“Return of the Missionary,” New Era, June 1973, 54
“As the plane came in for its landing I could see again all the old familiar sights that had been so far away for the last two years. As I walked down the stairs from the plane, I could see a whole montage of family faces looking out the terminal window at me. Mom, Dad, both grandmas, and good old Grandpa George. Wow, that tall blond guy must be Allen; he’s grown a foot! The arrival and reunion was teary and joyous and all that I had hoped it would be, but on the way home the two youngest were fighting in the car, and Dad called the guy in front of us a blockhead for changing lanes too quickly, and Grandpa George told that same old elk hunting story again.
“I had been gone for a long time and had experienced some deeply moving spiritual and emotional moments, and the family just didn’t seem to understand. They hadn’t changed much; I really couldn’t see much of a change in them at all except that Lindsey and Allen were bigger and louder. Somehow I wanted to tell them that I was different. I really knew the gospel was true now, and I wanted them to know how very important it was.”
This is one young missionary’s return-home story, a story not necessarily typical of all missionaries, but a story that does point out some of the problems that a young returning missionary will face as he or she tries to adjust once again to family, home, and friends. This year nearly 6,000 missionaries will return home after spending two years in the field—two years of living in close quarters with just one other person (his companion), cooking his own food, cleaning up after himself, and working very closely with the scriptures and the Spirit of the Lord. Many other things are evidently different about a returning missionary as he comes back to a world that he left two long years ago. How does a young man or woman cope with the return to civilian life?
Obviously a maturing has taken place in you. This will mostly work for you but can, at times, be a little difficult. You are older now than when you left, but when you left you still seemed very much a boy to Mom and Dad. They will have to make a big adjustment very fast. Be patient; remember you are now a man or woman who has grown from your missionary experiences. Use this experience and maturity to understand that people around you will need a little time to get used to the new you. You may also notice changes in family and friends. Take the time to get to know them again. Take pleasure in recreating a friendship with a little sister; shoot some baskets with your little, but taller-now, brother. Meet the new in-laws and get to know your older brother’s new children. And most important, have good long talks with Mom and Dad.
Your maturing process in the mission field has come about partly because of your dedication to study. Continue studying. Read the scriptures each day. You have grown closer to your Father in heaven during these last two years because you have needed his help. You prayed often. Continue to pray often and unselfishly about your new challenges and problems.
When you get home from your mission, seek to become involved immediately. You have come from a very full life, and now, suddenly, you have a lot of free time, time that is more your own. Use it wisely. Get involved in school again or take some home study courses and find a good job. Get active in your ward or branch again. If your bishop doesn’t put you to work in the ward or branch, tell him that you are ready to be of service. Attend all of your meetings and keep the same high standards that you were living in the mission field.
If you are going to college, or even if you are not, take an institute class. You will not only learn more about the gospel, but you will be a great addition to any class and will be an example for others to follow if you are living the way you should—as if you will always be a missionary.
Keeping active will now involve social activities that you have not really been part of for the last two years. Some of these activities may seem a little frivolous, but remember, they are usually just a way to get to know people better, a way to be with people you like and care for. Use social activities to become better acquainted with old friends and to make some new ones. Dating, of course, follows immediately and leads to courtship and marriage. Remember that a mission is part of a good foundation on which to build a happy marriage, but it is by no means a guarantee. Approach dating with care and with prayer. Selection of an eternal mate should be of the greatest importance. Many questions about marriage, dating, and your social activities will arise. Remember, the Lord has given you the very same promise he gave Oliver Cowdery in the ninth section of the Doctrine and Covenants when he said, “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” [D&C 9:8]
In 1 Corinthians Paul tells us, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” [1 Cor. 13:11] You have now become a man or a woman, and you are an example to young people in your family, in your ward, and in your community. This will be true whether you want it to be so or not. You are an adult and the childish things must be put away. That does not mean that you will not find joy in your new role; to the contrary, you have grown and progressed through two years in the mission field, and you will continue to grow from your experiences at home. You will build on the firm foundation of missionary experiences and be a good teacher and counselor to those who need your help. Selfless consideration of another can be among the highest joys we can find and is most necessary in living a Christlike life.
President David O. McKay gave all members of the Church a great challenge to always be missionaries to the world. As a recently returned missionary you have a great responsibility to continue your missionary attitude. Carry on your missionary spirit when you come home. Seek to bring the gospel to others. By keeping in the missionary spirit you will make your adjustment much easier. There will certainly be a change from the mission field to living at home, but by keeping your missionary spirit you can make the adjustment much more easily.
Most missionaries will say that their missions were the best two years of their lives, and it’s absolutely true. And in other ways a mission was the most challenging, the most rewarding, and the most exasperating years of your life too. Remember that the Lord’s plan is one of eternal progression, that the measure of your joy, ability, and responsibility will grow as you continue to progress. If you are living the Lord’s way, the way of progression, you will not fail.
If you are living the Lord’s way, and you have just recently returned from your mission, you should look back on the last two years and say, “Those were the best two years of my life.” And if you continue to live the Lord’s way, you, of necessity, will look forward to the next two years and say, “These next two years are going to be the best years of my life.”