Tuesday, September 19, 2006

One week at the MTC and that's all they can take

We've had three missionaries come home after one week at the MTC in the last year. One was a girl who had panic attacks. Now she's overweight and we rarely see her. I think it's a classic sign of sexual abuse in her case.

Two boys only lasted a week, the last one had his farewell, left and came home in August. One is inactive, the other comes to church, looking stressed. I want to hug him and say, "hon, it's okay. You did the best you could." Probably Tiny whatever just ran them off.

Not really, you guys. I think these kids weren't ready to go on missions. Thank God they realized it soon after they left and didn't do themselves harm trying valiantly to measure up.

I just want them to know I love them.


Anonymous said...

I was always amazed at how many missionaries left after a week or so in the MTC.

Our original district had about 14 elders. By the third week, we had 3 or 4 leave ... the split our district up for classes, but we remained together for the other activities.

I guess I can understand what a shock it would be to someone who wasn't used to the rigors of the MTC. I doubt I would have had a smooth transition if I hadn't gone to college for a year.

A. Nonny Mouse said...

The first week is pretty intense from a "morals" perspective, too. They work really hard to get any potential previously unconfessed transgressions to come out. They read some statements that are very blatant about what's okay and what's not, and then they say, "Come see us if this is a problem. Now is the time to clear it up."

And that's on top of the rigors of the rest of it, which are pretty intense as is, for some reason.

A. Nonny Mouse said...

Oh, and hugging them and telling them they're okay seems like a great, compassionate thing to do, to me.

a random John said...

During the era when I went on a mission about half of the kids that our ward sent to the MTC came home. As far as I know none of them had run ins with Tiny, but it was a huge stigma. My understanding is that one of them is now active, the others are not.

One was a very close friend who was at the MTC the same time I was. I saw him one afternoon talking to another friend and he looked upset. I went to go talk to them and my companion freaked out so I had to leave quickly. My friend went home about two hours later. I still regret not standing up to my companion, who was a stickler for the letter of the law but had no clue at that point.

Somebody should tell these kids that the MTC is the worst part of a mission. Of course if you're going to have a breakdown it is probably better to do so in the relatively safe environment of the MTC...

Eric Nielson said...

I liked the MTC

Barb said...

There was a young man who returned home from his mission after a very short time. I think he wanted to return to the field, but I do not think he ever had the chance. I had a great deal of respect for him as he stayed active and later taught Gospel Essentials when I was in the Young Single Adult Branch. I also met another young man who had panic attacks and had to leave the MTC. It was such a shame as he was an outstanding young man who had converted after going to a Catholic boarding school for high school. He proposed marriage to the girl he was dating before he left and I think who also introduced him to the Church. He had not been home very long at that point. I am sure that he could do a lot of good right here though. There is a lot of mission work to do right here in my city!

jay s said...

Wow - did these people go to the same MTC as i did? Sure - it was hard being away from home, (uh not really for me - but I digress) and studying all day could get boring, and having all the guys there was hard for a shy guy, but I don't remember it being too bad.

Of course my parents sent me away for 3 weeks to a scout jamboree across the country (3 weeks with other 13-15 yr olds, talk about cruel), I had spent a lot of time at camps and other places on my own. The hardest part about the mtc was not having enough alone time and the group showers

a random John said...

jay s,

For some people the MTC is hard because it is the first time they've been away from home. That was not the case for me. It was hard for me because of the Nazis running the place and the constant insinuation that I was not just a sinner (we all are sinners, right) but that I must be a horrible, terrible sinner because I didn't have anything to confess. This after spending a year in a dorm surrounded by non-memebers! Somehow I think that the branch presidency thought it was impossible that someone could be somewhere other than BYU and keep the commandments. And having to hear them sing the praises of BYU football players all day... Ugh!

Elizabeth-W said...

We've had a few in our stake in the last few months, too. When I was just out of college I used to have to make regular visits to the hospital in Provo--there were always a couple MTC'ers on the psych unit.
Prime time for a major first episode of depression or bipolar disorder is 17-25, and big stress can trigger it. So it makes sense that people who may have always been anxious might develop honest to goodness panic at the MTC.
We had a young guy come home in our ward and he kept telling people he was having trouble with his heart (and seeing as how he was very overweight I think that probably initially made sense to the ER docs). The poor kid didn't want to be "mental", his mom said. Another guy was pretty much the same thing--only he didn't get to his destination, even. He did come home from the MTC. He grew up one of 14 children, homeschooled throughout all his school career. I don't think he'd ever been outside the county. So getting to Provo was a huge shock.
I think giving them hugs is the best thing you can do, too.

