Colton Spilsbury said the drop in enthusiasm is noticeable when he responds to the question, “Where did you serve your mission?” Spilsbury served in Federal Way, Washington.
Although nearly 30 percent of LDS missions in the world are in the United States, the perceived mission enthusiasm around the BYU campus and within the LDS community seems to lessen when it comes to stateside missions.
While filling out his mission papers, Spilsbury, a BYU sophomore, said he didn’t care where he went. However, he did think serving a mission in a foreign country would be interesting and was willing to learn a foreign language.
“I thought it would be good for the experience. I thought that going foreign would open my eyes to the world,” Spilsbury said. “I thought it would be good to learn a second language; that would be beneficial to my career and my personal life.”
Receiving his call to Washington State surprised him.
“Initially I was kind of shocked and a little disappointed,” Spilsbury said. “But as I prayed about it, I felt good, so that kind of took that concern away from me.”
BYU sophomore Ty Mullen served in St. George, Utah, speaking Spanish. Since he attended BYU for the year leading up to his mission, a call to serve in Utah surprised Mullen. He first thought it was a joke.
Like Spilsbury, Mullen thought he would like to serve in a foreign country, specifically somewhere in Europe. Compared to stateside missions, Mullen said he thought serving in a foreign country would make the mission experience more meaningful and exciting. But he said his perception changed over the course of his service.
“I think that people pity missionaries who get called stateside,” Mullen said. “But a mission isn’t supposed to be exciting and culturally eye opening. It’s supposed to be a period of time that you dedicate to serving in whatever capacity you are asked to.”
Mullen said people seem to believe missionaries who are called to serve stateside have something wrong with them, or are a “flight-risk.”
“I think if anyone turned down a mission call because their destination wasn’t ‘exotic enough’ would be a very misguided thing,” Mullen said.
Some missionaries are originally called to serve in foreign countries, but have their calls changed because of extenuating circumstances. Trevor Smith is one such missionary.
Smith said he felt the stigma against stateside missions and missionaries more strongly.
“I honestly thought the good missionaries went out of the country,” Smith said.
Smith received his mission call to Orsono, Chile. While in the MTC, he was diagnosed with clinical insomnia. This coincided with his need to take ADHD medication, and Smith’s call was changed to Tucson, Arizona, while he was still in the MTC.
“I felt broken,” Smith said. “I felt like I was subpar. I felt like I couldn’t be successful in an environment that God needed me to be, so I got a second-rate mission for a second-rate missionary.”
While in Arizona, Smith said he experienced a confirmation that he was in the right place, and admits he thinks the stigma of stateside missions was all in his mind. He said he firmly believes missionaries are sent to the area best suited for them.
Marissa Crook originally received her call to the Ukraine, Donetsk Mission and served there until the mission was shut down due to political conflict. She was transferred to the Salt Lake City South Mission.
Crook said she originally feared she would be unhappy in the states after serving a year of her mission in Ukraine, and she didn’t receive much comfort from the church members in her area.
“I had the overwhelming impression that they didn’t exactly take our missions seriously either because they felt like there was no work for us to do,” Crook said. “They loved the missionaries that were sent to their stakes, but they only wanted their children to go serve foreign missions. It just seemed a little like a double standard to me.”
Crook said over time, her attitude and perception changed, and she began to enjoy her mission in Utah.
“Now, I definitely feel that all missions are created equal,” Crook said. “Every person is a child of God and deserves to hear the message of the gospel. Where they live doesn’t really matter.”
Smith said every mission needs good missionaries. He said there should be no fear to serve anywhere as a missionary.
“A mission assignment is amazing,” Smith said. “God is telling you specifically where you can touch the most people and grow the most. That kind of revelation is extremely rare and should be treasured for what it is.”