Sunday, February 17, 2013

To Be, or Not to Be (a Mormon Missionary): That Is the Question (With Apologies to William Shakespeare)

My more-than-friend Jared is right now facing the decision of his life. Later in life he may be faced with even more momentous choices, but for the present, this is about as life-impacting as it gets. No, he's not deciding whether or not to pop any pertinent question to me.  We may both be young and stupid, but our stupidity has its limits.  Education needs to be a priority for both of us for a few years, and while we're on academic scholarships, neither set of mommies and daddies would be all that thrilled about keeping a roof over our heads while we simultaneously played house and attended college.

Jared's monumental decision concerns whether or not to serve a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  The obvious answer would be just say no. In going, he would be throwing more than ten thousand dollars of his parents' money away (at least his parents are willing to foot the bill; some families expect-- even demand-- of their sons that they fulfill missions, but then the parents expect the sons to earn their own way, starting their savings as young as elementary school with paper routes, mowing lawns, and such, and working their way up to more substantial employment. (Other families build a family mission fund with individual and group supplemental employment, all of which lnds in a joint fund from which the missinaries draw to pay their expenses. The problem with ths is that in the families I've known that employ this tactic, the girls are expected to contribute every bit as heavily as are the boys, yet girls are no required as are boys to serve missions.) In Jared's case, his parents have done well enough financially that they are willing to pay for both missions and bachelor's degrees for their six children.  Thus, Jared's personal finances are not impacted in a very direct way.

Jared's issues with serving a mission are mostly concerned with  essentially isolating himself from the outside world for two years and with freedom to make choices for himself for two years being nonexistent. Two years may not seem like a terribly long period of time to some, but to a person who's eighteen, it's more than ten per cent of that person's life. It's a substantial chunk of time to give up when one is unsure as to just how much he wants to do it.

When one agrees to serve a mission for the LDS Church, one fills out papers an submits them to Salt lake City. Depending upon whom one chooses to believe, each individual application is prayed and pondered over before a decision is made as to where a prospective missionary will be sent, or applications are randomly placed into stacks, and the stack into which a prospective missionary's application is placed determines where he or she is assigned to serve. The reported exception (heavily denied by spokespersons within the LDS church) is that offspring of prominent Mormons are often sent to safer, "cushier," or otherwise preferential mission sites. (Mitt Romney, for example, served in France. My father served in Argentina,where the water was not safe to drink.)  No one would argue that it is universally true that the children of wealthy or influential Mormons always end up in the more desired locations. Token children of Mormon leadership are sent to the more remote and less civilized locations just often enough that it can be stated that preferential treatment does not exist.

A Mormon missionary receives no financial compensation for his service (or for her service ; women are allowed, though not required to serve, although they are not allowed to go until they reach the age of nineteen. The minimum age for women to serve had been twenty-one until October of 2012. At that time, the minimum age for men to serve missions was lowered from nineteen to eighteen ).  On the contrary, the parents, or in some cases the local congregations, are required to send an amount of money that I believe is four hundred dollars each month to the Church. From this money, rent is paid, a small allowance for food is given, and an even smaller allowance for incidentals is provided.  Depending upon where the missionary is stationed, the living quarters are often slums into which no parent in his or her right mind would allow a young adult child to live if he or she actually laid eyes on the place. (By contrast, the Mission President and his wife, who are the couple who preside over all aspect of the mission with some degree of delegation, live in typically comfortable conditions in the "Mission Home." Also sometimes living in the Mission Home are privileged missionaries, known as assistants to the president.  These young men (always men; females are not permitted to fill these positions) sometimes are elevated to the positions because of success in the mission field. Sometimes the positions go to them because they descend from LDS royalty.

One reason missionaries are given comparatively small food stipends is because they are expected to be  invited to homes of local Mormons to partake of meals. Sometimes this happens, and sometimes it does not. Sometimes even when an invitation is issued, the young missionaries show up for the dinner invitation only to find no one home.  Missionaries, depending upon where they serve, sometimes have a great deal of difficulty maintaining weight while on missions.

Medical care while on missions has been a major bone of contention. Often medical care is unavailable or is substandard. Depending upon where the missionary serves, insurance may or may not be provided by the church. If a missionary becomes seriously ill or injured while on a mission, the LDS Church tries to persuade the parents to pay the cost of the medical treatment. If the parents refuse, they church has no recourse but to pay it. Sanitation conditions, among other things, often cause missionaries living in third-world conditions to become ill.  Persuading those in charge to seek medical care for such missionaries has been known to be very difficult.

