime, I learned that I served exactly the time I needed to serve and taught the people I needed to teach.”

By Marlee Matta

When I was thirteen years old, I attended an EFY (Especially for Youth) the summer before eighth grade and my counselor had asked us on the first day to think of questions we wanted answers to. They could be gospel related, familial, or academic – anything we wanted – and she promised us by the end of the week, if we sought for answers from the scriptures and prayer, we would receive an answer. The question I wrote was: am I meant to serve a mission? I had watched my older brothers prepare and serve and I felt that experience was something I wanted. During the week, I read a particular scripture in Doctrine and Covenants that influenced my decision. The spirit was so overwhelming in that moment that I knew I had my answer. From then on, I tried to live my life in a way that was preparatory for a mission and read that scripture on a daily basis.

I served in the Illinois, Chicago mission for exactly seven months. I entered the MTC on July 24, 2013 and flew home on February 24, 2014.

Ugh. I remember that heart-wrenching phone call with my President. For about four months, I had been struggling with bulimia nervosa to the point where I was purging 4-6 times a day. It took so much courage to even tell my President and ask for help but he was gentle, kind, and understanding. He and his wife worked one-on-one with me for weeks trying to ease my addiction but one morning I called him in tears because I was throwing up and coughing blood. I was absolutely terrified. At that point, he told me it was best that I go home. I was relieved mostly because I wanted to be home with my parents. I had severe problems with eating disorder behaviors growing up and they would know how to coach me through this. But of course I was disappointed and mad at myself that I didn’t have the strength to work through this while in the mission field. I felt as though I had let my Heavenly Father down and dealing with that guilt or disappointment was extremely painful.

I expected to be received by my family with love but also with shock or surprise because they had no clue I was dealing with this until the day my mission president called them to tell them I was coming home the next afternoon. I never confided in my family through my weekly e-mails or warned them that my mission would be ending early because I thought for sure coming home wouldn’t be the end result. I honestly didn’t want to deal with church members because I had heard rumors/stories about other early RMs who had been judged and criticized. My first Sunday back in my home ward, a woman who had a daughter close to my age approached me. She said, “*Lindsay* is having a hard time on her mission, but she chose to stay out.” That jarring comment made me feel as though I completely failed and I allowed myself to believe it for some time. (** Name changed for privacy)

It was hard to make an appearance to church because I would sit in sacrament meeting and cry. However, I didn’t allow the feelings of embarrassment to interfere with my need for God. I knew that if I needed Him at any time in my life, this was that time. I was sick, I felt lonely, and I needed His strength. Even though recovery (both physically and emotionally) took over a year, I am so much healthier and happier than I have ever been, even before my mission. He gave me His strength time and time again while in the mission and upon my return home and I feel the experience of returning early might have given me a stronger testimony than had I stayed out in the field. I was truly able to rely on my Heavenly Father and my Savior more than I had in my life. Overtime, I learned that I served exactly the time I needed to serve and taught the people I needed to teach. Heavenly Father allowed me a year to recover and in that year, I was able to meet my husband and marry in the temple. God’s timing is so real. Had I not come home the time that I did, I honestly believe that I would not have received the care that I needed in order to meet Aaron and be strong enough, spiritually and mentally, for the blessing of marriage.

The first few weeks being home were very emotional. Friends and neighbors came by to visit and drop off flowers all the time and I felt loved. I also felt scared. I didn’t know if I would be able to recover quick enough to go back to my mission, if I would ever heal from my eating disorder, and if I would ever break free from my depression. It was the darkest I had ever felt because I believed I had let down everyone that I loved. I let down the people I was teaching because I left them so abruptly and never had the chance to give them a hug goodbye and share with them my testimony one last time. I let down my companion(s), my parents, and my Heavenly Father. That disappointment in myself was certainly not easy to overcome but once I began to think about the good that I had accomplished while in Chicago, the transition suddenly became possible. Not easier, not simpler, but possible.

