Can our son with learning disabilities plan on a mission?
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“Can our son with learning disabilities plan on a mission?” Tambuli, Jan. 1980, 14–15

Our son has severe learning disabilities, although he has worked very hard to overcome them. Now he’s seventeen and wants to plan on a mission. What can we do?

Elder Rex D. Pinegar of the First Quorum of the Seventy

The Lord and his servants have made it clear that every member of the Church is a missionary. We have been commanded to “let our preaching be the warning voice, every man to his neighbor, in mildness and meekness.” (D&C 38:40–41; see also D&C 88:81.)

In addition to this general missionary responsibility that we all share, young men are asked specifically to devote two years of their lives to full-time missionary service. President Spencer W. Kimball has said, “Every young man should fill a mission.” He recognizes, however, that a few are physically unable to give missionary service. (See “Go Ye Into All the World,” IM, November 1974, Paragraph 8 from the end, p. 2)

The experience of nearly a century and a half of missionary work has shown that illness or other disabilities are almost always accentuated by the extensive walking, irregular living conditions, and other rigors of missionary work. In addition, persons who do not adjust easily to new people and new situations may suffer emotional difficulties from living with another person for an extended period of time and following a rigid work schedule. A missionary with such physical or emotional difficulties not only suffers himself, but may also make his companion’s service more difficult, thus compounding the problem as feelings of guilt arise in both companions over their inability to do the work.

Each person’s ability to serve must be considered individually. The channel provided by the Lord for such consideration is the bishop or branch president and the stake or mission president, who are responsible for recommending missionaries. An examination by a doctor is also required. After examining the medical form and conducting a searching interview, the priesthood leader must determine if the person is capable of working under the rigorous conditions encountered in the mission field. If problems are noted, bishops are counseled to resolve the problems before recommending the person for a full-time mission. Those with problems that cannot be resolved but can be controlled, such as diabetes or some types of epilepsy, may be recommended.

Specifically, a person with severe learning disabilities may have difficulty learning the vast amount of material required of missionaries or responding to investigators who may challenge the resources of even the most capable young men.

If after consultation with the bishop, it is determined that it would not be wise for a young man to serve as a full-time missionary, other options are available through which he may fulfill his missionary responsibilities. If he serves well in the Church according to his capacity, neither he nor his family need have guilt feelings about his not serving as a regular, full-time missionary. As he serves with all his “heart, might, mind and strength” in those callings which come to him, he will “stand blameless before God at the last day.” (D&C 4:2)

How may a handicapped person serve in missionary work?

1. He may serve, like all other members, in friendshiping and fellowshiping his friends, neighbors, and family. Handicapped persons have often demonstrated a unique capacity to affect others and open their minds to the gospel.

2. He may serve in stake missionary work, living at home and participating as he is able, without the rigid discipline of the mission field.

3. He may participate financially as he is able.

4. He may exercise his faith through prayer on behalf of the missionary effort.

5. He can be a model of righteousness, an example of the believers.

6. He may correspond with nonmembers, expressing his testimony and feelings about the Church.

7. He may send “personalized” copies of the Book of Mormon on a mission, with his picture and testimony included in the front.

Other activities can be imagined. It is apparent that a desire to serve God is the prime requisite. (See D&C 4:3)