This is a guest post from Ryan who blogs at Rational Faiths.
Lately I’ve been working with others on a new project called Purple Heart RMs. We are a group of members trying to help the Church navigate missionary health issues.
We believe that the way injured, ill, and early returning missionaries are treated is sometimes not in harmony with the Gospel. I was reminded of this recently when I visited my girlfriend’s ward. It turned out to be a homecoming for an Elder.
It was refreshing to hear both the returning missionary and the Young Men’s President, who also spoke, say that missionary work can be very hard. Sometimes we neglect teaching this to the Church’s youth, and it was good to hear it emphasized by these two speakers. Missions can be rewarding and fulfilling but they are also difficult.
Both of these speakers mentioned that they had thoughts of coming home. The Young Men’s President said that he decided he could not give up and wuss out. He used the term “wuss” multiple times. The returning missionary stated that he also considered coming home but didn’t want to let Satan win.
This message is problematic and, frankly, hurtful. While it’s definitely not the first time I have heard this, it was a reminder that I need to speak up against this mischaracterization.
I agree that it can be very brave for a boy or girl to go on a mission to serve and teach for two of years. But I also think it can be a very brave for a boy or a girl to return home early. Of all the early return missionaries that I have talked to I cannot think of a single “wuss.” It takes courage to listen to your body and mind in the face of possible negative judgments.
I think the big recognition here is that we are—all of us—limited.
I am reminded of one of the Church’s most famous missionaries, Alma the Younger, who stated, “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God” (Alma 29:1).
Yet, Alma is not transformed. He is not able to leave the limitations of his mind and body. That’s not the way it works. No one would describe Alma as lacking courage or faith. We are not upset that Alma is not able to transcend his condition.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul described our limitations best when he wrote, “but now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.” (1 Corinthians 12:20-22)
Sometimes people and experiences we mistakenly categorize as weak are not only necessary but also vital.
We read in the Doctrine and Covenants, “The body hath need of every a member, that all may be edified.”
If we are able to bring in a plurality of experiences, talents, and shortcomings we are promised blessings. I really believe this and I hope this project can help do that.
We have gathered several stories from returned missionaries who struggled with illness or injury on their missions. All of their conditions are different. Some struggled with depression, some with back pain, anxiety, broken bones, and other conditions.
Sometimes these issues are mishandled by Mission Companions and even Mission Presidents. Missionaries can be accused of wrongdoing when health issues arise. Integrity can be questioned and good medical treatment is not always forthcoming. Especially in this age of correlation, we could do much better with these issues.
To read these stories and to learn more about this project and how you can help please visit our website —
You can read more by reading our recent article at the Daily Herald —
You can also find us on Facebook for updates and discussion —
Do you have any experiences with missionaries returning home early due to illness or injury? Do you think mental illness is treated the same way as a physical injury? How can we remove stigma from missionaries returning home early due to health issues?