I got two jobs shortly after coming home because I felt that would keep my mind off of what I was dealing with and hopefully I would be able to ignore my problems, but I was so incredibly depressed that I never got there on time and I hated getting out of bed. I would have changed the way I went about trying to “adjust” back to life. I would have spent more time in the temple, and less time sleeping, watching movies, or eating. I would have met with my Bishop more often, but I basically ignored him and every leader I had because I felt ashamed and embarrassed.

It still hurts me to this day thinking of all the people I could have met and taught as a missionary, but whenever I start to think that way I have to remind myself again of the people I did meet and teach. When I think of them and the members I worked with in my areas, I feel happy and content. They blessed my life and my testimony more than I could ever think possible. But, knowing how happy I am in my life and in my testimony right now, I feel that serving full-time wouldn’t have given me the chance to turn to and lean on my Savior like I did when I came home.

I loved my mission! I loved it I loved it I loved it! I read the journal entries I wrote and I talk to the missionary friends I made in my mission often. I’m still very close with many of the members in the wards I served in and stay in contact with individuals I taught. I am blessed that Chicago is close enough to where I live so I can visit whenever I want to but even though I came home early, I wouldn’t change a second of the blessings, hardships, and miracles I experienced while there.


 

“Elder Paramore did tell me in the end, that going home would be something that I would regret for the rest of my life. 

I didn’t listen — I thought that he didn’t understand my specific situation and circumstances. But he’s been right. 

That decision did cause me to pivot.”

By Kevin Gull

Like many of my generation, I chose to serve a Mission because I felt it was the right thing to do at that time of my life.

Being brought up in the Church, it was always expected that I would serve. I think to a pretty similar degree that still holds true for the LDS young men of today — although, I do believe, that there is a bit more leeway in the expectations of choosing to serve then during my day.

In fact the rules and expectations of my day were much more lax than today’s standards. And because of that many more young men in my day went (many in my day probably wouldn’t have passed the standards that are set for today’s program, at least not at the first attempt — but that’s my opinion).

I served in the Toulouse, France Mission for eight months in 1980.

In receiving my Mission Call, I was shocked to be called to that area of the World because I had no real connection to France. My family ties were either to Great Britain, the South Pacific or Asia (I did however have 2 weeks of French in the 8th Grade — in hindsight, I probably should’ve listed it on my Mission Application as a language that “I had studied”).

My father was diagnosed with MS before I left and then about 6-7 months into my Mission, my parents decided to get a divorce. This really took a toll on me. Many that know me — especially now, know how much family means to me. At that point in my life, I had really taken my family and the Gospel for granted. I felt that I was more needed at home because of what was happening back home. My Dad’s heath and my parents’ divorce, was the greater good that I could do at that time.

I had a number of discussions with Elder Paramore (a Seventy that was over that area of the Church) and he gave me a lot of great counsel. Some of which I listened to at that time, but a good portion of it, I didn’t.

Elder Paramore did tell me in the end, that going home would be something that I would regret for the rest of my life.

I didn’t listen — I thought that he didn’t understand my specific situation and circumstances. But he’s been right.

That decision did cause me to pivot.

I came home.

No one was at the airport to greet me (and those were the days that everyone was allowed to go to the gate to welcome home the returning missionaries). I had to call my Dad to let him know I was at the airport (my Mom had moved out of our home by that point).

I waited for what seemed like an eternity for my younger brother to pick me up — it was a very quiet ride home from Salt Lake Airport to Provo.

The next day I saw my Bishop, we had a fantastic visit — he gave me a lot of light and hope. I hold that conversation dear to me to this day.

That Sunday was Fast Sunday and I stood in front of my Home Ward and bore my testimony (I don’t mean to say this in a bragging way, but you see I was that young man who was pretty well thought of, popular with adults and kids my own age… I was the 1st Assistant in my Ward’s Priest Quorum and I was a pretty well liked by my high school classmates — I was friendly with almost everyone) — so standing up and bearing my testimony and trying to explain to those who knew me so well was pretty tough.

