This week’s query comes from a non-member in Colorado Springs, Colorado:
There are a couple of young missionaries who visit our neighborhood pretty regularly. I turn them from the door with a “No, thank you,” but what I really want to do is ask them this question: what did they do to get stuck with a sucky mission like Colorado Springs? Do you have to do special stuff to go someplace cool? Do you have show a gift for languages to go to a new country? Do your parents pay extra to send you to Italy or Costa Rica? Or is there special honor in the challenge of having to deal with jerks like me? Which brings me to my second question: why are the missionaries who come to my door always boys? I saw girl missionaries as a teenager, so I know they exist, but I don’t think that I have ever seen a girl missionary in the U.S. Is it a testament to the kind of neighborhoods where I have tended to live that an adult in a position of responsibility wouldn’t send young women alone into them? Or do girls not go out into neighborhoods in general?
LP in Colorado Springs
Greetings, LP! And thanks for your questions about our beloved missionaries. I once ran into a pair of missionaries at the Navajo Nation fair in Window Rock, Arizona, one of them a bilagaana (that’s Navajo for white guy) and another guy I thought at first was Navajo. . . but then learned he was from Mongolia. From Mongolia to the Navajo Nation. . . .mission calls do work in mysterious ways.
As with many things in Mormon culture, there is a lot of gossip and speculation about how mission calls get generated. Most true-blue Mormons would feel obliged to tell you that among the 350 or so LDS missions worldwide, there is no such thing as a “sucky” mission, that even Provo, Utah—and people do get sent there—is rich with opportunities for service and growth. Which is not, of course, to say that Mormons are immune to the prestige game: exotic and European mission calls do carry special cache. And some Mormons do believe that language background, intelligence, or specialness on the part of the prospective missionary should yield them more interesting mission calls. Those Mormons tend to be especially disappointed when their kids get called stateside.
The best official version of the story we have was presented at the April 2010 General Conference (one of two big annual meetings of the LDS Church convened in Salt Lake City and broadcast by satellite round the world), when a high-ranking Church official named Ronald Rasband answered some of the questions you’ve asked. In fact, it was one of the clearest and most explicit descriptions many of us have heard of how missionaries are assigned to their destinations. It’s so vivid and sweet, I think it’s worth reprinting a big chunk of it here.
Elder Rasband described an early morning meeting with an even-higher-ranked Church leader named Henry Eyring and a member of the Church’s missionary department in a conference room with several computer screens. The meeting began with a prayer, with Elder Eyring asking God to help him “know perfectly” where each missionary should be assigned. Then, Elder Rasband related:
“As the process began, a picture of the missionary to be assigned would come up on one of the computer screens. As each picture appeared, to me it was as if the missionary were in the room with us. Elder Eyring would then greet the missionary with his kind and endearing voice: ‘Good morning, Elder Reier or Sister Yang. How are you today?’
“He told me that in his own mind he liked to think of where the missionaries would conclude their mission. This would aid him to know where they were to be assigned. Elder Eyring would then study the comments from the bishops and stake presidents, medical notes, and other issues relating to each missionary.
“He then referred to another screen which displayed areas and missions across the world. Finally, as he was prompted by the Spirit, he would assign the missionary to his or her field of labor.
“From others of the Twelve, I have learned that this general method is typical each week as Apostles of the Lord assign scores of missionaries to serve throughout the world. . . .
“After assigning a few missionaries, Elder Eyring turned to me as he pondered one particular missionary and said, “So, Brother Rasband, where do you think this missionary should go?” I was startled! I quietly suggested to Elder Eyring that I did not know and that I did not know I could know! He looked at me directly and simply said, ‘Brother Rasband, pay closer attention and you too can know!’ With that, I pulled my chair a little closer to Elder Eyring and the computer screen, and I did pay much closer attention!
“A couple of other times as the process moved along, Elder Eyring would turn to me and say, ‘Well, Brother Rasband, where do you feel this missionary should go?’ I would name a particular mission, and Elder Eyring would look at me thoughtfully and say, ‘No, that’s not it!’ He would then continue to assign the missionaries where he had felt prompted.
“As we were nearing the completion of that assignment meeting, a picture of a certain missionary appeared on the screen. I had the strongest prompting, the strongest of the morning, that the missionary we had before us was to be assigned to Japan. I did not know that Elder Eyring was going to ask me on this one, but amazingly he did. I rather tentatively and humbly said to him, ‘Japan?’ Elder Eyring responded immediately, ‘Yes, let’s go there.’ And up on the computer screen the missions of Japan appeared. I instantly knew that the missionary was to go to the Japan Sapporo Mission.
“Elder Eyring did not ask me the exact name of the mission, but he did assign that missionary to the Japan Sapporo Mission.”
A few things I would add to answer the rest of your questions. Yes, I have known sister missionaries who tract (that’s our word for going door-to-door), but the rules on this may vary by mission, and there are some missions that are doing away with tracting altogether. If you’ve never seen a woman missionary, stop by Temple Square in Salt Lake City. There’s a gaggle of sister missionaries there ready to give you a tour in any one of twenty languages.
Since missionaries usually pay for their own mission expenses, it used to be that ability-to-pay might have some impact on a missionary’s assignment, whether to pricey Japan or somewhere more affordable in Latin America, but about twenty years ago the Church instituted a program to ensure that most missionaries pay a flat rate regardless of area of service. Medical needs (including the need to take regular medication that might be hard to come by in a foreign land) may have a greater impact on mission assignment.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the kinds of places people get called come in waves as new areas of the globe are “opened” to missionary service. For example, when I was 18, lots of guys I knew were getting calls to the Dominican Republic and Brazil. But over time, as the Church grows in these areas, the preference sometimes shifts away from using bilagaanas to using more local talent. Used to be that the Church had just one Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah; now there are 15 worldwide, from South America to Europe to West Africa, allowing elders and sisters from these areas to train in their home regions.
So what did those Elders do to deserve your neighborhood? Nothing: God works in mysterious ways, right? LP, do me a favor: next time you see a pair of missionaries on the mean streets of Colorado Springs, do like a member and honk and wave real friendly. Or the next time a pair of elders knock on your door, offer them a glass of water. I have a giant soft spot for stateside missionaries, especially since my very own brother served in Peoria, Illinois.
