10 years ago today I left to become a full time mis­sion­ary for the LDS church. In doing so I left behind home, fam­i­ly and my teenage sweet­heart Tama­ra for a 2 year peri­od in which I was allowed to com­mu­ni­cate with them once a week by post and twice a year by tele­phone. No Skype. No vis­its.

I did it out of a con­vic­tion that I had an ulti­mate truth to share with oth­ers, and a strong sense of duty. I had spent most of my youth prepar­ing for a mis­sion, in seri­ous dai­ly scrip­ture study and my best adher­ence to extreme moral stan­dards. I had already had the expe­ri­ence of teach­ing and bap­tiz­ing my best friend a cou­ple of years ear­li­er, who by no small coin­ci­dence hap­pened to embark on his mis­sion on the same date, thus we end­ed up spend­ing a cou­ple of weeks in train­ing togeth­er.

Going out as a 19yr old, I expect­ed to be part of a prophet­ic move­ment, hav­ing been promised that if I had faith and was obe­di­ent, I could take the Mor­mon mes­sage to many peo­ple and help them con­vert.

My first 6 weeks of ser­vice were a cru­cible. Every day I awoke home­sick and depressed, des­per­ate­ly want­i­ng to return to the arms of my fiancée. Sev­er­al times, I not­ed dates in my agen­da for the near future that I expect­ed and hoped to be fly­ing home. The chim­ney stacks and smog of the north-east­ern town that I was in, wors­ened my prospects. How­ev­er, I worked through it and began to find an incred­i­ble inner strength. I believed this to be God’s bless­ing and I dis­tinct­ly remem­ber the pure joy of free­wheel­ing down the hill on my bike each evening to those Sep­tem­ber sun­sets, feel­ing full of spir­it and sat­is­fac­tion that I had achieved some­thing good.

This was a for­ma­tive time that I remain appre­cia­tive of to this day. It taught me beyond any­thing pre­vi­ous­ly that I could do some­thing hard, even seem­ing­ly impos­si­ble. It also made me into a hard-core, by-the-book mis­sion­ary for the major­i­ty of the rest of my mis­sion.

I had some mea­sur­able suc­cess rel­a­tive to where I was sta­tioned. Some bap­tisms, re-acti­va­tions and a lot of time in lead­er­ship roles. I felt like I was mak­ing a dif­fer­ence and that my sac­ri­fice of home life was being reward­ed for the most part. I nev­er had a moment with­out home/lovesickness.

So, what did I learn from it all? Actu­al­ly, some pret­ty unex­pect­ed things (for me): Con­trary to my belief (I called it “knowl­edge”) that the church I rep­re­sent­ed was the most true reli­gion on earth with a water­tight the­ol­o­gy and an exclu­sive lev­el of access to the “Holy Ghost” (a con­cept shared by most ortho­dox Mor­mons, espe­cial­ly at that time), I found that I was encoun­ter­ing peo­ple of all kinds of reli­gions and back­grounds who obvi­ous­ly felt equal­ly guid­ed to and con­vinced of their own par­tic­u­lar faith, by God.

It began to become clear to me that my reli­gious supe­ri­or­i­ty was unfound­ed, and I had no grounds to claim that my book of scrip­ture or the­o­log­i­cal view­point was some­how more author­i­ta­tive than oth­ers. This wor­ried me a lot in the final stages of my mis­sion and I resolved to look into it deep­er when I even­tu­al­ly got home.

After return­ing on August 3rd 2007, I began thor­ough research into sci­ence and phi­los­o­phy and also revis­it­ed the his­to­ry of Mor­monism. After blood, sweat and tears, I even­tu­al­ly came to accept a far less restric­tive view of real­i­ty based in rationalism/agnosticism.

What has sur­prised me most on the road I have trav­eled since, is that I can feel and expe­ri­ence spir­i­tu­al­i­ty in greater mea­sure out­side the church than even when I was a com­mit­ted mis­sion­ary (a claim that is gen­er­al­ly denied to be pos­si­ble with­in Mor­mon ortho­doxy, and would be deemed a lie or mis­con­cep­tion at the least). I had won­drous expe­ri­ences then and before­hand, faith affirm­ing and vision­ary - and yet these have been tran­scend­ed by my expe­ri­ences since leav­ing Mor­monism, despite the fact that I emphat­i­cal­ly reject the con­cept of a god.

My con­clu­sion, and mes­sage to any read­ing this who might now be con­tem­plat­ing mis­sion­ary ser­vice in the LDS church: You may dis­cov­er the world isn’t as black and white as you pos­si­bly have under­stood from lis­ten­ing to and study­ing the words of church lead­er­ship up to this point. You could dis­cov­er some rather unex­pect­ed things on your jour­ney.

There is much to be enjoyed and appre­ci­at­ed dur­ing the, let’s face it, rather unique expe­ri­ence of an LDS mis­sion, but don’t think for a moment that it’s part of a for­mu­la with a set out­come. If you go, make sure you real­ly study before­hand. Those you talk to will have Google at their fin­ger­tips so be ful­ly aware of the facts of church his­to­ry, have a good under­stand­ing of sci­ence and get to know a bit about oth­er faiths and cul­tures before­hand. I had done a lot of this before my mis­sion but was still tak­en aback when real­i­ty pre­sent­ed itself.

If you think you have a true mes­sage to share that will bring joy to people’s lives, by all means go! But do it with open eyes and be street savvy. Check your facts and you’ll avoid com­ing across as igno­rant or naïve. Don’t sup­pose your mes­sage gives you supe­ri­or­i­ty over peo­ple that you inter­act with.

Above all, despite what­ev­er the mis­sion num­ber ori­ent­ed goals are, don’t let the pur­suit of sta­tis­tics rob you and those around you of the oppor­tu­ni­ty to give no-strings-attached char­i­ta­ble ser­vice. The biggest regret of my mis­sion is that I was blind­ed to real char­i­ty by a rig­or­ous pro­gram of tar­gets and goals, and always had the truth-push­ing agen­da in the back of my mind dur­ing any per­son­al encounter that I had.

Here’s to anoth­er decade of (per­son­al) dis­cov­ery.

If we have the truth, it can­not be harmed by inves­ti­ga­tion.” – J. Reuben Clark (Apos­tle)

Whoso­ev­er shall com­pel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” — Matt 5:41

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