To those who love an “early returned missionary”

I’ve spent the last 78 days redefining “full-time mission” and “returned missionary,” building up the courage to decide to not go back out, and learning to be happy about being home, and it has been the weirdest, most humbling journey. I think every returned missionary goes through some sort of grieving period after they come home. We miss the people, the food (maybe), the work, and the Spirit we felt constantly. Randomly we’ll drive past Walmart and feel out of place, because that’s something we didn’t see in our missions. Or we’ll say words with weird accents and realize that our weird accents that were normal in the field are actually weird. But it’s a little different when you come home unexpectedly. I hate putting myself into the category of “early returned missionary,” because I think that God doesn’t see me any differently than a normal returned missionary. But there are a few differences down here on Earth that have made my first 78 days home different than the standard readjustment period, and I feel like we—as members of the church—need to learn how to support and treat an “early returned missionary.” I know that I’m no expert and have literally no church calling to back me up, but I’ve lived through this and know what it’s like. It’s hard. It makes you question your testimony. It’s sad. It hurts (literally for some of us who come home for health reasons). It’s confusing. It’s a lot of crap all mixed together. That’s what it’s like, and I feel super protective of others in my situation and just want to help them out. Sooooo I’ve thought of some of the main things “early returned missionaries” struggle with ON TOP OF healing spiritually, physically, and emotionally, and now I’m sharing it with you—their loved ones.

WE ARE RETURNED MISSIONARIES.

Whether we served for two days, twenty-three months, or half a year, we served for that amount of time as FULL-TIME missionaries, and now that we are home, we are RETURNED MISSIONARIES. Alright all you “early returned missionaries,” say it with me, “I AM A RETURNED MISSIONARY.” For me this was something that I struggled with, referring to myself as a returned missionary instead of always adding the caveat that I only served for 9 months. I’ve been lucky to have such great friends and family members who haven’t put me in the “early returned” category and have just treated me like a returned missionary. Here’s my advice to help your loved one feel like they are RETURNED MISSIONARIES:

  1. Don’t dwell on the fact they only served for as long as they did. Don’t bring it up in every conversation you have with them about their mission. They served for the amount of time God needed them to serve, and then He called them home (Doctrine and Covenants 42:5).
  2. Help us to be happy about being home by being happy that we are home! I felt super guilty about being happy in my first few months home (I’ve only been home for a few months. Whoops.). But just like you’re happy that Brother Billy Bob came home after two years, be happy that we are home! And be extra happy that we can receive the help that we need back here at home.
  3. Talk to them about their missions. We love talking about our missions, just as all returned missionaries do. Ask us about the funny stories and the miracles we saw. But don’t be offended if we don’t want to answer. Sometimes we feel like our missions weren’t as good, because we came home early. Give us time to process that we are home and not still in the field.
  4. Thank them for their service. We also need to hear that people are proud of us and recognize that we served our Heavenly Father and the people we were around.
  5. Include them in your “returned missionary” activities. I have a great group of friends who are all returned missionaries, and they constantly are inviting me to hang out with them and share my mission stories. I’ll admit that sometimes I don’t feel “worthy” of hanging out with them or sharing my stories, but it honestly helps me a lot to feel like a real returned missionary. Again, don’t be offended if we turn down the offer: just keep trying. We love you for it.

WE ARE WORTH NO LESS THAN THOSE WHO SERVE FOR 2 YEARS OR 18 MONTHS.

Today I stumbled across this post from a girl who was worried about dating a guy who served for six months and then came home for “personal reasons,” and as I read what she wrote my blood boiled, my heart broke, and my inner-Hulk started coming out. “THAT BOY IS A RETURNED MISSIONARY,” I wanted to yell through my poor phone screen, but I didn’t, because that would be rude. I just hate thinking that people think we are any less worthy of love, blessings, or happiness, because we didn’t return home on the date printed on our missionary plaques or ministerial certificates signed by the Prophet. That is the biggest lie that Satan will tell “early” returned missionaries—and their loved ones. FREAKING SATAN. I’ve fallen into this trap so many times lol, and it’s not fun. Here’s how you can help avoid this stupid lie that makes me want to throw very large objects at the rats outside my apartment:

