Life as a Mormon (Excerpts of ExMormon bulletin board)
Missionary experience in Europe. (see the bottom of this page for additional Mormon Missionary experiences)
I have been following this group for some time; I stumbled upon the exmormon.org site when there were only 20 or so stories. In that time I have noticed that many of you served missions in European countries. As a former member of the illustrious Germany Hamburg Mission, your stories of depressing European missionary service have piqued my curiosity. I am beginning to believe that European missionary service predisposes one to later apostasy. My own family provides a clear-cut example this speculation. I served in Germany while my brother served in Mexico. I am a complete non-believing apostate, while my brother in a dyed in the wool TBM. Additionally, my brother has had several "spiritual" experiences cementing his belief in the church. I wonder why our post-mission experiences have been so divergent. I suspect that the different flavor of our missionary experiences has played a key role:
1. Skepticism: Germans are very skeptical. In fact if Germany does have a national religion, it is Skepticism, with a capital "S." Mexicans on the other hand appear to be more credulous than their European counterparts. Perhaps we were unknowingly conditioned by those we purported to serve; I becoming more and more skeptical, my brother becoming more and more credulous.
2. The Misery Factor: By in large, I was treated as a deluded dolt. I was daily held up to daily verbal (and nonverbal) attacks. My intelligence was constantly being challenged. The questions never seemed sincere: Do you *really* believe that? What, you mean you *really* follow that religious precept? My brother's experience was entirely different. While his mission wasn't a paradise either, at least he wasn't ridiculed with the same level of intensity. I wonder if this led to inner resentment of Mormonism on my part?
3. The Maid Factor: (Tongue firmly in cheek) My brother had a maid clean his clothes, cook his meals and do his shopping for him, leaving his P-day to be enjoyed. I, on the other hand, considered myself lucky to have had one or two hours to sleep on P-day after doing all of our weekly chores.
4. The Cash Factor: My brother lived like a king, eating out as often as he liked, always having loose cash to spread about. I was lucky to pay my rent.
The list could go on and on. My own mission was a "mixed-bag" . . . there were times of mirth and laughter. Just imagine spending two years talking with the only Germans crazy enough to talk to *us*, and you'll get a feel for how entertaining it could be. That aspect aside, my days were spent in the tireless pursuit of numbers. In retrospect, I wasn't really trying to "bring people to the truth" so much as I was engaged in the task of assembling the requisite "checkmarks" needed to submit a decent weekly report. I was terrified that I wouldn't have enough discussions taught, or hours knocking on doors, etc. I wonder why I didn't just submit bogus reports like many other missionaries did . . . I guess that I was afraid the LORD would punish me for padding HIS numbers.
Anyway, I wanted to post this idea and see if others might support this thought. I'm sure that there are those who served in Mexico who will tell me how horrible and depressing it really was . . . Well, please do, it will help me feel better about the two lousy years I spent hassling Germans with religious propaganda.
I'm active in the church, but I can attribute my "questioning" and sometimes critical attitude to experiences as a missionary in Germany.
At the time, an issue for me was dealing with the "Drawing on the Powers of Heaven" and "Every Missionary Can Baptize" books. Shortly after I got my call, I received a letter from the mission president in which he instructed me to read "Drawing on the Powers of Heaven" prior to entering the mission field. An instruction which I obediently followed.
Later, at the MTC, I believed all of the stuff we were taught about converting huge numbers of Germans if only we had the faith.
Of course, when I actually got out in the field, the reality was much less optimistic. During my entire mission, I only baptized one person and she had already been taught most of the discussions by the previous elders before I got there.
I remember thinking that I must be unworthy because of my lack of "success." What made it more difficult was regularly hearing "success" stories from friends who went to South America or the States. At the time I figured that they were just worthier than I, or had some sort of knack which I hadn't yet figured out.
A friend of mine who went to the Paris, France mission at the same time I was in Germany, later told me that the book "Drawing on the Powers of Heaven" was widely despised by the missionaries in his mission.
I remember reading about the author (Grant Von Harrison) and how he had gone to Mexico on his mission. That discovery opened a whole new way of thinking for me. All of his "counsel" would work marvelously in places where people were receptive, but don't torture the European missions with it.
The "charmed" Mormon life (mission to high-baptizing area, almost immediate marriage after mission, and then quick succession of children, big bucks corporate career, dream home, etc.) can keep a person from questioning things too much.
Those whose lives don't follow that pattern too closely for reasons beyond their control are perhaps more likely to question some of the tenets of their faith.
I have been in the process of exiting the church for the past 2 years (wife, kids & extended family still TBMs) and I firmly believe my mission the Germany was the beginning of my exodus.
I served my mission in Germany from 78-80 and I never baptized anyone, with the exception of a couple of americans serving in the army (they didn't really count, they were bascially fellowshipped into the church by ward members.)