A cousin of mine came home from South America before the scheduled completion of his mission last spring because of a severe case of amoebic dysentery. He ended up losing a large section of (I think) his ileum. As ill as he was, he was given no assistance to get to a hospital or to travel home. My uncle (not the missionary's father; the father had wanted his son to stick it out in South America despite his life-threatening illness, but the missionary's mother's brother, himself an active member of the LDS Church and an MD as well) traveled to South America, located my cousin, traveled with my cousin to the Mission Home and demanded his passport, which had been denied when my cousin asked for it earlier. My uncle gave the Mission Home staff a deadline of twenty-four hours before he would travel to the U.S, Embassy if the passport was not handed over.  It took almost the full twenty-four hours for the Mission President to return to the Mission Home and open the safe to retrieve the passport.

The Mission President still did not want my cousin to leave. My uncle, concerned before he even left for South America  about the condition of my cousin's health, took four units of safe A+ blood (my cousin's type) for a worst-case scenario. The Mission President tried to talk my uncle into admitting my cousin in a hospital located in the city of the Mission Home.  My uncle was very concerned about the integrity of the blood supply there. He transfused my cousin with two pints of the blood and saved the rest in the event of a bleedout or other emergency. It ended up being needed before they were able to make it out of South America.

My cousin was flown to a hospital in Miami, where he was stabilized until he could be flown to California for surgery. My cousin's father had stopped paying insurance premiums on him, so the surgery, if possible, needed to happen in California because our family had enough connections that most of the services would be comped.

About eight months later, my cousin has regained forty of the sixty pounds he lost while on his mission. He was far from overweight when he left. Because he left before completing his mission honorably, he is not eligible for the BYU missionary scholarship on which he had counted to complete his education.  He lives with my aunt and uncle in California and attends a university here. My parents and two other aunts and uncles who live here split the cost of his tuition. His parents refuse to help him in any way because he left his mission before its completion.

My cousin's case is extreme. Jared's parents would not expect him to remain in a foreign country receiving no or substandard medical care, and if he needed to come home, they would still pay for his college tuition.  Still, Jared is weighing the pluses and minuses very heavily. If he goes, he'll be two years behind in college when he returns, He plans to go to medical or dental school.  If he doesn't go on a mission, he will be 22 when he earns his B.S. If he serves a mission, depending upon the timing of the mission, he'll be between 24 and 25 by the time he ears his B.S.. That would have him finishing dental school at 27 or 28, or completing medical school at 28 or 29.  The age of twenty-nine doesn't exactly qualify one for an AARP card,  but if he didn't go on a mission, he'd be out of medical school and starting a residency at 26.  It's a pretty substantial difference.

Jared then needs to consider reasons why he should serve a mission.  The first reason is that it would please his father. Sorry, Jared's dad, my dad, or anyone else's dad, but two years of one's life is a whole lot to give up just to please one's father. Were the depth of Jared's religious convictions such that he felt compelled, that, along with the desire to please his father, would be sufficient reason. Without the religious call, however, the reason is flimsy at best.

Another reason Jared might benefit from serving a mission is to learn another language. My father learned to speak Spanish fluently while on a mission in Argentina. He has found the skill invaluable. My Uncle Scott learned fluent Spanish in Colombia. He, too, says he'd do the mission over again even though he's no longer a believing Mormon if only for the acquisition of Spanish.
On the other hand, here;'s no guarantee Jared will be sent to a Spanish-speaking country. The forms that prospective missionaries complete ask about previous languages learned and about where one might choose to serve, but far more often than not, the actual assignment does not reflect the missionariy's answers to those questions in any way.  Furthermore, not all languages are of equal value for a prospective doctor or dentist in California. Jared's dad served a mission in Norway. While learning any language is a valuable experience and can be a real novelty,  Jared's dad used his ability to speak Norwegian six times in his twelve years of practicing medicine in Utah, and used it  zero times in practicing medicine in California.  Jared could end up spending two years of his life trying to convert people to Mormonism in the Great State of Oklahoma. Or who's  to say Jared wouldn't be sent to somewhere in the Great White North where an obscure native Canadian language is spoken. Just how valuable would that be in his future medical or dental practice?

My advice to Jared is that if, for whatever reason,  he wants to go on a Mormon mission, he should go. If he doesn't want to go, he should skip out on the whole experience. If he's totally undecided, he should  complete the paperwork and submit it. If,  when he receives his "call" in the form of a thick white envelope from Salt Lake City, he should open it, look at where it is the church proposes to send him, pay close attention to precisely when they want him to report, as in a lousy reporting date can kill two semesters in addition to the four that he would miss anyway while he's off riding a bicycle and handing out Books of Mormon. He could then either report on the appointed date or say to the big boys in Provo (where the mission Training Center is located), "April Fools! I was only kidding!"

