Missionaries, Take Care of Yourselves

A recent comment that I deleted for its use of profanity (actually turned out to be a cut-and-paste rant from an old posting on an anti-Mormon site) referred to serious health problems suffered on a mission that were ignored by an evil mission president who allegedly became an unnamed General Authority. Though some parts of the comment were questionable, it does raise an important issue: caring for the health of missionaries. Elders and Sisters on missions, remember that you are legally an adult and have a responsibility to take care of yourselves. If you are having health problems, please let your family know. Please get proper medical attention and don’t wear yourselves down. Don’t expect that other missionaries such as zone leaders will provide reasonable guidance relating to your health, and it may even be that your mission president might fail to appreciate the seriousness of a situation. If you can tell something is seriously wrong, like losing a lot of weight or an infection that won’t go away, get help! And please don’t feel like you have to only report positive things in your letters.

If you have a serious problem, let your family know, and do what it takes to get help.

Members, we can all pitch in by looking after our missionaries and making sure that they are eating well, getting adequate rest, and living in safe, clean environments.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

12 thoughts on “Missionaries, Take Care of Yourselves

  1. Even older missionaries need to be reminded to take care of themselves. I am on a senior mission and our mission president recently chastized us for coming back to our duties too soon after (or even during) an illness.
    Just because we are serving the Lord on a mission, sometimes we assume that we won’t have the trials of illness or that we need to push ourselves beyond normal good sense. The Word of Wisdom is not negated by our desire to serve. We also shouldn’t expect that we will have no other trials because we are devoting our lives in this time of service. The Lord promises blessings for service–not a time of no other trials.

  2. When I served in the Canada Montreal Mission in 1986-87, a large percentage of our elders were paying very little attention to how they ate. Many lived on boxed macaroni and cheese (nicknamed “plug” for reasons I need not elaborate on). I suspect similar patterns are to be found in many missions. Fortunately my first companion had a great concern for proper nutrition and had instituted a personal complete ban on “plug.” I did the same and never regretted it.

    I have also observed many missionaries taking a very cavalier attitude toward basic safety. They somehow believe (perhaps because of folkloric stories of someone having a bullet stopped by garments or having large, intimidating angels appear to protect them) that they are somehow impervious to physical harm. How sad, and how tragic are the results, such as the two sisters who were simultaneously killed in an accident shortly before my arrival in the mission. Missionaries: It is true that God sometimes intervenes to protect his servants, even in miraculous ways. But He is unlikely to squander such miracles on saving you from your own arrogance. Your garments are not a bullet-proof vest; they are a reminder of covenants made with God. Those covenants, and not the mere symbols thereof, protect you from evil as you keep them. But they do not make you immortal. Please use some common sense, take proper care of yourselves (within the limits practicable under the conditions of your mission–yes, you do have to sacrifice) and be careful out there!

  3. PS: Please don’t read my last post as a criticism of the sisters who were killed in the car accident. I do not mean to imply in any way that they were acting carelessly. I don’t know how they were acting. But I do know from personal observation that many missionaries do.

  4. For those of us who can’t have the missionaries over for dinner (being a single guy it wouldn’t look right for me to have the sisters over), I suggest buying them groceries. I usually buy a bag or two for each set of missionaries and put them in the kitchen (marked as to which is for who), and let them know to pick up their food before they leave on sunday.

    I try to vary the food among nutritious staples, snacks that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford on their meager stipend, and occasionally some fun or goofy stuff like imported dried Korean seaweed. (a client turned me on to Ito Wakame, and I love it!).

    I generally do not buy them perishables, but canned or dry foods. And stuff that easy to prepare, or even just open-and-eat. So if there’s anything they don’t like, they can pass it on to other missionaries in their district, or let it sit in the apartment for the next set.

    Suggestions: (but not all at once)

    canned fruit.
    canned vegetables.
    canned tuna.
    ranch dip (mixed with tuna makes tuna salad).
    noodles, regular and ramen.
    different pasta.
    Pasta or spaghetti sauce.
    Instant cup of soup.
    Ready to eat canned soup, like Campbell’s or similar style chunky ready-to-eat soups.
    Canned chilli.
    Asian style instant noodles with flavor packets.
    Candy fruit snacks (like roll ups)
    peanut butter.
    Jam or jelly.
    Flour tortillas (PBJ burrito!), as they keep longer than bread.
    Dried fruit or trail mix snacks.
    Granola bars, or energy bars.
    Microwave popcorn.
    Juices and Gatorade in the summer.
    Sunscreen in the summer.
    hand lotion in the winter.

