Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “I have [learned] that the adjustment associated with leaving the mission field and returning to the world you left behind is sometimes difficult. Perhaps it is hard to keep alive the spirit of missionary work when you are no longer serving as a full-time missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (“The Returned Missionary,” Ensign, Nov. 2001, 76).
Josh loved his mission experience in the California Ventura Mission but found the transition home to be harder than he had anticipated.
“It’s just really difficult,” he said. “When I came home from my mission I thought life would be a lot different and it wasn’t.” After feeling frustrated with life for a year and a half, Josh slipped into inactivity for about eight months.
His inactivity was not immediate, he said, but happened over several months. “I wouldn’t say my prayers every day, then [I stopped] studying my scriptures, and pretty soon I wasn’t attending church anymore,” he said.
Elder Perry encouraged returned missionaries to take some time to reflect. “Wouldn’t this be a good time for a little self-evaluation to determine if we still have the same relationship with our Father in Heaven that we enjoyed in the mission field? If the world has diverted us from the practice of prayer, we then have lost a great spiritual power” (“The Returned Missionary,” 76).
He also counseled returned missionaries to “rekindle our missionary spirit through more frequent, consistent, and mighty prayer” (“The Returned Missionary,” 76). His other suggestions included attending institute, having regular individual scripture study, and sharing the gospel.
When Dan returned from serving in the Colorado Colorado Springs Mission, he got a job and enrolled in school. School and work were headed in the right direction, but Dan soon became discouraged with his social life, particularly dating. “I was trying to find people to hang out with and click with and [there] was no one in the Church,” he said.
Eventually Dan began hanging out with friends who were negative influences, and he started drinking. “It got to the point that I was so frustrated that I kept on drinking every night. . . . I felt guilty for my actions, and I felt like I couldn’t come back.”
Ken Peterson, president of the Ohio Cleveland Mission from 2006 to 2009, said that some less-active returned missionaries “feel ostracized because inwardly they feel like they are disappointing people. As a result, they pull away from those they feel they have disappointed.”
Parents, friends, and leaders can help, according to President Peterson. He advised, “Be a good example without preaching. Reach out to them.”
That is exactly what happened to Dan when he and his roommates attended their ward’s family home evening. “[Ward members] just swarmed us,” Dan said. “It felt good, and I knew that I wanted to be around these people. They were friendly and inviting and welcoming.” His experience that night was something he never forgot. After five years of inactivity, Dan returned to the Church in 2012 and was later married in the Salt Lake Temple.
Jennifer also loved her 18-month mission in the Canada Edmonton Mission. When she returned, she was active until she met and started dating a man who was not a member of the Church.
“In the end we did break up because of religion,” Jennifer said, “but we had hashed it out so much that at the end of it, I didn’t even know what I believed anymore. I decided to start looking into other churches and be more openhearted.”
Unlike Dan and Josh, she has not yet found her way back to activity in the Church. “I don’t have any resentment [toward] the Church,” she said. “I feel so blessed to have grown up in the LDS Church, . . . but I still feel confused because I don’t have answers to everything yet.”
Many of those questions can be answered as leaders and friends reach out and listen to transitioning returned missionaries. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” Josh said. “You don’t know what they’re going through in their life. The most important thing to do is be their friend.”
Jennifer agreed: “You never know where people are coming from. I feel like often people don’t get to know my heart.”
President Peterson has seen a few of his own missionaries fall away and agreed with Josh and Jennifer. “It’s important that we love them. It’s a pretty tough world we live in, and a lot of times we are completely unaware of individual struggles.”
President Thomas S. Monson said, “Life is perfect for none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing [his or] her best to deal with the challenges which come [his or] her way, and may we strive to do our best to help out” (“Charity Never Faileth,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 125).