“Early-Returned Missionaries: You Aren’t Alone,” Ensign, July 2019
The army of full-time missionaries striving to fulfill their duty to “invite others to come unto Christ”1 brings “great hopes and much joy” (Alma 56:17) to many. Those missionaries, just like the stripling warriors in the Book of Mormon, fight every day with “miraculous strength; and with such mighty power” (Alma 56:56).
But even among the 2,060 stripling warriors, there were still 200 who “fainted because of the loss of blood” (Alma 57:25). Did it make them less valiant? Less strong? Less courageous? Less worthy than the others? Not a bit.
Just the same, you missionaries who returned home early for mental or physical health reasons are not less valiant, less strong, less courageous, or less worthy. Your perseverance through your trials is—and should be—astonishing. You have been spared—maybe greatly wounded, but spared. Your wounds, whether they be physical, mental, or spiritual, now need to be taken care of (see Alma 57:28). For those who have returned home for reasons having to do with worthiness, repentance will be a vital part of your healing.
As you adjust to being home, make sure you give yourself time to heal and remember to always trust in God (see Alma 57:27). He has reminded us: “When I give a commandment to any of the sons [or daughters] of men to do a work unto my name”—for example, serving a mission—“and those sons [and daughters] of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies”—in some cases, our physical or mental illnesses or other injuries—“come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at [their] hands … , but to accept of their offerings” (Doctrine and Covenants 124:49).
Whatever wounds you have sustained—or had reopened—in battle, as long as you served worthily or repented completely, your contribution was needed and accepted by the Lord.
Photograph from Getty Images
Reading the following stories may help you find healing in the fact that you are not alone and that sharing your story can help others.
On the plane ride to my mission, I imagined what my homecoming would be like. Cheers would erupt, my family and friends would embrace me, and I would live out the rest of my life in peace, enjoying every blessing that came with being an honourably returned missionary.
Eleven months later, on the plane ride home, every moment was spent in aching anxiety about what lay ahead. My family was waiting, and although they did cheer and embrace me, before I knew it, I was alone with no idea about my future.
The Savior saw my dark days. He knew how I felt lying in bed for three weeks crying and sleeping to avoid reality. He knew I would need His strength because no one else around me could understand or even empathise with what I was going through. But He did. I couldn’t have survived my mission or returning home early without Him.
Ali Boaza, Queensland, Australia
Everything was going well on my mission. I had incredible experiences that will stay in my heart forever. However, after eight months, I started having health problems. After much fasting and prayer, I was sent home. I was devastated. I thought everything was my fault. I stopped reading my scriptures and praying as often. I wondered if I hadn’t done everything that I could have to stay.
But I realized I was being tested to see if I would remain loyal to the Lord. It was difficult, but I put my trust in Him, and I returned to the mission field, where I once again had amazing experiences.
Then, my health problems returned. But this time I was more willing to follow Heavenly Father’s will. So I returned home a second time. It was difficult, but I know that I can learn from everything I went through.
Even though I didn’t serve for 24 months, I know that I served an honorable mission. I know that the time I served the Lord was worth it for me and for the people I helped. I’m grateful to my Savior for His infinite Atonement. He knows each of our challenges. And if we rely on Him with all certainty, we will never be alone.
Fillipe Hoffman, Goiás, Brazil
The thought of coming home early was devastating. As soon as the counselor suggested it, I felt a very complicated mix of emotions: Shame. Relief. Guilt. Peace. Sorrow. All at the same time.
I know that God was supporting me because somehow I got through that first week home. And then I got through another week. And another. Until I was finally able to feel like myself again. My dad was my biggest support and really took me under his wing. He always wanted to talk and spend time with me. Not to pry into what “went wrong,” but just to see how I was doing.
When my dad passed away in a rock climbing accident a few months later, I knew without a doubt that God has a plan for me. Being able to be with my dad for the last months of his life strengthened my testimony of the plan of salvation. I still don’t understand all the reasons why I had to come home when I did, but I’ve also learned that if you spend too much time wondering why, then you miss the wonderful miracles God has provided for you every day.
Kristen Watabe, Ohio, USA
When I became too sick to continue my mission, I knew that God wanted me to go home, but that was the exact opposite of what I wanted. I was also distressed by the sudden loss of my health, which later proved to be the beginning of a chronic, disabling condition.
While adapting to my illness, I felt I had lost my purpose. I needed so much help and felt I had nothing to offer. But I knew I needed to continue exercising my faith, so I kept studying, praying, and trying to follow the Spirit. While studying the New Testament one day, I came upon a painting by James Tissot entitled Jesus Commands the Apostles to Rest. This depiction of Mark 6:30–31 immediately soothed me. As I saw Christ watching over His resting servants, I felt how much He loved them. And me.
Eventually, I learned that the expectations I had for myself were not the same expectations that God had for me. In some ways, His were more personally challenging, but they were much more attuned to my needs. I’m so grateful for the way He teaches me to more fully accept His help and His perfect love. His faith in me gives me the hope I need to keep going.