Tanya Spackman said...

I didn't realize there were so many missionaries who came home from the MTC. I've never known anyone who did, so I assumed it was rare. I loved the MTC. I was in one of the groups that did the telecenter, where we called back people who had ordered something from one of the TV ads and see if they'd be willing to have missionaries come by, and I totally despised that, but everyone in my district despised it, so we bonded over it :-). Other than that, though, I loved the MTC. Now, the mission I didn't care for....

Susan M said...

You should definitely let them know you support and love them, Anne. It can make a huge difference for them.

I have a good friend who came home from his mission after two weeks in the field and went inactive for years and years. Largely due to how he was treated after coming home early.

Bookslinger said...

ARJ said: "It was hard for me because of the Nazis running the place..."

Amen, brother.

But even harder for me was putting up with the elders who didn't want to be there, or who didn't want to conform to missionary life. They were bigger stumbling blocks for me than the unrighteous dominion type of leadership.

If you look at the number of missionaries right before and right after the "raise the bar" change, it went from 60,000 to 51,000, or a decrease of 15%.

My observations at the MTC and the mission field were that the bottom 20 to 25% should not have been there.

We all have our crosses to bear. For some of us it was the leadership, for some it was the rigors and regimentation, for some it was the cramped close-quarters, for some it was putting up with other elders' crappy behavior and bad examples.

The gospel and the church are true. The people are not.

I sometimes still think the Lord makes the MTC hard and unfair just as a test to see how bad you want to serve.

I think prospective missionaries should all be warned: You WILL be offended. Be ready for it.

The Wiz said...

My nephew came home after 1 day in the MTC. For him, it was the coming down hard on unconfessed sins, and he had a few to deal with. Ironically, they would have taken a much shorter time to clear up had he fessed up earlier than the year required for him to go back.

I don't know if he'll go back, although I REALLY want him to, but what I want doesn't much matter. His mom is mortified, and acts like it, and he feels like he has a T-Shirt on that says "i screwed up" every time he goes to church. It's like the big red letter "A" (although he didn't commit adultery).

I want him to come live with us, where nobody knows that he got sent home, just that he's preparing for a mission. They don't need to know that he's 20 instead of 19. I don't think his mom will let him, though, and I hate how she's acting, but i guess now I'm just ranting.

Anyway, remember him in your prayers, and btw, when he decided to fess up and come home, 4 others in his district did the same thing, because they were all in the same boat. Someone needs to tell these boys that they come down hard on moral issues right away and the time to repent is now.

Barb said...

Wiz, I hope that your nephew is able to have a fresh start by moving with you while preparing to go out in a year.

I liked the MTC for the most part although their emphasis on obedience made me flip into an ultra-serious mode. It was hard to get on a mission in the first place with my home environment and nonmember family. I wanted to do everything I was supposed to do. The people in my district and my companion seemed to think that I did not have a sense of humor. There were a lot of rages at an all time high so that probably did not help matters that I just left such an envirnoment. My companions in the field were able to discover my sense of humor though. My trainer liked my dramatic side and found it humorous.

I was so happy to be in the field and so motivated. My Mission President told my second companion that I was a self-starter. About nine months, I hit a wall. I was very depressed and a few months before I was to come home, my Mission President offered to send me home early. I did not want the stigma so I stuck it out. I know not everyone is able to do so. I learned before joining the Church how to be disciplined and keep going in the midst of depression. I know that some people have such serious depression that they are not able to function. Well, I never told my nonmember family about my problems. And my ward members were pretty unaware as well. I told my Bishop though and he was very supportive. This was prior to my ocd manifesting itself in a way that would make going places very difficult for me. If I knew what road I was heading down, maybe I would have appreciated how good things were then.

Barb said...

I should insert that the rages of which I referred to were in my home environment prior to leaving for the field. I probably should have left home long before my mission, but there was always a reason to stay. You stay because your sister is still in high school. You stay because you want to be an example to your nonmember family before your mission. You stay because you want to be an example after your mission. Then, you get to a point where you cannot function and you really have no choice but to stay. I know this is a bit of a thread derail.

