Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now dot the globe spreading the word of God everywhere. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is one of the most active modern practitioners of missionary work, with over fifty thousand full-time missionaries worldwide, as of the end of 2010. Commonly referred to as "Mormon missionaries," most LDS Church missionaries are single young men and women in their late teens and early twenties and are assigned to a mission which is usually far from the missionary's home. LDS missionaries serve voluntarily. They do not receive a salary for the work they undertake, and most are financially supported by themselves or their families.
Throughout the history of the Church, over one million missionaries have been sent on missions. They learn many lessons to prepare them for their future lives as husbands, wives and eventually fathers and mothers during their two-year voluntary service.
Today’s guest blogger shares his insights:
Missionaries learn about human relationships
A mission offers multiple opportunities to spend large amounts of time with many different personalities. Periodically assignments change, but in a two-year mission one will have worked with perhaps a dozen or more different companions in a 24/7 relationship. Each must work with the other through a myriad of life situations. Not only did my mission help me to understand my spouse better, but when she comes to me for advice about someone she’s having a conflict with I can offer advice about what I’ve seen before.
Communication resolution with companions
I learned a lot about myself on my mission. When conflict arose between missionaries (hold your breath, it happens), I learned how I preferred to be approached by someone else who was attempting to resolve whatever gap we were experiencing in clear communication. That’s usually where most conflict happens – not understanding one another. It’s true among missionaries, and it’s a model for world conflict too.
I had important, open, honest relationships with companions stemming from our ability to help each other to do our best. At the time, I know I did not fully appreciate how much that sounds to me like what it takes to make a successful marriage.
A mission gives unique perspective into families and family life
Daily, missionaries can observe many different families; how they live, how they interact, what’s important to them, what they are doing that works and even their philosophy about raising children. It’s a laboratory of observation, rich with lessons for the “student” missionary. I was able to see great examples and “less than ideal” ones too. I observed in others the way they treated their spouses, raised their children, taught their children, magnified their Church callings, and balanced the demands of life between home, work and Church.
These encounters clarified my vision for my future home, and how I wanted to raise a righteous posterity.
Missionaries defer dating and relationships with girls
One of my first areas where I served was the campus at Ohio State University. As I served on the OSU campus, many were shocked to learn we weren’t allowed to date, kiss, or spend any time with girls for social reasons. Many times, when other students learned of this requirement we were openly ridiculed. Now as a married man, I am very grateful for the ability to avoid “the second glance,” as my mission president called it. There is temptation everywhere. As a missionary, I learned the lesson to fight temptation to retain the spirit. Sacrificing the ways and the praise of the world in a successful marriage is what true discipleship is all about.
Missionaries learn to value symbols
Missionaries who understand and value the symbol of wearing their name tag will understand and value the symbol of a wedding ring. As I put on my name tag everyday, I thought about whom I was representing (the Lord, the Church, my family) and it changed the way I approached my day. Now as I put on my wedding ring, I realize it represents my commitment to to my wife, and I strive to act in a way that would make her happy.
Life in general is all about understanding symbols. If we can learn to understand and appreciate the symbols of the temple, it will give us strength and power to live the covenants we make. President Jensen, my mission president, taught me so much about temple symbolism, and that has served me well as I take my wife to the temple and we learn together.
All young men are accountable to their future wives
All men will one day have to look their sweetheart in the eyes and be accountable to them for their past. A righteous wife (especially if she is a returned missionary) will want to know all about your mission, and she will know instantly if you were effective or not. My future wife while we were dating wanted to meet my mission parents, but they were still serving so we “Skyped” a video call on a Sunday afternoon and she was able to hear it right from the horse’s mouth. There’s absolutely no chance I would have even been a possibility in her mind if my mission president had told her I was a slacker.
Issues with pornography will be reported. Rightfully so, your wife will expect accountability for experiences, and struggles with pornography. If it’s hard to grasp that you’ll be accountable before God, picture how devastating it will be as you have to tell your girlfriend/fiancee/wife about issues with pornography. We are free to choose, it is true, and that is a great blessing, but what is also true is accountability always follows for those choices.
My wife asked me after dating for about two weeks if it was an issue for me in the past. I was filled with gratitude because I was able to look directly into her beautiful eyes and answer with confidence about my personal purity. A whole lifetime of “putting off the natural man,” paid off in that single instant. I was accountable, I knew it, she knew it, and now together we are still accountable before God as a partner in our marriage.
A mission teaches how to prioritize and plan time and money
Time management is an important skill for many aspects of life. Balancing school, work, church, dates, volunteering, and everything else becomes much less daunting if you’ve had a planner full of appointments, and busy days going to meetings, appointments, baptisms and interviews.
A mission is an important time to learn how a budget works. Missionaries are on a fixed budget. It provides a perfect opportunity to develop a working budget. Missionaries who consistently delve into “personal funds” lose this valuable opportunity to learn how to govern their money rather than the other way around.
In the words of President Jensen: “If you make $5 and spend $6, you’ll never be happy. If you don’t know where your money is going, you’ll never make enough. ALWAYS PAY YOUR TITHING!”
When missionary companions study together early each morning, they learn how to effectively testify and to discuss the content of the scriptures. How do you approach scripture study with your wife and family? How do you bear testimony to family, friends or acquaintances in a natural, conversational way? These questions are easily addressed after two years of effective companionship studies. Unfortunately, many missionaries waste this precious time and never get it back.
Studying, testifying, and learning with my missionary companion helped to make gospel discussion and family scripture study a natural, fulfilling and deeply rewarding mutual experience with my wife.
Missionaries learn to love through service
Serving my companions, investigators, and strangers taught me how to love the way Christ loved people. Success in marriage requires charity, the pure love of Christ.
Many missionaries come home from their missions and flounder, as if they don’t know what steps come next in their eternal progression. My journey continued after my mission and was filled with many frustrating experiences. Most of it, however, related only to my desire to take the next logical step in my life of service as a missionary, and that was finding my eternal companion.
My mission was the perfect preparation for my marriage in all the ways cited above. I can’t imagine even knowing where to begin in a marriage relationship without all the valuable lessons learned as a missionary. Young men who are wondering if they should serve would be well advised to step forward and upward. Be faithful and prayerful. Make the decision to go. Serve well, work hard, and prepare yourselves for marriage to the girl of your dreams later on.
She’s out there wondering where in the world she’s going to find a returned missionary who can fulfill all her dreams and expectations.