My son called me from Hawaii on Monday. That might not seem like a big deal, but because he is a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was not expecting to hear from him until Mother’s Day. That is, until last week’s (earth-shaking) announcement.
Ammon is not my first missionary. In fact, he’s our eighth. We had gotten pretty comfortable with twice-yearly calls and weekly (or almost weekly) emails. It wasn’t ideal from a mom’s perspective, but we all adapted.
Now, the pressure was just removed to “say everything on our list” on those twice-yearly phone calls. We can stay connected through calls, texts and/or video chats much more often than that. I think that’s a good thing.
My son doesn’t think he will call every week. That’s OK. I want him to send pictures anyway because, Hello, Hawaii! Some missionaries won’t have access to video chatting. Their flip phones don’t support it and Internet cafes in developing countries leave a lot to be desired. Some missionaries might be more comfortable not calling. Sadly, some families might not want to be called (hopefully that’s a very rare exception). But overall, this change in LDS Church policy is a good one, and one more step that shows that the institution really does want to move to a family-centered church.
It has been disheartening to me to see the backlash from some other church members. They “suffered through” their 18-month or two-year mission and “kids these days” should do the same by golly! “It makes you tough,” they say. They miss the point of a religious mission, I say.
Besides sounding like their grandparents, who walked five miles to school, in the snow, uphill both ways, some keyboard warriors complain that millennials are being coddled and the church has caved to whiny kids and their parents.
First of all, millennials are not typically going on church missions right now. In fact, many are married, have kids and have been employed for years. That generation was born between 1981 (38 years ago) and 1996.
Second, this generation of kids is living through far more than we were ever asked to. Constant bombardment with social media messages that they aren’t thin enough, athletic enough, in with the right crowd enough. Mental health struggles, including depression and suicide deaths, are high. In fact, teen suicide rates in Utah are the fifth highest in the nation.
We also know that some missionaries were coming home with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and too often, the messaging was “just tough it out,” whether a missionary was experiencing health issues, homesickness, or trauma from being mugged, assaulted or threatened. It is misplaced “pride” to tell kids to “tough it out” through one of the most formative periods of their life.
One of the most ironic things about these comments from former missionaries is that they are complaining that the LDS Church is making changes. We believe in a revelatory church, do we not? Change is good, I hear people say, just not that change, right?
I am glad for the changes, even if we are almost to the end of our missionary-age children. I am glad for the families that will find it easier to stay connected through phone and video. I am glad for the older teens and young adults who may now consider going on a mission, knowing they aren’t going off to be on some quasi-survivalist adventure with no contact with the outside world. I am glad for investigators who get to see and hear about missionaries’ families in real time.
As I was finishing this article, I saw a news alert that an LDS missionary died in the Dominican Republic today. I really, really, really hope he got to call his mom on Monday.
Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, knows change is hard but it can be really good, too.