Okay, readers, it’s your turn to gossip about mission calls. Were you a stateside missionary? What was it like getting your call? Is it true that there are no “sucky” missions? And what are the prestige missions these days?
Send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.
53 responses to “How do missionaries get assigned to a place like Colorado Springs? Did they do something wrong?”
I have to admit that when I received my call to the New Mexico Albuquerque mission I was disappointed. My initial thought was that the Lord didn’t trust me, so He sent close to home so my failure wouldn’t be overly burdensome on the church or my family. (I spent nearly half my mission closer to my home in Utah than to the mission office in Albuquerque.) I didn’t realize that I was where I was for a reason until I had served over half my time. I was a bilagaana. I served in some very remote areas on the Navajo reservations of New Mexico and Arizona loved every minute of it. No bikes, no asphalt, no door-to-door in the traditional sense, usually traveling roads that were not depicted on any maps, definitely no addresses or phones. In hindsight I can see that I was sent to my mission because I would have struggled, and perhaps failed, in any other. Some would (and did) call it “sucky”, I call it perfect and inspired.
Also, sisters served in areas just as remote and rough as the elders. Perhaps the ratio of elders to sisters can explain the apparent absence.
There are no sucky missions. Only sucky missionaries! Or so the saying goes…
That said, though, I was totally jealous of my Mission Training Center companion who got called to South Africa. Me? I went to South Dakota. And it rocked, in many ways.
I was a tracting sister. And I have no doubt that many people in the small community thought the same thing LP did: what have you done to deserve this? But, there’s nothing like a difficult, unglamorous volunteer job in your own country/culture to get you close to God. Mainly, because no one else wants much to do with you.
The only place sisters weren’t assigned/”allowed” on my mission was on the Native American Reservations (which I always felt to be a great shame).
And I’m with AMG, give those Elders a drink of water when you can! It will probably quite literally make their day.
WordPress selected one of my posts, about Colorado Springs and Dr. James Dobson, to suggest as “possibly related.”
Divine work, you think?
Thanks for answering my question! I’ve always wondered what the system was for designating where people go. So it’s all inspiration, huh? And it works out?
What kind of work do you do if you don’t tract?
I was called to serve in Southern California and had a tremendous opportunity. While there were certainly a wide array of people from different cultures, religious perspectives, income levels and other variable, the majority of our team was spent laboring in very affluent neighborhoods and cities.
I was not disappointed when I received my call to California, although at one point I had hopes of serving overseas in exotic lands. I had an older brother who was always a great example to me throughout my pre-mission life. I’d imagine, although I am not sure how you’d compare this, that he was as righteous and ready to serve in a “cool/distant/foreign” mission as anyone. He was called to Arizona. Another friend, also a great example, spoke fluid Spanish and a Columbian dialect as a result of his heritage and mother. Most assumed his talents would be utilized in Latin America or elsewhere. They weren’t. He was called to an English-speaking mission in Florida.
I have served a mission that is what it was called officially but in reality it was 2 years of HELL. The mission president could have cared less if I lived or died. Hear I was to serve the lord and serve my mission and he could have cared less about my sacrifice, he kept putting me in areas that were burned over and had no real chance of any success, he kept putting me with companions who did not want to work and then blamed me when we did not get along, he can make elder disobedient a zone leader for sum reason but I cant even train or open up a new area, he did not take my concerns seriously. As a result of this outright abuse I saw no fruits of my labor, non whatsoever, nothing came of my mission.
The best 2 years I don’t think so more like the worst 2 years, what a joke serving a mission for the church was the only good part of my mission was the MTC and that was it nothing more. Inspired mission call I don’t think so. I served for 2 years for nothing and got crapt on the whole time it was a waste of my time and gods time not to mention all the money down the toilet
Based upon my experience I don’t recommend serving a mission for anyone because my experience was a farce, a joke a sham, it was suppose to have been the best time of my life and it was the worst time of my life I could have been doing something better like getting a degree or starting a family
Joey (post from Nov. 18, 2010)…sorry you had such a bad experience. One lesson you didn’t learn was understanding or the reason(s) you answered the call to serve in the first place or maybe didn’t have any. Missions are just flat out hard work but punctuated with many wonderful opportunities to help others. Sounds like you should have worked on being less selfish and more interested in helping others. Both a degree and a family would benefit from having a more selfless person working toward that end so neither sound like a “better” option. Mission Presidents are there to provide the leadership needed to further the work while also helping you learn through your experiences. Key word…help you learn. The whole process is a path that you were responsible for. Hope things have turned around in your life. Speaking only for myself, serving in the States offered me a the best opportunity to get to learn more about our own great country and to spend more time learning and studying the scriptures rather than learning a language. Sure, I’d have loved to have an excuse to learn a language…but for me, I was called where I could do some good and learn a lot of personal lessons.
My son just got called to the Colorado Colorado Springs mission…maybe you will meet him, and maybe you are one of the reasons he has been called to go there. 🙂
His brother is in Vancouver, Canada and I went to Osaka Japan. We are all grateful to serve and I have already seen incredible growth in my oldest son and know Elder Smith will do just fine in the Colorado Springs mission.
It isn’t where you serve, it is how you serve that makes all of the difference.
I just received my mission call to Baltimore, Maryland. English speaking. I am not going to lie. I was disappointed. My patriarchal blessing talks about me having the gift of tongues and traveling around the world, which has always been a dream of mine. My family was convinced I would get called to some exotic country, as was I. When I read my call, I felt like maybe God didn’t think I could handle learning another language or serving in another country, like he was disappointed in me or something. I really appreciate all the comments on here. Even though it doesn’t sound as glamorous as other missions, I know that Maryland is where the Lord needs me. I applied to go on a mission for a reason and I will serve the Lord with all I am, in the place he called me to be. I hope that by doing so, I will learn to love the mission and the people there. I hope to learn and grow from the experience and help improve people’s lives, make them happy and give them faith.
Kait–Baltimore is actually amazing. You are going to learn a great deal and be working at the frontiers of faith. I hope you get to serve in the city. You’ll learn a great deal about African-American culture, a kind of insight that is sorely needed in our church. May goodness and mercy follow you!
