Mormons respond to leader’s video on missionaries who return home early
By Braden Clark
A Mormon leader’s message of love and acceptance for missionaries who return home ahead of schedule is being widely shared by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and has prompted conversations about a topic that church leaders have rarely addressed in the past.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the church’s 12 apostles, posted the video on his Facebook page on March 7 in response to a question sent by a young man who was released four months early from his mission due to mental health issues. In the video, Holland said missionaries sent home under such circumstances should be proud to claim the title “return missionary.”
The video has been viewed on Facebook nearly a quarter-million times, was shared more than 4,000 times on that site, and has been spreading across other social media sites as well.
Dakota Lange, a missionary who served in the Orlando, Florida mission for three months, said his experience coming home was painful.
“It’s hard,” Lange said, “because if you didn’t reach that two year mark then you’re not considered a real ‘return missionary’ in our LDS society.”
Lange liked what he heard from Holland.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard a church leader talk about early returned missionaries,” he said.
“This was the best advice I have heard for missionaries who have returned home early,” said Brigg Terry, who served in the Harare, Zimbabwe, mission for four months.
There are many online support groups for missionaries who come home early, but over the years there has been little information on how to address such situations from the church’s hierarchy.
“It leaves all early returned missionaries lost,” Lange said. “The thing with mental health is that nobody really understands what it’s like to have it if they’ve never had it before. A lot of people don’t understand that depression and anxiety is a real thing that can affect people, and they think you’re weak for not staying out.”
In the video Holland expressed his opinion that each missionary who has served, no matter how long, should be “appropriately proud” of their missions, and “to take the dignity, strength and faith that came from those months and cherish them forever.”
Even missionaries who completed their service were moved by the message.
“I would definitely say that this video helped with families all over the world that are dealing with this,” said Brandon Montague, who served in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, mission for the full two years. “President Holland really expressed we should have compassion for these missionaries, because they did go out there and serve. If it was for 14 days or 24 months we should treat them all the same.”
“The point is, cherish the service you rendered,” Holland said in the video. “Be grateful for the opportunity to have testified. To have been out in the name of the Lord, and to have worn that missionary name plaque. Because you were honorable, and you were able to give your very best service, to the degree that you could, please do not relive this. Do not rehash it. Do not think that you’re inadequate or a failure, but please consider yourself a return missionary.”
Terry said he was touched by Holland’s promise that “the blessings of the lord will still be poured upon you for your service.”
“I can personally testify to the truth to that, and I have been blessed with so many things since I have returned home,” Terry said. “A testimony was gained through the refiner’s fire, and I only have that from the experience and trials on my mission. I would never change my experience on the mission for anything in the world.”
Although he appreciated Holland’s words, Lange said there is still a lot to do to ensure missionaries are able to successfully adjust when they return home, no matter how long they served.
“I feel like there should be some area in the missionary department where they help the missionary afterwards, because as soon as you get off that plane the missionary department doesn’t have anything to do with you anymore,” Lange said. “Even if they would email you, or set you up with a support group, that would help so many of us when we come home.”
The LDS church has been practicing missionary work since the late 1830s and currently has about 74,000 missionaries in the field, mostly young men and women in their late teens and early 20s. Missions typically last two years for men and 18 months for women.