I don’t know if I ever recovered from those first 3-4 days home.

The members were nice to me but I felt that I had really let them and my family down.

My self-esteem really diminished, I went from being a very outward type of kid to being very drawn-in. At first, I spent a lot of time feeling lost and alone because I knew that I had made mistake — but I wasn’t willing to eat humble pie. I was determined to show others that I had made the right decision — even though deep in my own heart, I knew I hadn’t.

I had lost a lot of weight in my 8 months on a mission — to the tune of about 65 lbs. I had aspirations of playing football for BYU when I got home. I actually went into the BYU Football Office and they didn’t recognize me because of the weight loss. I decided to get on weight program to get back to my playing weight. To which I was well on my way back to but I had horse accident that first Spring back home which tore the major muscles in the back right side of my shoulder (I couldn’t lift my right arm for about 4 months).

I felt that it was a message from Heavenly Father directing me to give up that dream of playing college football. It was a big set back and it helped to propel me into more of a tailspin.

I became less active for the next few years. I still continued to attend BYU and I also spent a semester at what’s now known as UVU. But honestly, I was lost. I started and stopped and then started so many things during this time of my life just trying to figure out who I wanted to be.

I did love my college major, Advertising, but wanted more than the BYU classroom experience — so I started a couple of businesses that combined my passion for Music and my entrepreneurial spirit.

This gave me lot of drive. I spent a lot of time devoted to putting that business together and found some real happiness and purpose.

But I still wasn’t really active — I’d attend Church once a month or so, but always had an excuse of why I could make it on a more consistent basis. I even started dating girls that were either not the serious-types or were not members at all.

I felt incomplete.

Then one day I was introduced to girl via my sales rep from the BYU’s Daily Universe and that changed my life.

I asked her out a week later or so later and 6 weeks after our first date, I asked her to marry me. I met with her Bishop, got back on the Path and did a complete 180.

I had found my real purpose.

Do I regret not completing my Mission? 

Yes, I do.

Would I do it differently if I had a chance at a re-do?

I really don’t know, that’s truly a Monday-Morning-Quarterback type of a question, but I do believe that Heavenly Father has a specific destination for each us. We have our agency, but I know that he’s a very loving Father and does try to give each of us as many opportunities as He can so that we can get back on track.

At least that’s what I believe He did with me.

In the end, one thing I did learn is that I can share with others my own experience and let them know what happened to me so maybe they won’t make the same mistakes that I did (unless they really want to take the long road to that destination that our Heavenly Father has ultimately planned for each of us).

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


“I still am completely confused as to why the Lord would want me to serve a mission but not complete the entire service.”

By Tiffany Clyde

I received a blessing as a young woman prompting me to prepare to serve a mission. I submitted my mission papers a few months before my 21st birthday. Even after I received my mission call, I did not actually “decide” to go until I received a very clear prompting during a prayer that serving a mission would be the right thing for me to do. I served in the Taiwan Taipei Mission. I served from February 2013-June 2014. I returned home ten weeks before the sisters I had left with.

On Monday of the week I was sent home, I met with my mission president and we agreed to find the best medical care available in Taiwan and to continue to consult with the church doctors stationed in China. This is what I emailed to my parents that day as well. On Wednesday, I received a call from a doctor telling me that they had talked to several doctors for the Church in Salt Lake and agreed that I needed to return home. I found out two days before I returned home that I would be sent home, so it came as quite a shock. I was not able to talk to my parents before I returned home. I also did not have a lot of time to mentally prepare. I was a little bit frustrated that I did not talk to my parents because my mother had posted on Facebook that I was leaving and a lot of members in Taiwan found out and it made my last two days more stressful than I wanted.

I had very little time to process how my family, friends, and fellow church members would receive me before I returned home. Since I was only a few weeks short of finishing my mission and I was severely sick, the church considers that I served a full-time mission. I was concerned that some of my extended family would only see the two months of service I did not complete and not the 16 months I completed and would judge me for that. Overall, only one person actually made negative remarks about returning home early.