I just got a stateside mission call and am pretty disappointed. Thank you for all these comments! They are very hopeful and uplifting. Amg always hits the spot!
I’m from Peoria Illinois!
I was called to the Phoenix, Arizona mission. I literally cried all night after I opened my call. I had lived in Russia twice teaching English and just knew that I was going to be called to serve a mission there. The Lord had another plan. I truly can’t imagine serving my mission anywhere else in the world. The memories i have of walking down the roads in Arizona, well, it’s sacred land to me now. When I have been able to visit down there with my husband and children recently, I have been overcome with memories of feeling the Spirit so strongly and learning, really learning what I believe and who I am. Thank you for helping me remember this sweet and wonderful (albeit at times hard!) times in my life.
Yes, about giving them a drink of water. That was the most wonderful gift in a day!
I was just called to serve in the Salt Lake City mission. I was extremely disappointed to say the least. I have lived my whole life in Washington D.C, but my have tons of family in the Salt Lake area and have been to Salt Lake numerous times. Getting this call was really hard on me, my whole life I expected to go to some far off land and have tons of exotic stories but it looks like I’m Salt Lake bound. It’s tough because I think in the church there is a sense of judging people on their mission calls, however I think most people understand that the Lord sends missionaries where they’re needed/need to go. I really have appreciated the words of previous posts about going stateside. It’s nice to hear people showing their complete faith in the Lord. Just through my calling alone I have learned a ton of humility and faith and although Salt Lake City might be the last place I wanted to serve, sometimes we just have to trust in Him.
I’m from New Zealand and I got called to Colorado Springs mission, it was really exciting being called to a foreign mission (yes America is considered a foreign land) and I really loved it although I have not been able to return back there I do hope I can one day with my family. It’s really funny because when missionaries get sent to New Zealand and they are from another country they are so excited and we think the same thing that it’s not that exciting, but it is. And it was also helpful having American companions who helped me a lot with culture, slang, government, customs etc… So it is very helpful when missionaries serve state side to help the foreigners that get sent America.
When I was waiting for my mission call people would ask where I wanted to go. My answer was that I didn’t care I just hoped to go somewhere that wasn’t too close to home. I ended up being called to a neighboring state and what I thought was one of the ugliest places I had ever been. Needless to say I was very disappointed. However, once I got to my mission and adjusted I realized that we were doing the same work as missionaries anywhere else in the world and I might as well have been in a foreign country because even though home for me was only a few hours away the missionary rules about phone calls, etc. applied just the same and I wasn’t there as a tourist. My mission ended up being just perfect for me.
I have to admit when my son opened his call to Tacoma Washington, I was very disappointed. All of his friends in the room were learning Mandarin Chinese or French and going to Europe, Taiwain, Sweden,etc. He was going to hop a flight to two hours and serve somewhere we had been before. I know this is not the attitude we are supposed to have, but there it is. My son is a brilliant student and very prepared missonary and he will do a great job, I really think its the luck of the draw. Had he applied a week earlier, he might been going to somewhere interesting. But he will go and do a great job and have a great attitude doing it. The talk about Elder Eyring reading each resume is not reality. The Church is getting thousands of applications each week. I think its more about perspirtation than inspiration and good missionaries are needed everywhere. I am happy he gets to serve and is worthy and ready to do so.
I wonder if the situation has changed with the current bump in missionaries. Prior to the age change there were about 500 calls considered each week if one were to do the math. If Elder Eyring were the only one doing calls and worked an eight hour day, that would be an average of just over one call per minute. While that would certainly be a monumental task requiring very quick inspiration, it would be possible. I am not sure, however, that Brother Rasband ever said that Elder Eyring was the only one doing the work.
With the four or five fold increase in applications since the announcement, one would see a need for additional people working on the calls. While I may not be as ready as you to write off the process as explained by Brother Rasband, there must certainly have been some recent adjustments.
Anyway, best of luck to your son as he serves in Tacoma. We have one son serving currently and another awaiting his call as we speak. Be it Tacoma or Cape Town, the blessings of a serving a mission are immeasurable.
I recently received my call to the New Mexico Albuquerque Mission. Was I dissapointed? Yes. Did I want to go somewhere foreign? Yes. Does God Know me and my desires? Yes. Does God know the people I am called to serve? Yes. It took me a while after I got my call to realize that God does know me more than anybody else and He also knows the people I was called to labor among. If I wanted to go to Europe, or Africa then I should go on vacation. Serving a mission is about the work, not the place. The Lord is calling His army. Now is when He needs us the most. I know you believe in Christ, but don’t you believe Him when He says He can make this work? I know that your son was called to Tacoma Washington for a reason. This is Gods work, and He wouldn’t have it any other way. He is making this work.
Congratulations on your call! As someone who grew up on the Navajo Reservation near Four Corners, let me just tell you quick… I think you’ll be surprised by how much of a different culture Albuquerque can really be! Frybread, the smell of burning cedarwood, hogans, pow wows… Will some of it be familiar? Yes. But what an amazing opportunity! I really love Frank Smith’s comment above:
“It isn’t where you serve, it is how you serve that makes all of the difference.”
Sometimes life can seem random and not-quite-everything-we-were-expecting, but it’s been my experience that those are the moments that ultimately shape our lives into something we were never creative enough to imagine for ourselves. The Lord knows us better than we know ourselves, and He knows the people we are called to serve.
I served a mission and know that every missionary I served with, along with myself, were not called by “luck of the draw”. If you want your son to serve to be able to go “somewhere interesting” than you don’t understand why missionaries serve. People in Tacoma are just as important to God as the people in Sweden, and missions aren’t about expanding your resume with a new language, they’re about preaching the gospel. I know God didn’t give revelation calling for 1000’s more missionaries without being capable of getting them to the right places. He is much more amazing and capable than even that. I am happy your son is serving a mission, and hope you can learn from his experience what missions are really for.
I just got my call to serve in New Jersey, and I was( still am) disappointed. I had recieved a certain feeling that I would go to Eastern Europe. My father had the same feeling and we both concluded that it was personal revelation for me and revelation about me to him. It even says in my patriarchal blessing that I would “go to foreign lands to teach the gospel…” But apparently that didn’t happen, or its talking about a future mission as a senior couple.