If he goes and ends up in an unhealthful or dangerous situation, he has at least three uncles and a mother who will do whatever it takes to rescue him from whatever jungle in which the church has stowed him away, so he has a tremendous advantage over many prospective missionaries.


  1. I think that in the long run having a dual law/med degree may pay off. You'll be well aware of all the rules and regulations regarding your legal rights as a physician, to a more detailed degree than someone who just went to medical school. Even on the flip side, if you choose law over medicine, you'll have a more thorough understanding of physiology and anatomy, in medical malpractice law suits.

  2. Jared, listen to the girl. Just say no. Dude, that LSD mission will melt your brain and send you on a one way trip to the Milky Way. Stay away from the stuff.

    Sorry, I'm being flippant on a serious issue. I think the decision as you imply, is between himself and his conscience. We get some LDS visitors here (Ireland) from time to time. Its a tough gig. They tend to dress like Men In Black which I've never understood. It makes them stand out a mile. Which maybe is the point. Also I always assumed LDS weren't allowed transfusions. I guess it's ok if it's your own blood. Altogether an interesting insight.

    Staying on religion, why is it that every Hollywood movie dealing with the anti-christ, demon possession, demons running amok also includes the catholic church. It doesn't bother me, I'm not religious, just curious. I've just finished watching American Horror Story, a story of nuns gone bad, demon possessed nuns, sadistic nuns, scheming, ambitious priests. Terrific stuff.
    I mean you won't find the anti-christ popping up at the Baptist Summer Fete or Lucifer munching his way through the congregation at the Lutheran Bake Sale, or the Whore of Babylon shaking her booty at the Methodist Tea Dance. Its not fair.

    1. Paul, If I ever make a movie, which is highly unlikely as the idea of doing so has never crossed my mind until this precise moment, it will most definitely involved Satan and a church. I'll try to hire Betty Buttefield to play her[him]self, although I know paying for the rights to her character would be damned pricy. Anyway, I think Satan would appear at a regular Sunday morning service at either a Presbyterian Church, or perhaps at a Church of the Nazarene simply because I've always liked that name. Satan's appearance would be timed precisely with the playing and singing either of "Take Time to Be Holy, Speak Oft With the Lord" or "Be Not Dismayed What the World Has Done; God Will Take Care of You." I'm leaning toward the second just because I find the lyrics ironic.

      It's highly dubious that between finishing college and getting into medical and/or law school, in addition to saving the world from Mormonism one Mormon at a time, that I'll ever get around to making a movie.

    2. Never say never. I'm working on a short movie script which I may work into a feature later on. It'll never get made but its one more thing off my bucket list.
      As for great church names, I belong to the Church Of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (it exists) at which I'm applying to be a cardinal. ($20, no questions asked.)
      I googled some others for your movie.
      "First Church of the Last Chance World on Fire Revival and Military Academy."
      "Hell Hole Swamp Baptist Church in South Carolina."
      "Country Club Christian Church in Kansas City."
      (They won't have me as a member.)
      Boring Seventh Day Adventist Church", Pastor Elder Dull (really).
      "Original Church of God, Number 2."
      As for music, how about this ditty from the Oconee River Boys singing "Its Hot Down Here!"
      If you scroll down on the comments section you'll see just the one comment. "Beast" Haha.
      The video currently has 617 views. I view it a few times a week to get it up to 666 views. I have an account ready called luciferlordoftheflies@hotmail. Then I'll send them a message. "Lovin' the work fellas. Big fan. Mwahahahahahaaaaah!"
      All I'm saying is if I were Satan (I'm not, I've checked)I'd be popping up in bedrooms everywhere. Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Tom Cruise.

  3. I think LDS missions are a complete waste of time and no one should go on one unless they wholeheartedly believe in what they are doing. And even then, I think it's wrong to pressure people into changing their religion, especially when that religion is as demanding as Mormonism is. Joining the LDS church is a big deal and has major repercussions on families. Anyone going on a mission just to please their parents or live up to someone else's expectations runs the risk of really screwing up an innocent person's life.

    Young people who want to spend two years abroad are much better off joining the Peace Corps. They will learn a language, professional skills, and have a hell of a lot more fun. The government pays to send you and pays you a small stipend to be there as well as a relocation allowance. And if you get sick or injured when you're abroad, they will see to it that you get decent care. I know about this from personal experience.

    I hope Jared doesn't waste his time or money on that nonsense and just focuses on getting through school.

    BTW Paul, it's Jehovah's Witnesses that can't get blood and while there are similarities in some of their proselytizing tactics, their beliefs are pretty much diametrically opposed. One of the best ways to get rid of the JWs is to offer them a Book of Mormon.

