Latter-day Saint Life

How One Early-Returned Missionary Continues His Service In Spite of Physical and Emotional Challenges


It was a regular Sunday morning in October 2015 as 19-year-old Jacob Pinkston sat with his family waiting for sacrament meeting to start. As the meeting began, his mom, Christine, leaned over to him and asked excitedly, “Do you know who’s on the stand?”

Elder Ronald A. Rasband, who only days before had been called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was visiting the Utah ward to watch his grandchildren in the primary program.

Pinkston admits that at the moment, he didn’t really care. “Going to church was kind of tough for me because I have social anxiety,” he shares, “so I didn’t pay attention too much when I was in church. It was more just about kind of staying there.”

Ever since his family had moved to Utah during his sophomore year of high school, Pinkston had struggled. He had a difficult time making friends and felt alone almost all of the time—but the challenges he faced were more than the average teenager’s need to fit in. During his junior and senior years, physical illness kept him at home for months at a time, and when he finally felt physically well enough to go to school, he would experience crippling anxiety attacks. Though he had always been a straight “A” student, his grades began to slip as his mental and physical health faltered. He completed most of his school work from home to get the credits he needed to graduate.

Pinkston had always planned to serve a mission, but with all of the anxiety and depression he was experiencing, serving a mission didn’t even seem possible. He was more worried about just making it through the day.

But on this October Sunday, Pinkston felt God’s love for him in a life-changing way, and Elder Rasband’s attendance played a key role in that.

During Relief Society, Christine had the opportunity to talk to Elder Rasband. He told her that he knew who she was, and he knew who her son was and what he was going through. He then proceeded to tell her that he and the stake president were praying and fasting for Pinkston.

When third hour was over, Christine was excited to tell her son about her experience. Pinkston, who still gets emotional recalling the experience, shares, “When she told me that, it was just undeniable, the fact that God loves me. One of his special witnesses was praying for me, and I just felt a wave of emotion that kind of knocked me back and got me going again.”

For months, his depression and anxiety had made it difficult for him to feel the Spirit, but this moment was pivotal in reminding him that Heavenly Father was aware of him and his needs. “It made me think if I could share this with just one person who has gone through something similar, I’d like to do that . . . . The love of God had been so powerful in my life, and it wasn’t something I could just keep to myself.” Though it would be another year before he would embark on his missionary service, this moment gave him a spark of hope that maybe he could serve as a missionary after all.

Tender Mercies in the Mission Field

Knowing that adjusting to missionary life would be especially challenging for him, Pinkston worked closely with professional counselors to prepare. He moved into his own apartment, worked full time, and took a couple of college classes. Overall, things went smoothly, and Pinkston started doing a lot better. After getting his endorsement from LDS Family Services, his papers were finished and submitted within the week.

When Pinkston opened his mission call to the Oregon Salem Mission (after his brother had offhandedly guessed that it would be the exact place he would go), it rang true to him. “It felt really good because one of the things I struggled with in high school was feeling out of place,” Pinkston explains. “I was getting called to go back to the Northwest, and I spent eight years in Seattle, so it felt very good.” For him, it was the perfect balance of familiarity and newness—the Northwest felt like home, but Salem was a new place with new adventures to be had.

After reporting to the MTC on November 9, 2016, miracles continued to follow. Though meeting new people had always been intimidating for Pinkston, he was assigned to be a zone leader in the MTC. “I was really afraid because one of the jobs I had was to introduce all the new missionaries coming in,” Pinkston explains. Typically, between 8 and 15 new missionaries would arrive in the zone each week. But because of the Thanksgiving holiday, the schedule of missionaries reporting had been adjusted, and instead there were 30-45 missionaries coming in. The thought of introducing all of them felt overwhelming.

“I kind of just went into the meeting, and I had faith that, you know, God would help me,” Pinkston shares. In spite of the nervousness he felt, the meeting went smoothly, and he felt a connection with the missionaries he served. “I knew every one of the elders’ names in my zone, and I knew them at least a little personally. That was a big deal for me,” he says.

The next big miracle for Pinkston was when he met his trainer in the field. Pinkston was already almost 21, and he was afraid of having an 18-year-old trainer who wouldn’t understand his situation. But again, the Lord knew what Pinkston needed. He was assigned a 24-year-old trainer who had been out for 3 months. “I struggled the first couple of months, but because he was older, he was more mature, he was so strong in the gospel, he was able to not only put me on his back . . . but he was able to help me get to the point where I was not only enjoying my mission, but I was able to survive by myself,” Pinkston recalls.

An Unexpected Injury

Though Pinkston definitely had hard days—and weeks—where he felt close to coming home, he continued to cope with his social anxiety and serve the best that he could. “Something that I have learned over the years with having anxiety and depression is that sometimes there isn’t something you can do,” Pinkston shares. “Sometimes you just have to put up with a little bit—and sometimes a lot—of uneasiness, and your body adapts to it, your body gets used to it.” When times got hard, he took courage in knowing that there was always light at the end of the tunnel. As difficult as it sometimes was, he knew that his feelings of uneasiness and discouragement wouldn’t last forever.

While serving in his third area, Pinkston and his companion were doing service for some ward members who had asked for help loading bales of hay. Pinkston had volunteered to load the bales into the bed of the truck, but fell from a height of seven or eight feet when the vehicle began to move. In addition to some road rash on his right leg and needing seven stitches in his ear, the scaphoid bone in his wrist was broken.

