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{LDS How-to} When a Missionary Struggles: How to Help

Jenny Spencer and Brooke Ward - September 25, 2012

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Even though your missionary may be thousands of miles away from home, you can still help him or her handle difficult situations during the mission.

Missionaries can deal with a slew of issues, and as a parent, sibling, or friend reading and writing letters from afar, you may feel helpless. But you’re not. Check out some ways you can help them with some of these most common struggles, and some prophetic counsel that may help as well.

Feeling Unprepared
When missionaries are new to the MTC or mission field, it’s easy for them to become discouraged, feeling as if everyone ahead of them knows so much more. Missionaries around them seem to have all the lessons and accompanying scriptures memorized, not to mention the fact that they can recite them all in a foreign language! Remind your missionary that everyone has to start at the beginning. The best way to overcome these feelings of inadequacy is to dive into gospel and language study and prayer. Help him realize that he may not have all the answers to difficult questions, but he still has his testimony.

“Nearly 40 years ago as I contemplated the challenge of a mission, I felt very inadequate and unprepared. I remember praying, ‘Heavenly Father, how can I serve a mission when I know so little?’ I believed in the Church, but I felt my spiritual knowledge was very limited. As I prayed, the feeling came: ‘You don’t know everything, but you know enough!’ That reassurance gave me the courage to take the next step into the mission field.”

Struggling with the Language
When a missionary first opens the Book of Mormon in the mission language, sometimes it appears as if it’s all in gibberish. She can quickly become discouraged, feeling that mastering the mission language is impossible. But the gift of tongues can and does happen, and you can assure her that it only takes time, perseverance, and faith. Even President Uchtdorf was able to learn English when it seemed impossible at first.

“When I turned 11 we had to leave East Germany overnight because of the political orientation of my father. Now I was going to school in West Germany, which was American-occupied at that time. There in school all children were required to learn English and not Russian. To learn Russian had been difficult, but English was impossible for me. I thought my mouth was not made for speaking English. My teachers struggled. My parents suffered. And I knew English was definitely not my language. . . . Then I learned that to become a pilot I needed to speak English. Overnight, to the total surprise of everybody, it appeared as if my mouth had changed. I was able to learn English. It still took a lot of work, persistence, and patience, but I was able to learn English!
“Why? Because of a righteous and strong motive!”

One Missionary’s Testimony
“My mission president promised us missionaries that if we read the Book of Mormon and asked for a specific blessing, it would be granted to us by the time we finished the book. One elder asked to be able to speak French when he finished the Book of Mormon. He finished it two weeks later and could speak French nearly fluently. Just two weeks before, he was struggling a lot with it. We couldn’t believe how fast he picked it up. I think that when you show Heavenly Father that you have a real desire to learn, and you put your trust in the counsel of the scriptures and church leaders, Heavenly Father can help you do anything. And I still believe in that promise of reading the Book of Mormon.”

Working with a Difficult Companion
Sometimes missionaries may think that they are given a difficult companion as a punishment. But often, mission presidents are inspired to place struggling companions with stronger missionaries. The companion may be struggling with any sort of matter, but it is important for your missionary to remember that the Lord has placed them together for a reason. There is always something to learn from one another.

And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also.

Dealing with Depression
Remind your missionary that this transfer, companionship, area, and mission will not last forever. Sometimes depressed missionaries cannot even understand their own feelings, let alone explain them to their companions. Encourage him to confide in the mission president. Some missionaries feel embarrassed by their negative feelings, but they may not realize that the mission president is always on their side—and that you are, too. Bear your testimony to your missionary, share with him similar experiences you’ve had, and perhaps send him these uplifting quotes from the prophets and scriptures.

 “No matter how bleak the chapter of our lives may look today, because of the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we may hope and be assured that the ending of the book of our lives will exceed our grandest expectations.
“And to all who suffer—to all who feel discouraged, worried, or lonely—I say with love and deep concern for you, never give in. Never surrender. Never allow despair to overcome your spirit. Embrace and rely upon the Hope of Israel, for the love of the Son of God pierces all darkness, softens all sorrow, and gladdens every heart.”

Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.
No matter what issues your missionary faces, you can lend an understanding ear and constantly reaffirm your support of what he is doing—placing the Lord before himself. And if difficulties continue to persist, you can share this loving but firm admonition from President Monson

“Regardless of our fears or anxieties, let us pray and then go and do.”

For ideas on how to help returned missionaries transition back to everyday life, read "Especially for LDS Missionaries: How to Transition to Post-mission Life."

© LDS Living, September/October 2012.
Comments 2 comments

bridget said...

04:29 PM
on Oct 10, 2012

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I was just talking to my dad about how many times I've heard missionaries get up and say that they'd never read the Book of Mormon until they went on their mission. My mom agreed that she'd heard it over and over, too. Why should that be? If a young man actually cares about the Lord, why would he neglect to read the Book of Mormon, and the Bible too, for that matter? (You'll never get all the depth out of the Book of Mormon until you know the Bible.) My dad says missionaries are required to read the Book of Mormon, but should a man wait until he's a missionary? No! A man who loves the Lord will love the word of God. I submit to you that any member of the church — male or female — who does not read the scriptures from a very young age, and who does not cherish them above all else, is unprepared to serve the Lord. Yes, I said unprepared. And there's something wrong with a person like that, too. What are you doing with your life? Don't tell me you're pleasing the Lord. You're pleasing yourself. And you've got a really empty life. What kind of an airhead doesn't at least read the Book of Mormon all the way through? If I had my druthers, you would be required to read it all the way through before being baptized at age 8. And if not the Book of Mormon, then at least the New Testament. Somebody get these kids heads out of video games and on something important!

brigette said...

09:36 AM
on Feb 04, 2013

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Hello person with the same name as me :-) I do agree with your point. Missionaries should be required to read the Book of Mormon and Bible before they enter the MTC. With the lowered age limit, parents, (and they themselves) should seriously prepare them, well their whole life of course, but long before their mission. The missionary training center should begin in their HOME. This would make for a lot less depressed and stressed missionary. But you have to do it with a loving and kind heart, and you approached this really kind of in a condescending manner. If any future missionary, who was exactly the kind you described, was to read your comment, they would probably feel more inadequate about themselves, and less excited about being prepared. Now I know that that means their heart is not in the right place, and they need to forget themselves and go to work (haha I'm starting to contradict myself...) but there's no better way to do it than out of love. Anger does not persuade an individual easily. Alright I'm done haha.
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