    I do a lot of shopping for them at the Dollar Stores.

  5. Interesting. Unfortunately, the predominant theory out in the mission field seems to be that you can work through just about any medical problems that don’t require surgery.

    I had a couple companions who liked to brag that they had never missed a single day of proselyting due to illness. Because of this peer pressure, I went out several times when I had no business being out of bed. Once, I puked three times during the day before my companion agreed to go home.

    We need to emphasize to the missionaries that the Lord helps them who take care of themselves.

  6. Members (and investigators and friends) who feed missionaries can be very helpful by providing healthy food and by NOT encouraging overeating. On my mission there was a woman legendary for the huge meals she would push on the rather willing missionaries. My companion told me that sometimes after eating lunch there, the Elders would have to go home and nap for a couple hours because they would be so stuffed. We were able to resist her charms and eat sanely, but it doesn’t help when members expect missionaries to gorge themselves.

  7. As a nurse, I was happy to read your post encouraging good health habits on a mission and that the missionaries should not ignore their illnesses as they may be more severe than they think. We have a ward member serving in the Philippines who has had parasites several times, has lost 20 pounds that he could not afford to lose – he was too thin before he left on his mission. He has also been chastised by our bishop for mentioning that he has been ill, which I am sure did not help matters at all. I know that missions are supposed to involve sacrifice, but I do not believe that our loving Heavenly Father wants our missionaries to sacrifice their health needlessly.
    I know that poor physical health can affect spiritual health and missionaries can be more effective in fulfilling their calling if they are healthy in all aspects of life. Once again, thanks for the message.

  8. I’m glad to see that health care professionals are supervising missionaries these days.

    Back in my day (early 80’s) teaching in regards to how to counter the poor living conditions, the bad food, and the bad water in Third World countries came from your trainer and other companions, or was just mentioned in passing by one of your MTC classroom teachers.

    I remember cases where my new companions, or roommates, weren’t trained sufficiently in health matters or the need for cleanliness and they just wouldn’t follow common sense.

    After one elder finished his mission in bad health, his mother wrote a letter to the mission president complaining about how he could let that happen. That elder was one of my roommates (not a companion) so I filled in the president on how he lived.

    Back then, the MTC (and the mission office where I served) did little to prepare or teach missionaries how to cope with the general lack of hygiene in the country where we served. Occasionally, the office sisters would include hints in the sporadic newsletter, but they were ignored by many elders.

    And what little that was passed on was discounted by elders who thought they “could handle it” or just plain disbelieved the need for simple things like washing dishes and keeping the kitchen and bathroom clean. Too many missionaries just plain didn’t know how to clean or disinfect, or didn’t have a concept of germs, bacteria, parasites, fleas, etc, until it was too late.

    There was sometimes a sense of fatalism, in that no matter how careful you were, you were going to get parasites sooner or later, therefore some used that as an excuse to never exercise any care at all.

    I can see how it might be hard to get into the thick skull of some teenager the fact that not all water that comes out of a faucet is safe, not all food you buy is hygienic, and if you allow your third world apartment to get as dirty as your dorm room did back home, you’re going to attract much worse germs and insects than your dorm room did.

  9. I too am glad to see this subject raised. During my mission i experienced some chronic fatigue symptoms. I was sleeping from 10:30pm till 8:30am, sleeping my lunch hour, then needing to come back to the apartment for a further nap by about 5pm, yet it still wasn’t enough for me. The nature of my illness meant that the more i tried to force myself, the worse i got. Any stress made it worse. Unfortunately at the time, i was senior companion and my junior companion often felt i was being lazy and didn’t have much problem vocalising this. Without this additional pressure, and the ability to look after myself better, i’m quite sure i wouldn’t have gotten as bad as i later did.

    To cut a really long story short, i got home from my mission, with no regrets at all. But i have suffered some very bad health with CFS, to the point where i’ve been burned out, pushed myself too hard for too long and spent the majority of the last two years bed bound. Now i know the lord wanted me to do my best, but sometimes, young elders and sisters are not mature enough to know when they need to stop physically. It really is a concern of mine that we better educate our young missionaries (and mature ones) to look after themselves, and that listening to our bodies when things go wrong isn’t an invite to test our faith by pushing ourselves to extremes but to look after ourselves instead…

    I’m a serial, “put everyone before me” person… But from my experiences of being ill, i’m useless to help others unless i’ve first looked after myself. It’s this way spiritually, so why not physically?

  10. Just because we are serving the Lord on a mission, sometimes we assume that we won't have the trials of illness or that we need to push ourselves beyond normal good sense.

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