My mission was characterized by very hard work. Our mission prostelytizing goals included 30-40 hours of tracting per week along with 10-20 hours of teaching goals (we counted ourselved lucky to get in the door to teach).
One impression from my mission has grown stronger and stronger each day, the fact that I decided I couldn't look people in the eye and tell them that my church, my belief system was right and their church, beliefs, and faith were wrong.
I probably drove a number of my companions crazy with my instance on following every mission rule exactly and being completely truthful in statistics and mission reports. By the end of my mission, I was basically burned out, churning out meaningless reports, full of numbers. I remember sitting in my apartment each week on Sunday, staring at the form that had to filled out and mail to the mission office, trying to think of some positive, faith promoting story I could write about. It seemed to get harder with each passing week. By the end, I didn't really care. It felt like I was running a marathon and I just wanted to finish and get home; back to "normal" life.
: :. He [Mission President] raved about how wonderful the sisters were SOLELY to make the elders feel like crap "the sisters, who don't even have the PRIESTHOOD can do it, why can't you elders?????"
: That would really piss me off doing all the work and then not being able to baptize because you don't have a penis. (Obviously I have some real problems about being a female (ex)mo. I've wondered how many female missionaries felt bitter about this. If I can't be the main god, I ain't playing!!! LOL
Had a Zone Leader when I first got to my mission. My comp and I had a convert who was getting baptized. We were standing in the chapel near the font the day before when we were planning the service and I was concerned that the water was going to be cold (I was concerned for our investigator, NOT for the pompous-ass elder who was going to baptize him.) The elder promptly turned to me and said, "What do you care if the water's cold Sister _____? It's not like you're ever going to get down in the font and baptize anyone..." Well, to say the least, that comment ROYALLY pissed me off. I hardly ever spoke to this Elder again, despite the fact that he became the AP and tried his hardest to kiss my ass the rest of the mission....I never gave the asshole the satisfaction....I have plenty of stories like this...but this one sticks in my mind the most. I guess I was in the WRONG church to be an independant, strong-minded woman....huh?
: Finland in 1975 had the unique distinction of being the lowest baptizing mission in Europe. There were 40 convert baptisms for the whole country in that year. I wished I had many fond memories of mission. The days just blurred together with endless tracting in apartment buildings and slammed doors. We thought it a treat if someone actually let us in a door. It was rare.
: I memorized all the discussions and never used them all. I dropped out of graduate school in engineering to go on a mission. What a waste of time. I took my already low self esteem and pounded it into the ground in Finland because I was not successful in getting converts. I lived the letter of the law as we were directed and even pushed it harder. The guilt we, or least myself, felt from lack of success was overpowering. I believe many of my post mission decisions were based on my low self-esteem. I did not feel worthy. I did not convert thousands like "Alma". I did not have one. The faith promoting stories to pass down to others did not happen to me.
I served in the France Bordeaux mission and I must say that I share very similar sentiments to yours, Eric. We tracted A LOT and we did street contacting, when I could get the nerve up to bother people in the street. We were constantly counseled to "open your mouth." And were ridden with guilt when we didn't do it on the bus, or riding along on our bikes, etc. The ultimate downer, however was when we had GA's come to our mission like Elder Asay and Elder Choules. Both these men toured our mission and then promptly lectured us into the ground for being unfaithful and not working hard enough. I remember Choules' comments as if it were yesterday, "France isn't any harder country than anywhere else. You can have the same success as those in S. America if you are faithful and work hard enough." I was near the end of my mission, so you can imagine my reaction to this load of bullcrap. My best memories of my mission were when we tried to do humanitarian things to help out the people in the country. Granted, we did these mostly to draw attention to ourselves and, hopefully, attract questions about the gospel. But whatever the motive, for those few measely hours a month that we were allowed to do non-proselyting work, I felt really good, like I was actually helping. That got cut out quickly, however. The new mission president came in with the formation of a new mission (I started out in the France Paris mission but was later reassigned to Bordeaux when the new mission was formed). The new mission president was young and cocky and on his way to make it to G.A.-dom (THAT was incredibly obvious). He was also an insensitive boor who cared not a fig for his missionaries except for the numbers that they could get him.--Oh he also did get some personal things out of the missionaries. One elder, and extremely good piano player, was transferred to Bordeaux and kept there practically the whole time so that he could give free piano lessons the the prez's four kids.--things like that.
My mission definitely set my feet on the road of apostasy, though it was a long trip before I actually made it out the church doors. There were agonizing years of low self-esteem, tons of self-doubt, feelings of personal unworthiness, etc. on the way out. It is a miserable and agonizing trip I wish NEVER to take again. Since I've made the decision to "just say no" to church, I have never been happier! Though, when I think back on my mission, and the people we met and even my companions, I have bittersweet memories. The bitter has to do mostly with the mission prez. He's a G.A. now, just like they wanted, and that was another step for me down that road...
