Monday, October 8, 2012

Missions and Mormon Culture

Today my coworker that I worked with when I first started working at the ELC came in to see me today. She is a very pleasant girl and is one of the most friendly people that I have met at BYU. She's also a hard worker and seems to know what she wants. I was talking to her about the mission announcement and she told me about her experience with it. She felt that she should go on a mission.

It was obvious that today the talk of the town was the new ages for missionaries. Every other conversation that I heard on campus focused on the new ages. I heard more girls than I have ever heard talking about missions as I walked past the Benson, the JKB, the JFSB, and the library. I can only imagine in five years how BYU culture will have changed. I imagine higher average age of first semester freshman and a major influx of Sister RMs. I think to my mission in Thailand and imagine the sheer number of Thai Saints who will be serving. There's only one problem.

Don't get me wrong. I loved my mission and I wouldn't trade it for the world. This being said, however, I feel that in Mormon culture and maybe even sometimes in our teaching of Church doctrine we tend to glamorize missionary work. You don't get a blessing, put on a badge and magically become a perfect human being. Missions are full of imperfect people who are trying to do their best (for the most part). Missions are extremely difficult. There are days where you can't imagine going out in the 100 degree heat, or the negative 20 degree cold to tell disinterested people about Jesus Christ. There are other days where every appointment falls through, your companion is mad at you for some reason that you don't understand, and the food makes you sick to your stomach. You have days where you realize that you can't teach an investigator any more or that the family that you are teaching is simply เกรงใจ rather than genuinely interested. You wake up in the area where you have never had investigators and don't know how you can go on. For some on their missions, these days never end. They come back, disillusioned and tired. We have many who end up leaving the Church over this. Some people never talk about their mission because of this. I, however, am not really one of those people.

My mission was hard. Some of those memories are from my own experience during my two years in Thailand. I think, however, that the mission (and almost everyone's mission) is a defining experience nonetheless. You learn how to teach. You learn how to get along with people. You try to learn how to love other people. You learn that life never works out as planned. A mission is two years, but it feels like a lifetime of experience. However cliche that may sound, it is an accurate statement. For me (and this is just my experience), I also came to know that God really does love everyone. I remember one day, sitting in our small apartment on the West Side of Bangkok, I was talking with my companion about rejection. I told him to look at the map that bought and put on the wall. I told him to imagine how many people we talked to everyday. Imagine the rejection we got. Daily. Hourly. Every second of every day. Now imagine how God feels when God just wants to love you. God doesn't really ask much from us. We have to develop that pure and true love of God. We often hear the phrase "Love the sinner, hate the sin." If you are looking at someone and calling them a sinner, then you don't have the love of God. During Jesus' ministry to the Nephites, he never once used the word "sinner" in all of his discourse. The love of God, although hard for us to understand, is unconditional. God is sad when we make mistakes, but as our Father, he simply wants us to do our best. I tend to think that God knows our potential and guides us to reach it, but when we falter, He understands how hard life is. But that's another tangent for another day.

In the end, I am curious to see how this changes Mormon culture. Anyone have any thoughts?

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