New Tool to Help Returning Missionaries Create Lifelong Plans
Contributed By Jenny Poffenbarger, ChurchofJesusChrist.org Church News staff writer
- The course involves eight interactive lessons.
- The My Plan program allows missionaries to use their experiences and skills gained on the mission as a foundation upon which they can build the rest of their lives.
- Parents and Church leaders will continue to follow up and support the goals and plans that the missionaries create.
“The fact is that the mission is the MTC for the rest of your life. The mission shouldn’t stand out as a unique opportunity. It just prepares us for everything else we have to do.” – President Steve Peterson, president of the South Weber Utah Stake
The First Presidency has announced a new online course called My Planto help returning missionaries use their mission experiences to plan for continued, lifelong discipleship. The program will be available in August 2015 at myplan.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
What is My Plan?
The course involves eight interactive lessons available on the Missionary Portal. The first lesson is to be completed in between receiving a mission call and entering the MTC, the second at the halfway point in the mission, and the remaining six during the missionary’s final transfer. For those without Internet, a booklet will be provided.
Creating the plan
The My Plan program allows missionaries to use their experiences and skills gained on the mission as a foundation upon which they can build the rest of their lives. The missionaries will reflect on how their mission has set them on a path toward eternal life and then plan the post-mission steps of that path involving future goals, such as family, service, education, and professional pursuits.
“If missionaries will earnestly seek Heaven's help as they set goals for their lives, their thoughts and desires will become more and more aligned with the Lord's thoughts and desires for them. Their plans will naturally line up with the Lord's plans,” explained Elder Mervyn B. Arnold of the Seventy.
“The whole purpose of My Plan is really to help missionaries find out what God's plan is for them.“”
“What I really enjoyed about My Plan is that it’s based on the foundation of Jesus Christ and the gospel,” stated Stephen Henriksen, a recently returned missionary from Visalia, California. “It set me forth with a determination to keep myself on that foundation.”
Brother Henriksen initially had some preoccupations about going home, but My Plan helped him realize that he could have the same spiritual power in his life at home that he had on his mission. The goals helped him visualize his future path. “I already had it in my head, but now it’s written down.”
Role of mission presidents
Missionaries are encouraged to share their personal plans with their mission presidents, who will use it during their exit interview.
Maurice Hiers, former mission president of the Utah Ogden Mission, ran a trial run of the My Plan program with his returning missionaries. The role of a mission president, he said, is to make sure that missionaries have a solid foundation. “When Elder Holland set me apart, he told me, ‘You are responsible for these missionaries and their kids and their grandkids. You need to make sure they have a testimony.’”
President Hiers emphasized the importance of discussing the plan during the exit interviews but also said that without follow-up when the missionary goes home, it was “just a question and answer session.”
“There is such a great power in the follow-up.”
Returning missionaries are also invited to share their plans with their stake presidents, parents, local Church leaders, and others that are willing to support them in their efforts to remain faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Parents and Church leaders will continue to follow up and support the goals and plans that the missionaries create.
Steven Peterson, president of the South Weber Utah Stake and former mission president of the Uruguay Montevideo West Mission, implemented a pilot test of the My Plan program in his stake. Seven missionaries from his stake were given resources to create a plan of continued discipleship before they came home. They shared their plans with their parents, bishops, and ward leaders. “We had terrific elders quorum and Relief Society presidents that would follow up with these missionaries every month and would ask them how they were doing with their goals,” said President Peterson.
If the returned missionaries were not living up to their goals, they were reminded and encouraged and were soon back on track. All seven of these returned missionaries are active and progressing.
“The beauty of this program is the close mentoring that takes place,” said President Peterson. He went on to explain that the mentoring should “mix spiritual and temporal self-reliance.” One of these returned missionaries had made goals to pursue a career in law. He was directed to a member of the stake that was an attorney who gave him advice. He is now an intern with United States Senator Orrin Hatch.
Parents also can play a vital role in mentoring returned missionaries. “When parents that are aware of those [goals], instead of just saying, ‘Well, they’re adults now. We don’t really need to have any more involvement,’ they can follow up and work with them,” said President Peterson.
“If this is done correctly, instead of being totally alone, [returned missionaries] are surrounded by a village of people that aren’t going to let them fall.”
The MTC for the rest of your life
President Peterson explained that too often we say of returned missionaries, “Oh, he’ll be back to normal soon.” Quoting Elder Shayne M. Bowen, President Peterson explained, “If normal is what they were like before, I hope that they are never normal again.”
“If you forget what you learned on your mission, what was the point? The fact is that the mission is the MTC for the rest of your life. The mission shouldn’t stand out as a unique opportunity. It just prepares us for everything else we have to do.”
My Plan directly connects the skills and spiritual habits that missionaries develop on their mission to their post-mission every day life in classrooms, jobs, and future family life. “There is a bridge there that you have to help them over,” said President Peterson. “We see them as two separate things, when in reality it’s just a continuation of the principles of the gospel in a different setting.”
“Certainly, a returned missionary should be watched over by local priesthood and auxiliary leaders, but the best watch care comes when leaders involve returned elders and sisters in the Lord's work by giving them substantive assignments to visit, teach, and minister to others. When they are invited to serve, returned missionaries continue the work they began in the mission field, and they become very valuable to the work of the Lord wherever they live,” said Elder Arnold.