After evaluating Pinkston’s broken bone, the specialist in Salem explained that because of the scaphoid’s unusual placement and limited blood flow, it typically takes longer to heal, and in some cases, does not heal naturally at all. If Pinkston’s wrist didn’t heal on its own, surgery would be necessary. Being a Latter-day Saint himself, the doctor also knew that surgery would mean an early return home for Pinkston. Since there was no displacement of Pinkston’s broken bone, it was determined that they would wait to see if it would heal on its own so he could continue his missionary service.

But after seven weeks had passed, the bone showed no signs of healing. Pinkston could only proselyte a few hours of the day before his hand would go numb, and they were losing investigators because they weren’t able to work. The successful area Pinkston had worked so hard to build was waning, investigators were dropping, and Pinkston felt terrible. On top of that, he wasn’t sleeping well at night. His mom, who noted the dark circles under his eyes in the video diaries he sent home each p-day, became continually concerned. Pinkston’s mission president finally pulled him aside and asked him to consider going home.

Coming to Terms with Coming Home

After all he had done to conquer and cope with his emotional struggles, going home was the last thing Pinkston wanted to do. “I didn’t want to come home at all,” he says. “I had worked so hard to get out into the field.” Though Pinkston prayed about it, he didn’t feel like he was getting an answer.

When Pinkston and his companion went to church each week, concerned ward members inundated him with questions. “When people would ask me how I was doing, I would just kind of answer and smile, but [inside] I was just like, ‘Please just leave me alone. I just want to be left alone. I don’t want to talk about it,’” he shares.

One particular week, an older sister in the ward was especially persistent. She reminded him that as a nurse, she knew what kinds of things he needed to be doing to take care of his wrist so it could heal. Pinkston, who at this point was tired, in pain, and afraid of going home, became frustrated. He had been to the doctor, he had been following his counsel, and he already knew everything the older sister was telling him about.

But at the end of the meeting, the older sister came up to him. “As a mom, I feel like I need to do this,” she said. She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Initially, Pinkston was taken aback, and his frustration heightened. But all that melted away as he heard a voice speak to his heart: “That was from me.”

“Again, that wave of love hit me,” Pinkston recalls. “I felt that God was satisfied with my service, that I was doing the best I could, and it was time to think about going home.” After praying to receive a confirmation and speaking again with his mission president, he boarded the plane to head back to Utah with the intent of returning to the mission field after his wrist was healed.

Though miraculously he never needed surgery, Pinkston’s recovery took much longer than they had anticipated, and life was filled with follow-up appointments and physical therapy for the next six months. And while he wanted to go back to his mission, he began to feel anxious and hesitant about whether going back was really the right thing. He had courageously faced his anxiety and depression head on by leaving home to serve the first time, but it didn’t mean that his emotional struggles had disappeared. “The first three months of my mission were really tough for me, and knowing what I had [gone] through . . . it was really tough to think about doing that to myself again,” he says.

It was during one of his weekly temple visits that Pinkston finally felt peace about what God wanted him to do. He had considered a service mission before he originally submitted his papers, but dismissed the idea because he knew that for the rest of his life, he would always wonder what he had missed out on in serving a proselytizing mission. But now, as he pondered in the temple, he realized that a service mission might actually be the answer. After counseling with his parents and his bishop, Pinkston determined that finishing out as a service missionary was the best way for him to keep his commitment to God while still getting the physical and emotional help he needed.

Working as a Service Missionary

Since January of this year, Pinkston has worked as a service missionary in the Bishop’s Central Store House in Salt Lake City. Though service missions are flexible in regards to length of service, Pinkston has chosen to serve the full year of 2018 to complete the two years he had dedicated to the Lord.

“It’s kind of like working a nine to five job without being paid,” Pinkston says with a laugh. “It really is like that.” Though he misses the spiritual high of sharing the gospel in his mission in Oregon, he knows that the Lord is pleased with the service he is giving. In addition to being home and having family support, the schedule of a service missionary allows him to have more time to himself, as well as more time to exercise, which has been really important for his mental and emotional health.

While messages from apostles and prophets are clear that missionary service is a priesthood duty, also states that if “you have concerns about . . . physical or emotional limitations, you should visit with your bishop or branch president to understand eligibility requirements for missionary service.” Pinkston shares that based on physical and emotional needs, a full-time proselytizing mission isn’t really for everyone. “Even though there’s this expectation that it should be, it’s not,” he says. “And the expectation, the only place it should come from is from God, and He knows what He’s blessed you with and what you have to work with. There shouldn’t be anyone else who should push you, because He’s the only one who knows how far to let you go.”  

Pinkston’s mom testifies that countless miracles have come from his willingness to keep serving. “The miracle that I see is that Jacob didn’t give up—over and over, from when he was a teenager, to when we moved here, to when he decided to go on a mission and it was difficult for him, and then him going, and having to come home, and then for him to say ‘You know what, I told the Lord that I was going to give Him two years, and that’s what I’m going to do.’ . . . If you turn to the Lord you will be able to endure it. That to me, that’s a miracle,” she says.

In reflecting upon his journey, Pinkston shares a statement by President Henry B. Eyring from the conference talk and Mormon Message “Mountains to Climb”: “[The] curing does not come automatically through the passage of time, but it does take time. Getting older does not do it alone. It is serving God and others persistently with full heart and soul that turns testimony of truth into unbreakable spiritual strength.”

Pinkston testifies that for him, it has been his service to others that has helped him find healing and spiritual strength. “My life isn’t perfect, and I’m far from having trials that [will] be done. I know that,” he shares. “But whatever comes, I think that because of the service that I have given and the opportunities I have had, I have the strength to get through it.”

Image courtesey of the Pinkston family

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