I physically felt awful and spent a considerable amount of time at the doctors and specialists for the first two months that I was home. On the other hand, I was extremely relieved that I did not have missionary responsibilities and a missionary schedule to worry about and that I could make my health my first priority.

Returning home early has not affected my church activity necessarily, but I have always wondered why I would receive such a clear prompting to serve a mission and then be placed in circumstances that would require me to return home early. That is something that I still think about and do not have a good answer to.

Honestly, I have been immensely blessed after returning home. I cannot think of anything that I wish would have been different. I do remember receiving calls from a volunteer for the Church who would talk to missionaries that returned home early. Although they were genuine and sincere about my wellbeing, I felt like it made it harder for me to move on.

While there is this idea that I might have been happier if I finished out my last ten weeks, I do not think I would have been happier if I had. In fact, had I stayed I might have not have received the medical help and attention I needed until it was too late, which could have led to some very debilitating and chronic conditions.

Overall, I look back at my mission with fondness. I really loved the people I met and served in Taiwan. I have never met more kind and wonderful people and could not imagine what life would have been like had I not met them. In addition, I have been blessed beyond measure for serving a mission – academically, job opportunities, marriage, etc. I still am completely confused as to why the Lord would want me to serve a mission but not complete the entire service. Sometimes this bothers me, but not enough that it really influences my life.


“It was hard trying to figure out where I belonged again and who was the real me.”

By Carson Meiling

I decided to serve a mission more for other people around me more than myself. I grew up in an LDS family surrounded by LDS members and I was constantly asked if I was going to serve a mission. It was somewhat ingrained in my mind that in order to be a good person you need to serve a mission no matter what. When the time came to go, I was not worthy and knew I was not, but I decided to go because that is kind of what I was told to do. I ended up lying through every interview and thought that it would all be over in two years then I could go on with life.

I was called to San Pedro Sula, Honduras at the end of summer of 2012. I was out a total of 4 months; majority was in the Provo MTC. When I got to Honduras after a couple weeks I decided that I should come clean and tell my president what I had done before. I was sent home a few days later.

I was absolutely terrified about what my family would think and say to me after I returned home. I had let them down, lied to them, broken their rules, ruined their trust, and embarrassed them. I told them the gist of things when they picked me up at the airport, and this was quite possibly the worst thing that I had ever had to do. The first few weeks and months were the hardest. I avoided talking to people at church because they would all ask the same dumb questions, which made me feel worse and worse about myself. My feelings would change all the time from guilt, to anger, to confusion, to depression, to frustration, to pain. It was hard trying to figure out where I belonged again, and who was the real me. I needed to figure out my reasoning behind where I wanted to go and not just do things because it made those around me happy.

It took me long time to come to terms with my mission experience. About a year later after I returned home, I returned back to the mission field because I felt that is how I would make everything right with my family and those around me. I was sent straight to Honduras and expected to start teaching the next day. The second time things still didn’t feel right although I had fully repented of all my past transgressions. I had anxiety and ended up returning home again after two weeks. All of my old feelings from the first time resurfaced.

It has taken me years to come to terms with my mission experience and I still have similar feelings return when I attend any mission related event. Currently, I would not change my experience because I feel that it gave me experiences that I would not have had otherwise. I do not know what would have happened if I would have served a full time mission or how it would have affected where I am at today. In terms of church now, I am less active and go to support family when they teach or speak. I tried to continue to go to church for a long time after my experiences only to realize that I was again going for other people and not for myself. I am happy with what I am doing and I now know that if I go to church it is for me, and only for me.

I have had a lot of negative experiences with dating when it comes to not serving a full time mission, which would be a discussion for another time.


“It doesn’t matter if you served a full-mission… You went and you served and you did your best. I wish more people would understand that.”

By Jake Kelson