Sabrina Maxwell, Utah, USA
I returned home early from the Philippines Cebu East Mission. The “what ifs” and not fitting the “returned-missionary mold” made adjusting hard. Since I served in my home country, I struggled with thinking that I had let my branch down and knowing that I did not meet their expectations. Comparing myself to “legit” returned missionaries made me see myself as less worthy or as an outcast.
Eventually, the Lord taught me that a mission is just one of the many ways to serve Him. It is not where or how long but how you serve that counts. He taught me to be humble and to stay on the gospel path even if things get rough and do not go my way.
Jasper Gapuz, Philippines
I was called to serve in the New Zealand Wellington Mission. When I knew I needed to go home early, I felt like I had let Heavenly Father and my parents down.
I’ve learned so much from my mission and from this situation. I never needed to rely on Heavenly Father and the Savior’s Atonement like I did when I came home early. I needed to trust God and accept whatever He wanted me to go through and learn. I cannot deny the power of the Atonement and how I’ve truly come to know that Jesus Christ is my Savior. I’ve learned that God humbles me and teaches me through my weaknesses and hard times.
No matter where I am, or whether I have a name tag on my chest, I’m still a disciple of Jesus Christ. I know that the Lord still loves me and is with me, and He wants me to keep serving others. And even though I’m home, I know I’m not a failure because He’s helped me become a better person through this experience.
Natasha Krisanalome, Thailand
I had the privilege to serve my mission in Anchorage, Alaska, USA. It was heartbreaking to come home early due to complications from spraining both ankles and feet. It was certainly not easy, but I had many experiences that taught me valuable life lessons. I learned that Heavenly Father has a purpose for everything that happens in our lives. I also learned how to go through trials with a better perspective. My relationship with the Savior became stronger than it had ever been because I learned how applicable the healing power of His Atonement is.
Heavenly Father truly helped me through this difficult time. Even though I still struggle at times, I know that Heavenly Father is in control and that He knows what I need in my life more than I do.
Amber Bangerter, Utah, USA
I served in the Hungary Budapest Mission. When I returned home early, it was hard because all my companions were still out on their missions and I missed being a missionary. I also feared that other Church members would judge me, but fortunately, everyone treated me with love and understood my situation.
As time passed, I felt better. I read an article in the Liahona about early-returned missionaries that helped me feel better because I didn’t feel I was the only one anymore (see Destiny Yarbro, “Home Earlier Than Planned,” Ensign, Jan. 2018, 12–15; Liahona, Jan. 2018, 44–47). And I also took to heart what my aunt said: “Missionary work continues wherever we are.”
Lucas Ludwig Saito, São Paulo, Brazil
I never thought I would go home early from my mission, and I was embarrassed and nervous about facing everyone. Although it was one of the hardest moments in my life, I also grew from the experience. It molded me into a better person.
I returned home to go through a repentance process. Some of the choices I had made before my mission were not in line with the gospel teachings and commandments. Because of my embarrassment and desire to maintain my standing in the Church, I didn’t go through the repentance process with my bishop beforehand. But within the first few months, I felt the need to return home to repent so I could serve with honor and integrity.
Things that really encouraged me when I returned home were participating in spiritually uplifting activities, including Church meetings, service projects, and the temple, once I was able to. What helped me the most, however, were the people around me—family, a few friends, and even people I had never met before showed me love and kindness.
Overall, with the help of the Lord and the Christlike examples around me, I was able to return to Florida to finish my mission. My hope is that we will all strive to be Christlike toward others, whether they have returned home early or are simply in need.
Caigen Stuart, Utah, USA
I got my mission call to the Zambia Lusaka Mission. One of the hardest things about coming home early was members not understanding early-returning missionaries.
When I came back, I had to be hospitalized for three weeks, and no members from church called or visited. The only people who came were the group leader and the missionaries to administer the sacrament to me every Sunday—and that was only because I had asked them to. I really could have used the help of members to build my strength and my faith in Jesus Christ during those first few weeks home, but I had to do it alone.
The Lord continues to teach me every day about why I am home earlier than expected, even though it’s still hard to understand sometimes. I now realize that coming home early allowed me to find my father and his family and build a relationship with them. It allowed me to discover that I have a disorder that continues to be part of my life. And I’ve learned what my strengths and weaknesses are—for example, how to say “no.” Before, it was so hard for me to say no to anything or anyone. I was always willing to do things and put others first, no matter how tired or busy I was—which isn’t wrong, but because of this trial, I’ve learned that sometimes I need to put myself first.
I still continue to discover new things about the Lord and why I had to come home early. But a lot of blessings have come my way, and I rely on the Lord daily. Even though it’s hard sometimes and people don’t always understand, I know that the Savior does. And I continue to rely on Him and His infinite Atonement.
Lindi Chibase, Gauteng, South Africa
The promise found in your missionary call letter, made to you as you decided to step forward in this work, will be fulfilled: “The Lord will reward you for the goodness of your life.” With attention and care, your wounds can be healed and become a tool for you to be able to help others come unto Christ. That is, after all, the duty of missionaries.