Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when the rising generation prepares to serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A prepared missionary enters the mission field ready to jump into the work of the Lord.
I watched many – probably in the hundreds now - young men and young women prepare to serve missions for the LDS Church. I know that most of them were well prepared to serve, but I also know that some of them had problems adjusting to the work. I am pleased that parents and youth are working together for this great cause. So how can future missionaries prepare to serve, particularly the eighteen-year-old young men and nineteen-year-old young women?
Future missionaries must of course prepare spiritually. They must be worthy to represent the Lord; they must also develop their testimonies and know the principles and doctrines of the gospel. They must also learn practical skills, skills that will determine how successful he or she will be in the mission field.
President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed Church leaders and parents of prospective missionaries; he spoke of the demands of the work and importance of being adequately prepared. “This work is rigorous. It demands mental sharpness and capacity. It demands faith, desire, and consecration. It demands clean hands and a pure heart. The time has come when we must raise the standards of those who are called to serve as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ…. We need missionaries, but they must be capable of doing the work” (“Missionary Service,” First Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, 11 January 2003, 17, 18).
President Hinckley gave a good overall view of preparing missionaries. Merrilee Boyack and Emily Freeman compiled a 129 page book entitled Will My Child Be Ready? Mission Prep for Moms. The book contains 14 essays written by six mothers who started preparing their children as toddlers to serve.
Arianne Brown a mother of six young children, reviewed the book. Her review includes this statement: “And while scripture study, LDS Church attendance and other gospel principles were written about in this book, it wasn’t just these things alone that were the focus in preparing future missionaries. Things like being able to prepare meals, do laundry, sew a button, set goals, be self-reliant, responsible, courteous, kind, clean, helpful, live providently – all things that every parent should be teaching their children – were in the book.
“The writers, whom all sent children off on missions, shared wonderful stories to help illustrate the points that were made with each section having accompanying quotes from LDS Church leaders, scriptures and references from the Missionary Handbook.
“At the end of each chapter, there are three bullet points: `What they need to know,’ `What they need to do’ and `What they need to be.’ These points help remind readers what they just read and give a good reference point for parents to return to when needed.”
When parents start early to prepare their children to be successful future missionaries, they also prepare them to be “kind, loving, responsible adults as well.”
In her own article about the book, Merrilee Boyack wrote, “To prepare a future missionary well, it is important to turn over to them the responsibility of their own care bit by bit. At age 7, they should be able to pack their own lunches – let them. At age 10, they can start learning to do their own laundry – let them. By age 14, they can get their own bank account and debit card – let them.”
While serving as a mission president, Elder M. Russell Ballard, now of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was asked to speak in the October 1976 General Conference. This statement was among all his ideas for better preparing missionaries: “Mothers, teach your children to be sensitive and aware of the needs of others. Teach them to know and to practice basic principles of good human relations. May I suggest to you wonderful mothers that you put your arms around your children, look them squarely in the eye, and tell them to learn these skills because you want them to be happy and successful on their mission. What son or daughter will not respond to the loving eyes of his or her mother?” (See “The Making of a Missionary,” October 1976.)
Robert K. Wagstaff ,a former mission president and president of the Philippines Missionary Training Center (MTC), listed several concerns missionaries might have: finances; homesickness; living with a different person and in a different culture; adjusting to missionary rules, schedule, and lifestyle; learning a new language; personal weaknesses. “Each of these concerns is normal, and almost every elder or sister experiences at least one of them. Such concerns do not make missionaries unworthy or disobedient, and most often they successfully overcome their worries. “However, some missionaries have difficulty coping with these kinds of emotional challenges to the point of debilitation….”
President Wagstaff also stated: “Generally, a young person who has been allowed to take responsibility and develop appropriate independence will have an easier time adjusting to missionary service. This means that it is important for parents to nurture their children in such a way that encourages independent, responsible decision-making skills founded on gospel principles.”
President Wagstaff suggested several things future missionaries can do to be better prepared emotionally: (1) Work part time or full time before the mission call (learn how to manage money and develop dedication); (2) Live away from home for a period of time before leaving for the mission field to adjust to being independent (laundry, food preparation, own safety and wellbeing); (3) Practice meeting and talking to others face to face rather than via text messaging or social networking sites; (4) Resolve emotional concerns before submitting mission papers (obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, grief for the death of a parent or other loved one, or other emotional distresses); (5) Practice living a balanced life (missionary schedule of 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., using a day-planning system, meeting deadlines, etc.); (6) Find appropriate outlets for stress (exercise, adequate rest, turning to the Lord for guidance rather than regular pre-mission activities); (7) Learn to view personal weaknesses with proper perspective (Ether taught that recognizing our weaknesses can teach us humility and reliance on the Lord; (8) Learn to put trials in the proper perspective.” (See “Preparing Emotionally for Missionary Service,” Ensign, March 2011.)
I fell far short of these responsibilities as I helped my sons prepare to serve missions. They not only survived but were successful missionaries. I am grateful that my sons and daughters have already started preparing their children for missionary service with my oldest grandchild being only 14 years old. I know that better preparation for missionary service strengthens future missionaries, families, communities, and nations.