While five BYU-Hawaii students said they returned home early from their LDS missions, they said in time they came to understand they still returned home with honor.
Religion Professor Marcus Martins shared his experience as a former mission president in Brazil. “I honor all those who receive medical releases with the same degree of honor, and perhaps slightly a bit more, than those who went and only had to face a little cold, flu, [etc]. No big deal. Everyone goes through that,” said Martins. However, he said missionaries with medical releases “went to the very edge of their physical possibilities.”
During his experience as mission president in the Brazil Sao Saint Paulo North Mission, Martins said he sent about 25 missionaries home early. He recalled, “It is never pleasant to send missionaries home.” He said it was very difficult at the time, but he felt Heavenly Father directed the decisions. He added, “That missionary who receives a medical release went above and beyond their duty.”
Daniel Starr, a sophomore with an undeclared major from Utah, said he was called to serve in Samoa. “Coming home early was hard because people see you and are wondering why you are suddenly home, along with becoming suspicious with what happened. Even when you tell them it’s anxiety or that you are still worthy, they still don’t know what to say, so it makes it harder.”
He continued, “People don’t understand what it’s like coming home for a mental condition. No matter the reason for coming home early, there is something in that missionary’s life where they are not able to function well enough to be a missionary at that time and are needing to come home.”
Starr feels after 17 months of being home, he is now prepared and ready to return to his mission. He said he hopes to help other missionaries who may be going through the same struggles he has gone through.
“I feel that because of the Atonement, Jesus Christ knows how to help us. He knows exactly who to put in our path and what experiences to help prepare us at this time,” he said. “When coming home early, it is important to have people who are understanding and who are loving towards that missionary.”
He added, “If you feel that your time is done, then I think that is okay. Some people just have shorter missions because all our tests in life are different. Remember your whole life is a mission. [It] may not be full time, but you can continue to be a servant to the Lord.”
Returning home with honor means that you have done what the Lord wants you to do in that place at that time,” said Starr.
Rachel Roundy, a sophomore from Utah majoring in sports science, said she was called to serve as a missionary in Japan. Due to a back injury, she went home after going to the Missionary Training Center. It was later decided that she would be reassigned to serve in California. She said, “I felt prompted to go back out, even though I didn’t feel 100 percent good about my back.”
When it was recommended that Roundy serve stateside, she felt “heartbroken,” but her stake president encouraged her to pray about it. She said when she prayed, she felt at peace with California being where she was needed. Roundy said she knew there was a reason behind the changes, especially when she went through different experiences; one of which was when she taught a Japanese investigator in their native tongue while in California. She knew she was supposed to be serving there at that time, but due to more issues with her back, she felt she needed to go home. She said, “I didn’t get my answer until I gave up my own will, asking the Lord what does he want me to do?”
“I went home and saw so many miracles at home. I can honestly say I saw more miracles at home than I actually did on my mission. God allowed me to finish my mission at home in Utah.”
She added at first she had a difficult time at home, but after a month, she said, “I started seeing miracles. Christ didn’t heal my back physically, but he gave me opportunities to serve people and that healed me in a way and helped me have a positive attitude. The more positive I would think mentally, the less I felt pain.”
Roundy concluded with, “Heavenly Father will take away your anger, your heartbreak.” Raising her voice and looking more intently, she added, “He will take away your sadness if you let him. You have to let him do it for you. You have to be open-minded enough and forgiving enough towards God to let him take that from you, because it is part of his plan, even if you are angry you came home early. It is meant to happen. That’s how it’s supposed to happen.”
Kawika Wise, a junior from Hawaii majoring in Hawaiian studies, said he was called to serve in the Philippines before coming home early.
Wise said, “There were still things at home holding me back. Because of that, I couldn’t give everything to the Lord, or to the Philippines. My mission president and I decided that I would come home for a period of time and work on some things to prepare myself to go back on my mission. “
He said his family’s support and love for him was his driving motivation. He said it was hard at first but knew there was a reason.
Wise said he felt it was a good time to be home and be a missionary for his family in supporting and helping them to overcome trials. With tears in his eyes, he said he was the last person his grandmother saw before she passed away. “I love my grandma,” he said, “being home early from my mission wasn’t so much a struggle, but there was purpose as to why I needed to be there.”
He smiled and continued, “I then knew, ‘Okay, this is what Heavenly Father had planned for me,’ and because of that, I was prepared even more and had learned so much more about myself, about Jesus Christ, the Atonement and how it cannot only bless my life, but other people’s lives. When I went back on my mission, I felt that my testimony was so much stronger and there was so much more I could give to these people. I am very grateful for that experience, despite how hard it was.”
Wise gave this advice to early returned missionaries: “If there is any chance you are to go back out on a mission, don’t give up. Continue to build the church, stay with good friends and family. Don’t listen to any negativity people give you for being home early from your mission.”
Martins said of missionaries who go home early, “Their desire to serve was clear. That desire to sacrifice was clear – a sacrifice the lord was not asking for.”
Aline Weitzel, a junior from New York studying hospitality tourism and management, said she was called to a California Spanish-speaking mission. She was 14 months into the mission before she had to come home for dental reasons. She said, “It’s something you can’t control. At first, I felt I was not worthy enough to go to church, and I didn’t want to talk about it. It took a while for me to respond to friends since I felt ashamed, but then I realized my purpose was only to serve for that amount of time.
“We all have trials in our life and Heavenly Father knows that. He knows that we each do things differently. Heavenly Father understands you inside out. He knows your desire and he knows your heart. Anything you came home early for, that’s the plan.”
Elder Jeffrey Holland, speaking in a video to missionaries who returned home early, said, “I want all of you, anyone out in the audience who would wrestle with this issue, to have that feeling of self-worth and of a successful mission honorably offered to the Lord, regardless of the period of time involved. I encourage that and want you to feel that way forever.”
Weitzel said, “The best thing to do once you return home is to keep that connection with Heavenly Father. The time you are at your lowest point is when you really need guidance from him. A lot of people see it as if when you are at your lowest point, he does not want to talk to you anymore. That’s not true. That is the exact moment that he wants you to talk to him.”
Arilla Utley, a freshman from Oregon majoring in psychology, said she ended her mission in Peru a couple months early to undergo surgery. She had the option to either go back to Peru or serve locally, but after praying, she said she received a confirmation she did not need to return.
Utley said, “Any of the time we devote to the Lord and his work is valued, and it does not matter how much time it is. You’re called to serve an 18-month or two-year mission. Yes, you are expected to serve that time, but especially after this experience, you served the time that the lord needed you to serve. When he says you are done, you are done. That could be a part of your plan. If I didn’t come home early, I would not be here at BYUH.”
She said, “The personal plan the Lord has for you is the most important above anything. The Lord knows who you are. Keep going and remember the Lord loves you. Every little work you did on the mission was fulfilling the calling.”
Utley concluded with, “We can look fondly on our mission, and, with humility, accept the fact that the Lord has other plans.”
Martins said he posted on Facebook a message in respect to his own missionaries who had not been well received in their home wards after returning early.
He wrote, “There is no indignity in the early medical release of a worthy and diligent full-time missionary. In fact, we may say that these missionaries consecrated everything their mortal bodies allowed them to offer the Lord, even though such an offer did not match the size of their desire to serve the Lord.”
He continued in his post, “Because of this, they deserve the same honor granted to those whose (relatively) good health allowed them to serve the regular duration of a mission. I’m sure the Lord will accept their sacrifice just as he promised Oliver Granger [in Doctrine and Covenants 117:13]: ‘... his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord.’”