I’m just having a hard time trying to accept, but all your posts and stories have touched my heart. It makes me strong enough to serve The Lord wherever he calls me.
Jake, Who knows what your future holds? Teaching the gospel in foreign lands doesn’t have to be “as a full time called mission”. My son’s patriarchal blesing similiarly says…. he’ll share the gospel around the world. He never served a full time mission but… his school studies and employment including military have taken him “around the world”. He has networked and kept in contact with friends from college and work who are now all over the world. When possible he visits them in foreign countries. Be open and realize you have a lifetime to fulfil that prophesy. Be ready to answer the calls and promptings throughout your lifetime.
My daughter burst into tears when called to San Antonio English. She too had worked as an english teacher in Russia, had 4 years of Spanish and was a scholarship student. 6 years later, after a successful year and a half mission, I thank almighty God for this experience. Whenever I look at 2 beautiful grandsons, a son in law she met while there who, also a missionary, persued her and she married a short time later, I am amazed at how perfectly things work out. It is all about attitude. If you go on a mission with the attitude of service to others rather than what others can do for you, you will be successful. I know many, who have since left the church, who still are grateful for the lessons learned on their missions. Yes, my daughter cried when she got her call, but she prepared and left because it was right. Now, she talks about her experiences with awe and thanks those in charge for their wisdom. I am so proud.
1st I like how Robbie did not read what I said. 2nd the process for mission calls has ben and now will be more so luck of the draw despite what is said. The fact that they are using computer systems tells us that they are operating on supply and demand for missions. In the days of joseph smith it was actually reveled where one should go but today it is just a system of “well we need replacements here so let us send this one and this one” mission calls these days are more like making an order at Deseretbook the mission president makes an order and HQ fills it with what is available at the time.
The use of technology in no way discounts the process as inspired. Neither does the speed of the process, whatever that may be. The Lord knows where each candidate needs to be, and He’s not going to let that turn out wrong. But He can’t force you to have a good experience, that’s up to you. That is a principle for our whole lives: it is up to US how we choose to respond to different situations, good or bad. I promise that you can use ANY experience to draw closer to your Lord, you just might have to be willing to adjust your attitude. Please don’t discount missions because of your bad experience. Whether your mission president really was out of touch (doubtful) or you just couldn’t understand the reason for his decisions, you could still have learned a lot from your experiences. I hope you did, that you realize some day why you had the experiences you did. If not, well that’s your loss. Like I said, you can choose to draw nearer to the Lord in your trials or to turn your back on Him because of trials-it’s up to you!
I mean this with respect, but I found your statement of “whether your mission president really was out of touch (doubtfully) or you just couldn’t understand the reason for his decisions …” offensive and extremely painful.
I don’t know Joey at all. But, I was horribly abused on my mission by my mission president. I not only have proof (not that victims of abuse should EVER have to prove abuse), but I’m in therapy, and have been diagnosed with PTSD. It really bothers and hurts me that so many LDS members immediately discount the claims of missionaries and RMs that they had a bad mission president or bad mission experience. Just because you or someone you know did, does not make that universal. That’s like saying, “I grew up in a healthy family and home, so it’s (doubtful) that you didn’t.”
My therapist always says, “The outcome is the evidence of abuse” meaning the way the person feels, thinks, or side effects they may have is proof enough that something did, in fact, happen. Let me repeat that again: the OUTCOME is the evidence. Not the evidence is the evidence; the OUTCOME is.
True disciples of Jesus Christ would never question a person’s mission experience and how they now view the mission process as wrong. Rather, they’d seek to educate themselves so they understand how the person feels and seek to find the validity in that person’s feelings.
If one is to serve for two years of their lives. The least the church could do was give them a choice. How cruel to be expected to work free for two years to support a belief that most people find to be strange at best. Tell me difference in Which voices are the delusion s of people who suffer from mental illnesses and which voices are really the real voice of god. How does one know.?
I am going on a mission in about 3 months. No one asked me to, no one expected me to. I chose this decision. I prayed about it, and I know this is what my Father in Heaven would have me do. We don’t get to choose where we go because God knows us, and He knows the people of the world much better than anyone else. He loves each of us so much! He knows where I am needed, and He will send me there. That is all there is to it! Yes, our beliefs may seem strange, but that doesn’t make them false. This church is true, and I have a testimony of that. Its hard to explain how people hear God’s voice. How does one explain the taste of salt? It is something that is different for everyone. May I make a suggestion? Find out for yourself. What is God trying to tell you? I promise that if you pray will full intent, and with real sincerity, you can know for yourself how people hear “the real voice of God”. Try it. I promise it wont be disappointing.
I have a son who is serving in Southern California. He was dissapointed when he received his call, because he had dreamed more than once that he would serve in Africa. He wrote me a letter just recently and said that He is happier where he is than he could ever imagine. He said that the Lord knew where he needed to be, and that he had to humble himself in order to understand that the Lord’s plan was more important than his. I do not know what “method” is used to assign missionaries to where they are to serve, but I do believe that through obedience they are blessed wherever they serve. They are a vessel that brings the gospel to others, and if they open their hearts and their minds, those blessings flow to them, and to those they have the opportunity to serve.
But, what if the Lord did reveal to your son that he was to serve in Africa – but the person (or computer) assigning his mission wasn’t in tune with the Spirit? It is much easier psychologically to say, “Well, this is what the Lord wants of me,” than it is to realize that sometimes leadership (or computers) make mistakes. As a life-long member I have to say missions have never fit in with the Gospel. They are more about forcing a person to conform to (sometimes harmful) rules (which was satan’s plan in the pre-existence) than they are about serving and loving others. I understand that it is easier on your heart and mind to make excuses for the mistakes of others. But, in my experience having a direct relationship with the Lord, it is best for each person to trust in their personal relationship in the Lord rather than in what a computer might decide is best for numbers.
I appreciate your remarks on this, LDSwoman. My comment below (which you already responded to) says it all. I am saddened that it is so hard in the church to say, “I think they got my call wrong.”
If you do say that, you aren’t being faithful, you aren’t trusting that the Lord knows best, etc., etc. and that’s just silly — only the individual knows the feelings of their heart and what they feel the spirit has told them.