I try and concentrate on what that portion of my life did for me. It made me strong. It makes me think "hell, if I can put up with THAT shit, then I can put up with a lot!"
My mom laments that my mission and my many negative experiences with my mission prez. were what drove me out. These weren't the only factors. But they pointed me in the right direction and perhaps speeded up my exit. In that case, thank god for these experiences, for I am happier than I have EVER been in my life!
His name is Neil L. Andersen. He was made a G.A. within 1 year of being released from being mission prez. Now he's in the 1st quorum of the 70 and part of the European area presidency...and if he hasn't changed, then he's a real prick to boot.....>>
Amen, Bren. Our regional rep at the time I served in Toulouse was Elder Hales, who is now an apostle, I believe. Talk about prick... he berated our leaders for their lack of success to the point where they cried. He raved about how wonderful the sisters were SOLELY to make the elders feel like crap "the sisters, who don't even have the PRIESTHOOD can do it, why can't you elders?????" He made all the leaders stand up and report their current success ratio, and if it were not good, he told them abruptly, "If you can't do it, then you can't show others how to do it, and you should STEP DOWN". Someone should have stepped up to that bastard and planted their foot up his arse. I still say he was the meanest man I've ever met. At the end of my mission, he was replace by Elder Paramour. I've often wondered what happened to him, because he was the kindest soul and really treated us with respect, and acted like he KNEW we were trying, and he KNEW what we needed was encouragement, not a kick in the pants.
Your notion of European mission service being a catalyst to inactivity and apostasy is an interesting one, and I'd be curious to see the stats on this, were someone to do a thorough study. Like many of you, I don't think there's much doubt that my mission experience in Germany played a major role in my leaving the church.
First, I absolutely hated missionary work. I especially hated pestering perfectly happy people and trying to convince them that they weren't happy and could only experience true happiness if they accepted LDS teachings. Contrary to many of you, I did not struggle to be a perfect missionary. In fact, I had a reputation in the mission as one of the "crooked" missionaries. Basically this meant that I often disobeyed mission rules and made absolutely no attempt to suck up to the mission president, whom I despised, or to his assistants.
Two experiences left particularly bad tastes in my mouth and contributed to my future disillusionment with the church. The first was a visit by Rex Pinegar to my mission. His message to us was pretty much what one of you described hearing from another GA (Asay?). We were told that if we would just be more faithful and work harder, we would bring multitudes of Germans into the church. It was one of the most pompous, ridiculous talks I've ever heard. In fact, that isn't strong enough. Considering the fact that his talk was delivered to young men and women who for the most part had worked themselves to the bone in service to the church, I'd have to say that Pinegar's address was pure evil. Just more of the "motivation by guilt" tactics that prevailed in my mission. I was sickened and enraged by the whole thing. And I couldn't help but notice that even some of the real mission straight-arrows were looking at each other with a "this-guy-must-be-nuts" expression on their faces.
The second experience was a visit by the mission president to my area. Before he left he mentioned to us that the church was really pushing missionary service and, as a result, he'd been told that he could request several additional missionaries for our mission. He told us, however, that he wasn't going to do that because we were currently the 5th-highest European mission in baptisms per companion pair (only because of the American military converts) and he didn't want to mess that up! I was shocked. Here's a man who proclaims to believe that the LDS church is the only avenue to salvation and presumably more missionaries would mean more converts, yet he's more concerned about statistics than he is about souls.
Despite all of this, I was still a believer when I returned home. It took several more years and many more experiences to completely drive me from the church.
Drawing on the Powers of Heaven... what nightmares that brings back to mind. On my mission, we were told (ie, ordered, commanded, what have you) to buy the book and read it thoroughly. The leaders acted like THIS was the answer to all our problems. Needless to say, I used the book to beat myself up even more than I already was for my lack of success (I baptized two, one had been taught by the elders but since there were sisters in the area, they had to "give" her to us, which they did AFTER they'd already taught her... I tried to teach her one lesson and she told me she wasn't interested in all that LOL I think she fell away as soon as the elders were transferred... the other one was a legit convert, but, fortunately for her, she also fell away within months - yet, when I bemoaned my lack of success on my exit interview, the prez told me I was one of the MORE successful missionaries in our mission, and told me the story of one sister widely known for her devotion and 90 hour weeks, she didn't baptize one soul). The recurrent theme of my entire mission, underscored at ridiculous and simplistic length by Harrison, was that it was OUR fault we didn't have success, that if we had enough FAITH or OBEDIENCE (depending on the current theme) we'd baptize by the buttloads. This is the same type of quid pro quo thinking that makes members miserable their entire lives if those lives don't follow the golden "plan" (oh, if only I had more faith, my marriage wouldn't suck, my child wouldn't have problems, whatever, baby). What a mind-f**k I treated myself to grace a Grant Von Harrison (I always said if I met him I'd punch him in the nose).