Possible Causal Factor in Apostasy: European Missionary Service?

Posted by Scott Sanders on May 16, 1998 at 17:19:40:

I have been following this group for some time; I stumbled upon Eric's Web 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.

"Drawing on the Powers of Heaven"

Posted by John on May 17, 1998 at 10:29:49:

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.


Posted by Rob on May 17, 1998 at 01:50:53:

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.