I do, however, understand why the church creates this culture of accepting where you are called NO QUESTIONS ASKED because, if it wasn’t there, there’d be a lot of people writing in asking for a new call when they got called anywhere state side.
I regret that I didn’t speak up. I wish I would have written the church when you have to send in your acceptance letter and said, “I feel in my heart this is wrong.” I wonder if it would have prevented the 18 months of abuse I suffered.
I was called to serve as a missionary in Mongolia, which I thought (and my friends/family thought) was one of the “coolest” missions. I was ecstatic! After training to go speak Mongolian, we found out we would have to wait for our visas. They sent me to Colorado Colorado Springs, in fact, while we waited!
We waited for our visas for months and months…and five months after we’d gotten to Colorado Springs, they told us our visas weren’t going to come, and reassigned us permanently to Colorado Springs as missionaries. LP, I thought the same things you did–Why have I been assigned here and not Mongolia? Was there something I did wrong?
I can honestly say that I trust that the Lord knows where each of His missionaries need to be. I don’t know why I had to go through the painful experience of getting one mission call and being assigned somewhere else, but I do know that it was inspired that I went to Colorado instead. I know that my experience in that mission was priceless, and that there are people I needed to meet and know that have forever changed my life. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
It’s true that people may “admire” you more or be more in awe of an exotic foreign mission. I can honestly say that in the end, it doesn’t matter where you serve, but how.
The decision to keep you in Colorado Springs makes sense from a logistical and financial standpoint. You made the best of a decision that was a logical one regarding how to use assets resulting in what was best for the organization. You are right – that no matter what people do to you or what decisions people make that affect you (such as the logistical decision to keep you in Colorado Springs) it is how you respond to and think about those outside forces that helps you maintain a healthy mind. You chose to attribute these logistical and financial decisions to the Lord instead of seeing that these were decisions made by strangers far away that see you as a type of organizational asset. And, it helped you get through the disappointment and grief. For you, making the choice to do this was beneficial to your mental health.
Just found your website a couple of days ago and I love it! I’ve been poring over it for hours. Can I give a resounding YES YES YES to it? As a liberal, feminist, and extremely open-minded Mormon who is unorthodox, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I wanted to add my thoughts on callings on missions being “inspired.” (This is long — sorry)
I returned from a mission about eight months ago. It was absolutely one of the worst experiences of my life. I had an extremely abusive mission president, endured countless hours of his corrupt and abusive temperament, dealt with his (often, but not always) horrible leaders that were just as bad as him, and saw the ugly and judgmental behavior of orthodox Mormons in the most magnified way.
Granted, looking back, I should have known better. I was an older Sister missionary, I had already completed my Master’s, I had a few years of professional job experience, and I’ve always been very vocal against Mormon pop culture. But, honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought I’d be doing a lot of humanitarian work (did zero of that unless you count being forced to be a free moving company) and teaching people the gospel in a loving way (yes, I LOVED the people, but it really wasn’t about “teaching people” as much as it was NUMBERS NUMBERS NUMBERS and baptized NO MATTER WHAT).
Overall, it was a huge mistake. I’d always had a lot of problems with the church, but I came back rather shaken up, with PTSD, and extremely disillusioned. I’ve been in therapy for several months and am now only speaking up about it. By the way, I LOVE the advice given in one of your more recent posts to the young woman thinking of going on a mission. Thank you to everyone who honestly told her not to. If she’s even a small bit like me, she’ll hate it.
Back to the point though of this post. I really struggle with how inspired my mission call was. When I received the prompting by God to go on a mission, I felt very much like I should learn another language. My heart was completely set on it and I could desire nothing more. My Bishop felt I should speak another language and even recommended it on my papers. I prayed for the opportunity and those feelings to be recognized about my desire for another language by whomever issued my call and then waited for the call to come.
I got my call and, to this day, I can still see myself when I read exactly where I’d be going: stateside. My heart DROPPED. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced that kind of “drop” before. I’ve been crushed, disappointed, angered, let down, and dreams not fulfilled many times before (I have led a very difficult life), but I was utterly let down by, I felt at the time, my Heavenly Father and the church.
I then got to the language part of the call. At this point I was incredibly disappointed as I thought I’d have to settle for Spanish, but then I saw English. Seriously, I can’t even begin to describe my utter disappointment.
I got off the phone with my brother and sister-in-law (I had them on speaker phone when I opened the call) and cried the rest of the day and many days after. Having to write my acceptance letter was one of the worst days I had had in a long time. Matter of fact, I simply wrote “I accept.”
Maybe this sounds extreme, but I just *knew* in my heart that I’d leave the country. I *knew* I’d speak another language. And, honestly, I really believed that God would bless me to learn a unique language (other than the more common Spanish) because my Master’s is in government and it would help me get a job once I came home — like that’d be my blessing for giving up my professional opportunities to serve. I wasn’t stupid, naive, or spoiled. I just truly, in my heart, believed that. Plus, not being called to serve foreign was a blow to my self-esteem. I must not be smart enough or pretty enough (you send a picture in when you send your papers in).
When I got to the MTC and discovered how you are sort of treated a little bit lesser when you have an English name tag, I felt even more shame. Quite honestly, and I’m not lying here, many (not all though) of the people going to more exotic or harder language places were a bit more educated, experienced, or sophisticated than the ones going to say, Idaho. It really tested my self-esteem.
I also heard rumors in the MTC of missionaries in the past who felt their call was wrong, got to the MTC, met with whomever was in charge, and refused to go to where they were called and threatened to go home, and — after some attempts to sway them — they were reassigned to more glamorous places across the pond. I SERIOUSLY considered doing this, but didn’t only because I knew that I couldn’t claim I’d go home if they didn’t reassign me because I gave up everything I had to go and there wasn’t a home for me to return to.
I got out to my mission and met my mission president. I had previously mailed him a letter (per his request) before I got out to the field and told him all the feelings of my heart: that I knew I was supposed to serve in another language. I, of course, hoped he’d change me to Spanish, but he didn’t. He simply only remarked then (and a time or two after) that someone “like me” with my education and background should have been sent foreign. Considering the guy was the most abusive person I have ever known, this admittance from him is interesting.
