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UVU Study Reports On The Reasons For And Reactions To Early Returned Missionaries

30 October 2013 4 Comments

October 30, 2013

For Immediate Release

University Marketing & Communications: Whitney Wilkinson

A study recently completed by researchers at Utah Valley University has found that 73 percent of men and women who returned home early from their missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints experienced feelings of failure, and the majority came home for medical or mental health reasons.

More in-depth findings of the study will be presented to the public on Nov. 5 at 1 p.m. in the UVU Library auditorium, followed by a Q-and-A session.

“The LDS mission represents an important rite of passage for young Mormons,” said Kris Doty, chair of UVU’s Department of Behavioral Science and leader of the research team, which was made up of UVU students from the behavioral science department. “When missionaries come home early, regardless of the reason, we find that many experience feelings of failure.”

For example, researchers found that most early returning missionaries were well-prepared, willing and worthy to serve, but more than half of the 348 individuals who were surveyed reported that they received poor or indifferent receptions from members of their home congregations.

“They were typical of any missionary heading into the Missionary Training Center,” Doty said,” but something happened that caused their service to be derailed, and upon returning home they encountered people who didn’t know how to react to them sensitively.”

The idea for the project stemmed from a conversation Doty had with a student regarding his experience returning home early from his mission.

“He had come home early, and I had loved ones that had as well,” she said. “We wondered if their common experiences were shared by other early returning missionaries, so we decided to study the issue.”

As part of the process, student researchers shared their results with the research section of the LDS Church.

“I can tell you that this study is some of the best engaged learning I have ever seen,” Doty said. “Our students were working with five professional statisticians — getting advice, clarifying things, interacting. They had a chance to see how what they’ve been learning translates into the real world.”

Senior Thomas Ash, a member of the research team said of his work with the study, “Working with everyone was such a wonderful and enlightening experience. We all hope our study will be viewed by others with sincere understanding and love.”

In addition to the presentation at UVU, Doty will spend the next few months writing up the study’s findings and submitting the information to journals. Many community members and local professionals have already expressed interest in the study — several community therapists and LDS congregations have asked for more information.

“This is a prevalent concern in our communities,” Doty said. “People just don’t know what to say or do because it’s out of the social norm. We want to start a meaningful dialogue to help others understand the effect this has on these kids, so we can change the reactions from awkward to accepting.”


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  • Russell Gardner said:

    I totally agree. My son was sent home from his mission 2 years ago with mental problems. He has not been the same. He feels like a failure. Before his mission he was a straight A 4.0 student with scholarships to USU and was interested in pre med. Now he is a a college drop out and not sure what he is going to do. He says he is failure and that he is stupid and can’t learn. I wanted to go back out but was told by our stake president after 6 to 8 months that is was not an option.
    This has been one of the hardest things I have ever gone through. I am a return missionary and know the struggles of being a missionary. But for my son it is like his life has been placed on hold and that he has not directions and means at which to get it back on track. Last years I spent about $6000 on counseling and meds to try and help him over come his sense of worthlessness.
    I have no idea of where to go from here? any suggestions

  • Margaret Ludlow said:

    I want to thank you for doing this research. In my experience with having my son return early from his mission I wish that he could have been included in your research so he could have felt some sense of purpose and not felt so alone in his extreme feelings of failure. If there is any way that we can help with your research please email me. We have learned so much and would love to help with the healing process of others just starting on the rough path we have been on.

  • Holly said:

    I’m so grateful this issue is being researched and addressed. I wish I could attend the event. I hope the findings will be published and distributed widely. I hope that this research will help open up a wider discussion and will motivate the Church to make better strides to help these kids be successful. There needs to be much greater awareness among the Church membership at large that Early Release missions happen, and that they happen A LOT. It is not something abnormal, and there is not something “dysfunctional” about a missionary that could not stay the entire time. With the increase in sheer missionary numbers, combined with a much younger age, the increase of ERMs is inevitable. These youth should never feel like “failures” because they did not serve the full time. They should be celebrated and thanked for being willing to serve, and for every day of service they DID give. Most if not all of them have sacrificed and suffered more than any full-time missionary ever will. They need our love, understanding and acceptance so they can begin to feel love, understanding and acceptance for themselves. They need to return to a nurturing Church environment so they can have hope, find healing, and retain their testimonies. Too often they are abandoned in their greatest hour of need. This is shameful. Things must change!

  • Jason Barfuss said:

    Russell, I just came by your comment and it hit me hard. I recently returned home early from my mission to Washington D.C. and it has easily been the hardest thing I have ever been through in my life. Coming home made me doubt myself, my testimony, my family, etc. One of the biggest things for me after I came home was looking for others that had come home early and gone on to live successful lives. I was able to look and see that some people I knew who had come home early were going on to graduate from college, get married, and have wonderful, successful lives. Just recently I have put together a website trying to share these very stories, it can be found at http://www.missionarieshomeearly.com/.

    Other websites you might have your son look at are:

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