Though my views on religion and spirituality, in general, have waxed and waned over the years, one thing remains constant: I’m grateful I served a mission.
I won’t pretend like I was the best missionary on the planet because I wasn’t, but I won’t self-deprecate, either. I was a good missionary. I worked hard and genuinely cared about the people I taught.
It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always fun. But it was worth it.
And no, it wasn’t the best two years of my life. (If you’re a new missionary and someone tells you that, run. That person probably isn’t in touch with reality.)
With that out of the way, here are five pieces of advice for those who are called to serve:
1. Love the People
This is a phrase that gets thrown around to the point of being trite, but it’s not. Love the people. Everything else, and I mean everything, comes second.
It might take you some time to love the people but work at it. Sure, they’re going to be different from you in a handful of ways, but fundamentally, we’re all the same.
People, no matter where you go, are more similar than they are different. We all want love, connection, and lives filled with meaning and purpose.
Just love the people, no matter what.
Oh, and so you know, “people” includes your companions, even the ones you’d rather Spartan-kick. Who knows, you might get lucky and have a companion who will become a life-long friend. And let me tell you, one quality friend is worth far more than two years.
2. FOMO: Fear of Missing Out
You’re going to get some mail from home, and I’m willing to bet mixed emotions will be a byproduct of some of those letters and emails. It’s nice to be in the loop, but at the same time, you might feel as though you’re missing out. Well, let me tell you the truth:
You are missing out. And you’re not missing out.
You might miss a few highlight-worthy things (births, death, marriages, etc.), but for the most part, you won’t miss much.
Time flies when you’re on your mission, and before you know it, you’ll be back, wishing you would’ve extended an additional transfer. Make the most of the time you have there, and don’t worry about home; it’ll be there when you get back.
3. Let it Shape You
From the culture to the people, let it all shape you.
Don’t hold so tightly to your upbringing that you fail to let the culture of your mission shape you. Embrace whatever culture you find yourself in. Don’t get in pointless debates as to why America is better than wherever you are (you’re probably wrong, anyway).
Find what makes your mission great. Let it become a part of you for the rest of your life.
Your mission can shape you in fundamental ways, but only if you let it.
4. “Act as if”
“Act as if” is a phrase that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Translated, it means as soon as you say you are something, you are that thing.
I’m willing to bet you don’t have a defining moment in your mission when you suddenly feel like a missionary. I didn’t. No visions, angels, or hidden messages in my alphabet soup at the MTC. Nada.
So my advice to you is: from day one, know you’ve been called to serve a mission, and act the part.
This isn’t the same as “fake it until you make it,” which never worked well for the people I knew who adopted that idea.
You’re the real deal, so act like it right out of the gate.
5. Be You to be Relatable
This might be the most important piece of advice I share with you.
As soon as you’re set apart, you’ll be expected to represent the church and the Lord and to take on those names for the next two years. After all, it’s what you signed up for.
But don’t forget that you’re more than that. Don’t be afraid to be you.
One of the things that helped me the most on my mission was connecting with the people we were teaching on a personal level.
Some people will think this is inappropriate and a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more.
If you believe you were called to a particular place for a reason, what could that reason be other than the fact that your life experiences and personality make all the difference?
Lots of the people you meet will think you’re perfect, or close to that. Let them know you’re just like them with faults and challenges. Let them know you have hobbies and interests. Show them pictures from home.
Let them know you’re normal.
They’ll quickly see you’re just like them, and that makes you relatable. There’s nothing more powerful than this.
My favorite scripture goes along with this idea:
20. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
21. To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
22. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
23. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
– 1 Corinthians 9:20-23
If you master this, I know your mission will be a success.
It takes guts to serve a mission. I have serious respect for anyone who dedicates two years of their life to something other than themselves.
Best of luck. I know you’ll kill it.