During my mission, I never got a glowing feeling that I was supposed to be where I was. Not once. Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t ever have the feeling that my path did align with a certain person or two for a reason. I did. But, I also felt deeply that any of those people would never have been denied the opportunities to find the gospel had I not been there. Someone else would have found them. I just don’t buy into the idea that God is the kind of being that makes another person’s salvation dependent on ONE person.
Plus, my mission president was the most awful person in the world and a mission is no place for a feminist woman.
I’ve come to the conclusion that not *everything* is inspired. That’s not to say nothing is. But, when mission papers come in and Apostles (etc.) are sitting at a computer and they have 25 missions that need missionaries on such and such dates and there’s prospective missionaries in front of them that can meet those dates, they are going to assign people there. The fact is, someone from my mission would be going home and someone needed to replace her and that person ended up being me. I’m (mostly) comfortable with that. It doesn’t make me believe any less in God to say that somethings happen for logistics sake and that alone. I don’t think it bothers God most of the time either. I think there’s times He probably intervenes, but I think there’s times He doesn’t. Why? Who knows. But, like I said above, I don’t think He’ll deny people the chance at the gospel just because it wasn’t Ryan or Sarah or Becky there. He’ll let Dan or Ann teach that person instead.
Still, to this day, I’m sad about the loss. I had to mourn the fact that I didn’t go where I think I was supposed to be. But, I’m glad to speak up about it because, in Mormon society, it’s taboo to say you don’t agree with your call.
This sounds like my brother’s experience – right down to an abusive mission president interested in metrics (number of baptisms) over any sort of service. My brother left for his mission a happy, faithful, optimistic young man. He came back so very different – almost unrecognizable – beaten down and sad. It took him years to recover from the damage. I can honestly say it would’ve been much better if he had never gone on a mission at all. It took years to get out of him what had been done to him on his mission. He was reluctant to blame anyone for the abuse he received, but once the experiences were related it took little effort to see what had been done to my sweet brother. Just an awful experience.
When I read your post I was so disheartened. You were a sister missionary, you had no obilgations to serve-but you did anyways. I believe anyone who has a desire to sacrifice so much to serve their God is an extraordinary person. You have set yourself apart from the rest of the world to walk by faith and teach God’s precious children. You got a letter from the prophet! That is something special. My favorite quote is by a man whom President Monson quoted. It says: “The best decision I ever made in life was to give up something I dearly loved to the God I love even more and He has never forgotten me for it.” I try to live by that quote. God loves us so much more than we can even hope to comprehend. He wants what is best for us. I have a testimony of that, the only reason we wouldn’t get what we want is because God has something better. Most people don’t know this but as part of the calling process, the prophet checks each call-ensuring that each missionary is sent where they need to be. I don’t know what you felt, or what the spirit told you, but for me, when I pray for an answer, I usually know what I want, which makes it hard to know what my real answer is. Now I am not saying that this happened to you! Please do not read it that way! Before I got my call, I really wanted to go foriegn. When I recieved my call and read that I would be sent stateside, I was a little dissapointed, to be perfectly honest. Also, I did want to learn a new language. I would have loved French! But I got English. When I turned in my papers, my stake president told me to pray for those bretheren-so they can send me where I need to be. (Note that he didn’t tell me to pray for where I want to be.) Like you, I had a really hard time accepting my call. Then someone reminded me one simple thing. I wanted to serve. WHERE I serve shouldn’t matter when you compare HOW I serve. No, going stateside might not help your resume, but in an eternal perspetive, why does it matter? All that matters is that you gave up something you loved to the God you love even more. It matters that you served with all your might, mind, and strenght. What a better way to get closer to the Savior than with a humble mission! I promise you this: He will never forget you for it.
Thank you so much, Sarah. I really appreciate your words. I have felt disheartened lately as I didn’t finish my education and went on a stateside mission, so sometimes get that yucky feeling that my time was wasted. But your quote: “The best decision I ever made in life was to give up something I dearly loved to the God I love even more and He has never forgotten me for it.” made me just stop and realize that I didn’t waste anything. I truly did testify of Christ…everyday. And maybe He does appreciate that and love me for that. That gives me comfort to think that He does. A “humble” mission. Yes, indeed. I don’t have all the diplomas of my friends and foreign languages to go with it, but I do have humility. I am grateful for that.
What is your source in regards to the president of the church looking over each call?
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Thank you for your kind comments. Your sweet faith is endearing. I know you meant only love and kindness by your remarks, but while I loved and appreciated that, I think it shows a little bit of lack of understanding. I’m supposing you haven’t served yet? I think your perspective will probably change a bit when you return home. I don’t mean that with any offense, I just mean that sometimes it’s easier to view things in a cosmic, faith, all is well kind of way until we go through some experiences on our own.
If we are to believe that calls are divine, then it does matter where we serve in addition to how we serve. And I do think that things matter from a temporal perspective (in reference to you saying that it doesn’t matter if my mission didn’t help my resume). Yes, of course it matters. Because, while we are trying to live good lives so we can have eternal progression, we are also commanded to live on this earth and provide for ourselves — to make a life for ourselves. We can’t hum our days away by the premise of things only matter eternally. We do have this day and this life to live and for good reason. Relying on the thought of blissful eternity doesn’t pay the bills and keep you from being homeless. The letter from the prophet isn’t from the prophet personally. That isn’t to discount its lovely message (it is lovely), but it is a form letter with a stamped signature. I believe the prophet approved that letter, but it isn’t personalized (though, I can see the side that the fact he approved it does make it personal — I’ll concede that). Finally, you mentioned that Sisters are under no obligation to serve. I’d be careful with that mentality. If God — through personal revelation — tells you to go on a mission (which He did with me), you are very much under obligation. Most women I served with felt they were told to go on a mission, too.