  1. TELL YOUR RETURNED MISSIONARY THAT YOU LOVE THEM. It’s so simple. Just send us a text or even an email saying that you love us and are proud of who we are becoming. Better yet, give us a hug and tell us you love us in person.
  2. Don’t base ANYONE’S worth on the amount of time they served a mission. Look at people for who they are. A person’s worth doesn’t come from their accomplishments. I promise you that God loves all His children, even those who didn’t serve the anticipated 2 years/18 months, and I’m sure He loves those who didn’t serve a mission at all because of health reasons or whatever the reason is. It’s soooooo common for “early returned missionaries” to feel like we will be worse spouses/parents/leaders in the church just because we came home early. There are some of us who come home for personal worthiness issues (they are the bravest souls), and they need to know more than anything that their worth is INFINITE. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the side of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10). There’s no exception there. We are worth more than we know to God, regardless of our mistakes, so PLEASE don’t judge us as we heal emotionally, physically, or spiritually.
  3. Remind us that we are great. Sometimes we just need a nice compliment to help us as we struggle through the life we didn’t think we’d be living.

WE ARE MAKING LIFE DECISIONS THAT CAN FREAK US OUT.

Now that we are unexpectedly home we need to make some decisions that seem REALLY BIG in our eyes, and the biggest decision—which for some of us, has already been made—is whether to go back out on a mission or stay home and move on. This is a very personal decision. It’s solely between us and God, really. Since coming home I have a newfound love and testimony of God’s plan for me. It’s so individual and so perfect for me. And I love how God’s plan for Lisi Hong is different from everyone else’s God-designed plans! I decided that I am going to stay home. I prayed, fasted, and studied it out for loads of time, and I feel confident that this is my next part of the plan. But like I said everyone’s different, so let us be different. Here’s my two-cents when it comes to being supportive but not too controlling in our decision making process:

  1. Realize that we are not the same. Just because John Smith from down the street is headed back out, doesn’t mean we should. What is best for us is not necessarily what someone else is doing. God knows why He needs us to stay or go back out, and honestly we don’t.
  2. Give us time and help us know that there is time. When I came home I felt like I needed to decide like right then whether to stay or to go back, but in reality I’ve got timeeeeeeee. Don’t push us to make any decisions. Let us figure things out when the time is right. Personal revelation can’t be rushed (hahahahaha I’ve learned that the hard way *insert stories about being mad at God for not receiving something RIGHT NOW.*)
  3. Support us in receiving our own revelation. God’s not gonna tell you what is right for me, you feel? We need to receive our own answers. When your loved one does receive an answer, support them in that. Don’t judge them if they decide not to go back out. It’s not a sin to follow the Spirit. If you are struggling with the decisions of your loved ones, I’d invite you to pray about it. Ask God for peace. It will come. I’ll also admit that sometimes we don’t make the best decisions, and we also can be selfish, scared young adults who don’t want to do hard things. That being said, we all have our agency, and maybe someday we’ll figure it all out. (That wasn’t comforting at all. I know. Sorry.) I do know though that God’s got your back, and He’s watching over your loved ones. Don’t be mad or distance yourself from someone if you feel they decided wrong. Even if you think we are being dumb. We probably are dumb, but we need you in our lives.

Coming home early is weird. It’s just a weird circumstance. Like only “early” returned Mormon missionaries feel like crap for seeing their family and friends after being away for long periods of time, and I don’t think God wants us to feel that way when we come home. And maybe you—the concerned loved one—will follow my advice and want to sue me afterwards, because your “early returned missionary” is still sad. BUT BEFORE YOU DO THAT, let me say that coming to terms with being home is hard for us. We deal with a lot of internal stuff that you won’t ever know about. And we’ll push you away and get mad and sit in our rooms for hours and basically turn into potatoes, BUT WE NEED YOU. WE NEED YOUR LOVE. Maybe what I say will help, but maybe not. I just hope you will love us and be here for us, your lovely, returned missionaries.

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12 thoughts on “To those who love an “early returned missionary”

  1. Lisi, Thank you for sharing your experiences about coming home. I have been very touched by what you said. You are an amazing person and I am so proud of you and the wonderful things you have done. I read your letters each week and I know you are dedicated to serving the Lord and His children. You did your best!!!!! I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way you planned. I do not think any less of you because of the circumstances. I love you and appreciate what you did and are still doing. My testimony has been strengthened from hearing yours. As you know, Eric and I serve with the YSA’s in our stake. Would you mind if I forward your letter to the YSA couples in our stake? I won’t if you don’t want me to. You explained this very well and I think it will be helpful for others. Keep moving forward with faith. I know the Lord loves you and will continue to guide you as you seek His help. Love you!!! Valerie Jensen

    Sent from my iPhone

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    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, how proud I am of you. It is clear from your letters home that you were a wonderful missionary who loved the people you served. They were blessed to know you😘
    Wish you could come back to Mt Timp Temple
    Love, Sis Wadley

    Sent from my iPhone

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    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lisi,
    Logan served for 3 days. It broke my heart, all I could think about was what he was missing. I respected his right to chose but at the same time felt he had made the wrong choice and “I” wanted to spare him the regret “I” was sure he would feel.