    1. For some reason I thought Jehovah's witnesses and latter day saints were the same thing. Never seen a book of Mormon, must get one. Witnesses are impossible to get rid of. They're sticker than a stick insect sitting on a stick.
      So let me get this straight Mormons are the ones who can have multiple wives or am I confusing them with another bunch. If that is the case is it possible for Alexis' Dad to come home one day and say to her Mom "Wife No 1, meet wife No 2." Not so callously obviously but theoretically speaking.

    2. A mainstream Mormon will tell you that the church condemns polygamy and that the fundamentalist Mormons who practice polygamy are not actually Mormons. A fundamentalist Mormon will tell you that their church is closer to Joseph Smith's vision and the mainstream Mormons aren't true Mormons. They both sing the same hymns and use the same book, though. And a lot of mainstream Mormons have polygamist relatives which makes them ambivalent about polygamy. Indeed, while mainstream Mormons don't practice polygamy today, they theoretically could in the afterlife, since males are allowed to be sealed to more than one woman. Females, on the other hand, can only be sealed to one man. If a Mormon couple gets divorced, but they were sealed in the temple, their sealing remains intact. If the man remarries and wants to be sealed, he has to get a sealing clearance. If a woman remarries and wants to be sealed to her second husband, she has to get a temple divorce. I've heard varying reports as to how easy or hard it is to get a temple divorce. I don't think my husband's ex ever got one, since I've heard the church tracks down the ex spouse and asks for their input, even if they have resigned from the church's rolls. Besides, I think my husband's ex likes to think she has a hold on my husband after we're all dead. She's crazy like that.

      In any case, I have some relatives who were JWs and left the faith (thank GOD). They do send people out in pairs to proselytize and they do have some common tactics they use to keep members in line. They also think their faith is the one that is truest and will take people to God. But their beliefs are not like the Mormons' beliefs. It always tickles me when JWs visit, since my husband is in the military and JWs are anti-government.

  4. Knotty. you're right on all counts. Jared is leaning toward my Plan B, which is to fill out the papers, see where they want him to go and when, and if the situation is less than optimal, to tell them all to jump in the polluted Great Salt Lake.

    A mission is generally not a good idea, although I've known a few guys with the right personality types and sufficient authority-conning skills who were sent to good mission sites and turned the entire experience into a two-year tour of Europe, Brazil, or wherever they went.

    Paul, there was a time when Mormons were forbidden from organ donation because it would "complicate things in the resurrection." Curiously enough, Mormons were not forbidden from RECEIVING organ donations, just from donating. How's that for hypocrisy?

    1. "Complicate things in the resurrection." I like that. You're lined up at the Pearly gates on the last day when St. Peter comes on the public address system, "If anyone has Frank's kidney can they come to the front desk immediately."

  5. Jared would be most wise to listen to me.

  6. Modern-Day members of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-Day Saints are allowed only one lawfully-wed wife at a time on Earth. If they're sealed in the temple and the wife drops dead, the husband can remarry in the temple and can have both wives in heaven. If wife#2 keels over dead, he can have a third, and they'll all live together happily aver after in heaven. The same goes with divorce if a man marries in the temple, divorces, and gets permission to marry again. Unless wife #1 wants to remarry in the temple and is able to get her original temple marriage dissolved (for some reason, it's usually more difficult for a woman to obtain a dissolution than for a main to get permission to remarry in the temple), they're still stuck together in heaven, divorced on Earth or not.

    A popular but not officially doctrinal belief in the modern Church is that before the end of time, polygamy will be reinstated. Mormons joke about it, but most do so in a grim sort of way. Those who are devout Mormons would only accept it if it came straight from the mouth of the prophet. Revelations by someone's bat-shit crazy neighbor or cousin wouldn't sway a remotely sane Mormon (assuming any Mormon is remotely sane, which is a pretty huge leap)to join a polygamous fold, or to start gathering extra wives.

    For Alexis' dad to bring home wife #2 and have the union officially sealed in a temple of any sort, he'd have to do some serious repenting. He's the boozer of the family. He's never been excommunicated as a Mormon, and I'm pretty sure it's a combination of his own father's prominence in the church and his low-key approach to opposing Mormonism. For example, we didn't go to Anti-Prop 8 (the proposition limiting marriage to one male and one female) demonstrations or put signs in our yard. My parents voted against it but they didn't sign published petitions. When my dad is asked to speak at ex-Mormon and anti-Mormon forums, he declines. When he's asked about it, he laughs and says , "Not everyone is cut out to be a Mormon, and I'm apparently not."

    The bottom line is, knowing my parents as well as I do, my mom would be more likely to bring home another man and introduce him to my dad as Husband #2, my dad's brother husband, than the reverse.

    1. With your Mom's Irish roots there's no way he's bringing home wifey #2. He'd know what hell on earth is really like.