Best of luck. 🙂
I agree that very often, perhaps MOST often, a person can learn and grow where ever they are assigned. Sometimes it IS important that Bob goes to England and Julie goes to New York and when it is important, the Lord will make sure that person gets there. I was a little disappointed when I was called to West Virginia, but the Lord knew me better than I knew myself. At the time I knew that I would like to travel, but the Lord knew that I really LOVE to travel. Traveling is actually one of the fundamental driving traits of my personality! I know that now, but I didn’t know it then! Had I gone foreign, I think I would have been extremely frustrated not to have been able to be a tourist, and might have made a poor missionary. Since my mission, I’ve been and lived all over the world. A funny story—while I was a missionary I never did feel “special” as though I were there to meet someone or help anyone in particular. I felt sort of generic, and joked about it privately. During one interview with my mission president, he said, “You know, I’m so thankful for you because you are sort of generic.” I laughed and he apologized and clarified, “So often, some missionary has a problem and can’t go here or there or be assigned with so and so, and other times I feel prompted that a missionary has to be in a certain place. It makes it very difficult to meet everyone’s needs. But with you—you are one of the rare people who can go anywhere and do anything. I’m so grateful you’re here!” I really think in my case he was right. I probably could have gone anywhere (stateside) and served.
Having an intimate knowledge of how change of stations happen in the U.S. military — The explanation given in this blog post regarding how LDS mission calls are decided mirrors how this happens in the military. Similarities: The needs of the organization supersede all else. The member’s (whether military member or church member) desires, needs, and personal capabilities are minimally considered (if at all). A few bureaucrats handle the decision of where to ship the member asset. Having a personal relationship with one of these bureaucrats (or knowing someone who does) can make a world of difference as to where you are sent. And, finally, certain locations are always considered more desirable than others for a variety of reasons (a primary one being that future graduate school admissions officials and employers will regard certain locations as a valid use of your time of service while other locations will be regarded as, essentially, a waste). If I didn’t know any better I would think that perhaps the LDS bureaucracy has learned their methods partially from the U.S. military’s methods regarding service member changes of station.
I’d agree with this especially the part where you mentioned certain employers will either find it a valid use of time or a total waste.
I’ve found this to be true from personal experience.
I have a Master’s in government and all the experts now days recommend listing your mission on your resume under professional experience (rather than under volunteer/hobbies/additional info categories) as you literally worked a job with specific skills sets for 18-24 months. My mission was unique in that we were only one of eight missions where the missionaries wrote blogs and and had facebooks accounts, so I felt that would help me stick out. But, honestly, in all the interviews I’ve had, employers are very uninterested in my time in California (where I served). They do, however, always seem to know someone they find far more fascinating that went to an exotic locale and speaks a foreign language and love to tell me about it.
I don’t mean this to undercut ANYONE’s positive experience state side, but it is certainly less valuable professionally.
Sara what is your source for making the statement that president monsoon looks over every call to make sure it is right? I can guarantee that he has nothing to do with the assignment all that happens with him is his signature ends up on the call letter and that is done by an auto-pen.
Escc I am sorry to hear about this tragedy you and others who knew you and had authority over you felt that you were going to go foreign and speak a different language. Someone messed up in salt lake. This is not surprising because it is determined by a lottery nothing really more. I noted some real slackers that I know who got foreign missions while me and others I know who were smart and hardworking got state side missions. Let me tell you get treated a whole lot better when you go to a different country you are treated like a king if that happens if you are state side that nobody in the church cares.
Having served a mission to Latin America in the 70’s I too thought the location of your mission had to do with your ability, faithfulness, or experience. That is, until one of my missionary friends who I greatly respected, was transferred to California due to health issues. Several months later, after being released, I spoke with him about his experiences. I asked him if there were as good of missionaries in Southern California as there were in Argentina. He told me that both missions were equal. The quality of the missionaries were the same. There were good ones, there were bad ones. The mission presidents were equal. Both had strong points and each had weak points. Both at times were more interested in numbers than people. I believe(d) him. The church does its best to send missionaries where they need them and where they think they will do their best.
I do believe they pay much more attention to local leaders recomendations than spiritual influence. I’m guessing that they rationalize that their local leaders know them better than they do. The fact is that at times something prompts our leaders to assign certain callings and other times they do not. I have spent times in leadership positions where I experienced success and other times where I was called to positions where I was less successful. Was the difference because of them or me? I am not sure. The only thing you can control is how you react to success and adversity. But, that is something you can control. I have had church leaders who I respect and others who I have not. I think church politics are the worst part of the church. Johnie wants to make mommie proud by being called as a Zone leader. Mary wants to make daddie proud by being a primary pres.
I have tried to teach my children to do their best and be proud for themselves for what they have accomplished. I will always be proud of them regardless of what they do or what they become because I am their father. I know that I haven’t always been successful. And I worry about my newly called missionary son getting caught up in church politics. I haven’t done a good job of teaching him about them.
Having grown up in the LDS faith, even with Apostles and Prophets in my home ward, I can tell you that those disappointed parents and siblings of missionaries receiving calls to the States, or any other “unappetizing” place, are some of the most immature, worldly, and ungrateful members of the Church.
The missionary-to-be is the ONLY one to react the way they will, and NO ONE (if they have even one compassionate “fiber of their being”) should express remorse for the calling itself. If the non-called individual has issues, all it does is clearly point out the fact they believe that “if I am righteous, God will give me everything that I want, b/c I clearly know better than He does on what I want.”
The Church could use less and less of those toxic mindsets.
I actually opened up my mission call last Thursday. And can I just say, I was hoping and praying (well not really) that I would not have to speak a foreign language. I was completely fine with going anywhere in the world as long as I could speak English. And when I opened up my call I read Colorado Colorado Springs Mission, and I was so excited!!! (On a side note, my mom guessed Denver Colorado! So she was 1 mission off!) Then my friends and family calmed down and I proceeded to read my call and when I saw it say I would be preaching the gospel in the English language I started crying. I was so overwhelmed by the Spirit and knew that Colorado Springs is exactly where I am suppose to be and I am suppose to speak English there! So LP, if one of my future companions and I run into you, please don’t slam the door too hard in our faces. Who knows! We could be having a horrible day and you could make it better!
Hope to see you LP 😀
Soon-to-be Elder Brandon S.
