The author lives in Utah, USA.
Many of you missionaries are not where you expected to be right now—waiting to find out what your new mission assignment will be, or perhaps even back at home. Watching these stories unfold has brought up tender memories of my own mission experience years ago. I thought perhaps I could share a few perspectives that might help, from one unexpectedly reassigned missionary to another.
In early 1997, I was a missionary in Albania. My companions and I loved the countryside, the delicious cheese-and-spinach pies, and the sound of the language we had worked so earnestly to learn. Most of all, we loved working with the people there.
Over time, the political climate around us grew more tense. We tried to stay focused on sharing the gospel but couldn’t help overhearing news about rebel forces gaining strength across the country. Then the government imposed curfews, and things started getting violent. The nation was heading toward civil war.
Finally, on March 14, our entire mission was evacuated. I will never forget the phone call that told us it was time to gather so we could be rushed from the country. Conflicting thoughts and feelings swirled through my mind. Of course I wanted to be safe, but the thought of leaving the families we had grown to love, especially in that chaotic situation, broke my heart. We wouldn’t even have the chance to say goodbye.
Our journey out of the country included a helicopter ride to an aircraft carrier and then a short transfer in Italy before being reassigned to different missions. I ended up in England. It was fast, and a little exciting, but mostly really hard. One of my last memories of Albania was watching the landscape shrink beneath our helicopter, wondering what would become of the people we were leaving behind.
While the details of your experiences will be different from mine, I bet some of you are feeling similar mixed emotions right now. So I’m hoping what I have to share next will resonate with you as well. Here are six principles that helped me find peace after the shocking twists and turns of my full-time missionary experience.
Connect with others. You may have sad and confused feelings that make you want to retreat from others. But it’s important to stay connected, especially over the next little while as you adjust. Reach out to caring people who help keep your spirits up. With the technology available today, there’s really no excuse! Perhaps you could find someone to practice your foreign language skills with. You may even be able to stay in touch with those you served with and taught. Although you might feel out of place right now, you are not alone. Even if your family and friends don’t know how to support you perfectly, I bet most of them genuinely care about you and want you to be OK.
Keep sharing your testimony. No matter where you are geographically as you read this, I have no doubt that you are surrounded by people who would be blessed by your unique perspective. Don’t shy away from sharing what you’ve learned and felt as a full-time missionary—no matter how long or short your time “in the field” has been. As you process through recent events and recognize God’s hand in your life, share those realizations with your loved ones. Maybe a lesson learned from your adventure is exactly what someone needs to hear.
Trust that Heavenly Father knows you. Guess what? God knew this would happen! He knows everything that is unfolding in your life. And your Savior, Jesus Christ, understands exactly how you are feeling. They are with you as you walk this path and can comfort you through the Holy Ghost. Feelings of heartache may last a long time, and that’s OK. Trust the Lord when He says, “I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:88).
Be patient as you grieve. Do you feel angry? Sad? Frustrated? Or find yourself thinking, “This is so unfair!”? Maybe you are feeling an entirely different set of emotions. Just know that whatever you are feeling right now is valid. You are grieving a loss, and it’s important to be patient with yourself as you work through that process. At the same time, be careful not to sensationalize your experiences or ruminate on the past so much that it affects your ability to function today. If you feel like you are struggling to cope in healthy ways, ask your bishop or mission president to help you connect with a professional counselor. There is no shame in asking for help.
Make an effort to invite the Spirit. Continue to immerse yourself in gospel work. If you are being reassigned, keep being obedient to mission rules. Find ways every day to show the Spirit that you want Him to be with you, and write down the inspiration you receive from Him. Staying close to the Spirit will help you make decisions about your future as well as find comfort in your current situation.
Have confidence that you are still “called to the work.” For a long time, I thought my “calling” was where I was assigned to serve as a missionary. I wish I had understood earlier that my true calling was to minister to God’s children wherever I am. Even after I removed my black name tag, I was still bound by baptismal covenants to take upon myself the name of Jesus Christ and treat others the way He would each day. Whether you have a new mission assignment or have been released from full-time service, rest assured that your talents can be used to build God’s kingdom wherever you go.
I think one of the most nerve-racking aspects of leaving Albania was that we were abandoning brand-new Saints who would now have to navigate the gospel without our help. But you know what? They did an amazing job. Even though we weren’t there to help them, God was with them. Since I left more than 20 years ago, the work in that land has progressed, and the Saints are strong.
So, dear missionary, continue to look for the divine handiwork in what unfolds before you. There are still people who need your voice, and there is still plenty of joy to be found. Use this unique experience as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with God. May He bless you as you keep moving forward with faith.