I was so relieved to be out of my home and at the MTC and later the Mission Field. And though I have had so many problems were so much more intense six months after my mission than while on my mission, I felt more strongly about going on a mission than any decision that I have made in my life. Maybe I would have been messed up anyways without the opportunity to serve. I don't know. But I agree that it is good for those with mental health problems that are not able to be controlled by medication to be excused because it is very hard out there.

annegb said...

Wow, thanks, all for your comments. I should talk about church more often :).

Nonny, I wonder why they don't give that list to the bishops before the missionaries leave home. That seems pretty simple.

ARJ, we had a boy commit suicide in our ward when he came home early. I really try to reach out to these kids and love them.

Wiz, I would be really careful about the pressure of
preparing. The feeling of failure if he decides not to go back might just un-mind him. I think I would just tell him about all the jerks who did go on missions and look at how they are jerks today. A mission is not a measure of a person. It's just another milestone, sometimes for the worse.

I spoke just today to the mother of one boy who came home early and she said he loved the MTC, but hated the actual mission.

I don't understand why they should make the MTC hard. If they are mean to me there, I will tell them to stick it. I'm not paying my good money to serve the Lord and get treated like dirt for the privilege. And I'm not paying for my kids to be treated awful, either.

Elizabeth, I think your post made me the saddest. That there are kids from the MTC in the psyche unit. Which we all know I know about. Not fun at all. I still think girls who go on missions and have been abused are at risk.

My son-in-law, who went without his parents support (the boy had a $4 suit from DI, he's getting a new one for his birthday) and he loved every minute of his mission. He is just a mellow person, although he could have been like you, Barb.

I'm really curious now where you all served your missions. Anyone care to share?

a random John said...


I was in the Brazil Campinas mission from 1993 to 1995. My mission was challenging in ways I never thought it would be. I was also wonderful. We got to teach a ton of people.

a random John said...

While we're on the subject I'll mention that I was in the office for the last year of my mission and at least a dozen missionaries went home early for various reasons, some of the stories are almost humorous now.

DKL said...

Right on, arj. I was older than most missionaries when I went into the MTC, having already attended a few semesters at BYU. The MTC didn't much make me homesick, but the Nazi's there sure did make the experience miserable. Nevertheless, I did not leave; if I'd have had my way, I'd have stuck it out and completed my mission to Fukuoka, Japan honorably. But they wouldn't have any of it. After two weeks, they stamped me "reject" and sent me home. The MTC president said to me, "People like you shouldn't go on missions." He's probably right. But people like him shouldn't represent Mormonism.

The good news is that my girlfriend waited for me! (Well, technically. She only went on a few dates, and she didn't find anyone she liked better than me. And she's one hot babe.)

Bookslinger said...

If the guy's 19, he's an adult, and can live wherever he wants and can afford it.

The parents may want to cut off college tuition money if he doesn't live where they say ("Golden $$ Rule"), but that's up to them.


It may take another generation (20 to 25 years) for the pre-2002 (pre "raise the bar") hypocrisy concerning full time missions to be worked out of the church.

RM's from the "anything goes" mission era have been raising "anything goes" sons, so for the last few years, and probably for another 20, there has/will be the headaches of weeding out and screening out those young men who don't fit the "new" rules. Which are the same as the "old" publicized rules, but now are actually being enforced."

This summer was the 20th anniversary of the end of my 2-year mission, and I'm still trying to heal the wounds from the hypocrisy and seeming lies about what the requirements and rules were.

Back then, requirements and rules were given mere lip service. In actuality, there were no requirements; anyone in any condition could go, and was expected to go. And in the mission field, rules were given only lip service; missionaries got away with doing anything, and had to commit blatant adultery to get sent home.

Perhaps I still haven't fully processed the disjoint between what was publicly stated by the General Authorities and priesthood leaders and what actually happened at the grass roots level.

From what I've read on the Internet, there was a lot happening at the grass roots level that never got passed up the line to the GA's. And there was a lot happening in missions that never got reported to mission presidents.

Back then, I honestly wondered if the GA's knew what was happening at the missionary-to-missionary level, missionary-to-mission-president level, or missionary-to-investigator level. From what I gather now, no, they didn't really know a lot of what was going on.

From what Elder Ballard said at the famous talk in October 2002, I gather that "raise the bar" is a good thing. But from my perspective, it is an "effective" raising of the bar. The actual things he said, such as the requirements to be a missionary, were no different than what Elder Monson said in the early 80's. The only real difference I heard was "and now we mean it."

