The question is coming.
I don’t know exactly when. I just know eventually I’ll have to answer it, and that’s the problem. I don’t know how to answer questions about the two years I served as a missionary in Germany.
When people ask me about my mission they expect a cliché for an answer – “it was the best two years of my life”, “my mission president became like a father to me”, or “it made me who I am today”. Take your pick. Any rehearsed answer will do because that’s how most former missionaries will respond.
And I don’t blame them. It’s the quickest way to satisfy the question without saying much of anything. Only those young men and women who served under the same president know what happened. It’s been over 20 years since I returned and I’ve only spoken about what I witnessed with a handful of people. It’s futile trying to explain it to most.
Yet I can’t imagine giving my son, who recently turned 8 years old, a non-answer.
Every mission is unique. I have friends who respect their president who typically resides a few hundred missionaries at a time. My brother attributes his initial interest and eventual career in software to the president he served under in Dusseldorf, Germany. I tend to believe his experience was the norm while mine was the exception.
When I listen to my brother describe his president, I wish I could say the same about the man I served under.
My father did not serve a mission, so I didn’t grow up listening to stories of the people he met who helped mold him into the person I admired. Although I left Germany with many of those experiences (from the German friends I made) they had nothing to do with my mission president who was an awful human being. I will not go into details here because his tenure is long over. Unfortunately, he caused a staggering amount of damage to hundreds of young men and women. Some never recovered and left the faith.
That brings me back to how I will answer questions my son asks about my experiences as a missionary.
I don’t know what I will say, but I will not sugar-coat how I felt as a 19-year old young man walking (and biking) the streets of a foreign country. I don’t want to scare him, and I’ll certainly encourage to serve a mission if he choses to do so. My father did not coerce me to serve, and I will follow his example with my children.
Knowing my son he’ll be full of questions. I’ll take peace in knowing I made it through OK. I have no doubt he’ll do the same.