    Today we toured the new MTC and I listened as Logan and his brothers all shared stories and experiences of being in the MTC. We took a picture in front of the map where we all (including Logan) pointed to where we had served. I have prayed for two years for a confirmation that his decision was right and today I got my answer.

    For whatever reason Logan only needed to be there for 3 days. He was right when he told me he had prayed hard about it and knew he needed to come home. You are so right, that the length doesn’t matter.

    Funny thing, as I am writing this, I was reminded that the moment I knew without a doubt that God lived and loved me was when as a teenager a young man I didn’t know said, “Wherever the Lord sends me and for however long, that’s where I want to go.” Those simple words pierced my heart then and just now reminded me God does know me.

    Thanks Lisi for sharing your journey.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Elisyn, thank you for sharing what you have come to know.
    I served an 18-month mission, but in a weird way. 4 months in Asia, came home & stayed for 5 months, and finished off with a service misison in the temple. Although I worked out a way- with God- to continue, I forget. I forget that I did continue and my mind is still stuck and dwelling on the fact that I left the field after 4 months.
    I’ve been home from the temple for over a year now,- more than 2 from the field- and it hurts, badly. But I have seen the advice you have given taken into action. It works. And not just on me, but on others whom I know of.
    What you wrote was a reminder for me that are people who still care, who look passed the “early”. And it’s comforting. Because they probably never saw it in the first place.
    I am definitely passing this on.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I came across your blog a few months ago after my best friend got called to the Argentina Santa Fe mission. We had lightly been following your journey until one day she called me and said “Hermana Hong” is going home! She’s currently at the Argentina CCM and the week she left was probably the hardest for me, lol. (It’s only been a week)
    Anyway long story short, its incredible how people’s lives can change without really meeting people. The words you wrote about early RM’s are so amazing! I’ve got several friends who served missions and came home sooner than anticipated due to different reasons and they all struggled. The ones who were able to get over it sooner were those who actually got to serve in the area they were called but I think the ones who have a harder time are those who came home after a short time at the MTC. Missionary service is a wonderful thing, no matter how long it was because you were there for as long as you were needed there. I think the best part though is that after you come home, you’re still a missionary because you NEVER stop being a missionary. It’s great!
    Thank you so much for these amazing words 🙂

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  6. Miss Lisi,
    While I am not religious, I have to say that the faith that many people I know have is very beautiful. I think my loved ones who go on missions are so very brave. I love to read the letters, they make even the bad times feel beautiful with the way they are so faithful. I know that I may not understand all that goes with being on a mission and the the religious parts of it. I know that leaving is brave, I know I couldn’t leave my home and my friends and family. But I think that the people who have to stay home are brave because you can see how hard it is. It’s in the hard when the faith is the most incredible. Sticking to what you believe when it’s not easy. The love through the storm. I think returning home early is just as brave. When you love someone you want what’s best, and you don’t have to understand it. My best friend is on a mission and I love it almost as much as I love her. I miss her but I know this is the best even if I’ll never understand. It’s a beautiful thing doing the most you can for people, and I think even more so when your time budget is less. I wrote her a letter before she left that, while I never converted and I doubt I ever will, she saved me. Not my life but another part of me. In an odd way her faith helped shape her and the person who helped me through the hardest parts I couldn’t alone. I don’t think she ever realized she did it but she did, and now she knows. I’ve told her in many emails to save someone. It seems like an odd thing to say, but someone needs this to get through the hard parts coming, they need a missionary and faith like I needed her and her faith before she was a missionary. She saves me still. Even the people who don’t convert are saved a little. It doesn’t take much light to make the dark less terrifying and you and your faith is the light for many. I’m sure that while you may not know it, you are probably saving someone too by coming home early, and that one day you’ll know. Maybe that will help the sting. I know it may not mean much that I think you’re wonderful, and I hope that you find your Shanae that you you saved when you need it most. Keep being brave and strong Miss Lisi. You’ll find the reason you had to come home. I loved your post and that girl is a turkey who doesn’t deserve him.

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