Barb said...

Pennsylvania Harrisburg is where I served.

I have known people who would really love to serve a second mission. I recall one of my single MTC teachers who said that he would get married right then if the rumor of young married people going on a mission were true. I want to make it clear that I really liked my mission. There was nothing major that happened on my mission to cause my depression. I agree that abuse plays a large part in the problems that I had and I think other missionaries. There was an amazing sister in my mission who was a convert and became homeless upon joining the Church. She still struggled with scars of abuse that were far worse than anything I have experienced. I always wished that I could serve with her. My trainer had the opporuntity and said we would not work well together as we were both had problems with our attention spans. I never thought I did at the time, but my companion said that I did and I have come to realize that I probably have Attention Deficet Disorder.

I think I would only want to serve a mission again if it were with my spouse as the rules are a lot different for couples. It is not that I have a problem with rules. It is my compulsive nature to read rules into rules, however. I guess I had ocd even before my mission, but it did not spiral out of control until after my mission. If I remain single, I would prefer to do a humanitarian mission for the Church or a Temple Mission. I am not very good at Family History so that is probably not a good match for me.

I have a lot of great memories of my mission and all the wonderful members and nonmembers that I met along the way.

John C said...

I returned from my mission ten years ago yesterday. After I got back, I thought fondly of my time in Japan. Six years later, I began to miss it so much, I wouldn't allow myself to indulge in thinking of it. Now, ten years later, I suffer some enormous amounts of anxiety when I think about it. It frightens me. I have been having panic attacks too. Whether they are connected to this stress, I am not sure.

A mission is a tramatic experience! And this is something NO ONE discusses in this church. I served honorably. If I were 19 and knew what I knew now, I'd still go. But it is tramatic. I still dream about the mission. Ten years later, there are moments when I am talking to somone and suddenly I switch momentarily into missionary mode and if I don't watch myself, I'll begin answering a question in Japanese. I carry my mission now on my back like a burden. The memories are so vived sometimes, the sensations so real! It scares me.


annegb said...

John C., I'm going to tell this to all the kids in my ward going on missions. I'm going to say, "brace yourself, it's not all roses and champagne. Tiny Grant is there and he's a menace to society."

Anonymous said...

John C: Those are flashbacks. I had them for about 20 years after my mission.

It's also a sign of PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Mine didn't go away completely until I talked to the Bishop and "confessed" the sins that others did to me.

That's one of the steps of healing from the sins/offenses/wounds that others commit against us. To be healed of a wound that someone else did to you, you have to forgive them. And to forgive them, you essentially have to tell someone in authority what they did.

The rule of thumb is that if the offense is such that the perpetrator has to confess to their bishop, the victim has to "squeal" (confess) the crime to their bishop too.

Hiding the crime/sin/offense merely makes the wound fester.

Anne: not wanting to be touched by others is a common sign of unhealed spiritual wounds caused by physical or sexual trauma.

A. Nonny Mouse said...

Annegb: Nonny, I wonder why they don't give that list to the bishops before the missionaries leave home. That seems pretty simple.

I think the bishops do have the list, and it's pretty standard stuff. It was hammered into me in my BYU ward when I was submitting my papers. I think that many bishops and stake presidents do similar hammerings, but for some reason I think kids are kids and they think, "They don't mean my sins." Then, when they get to the MTC, and everybody's dressed in a white shirt and tie, the reality of the situation sort of hits them and they think, "Whoops. They really did mean me."

Based on knowing an MTC branch president and having worked there, and other purely anecdotal evidence, I'd say that the place is generally relatively merciful. During the year I was there, I think there were only one or two missionaries who went home because of unrepented transgressions.

I have to say that my mission was emotionally taxing. But, this is partially because of who I am, and partially because of where I went. Rome is not an easy place to preach Mormonism. At the same time, it was one of the best times of my life. I felt like I was doing something worthwhile, and good. I felt Heavenly Father's immense love for me and his children daily. I learned things about myself that I didn't know and learned life skills that still benefit me on a daily basis.

Though it may have been "hard" (and it was roughly just as emotionally difficult when I was visa-waiting in Las Vegas) it was an incredible experience, and if people have any desire to serve, it's hard for me to see how they could spend 18 months or 2 years in any better way.