The following article previously ran on LDS Living in February 2015.
I watched a young missionary’s face as he came down the aisle of the airplane looking for his seat. The worn suit and slightly faded black nametag were dead giveaways. He was going home. But home to what?
Within a few hours, he will walk off the plane and into the arms of jubilant family members. He will report to his stake president and take off the black nametag. He will speak in sacrament meeting. Everyone will pat him on the back and ask, “How was your mission?” (As if you could describe the experience the same way you would describe yesterday’s lunch.)
The incredible young men and women who have served as full-time missionaries have sacrificed their time, postponed schooling, delayed careers, and set aside personal goals to serve. They have suffered hot days, cold nights, and rude people in order to share a testimony. Then when they return, the best question we usually ask is, “How was your mission?”
Perhaps it is time we learned to engage these amazing latter-day warriors for truth instead of settling for the vanilla questions. Here are five specific and engaging questions to ask a returned missionary.
1. Did you experience any learning moments or witness any miracles?
Our missionaries witness miracles on a regular basis. Those miracles range from healings to the gift of tongues, but missionaries don’t talk a lot about them out of respect for sacred things—and perhaps because no one asks about them. I once asked a returned sister missionary this question, and she recounted a miraculous story involving the gift of tongues. My children at the dinner table gave rapt attention to her testimony. The Spirit testified to us as she spoke, and we were all edified. Choose a time and place respectful to the nature of the question, but ask returned missionaries about the miracles or learning experiences they have witnessed. Be prepared for remarkable answers.
2. Which companions did you enjoy the most? Why?
Returned missionaries have been with another human being close to 24/7 during their entire mission. The lessons learned by this constant proximity to another human being will pay huge dividends in marriage and family relationships, but they will feel lost without a companion for a while. When you ask this question, be prepared for moist eyes and maybe some laughter. You will hear stories of kindness, friendship, and struggles. Give returned missionaries the opportunity to reflect on positive relationships and teach you about the importance of unity.
3. Which investigator impacted you the most?
All returned missionaries have someone who holds a special place in their hearts. Perhaps it is someone they found and taught. Perhaps it is someone they baptized. It might even be that special investigator that never accepted their message but whom they developed a Christ-like love for. Missionaries learn to express genuine love for people they barely know. That love will remain long after the mission. When you ask about those special people, be prepared to listen to expressions of love and genuine concern.
4. What was the hardest day of your mission?
Missions are hard work, and some days are harder than others. Give returned missionaries the opportunity to talk about some of the challenges and difficulties they faced. As you listen to how they surmounted difficult obstacles and dealt with tough days, you will begin to see them in a new light. You will begin to see how capable they have become. No doubt they will have difficult days ahead as well. When you ask them about the difficult accomplishments as a missionary it will remind them of their capabilities and help them face the challenges ahead.
5. If you could go back and have lunch with one person you met as a missionary, who would it be?
If given the opportunity, many returned missionaries would go back to their mission area, not because they don’t want to be home but because they developed such strong ties to the people they served. Often they leave many loose ends and a great deal of unfinished business. Give them an opportunity to open up about those special people they met and what they would do for them if they could go back. Let them tell you what the conversation might be like and why this particular person merits a return. You will gain insight into the depth of their commitment to the people they served.
Taking the time to ask returned missionaries probing, open-ended questions helps them open up about the life-changing experience. And you’ll be amazed at how touched and edified you both will be at the end of the conversation.