I want to note, upfront, that although this post was inspired by Rachel’s and Alison’s excellent recent posts, it is not meant in any way to respond to them. I fully agree with them that there are returned missionaries—even active, temple-attending returned missionaries—who do bad things. And those bad things can, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, hurt people around them, especially where the people around them (reasonably) believe that returned missionaries should not do bad things.
Moreover, being male, my relationship with (male) returned missionaries did not have the same structural inequities Alison and Rachel describe, even when I was younger.
Still, I want to provide anecdotal evidence that, in some circumstances, returned missionaries can do good (at least, if you consider getting me out on a mission good).
Before I went to BYU, I thought returned missionaries (or at least recent returned missionaries) were complete losers. No, I don’t remember why—it’s been a long, long time. But I think I had this vision of weenies who never stopped talking about their missions, whose style was nowhere near contemporary, who eschewed real music in favor of Mormon fluff and MoTab, who peppered their speech with words like “MoTab.” Plus, I tended to be unimpressed by most of the Elders and Sisters who passed through my ward.[fn1]
My freshman year at BYU, I was a saxophone performance major. There were probably like eight of us, and then another eight or ten minors and other serious saxophone players. So we got to be fairly close. And four or so of the other majors were in their first semester back from their missions. These four guys included me in their lives. And I looked up to them.
I don’t remember a lot of details about our interactions over my freshman year. But one really stands out to me. One of the four had apparently had a horrible mission experience. One day, while we were sitting in a hall in the HFAC,[fn2] he started talking about it to one of the others. But, as he relived his experiences, he was almost apologetic to me. He needed to get it out, but he didn’t want to discourage my (then-nascent) desire to go on a mission.
I don’t remember any of the four ever expressly telling me that I should go on a mission. But seeing the people that they were helped me both want to go on a mission and understand that sacrificing my saxophone-playing for two years wouldn’t be the end of my life. They’d picked it back up after they’d returned; I could do the same.[fn3]
I can’t imagine what would have happened to me had they been the losers I imagined; I don’t know that it would have kept me from going on a mission, but it may have. And I really don’t know what would have happened if they’d been the callous, misogynistic jerks Rachel described.[fn4] That could have turned me off on missions altogether. But instead, they represented everything the Church could hope from its returned missionaries. And they provided an example to me that I hope I’ve been able to emulate since my return.
[fn1] “What an egotistical little jerk-head,” you’re probably saying to yourself right now. And you’re probably right, though, in my defense, most 18-year-old boys are egotistical little jerk-heads.
[fn2] It seems like we were waiting for a practice room or something, but I spent a lot of that year sitting in halls in the HFAC, so I can’t say for sure why we were there.
[fn3] Ultimately, when I got back, I didn’t pick it back up the way I’d played before, but that was a conscious choice on my part, not a result of serving a mission.
[fn4] Note that Rachel never called him callous or misogynistic. That’s because she’s a nice person. But that’s clearly what he was.