Before I received my mission call, I specifically told my bishop and stake president I didn’t want to serve stateside and would’ve probably been crushed if I’d been called stateside. I got my mission call to the Bolivia Cochabamba Mission which I considered a ”cool” mission and I thought I was special because few Americans get called there but once I got to my first area in a town called Potosi which was ugly, gave me altitude sickness, it was full of dogs, doggy doodoo, garbage, pornography, drunks, and beggars, miners that worshiped statues of Satan and threw dynamite in the streets occasionally, and only 10 active members (not even the bishop) in the ward. I quickly regretted my eagerness to leave the United States and really wished I could’ve served stateside. And that feeling resonated throughout a lot of my mission. I got to eat crazy food, learn Spanish, Portuguese and some Quechua, play with monkeys and meet people from a bunch of different countries but that’s not what matters on a mission. You can do all those things while on vacation. People that get called foreign aren’t special in any way, we were all normal dumb kids. I used to look down on stateside missions, now when I meet people that get called stateside I think that’s awesome. They’re going to have a blast as long as they have a positive attitude and are serving because they love Jesus Christ and want to preach His Gospel.
2 days ago my mission call came. Many friends and family thought I would serve an international mission simply because I have traveled extensively (I’m in Ukraine at the present) and have a knack for languages. When I read Boise, Idaho out many were surprised. But actually I was not- when I was in China this past fall, I had a gospel doctrine teacher that told me wherever I went would be where the Lord needed ME. It sounds a bit naive, but I started applying this to myself, and I’m quite happy with my call. I know I’ll have a great time in Idaho doing His work. That’s good enough for me.
I have relatives who work at the church office building in SLC. who have said that computer programs help authorities assign missions. I am the kind of a person who looks for patterns to explain things. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that mission applications are run through a computer program that “helps” church authorities assign missions. By the way, it is not only used to help assign young Elders and Sisters but also mature couples and mission presidents. Knowing this doesn’t change my mind that this is done with inspiration. It just means that as much information is utilized increase chances for success. For example, does it make sense that a person who has several years of Spanish and where there is great need for Spanish speaking missionaries.to be sent to France. Additionally, individual mission needs and timing are of most importance. Anyway my observations over that past few years lead me to the following conclusions. When filling out the missionary application:
1. School grades, and desire to serve domestic or foreign, are heavily weighed.
2. Missionaries with 4 years of language study, good grades, and a desire to go foreign will result in a foreign country assignment.
3. Those with 2 years of Spanish and a desire to speak foreign language will result in a Spanish speaking U.S. mission.
4. Those who live in a country where visas are difficult to obtain will be sent to the same country but different mission.
5. Previous physical or emotional issues will result in a domestic mission,
6. Ancestry of a country or culture is weighed.
7. Physical appearance is taken into account. eg. Large missionaries sent to urban areas, Lighter complexion people to Aryan cultures, Asian looking folks to Asian country’s etc.
8. Recommendations by Bishops and Stake Presidents will supersede the computer programs recommendations.
10. At times, the spirit leads those making assignments to go in a completely different direction than what is recommended by the computer programs or local authorities. Years ago, my elderly parents went through the mission assignment process 3 times before a call was issued. It was explained that the decision making authority interceded until the “right” mission was assigned. This process took a couple of months.
Thank you so much for this article! I’m from Canada and got called to Chicago, Illinois (Spanish speaking). I was accepted to a program to learn French just after I put in my mission papers and I was sure that I was going to get sent somewhere French speaking. I did want foreign but was fine with anywhere as long as it was French. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who feels disappointed when reading their call. Thank you all for your uplifting comments! Each day I’m getting more and more excited for my mission and I know that this is where I’m meant to go!
🙂 God knows what he is doing. You just have to trust him! I have three siblings that served missions and the first two were older than me and I didn’t know them that well/I wasn’t that close to them so when they received mission calls that were surprising to me I later learned (after becoming closer to them) that they were the perfect choices for them. My sister had been learning Spanish for over a year and requested a Spanish speaking mission. She was sent to Korea. My brother I thought sure would be sent forgein and he was sent to Florida. Neither of them saw those mission calls coming! Haha. But my real point is that God knows you better than you know you and he knows you better than your friends and family. You will get sent where you are suppose to go. I wanted to tease my brother for being sent to Florida but refrained and when he was there it was absolutely amazing the situations he encountered because he was perfectly equipped to handle them because of his personality, interests, past experiences, etc. He was a perfect match for that mission. My younger brother that went on a mission that I was really close with was sent to Madagascar, Africa. After he received his mission call he called me and told me to guess where it was. I guessed Nigeria, Africa first and then Madagascar after that. He was dumbfounded I guessed right so quickly and I was already certain it was in Africa. I’m not saying I have the insight of the apostles that send the missionaries where they do but I do my little brother really well and I knew that he was going to be sent to Africa because it was the most appropriate mission for him. Some missions might not seem so glamorous (Florida) but there is reasons behind the choices and I firmly believe the Apostles really are inspired by God when choosing where to send our missionaries.
First, good friends of ours have a daughter that has been called to the Colorado Springs, CO mission. So there will be and has been more sisters serving since the age change so if the original person who wrote is still out there they will be very blessed if the have the opportunity to meet with this young lady.
Second as to is it possible for someone to make a mistake. Sure since there was only one perfect person. If you talk with people who have received a call they will tell you if they have prayed about it that it is the right place for them or they are the right person for the people they will come in contact with. I find it interesting that people still think that there is only one place they could have an impact or are “destined” to go. It is just like finding a “soul mate” as if there is only one person in the world you could be happy with. Like the song goes, “you may not be with the one you love, but love the one you’re with.” Love does not just happen it must be worked at every day and you can be happy in any number of relationships.
So missions are a lot like marriage. If you want it to be the best it will be the best.
I can also relate a faith promoting rumor that happened years ago when my father in law was talking with a high ranking leader in the church and there was a situation where this leader was making these assignments and came across a relative he knew. He felt inspired to send him to a mission where he knew he would have lots of success, but he second guessed himself as he thought it was his desire and not the Lords so he changed the location.
At this time the Prophet prayed over the stack of mission papers to give a blessing and receive confirmation that everything was done correctly, and after his prayer he reached into the middle of the stack and said this one is not correct. Please change it back to the place that you were originally inspired to send this missionary. Believe what you wish, but I personally believe that the men in charge of this responsibility and spend many hours fasting and praying to know the will of the Lord and I have not hear of anyone having a bad mission unless they were not committed to serving the people of the area they were assigned.