Purple Heart RMs

by: Guest Author

October 23, 2013

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.

missionary injured in train accident in Spain 2013

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?

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10 Responses to Purple Heart RMs

  1. Howard on October 23, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    Humm, is this missionary awareness possibly leading to missionary rights? I hadn’t considered physical illness and trauma but during a mission and reentry to the world seems like an ideal time for psychotherapy for many.

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  2. Jack Hughes on October 23, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    These sorts of problems are only going to increase with the missionary surge. And with the lowered minimum ages, the average maturity level of the missionary force is decreasing; thus, more missionaries are likely to be sent home early from injuries incurred by taking foolish safety risks (I was 18 once, too) or due to emotional issues from being young and unprepared, shoved out the door and into the field by well-meaning parents and leaders before they are ready.

    Mormon culture attaches a lot of importance to the full-time mission experience, so it is natural that there is a stigma against those who return earlier than scheduled (or those who don’t go at all), regardless of the reason. It’s quite sad. Especially when some ignorant mission president or bishop convinces the missionary that the situation is his/her own fault for “lacking faith” or not being “righteous enough”.

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  3. jcc on October 23, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    Increasing number of mission presidents increases the odds some that some who shouldn’t be serving will be. All sizes, shapes, personalities. My sone have met my mission president and sincerely commented that they wish they has serves under a man like that. When I was that age and serving i would have not had the courage to speak up. With the hindsight of 56 years and having served as bishop and in a stake presidency, I would never have tolerated some of the missionary’s situations mentioned in the website. The church could have been sued and perhaps should have been.

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  4. Mormon Heretic on October 23, 2013 at 8:40 PM

    JCC, first impressions aren’t always reliable. I met my mission president in the MTC, and he was the kindest, mellowest guy you could imagine. A few months later, he was swearing in Zone Conference (he was a military guy.) Wow, that was a big surprise. He was much more J. Golden Kimball than I ever imagined when I met him in the MTC.

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  5. Martin on October 23, 2013 at 11:51 PM

    I know from firsthand experience with an outgoing missionary that the church is becoming much more rigorous in screening potential missionaries for physical and mental illness. The missionary I’m referring to was forced to wait six months to verify that there was no re-occurrence of an issue that was described in the missionary’s past history, and when the six months were up, the missionary committee informed the missionary (through the stake pres) that the policy had changed, and the missionary would have to wait another six months. I have no idea if things are changing in the field.

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  6. brjones on October 24, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    I don’t believe this position is in harmony with the gospel as laid out by the modern church. The church has operated the missionary program with absolutism for decades. The church has never said “every young man who is worthy, as well as physically and mentally fit,” the church has proudly proclaimed that “every worthy man should serve.” I don’t see where exceptions for physical or mental issues fit in to this construct. Additionally, if one believes that “whom the lord calls he qualifies,” then one must believe that the lord will prepare a way for them to accomplish the thing which he has commanded them. If someone is unable or unwilling to serve for any reason then we must assume that either a) that young man is not, in fact, worthy; b) the scriptures about the lord qualifying and preparing a way his servants are inaccurate; or c) the church has made a mistake in its broad call for all worthy young men to serve. If the church is correct in calling all worthy young men to serve, and the lord will indeed qualify and prepare a way for those who are called, then avoiding a mission or voluntarily bowing out early can only reflect on the individual.

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  7. Jack Hughes on October 24, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    Also, with the renewed interest in missionary service, the peer pressure/conformity/groupthink component is pushing many young people to serve who otherwise wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) consider it. There is nothing wrong with serving a mission, but the model is not very adaptable for individuals. The traditional 2-year mission is not right for everyone, but prevailing Church culture is telling them otherwise.

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  8. whizzbang on October 24, 2013 at 8:47 PM

    In this Canadian mission they send home missionaries on a constant basis, it’s an epidemic I think. I know one stake in Alberta had a special meeting with future missionaries’ parents to tell them about the rigors of missionary work, because that stake had sent home 5 missionaries early. it happens everywhere. People tell me it’s porportional but that isn’t a cause of them coming home. I am the ward mission leader here and something I wish the missionaries would talk t me about is teh struggles they are having, because as every RM knows it’s difficult to be a missionary and to make it through is not easy. I would like more than anything to have each missionary know that whatever they bring to the table it’s valued and needed and they don’t have to be like other missionaries or other people to be successful, they need to be the best them.

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  9. mrd on October 25, 2013 at 10:34 AM


    The Church has said on numerous occasions that only those who are emotionally, mentally, and physically capable should serve missions. Here is just one example from L. Tom Perry’s landmark talk on raising the bar, with the key point highlighted:

    “Soon afterward, in a letter dated December 11, 2002, the First Presidency instructed Church leaders about the principles of eligibility for full-time missionary service. The instructions stated: ‘Full-time missionary service is a privilege for those who are called through inspiration by the President of the Church. Bishops and stake presidents have the serious responsibility to identify worthy, qualified members who are spiritually, physically, and emotionally prepared for this sacred service and who can be recommended without reservation. ****Those individuals not able to meet the physical, mental, and emotional demands of full-time missionary work are honorably excused and should not be recommended.*** They may be called to serve in other rewarding capacities.'”

    There is no dishonor is not serving a full-time mission because of physical, mental, or emotional challenges. You can find the full talk here: http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2007/10/raising-the-bar?lang=eng

    This blog post is fully in line with the gospel. I taught at the MTC for nearly two years and saw many missionaries come through who were faithful and worthy but who were honestly not healthy enough to be serving, several of whom had to eventually leave their missionary service early. These good young people should not be made to feel less than because of health challenges.

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  10. New Iconoclast on November 25, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    My son came home recently, four months early, due to incapacitating anxiety issues experienced on his mission in Massachusetts. His mission president worked with him and his desire to stay out, and eventually counseled him, and us, in concert with the Church Missionary Department, to come home. He blessed him and told him that he had simply completed a 24-month mission in 20 months. He told us that he had no more obedient, hard-working, and Spirit-filled elder in the mission than our boy (and that would be perfectly in keeping with the young man we knew). He has remained active in mission work since returning, helping the missionaries in our ward, as well as the online mission program in his former mission. He’s just passed the date on which he would have returned under ordinary circumstances.

    We believe that one reason he was called Stateside is so that we could continue to provide him with the medications and assistance he would need; it turned out not to be enough. Since his return, we’ve received numerous calls at home from the Missionary Department to make sure that he’s adjusting well and without guilt, and that he’s getting the assistance he needs. (He is.) He’ll be leaving MN for BYU-Idaho in January, and although that concerns me a little, I think he’ll be just fine out there.

    I am very happy that the Church has done more in recent years to recognize the issues that some missionaries have, which go beyond the normal things a young person feels at being away from home for the first time. That change in official attitude allowed my son to complete his mission and return with honor, even though he didn’t serve for 24 months. He has nothing to feel guilty about; he has done everything the Lord asked of him, and I’m as proud of him as a father can be.

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