To Families, Friends, and Ward Members
Acknowledge your feelings.
Although early returned missionaries struggle the most, many family members, especially parents, can experience a variety of deep emotions as well. It is important to recognize your feelings and to talk about them with a trusted family member, friend, or counselor. Be assured that the feelings will pass in time, so try not to dwell on them. Avoid sharing your feelings with your early returned missionary, though, as that can make his or her adjustment more difficult.
Listen with compassion.
Many missionaries have planned and prepared their whole lives to serve full-time missions. An early return can be a traumatic experience. Missionaries need the opportunity to share the story of their return in a loving, nonjudgmental environment. Do all you can to set the stage for such an environment. In some cases, early returned missionaries may require professional counseling to work through the transition of coming home as well as other mental health concerns that may be present. Family Services and some private mental health providers and organizations offer services designed especially for early returned missionaries.
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Welcome early returned missionaries home regardless of the circumstances.
Express unconditional love and gratitude for his or her service. Allow them to share positive stories and spiritual experiences gained. When appropriate, they should be invited to bear testimony or report on their mission in sacrament meeting. Most missionaries, regardless of how long they served, have wonderful experiences to share. In the long term, it is healthier for their transition if they focus on the positive events of their mission.
Be sensitive to the missionary’s situation.
Many early returned missionaries are uncomfortable returning to church because they are embarrassed and do not know what to say to ward members. Members of the ward council can set the example by expressing love and gratitude for the missionary’s safe return and encouraging involvement in the ward. A loving bishop can carefully interview the missionary and determine what his or her needs are for immediate assistance and how ward and stake resources can be utilized to help.
Avoid speculation regarding the early return.
Parents should let the missionary guide them when it comes to knowing how and what to tell others about his or her return. Ward members and others can best help by avoiding speculation about why a missionary has returned early. Because less than a quarter of all early returned missionaries come home for transgression, such speculation can be hurtful, and even harmful, to the missionary and his or her family (Doty, K. J.; Bullock, S. Z.; Packer, H.; Warne, R. T.; Westwood, J.; Ash, T.; & Hirsche, H. . “Return with trauma: Understanding the experiences of early returned missionaries.” Issues in Religion and Psychotherapy, 37, 33–46).
Avoid talking about returning to the mission field.
Some missionaries may be able to return, but others may not. Before such a discussion takes place, the missionary should completely work through the reasons that brought him or her home early in the first place. Allow the missionary to broach the subject of a return when and if he or she is ready. Whether a missionary decides to return to the mission field or move on and pursue education or employment, family and friends should be supportive and encouraging.
When we put an early return into the proper perspective, we can accept that every missionary’s path may not be the traditional 18-month or 2-year journey. We can exercise faith and trust that a wise Heavenly Father knows what is best for His children and that He sometimes leads them into unique roads for His purpose. As we demonstrate our faith, we can accept these differences in length of missionary service by showing unconditional love and support to early returned missionaries as they navigate this unexpected twist in their life’s journey.