In the prison where I worked, the men who were about to be released developed a high level of anxiety just before they went back into the community. Some of their concerns included “Where am I going to live?” “What kind of job can I get?” “What will people think of me?” “How will my friends feel?” “What will it be like to be back with my family?”
My co-worker/therapist taught them the 20-20-60 rule. I’m not sure his numbers were ever statistically verified, but it illustrated the point. He told them that 20% of the people will love and accept you no matter what. They love you for who you are and who you can become. 20% of the people will hate you simply because you have been in prison. They don’t even know you. They don’t know the work you have done in therapy while in prison. They don’t know what you have learned and how you have changed. The other 60% are so busy with their lives and their jobs and their families that they don’t even notice. My co-worker concluded by saying “Appreciate the first 20%, ignore the other 80%, and go live a good life.”
How is this similar to when a missionary returns home early for whatever reason? The ones I have talked with wonder what people will think, how will their friends feel, what will it be like to go back to school or to get a job, what will their family think, what will the members of their ward think?
Before a missionary comes home early, there have been a lot of people involved who love and care for him/her and want the best possible outcome. These include their mission president and his wife, their stake president, their parents, medical advisors, mental health advisors, area presidency, and the missionary department. They all want what is best for the missionary. Most of all, they want him/her to feel the love of our Savior.
In 2020, when many missions were cut short due to Covid, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave an interview (Church News, 15 APR 2020) where he said, “ “Many of our missionaries have prepared themselves from childhood to serve a mission. They decided of their own free will, they wanted to go. And then they accepted the call from the Prophet of God to serve as a disciple of Jesus Christ, as a representative of the Savior, wherever the Lord would assign them for however long.”
“There have been other times in history when missionaries have had unexpected releases — due to health concerns, accidents, war or other circumstances,” Elder Uchtdorf added. “The key points are the decision to go and the decision to accept.”
“Everything that happens after that is often influenced by circumstances not within the decision of the missionary,” he added. “You prepared, you accepted the call and you gave your best. That is what counts. That is what makes all the difference. That is what makes a missionary.”
“The Lord, he promised, accepts the sacrifices and service of every missionary who served with all their heart, might and strength even if they had to be released earlier than anticipated … Be the best missionary you can be now and make the best out of the time in front of you,” he said. “And remember, you will be a missionary for the rest of your life.”
May the Lord bless us to be in the first 20% when these missionaries (and these men) return and let them feel of our love and of the Savior’s love as we welcome them home.