Chapter 12 – Letting Go and Keeping Ties: Finding the Balance

Many missionaries find that they have great desires to either return to the areas whether they served their mission, or else visit regularly. Many also find that they want to speak or correspond regularly with the people they met on their missions and their former companions.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these actions, but returned missionaries should always be clear about what their intentions are.

Trying to “prolong” to the mission experience after it has ended can be unhealthy if it is a “looking back” experience that is preventing the returned missionary from progressing in post-mission life. Trying to “hold on” to a time that is over can lead to sadness, frustration, and may lead to feelings of despair.

However, taking the relationships and expanding them into a new post-mission relationship that is primarily centered on post-mission progress can be very healthy and rewarding. Continuing the support and encourage the people you have worked with on your mission may not only be vital for you, but also for them.

“I missed the people from my mission terribly – both my companions and people I’d taught. I wrote them for a while. I wanted to be back with them. They were my friends, and they were like my family. I was with them when the most sacred experiences of my life occurred – MY conversion.”

“Strong emotional feelings I had were simply missing some wonderful friends I made, both natives and companions.”

One of the great tragedies of post-mission life is that some returned missionaries missionaries either don’t care about, or lose touch with, the people they have taught and baptized on their missions. I had a very sad experience on my mission when one of my companions who returned home neglected to write a convert he had promised to stay in touch with. The convert questioned me repeatedly about the missionary’s motives. Had he really cared about the family at all? Did he care about and remember them now?

To this family my companion was one of the most important people in the word. To my companion, this family represented less, and as the family realized this over time, they lost some faith. We can say that, “Well, they didn’t have a testimony founded in the right place” or “Their conversion must not have been very strong.” But, the reality is that most converts are very green in the gospel, struggle in their new lifestyle commitments and realy and lean on the people who brought them into the gospel. Eventually, this family grew cynical about my companions earlier intentions and it hurt them deeply.

Every returned missionary should have a goal to continue to love and support people they’ve brought into the gospel for a lifetime.

What can you do to support the people you’ve left behind?

Write people letters or emails. Or call them on the phone. Let them know about your church service in your home. Encourage them, lift them up. Continue to be a strength and uplift for them.

Letter writing and phone calls are like manna for new converts. When possible, even an appropriate visit to your previous mission to visit the people you have taught are wonderful. Contacts don’t have to be too frequent, but shouldn’t be infrequent, and lifelong friendships should be established.

Some of the greatest joys I’ve had resulted from the growth I’ve seen converts make over the years. In one ward, my companion and I had the opportunity to teach two families the gospel. A decade later one of the men is a branch president and temple worker, and the other is a counselor in a bishopric. Their wives both serve in leadership positions. Two of the children served missions, married in the temple, and have families they are raising in the church.

All along I have stayed in touch with them and rejoiced with them in their progress. At times when I’ve been down or have felt like slacking in my own gospel living, I’ve been picked up by these good people through phone calls or letters and they’ve helped me renew my commitment to the gospel.

You may find, over time, that people who you have helped guide into the gospel, or even people you labored with as missionaries, have stopped being active in the church.

How should returned missionaries deal with mission friends/companions or converts who go later go inactive?

An initial tendency might be to lighten up on the contacts or stop them altogether (since some “common ground” has been lost – the ground upon which the relationships were initially founded). I believe this is the exactly the wrong tendency and should not be given into. The feeling an inactive person often has when you stop trying to have a relationship with them is that you have set conditions on the relationship, and that your “faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.(D&C 121:44)

A couple of the people I taught fell into inactivity. It was hard for me to accept. However, I found that writing to them and staying in touch gave me a sense of hope that I could continue to try and influence their lives for good even if I was no longer a full-time missionary living near them. They also know that I am there for them. When the time comes that their are again touched by the spirit to return, I believe they will feel comfortable enough to call me, and will not feel judged by me but will know that I am here to support them.

What about missionaries who return to the countries where they served?

If you’re not going to set an example of gospel living, don’t go. You can do much harm. Spare the people the disappointment and shock of seeing the person who taught them to live the gospel breaking the covenants you helped them make.

Another healthy way to keep your mission spirit alive in a health way is to attend mission reunions. These are great ways to maintain contact with your mission companions and friends.

Mission companions often make good post-mission roommates, because you have lived together previously, have high standards that you can help fortify and encourage in one another, and you’ll often be experiencing similar “adjustment pains” so the road may not feel as lonely.