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A mission, IV. The good

Published: Thursday 15 Jul 2021 | Edited: Saturday 17 Jul 2021

I wasn't trying to paint the picture that a mission was a terrible experience, but someone who read all three previous entries told me something like

Wow, you really went hard on a mission

Maybe I did paint it extra thick, extra bad. Probably I did.

But as it was happening, I enjoyed the experience overall. There was a period at the beginning where I was sort of disassociating a bit from stress and culture shock, but that evened out pretty quick. I liked the minimalist, monkish lifestyle. In terms of my relationship with my parents, it was really good timing for me to take a break from my life with them and to reset and redetermine that relationship when I got back. It was a good opportunity for me to get to know myself, being detached from culture and media.

My guess is that I've leaned toward focusing on the darker aspects from some sense of guilt. Maybe I feel the need to expiate what I did as a missionary, tricking some people into joining the thing that tricked me. Also, I had always had a mission framed to me by my family and community as an unquestionably positive act of selflessness for others — and I probably am reacting against that. Like, I didn't hear any voices saying how morally grey missionary work could get, especially when teaching people who were compromised by trauma, addiction, desperation, or mental deficiency.

But enough of that.

The mission was really good, too. Three major aspects of it come to mind as having been overwhelmingly positive.

1. Adventure

Being a missionary is wild. Early on in the experience, you come to recognize that every day will present at least one bizarre experience, but sometimes several in sequence.

Maybe a Mafioso will invite you into his apartment and ask you for absolution of the murders he's committed; maybe a yoked Albanian tripping on ecstacy will pin you up against a wall and force you to rub his chest while he orgasms; maybe you'll accidentally almost start a cult during a train ride when a conversation with a stranger about energy healing garners the attention of the entire car and people are asking for you to cure all their sick family members; maybe you'll be on a park bench trying to deconvert a Senegalese Muslim from Islam and reconvert him to Christianity and an old perv that hangs out at the fountain everyday will walk up to you and simulate masturbation in your face then attempt a handstand in your lap.

You never know what it'll be, but every day it will be something.

2. Bros

I was socially inept before the mission. I did things with friends occasionally, but parties were intimidating, and meeting new people and making friends was very hard for me. I really dreaded the 24/7 companion system that I knew would be part of the package. To my surprise, that aspect of missionary life ended up being my favorite. I always avoided difficult relationships in my life before, but I discovered that I was quite good at getting along with all kinds of different people once I didn't have the option to isolate myself. With the exception of one dude, I had tons of fun with all my companions. Because I never allowed myself to break the barrier of true vulnerability before, I never realized that I had a gift for getting along with "difficult" people.

Even though missionary work itself could be discouraging and monotonous, the painful parts kinda faded into the background against the constant fun of being with a good friend every day. Like, I had this one companion toward the end of my mission that I really liked. He was a big guy; really tough; had some issues with his dad. We would play this license plate game where we'd say the first thing that came into our head, using the license plate numbers as an acronym. Like we'd see a plate that was

HTWBS

And he'd go

Hairy tits will bounce sideways

And the next plate would be

QFCZR

And I'd go

Queefy flaps can't zip right

And maybe that doesn't sound like the height of entertainment, but it was. Like, we would spend a lot of our day just laughing maniacally.

The fact that I spent a good chunk of my time in the mission in a leadership role meant that I got to bro out even harder. I'd be able to write off travel as training visits, but really, it was all an excuse to get missionaries I liked together to hang out.

Because we were all each other had for those two years, it really was a depth and breadth of friendship I don't think I'll ever experience again. The mix of the stress and homesickness and displacement with the religious elevation and brotherhood was a strong brew. I loved it.

3. People

Being with the people was the most meaningful part. I don't have the classic Christian missionary smugness that what I did I did for the people. I don't really think I left any particular positive wake behind me. I'd be surprised to learn that anyone, beside my own companions and a couple friends I've kept in touch with, even remember me.

But for me, the experiences I had with people were extremely meaningful and formative. It's difficult to say why missionary contact felt so different than the day-to-day contact I got before and since. I think the religious context was a major factor. It somehow heightened my relationship with folks to be prayerful, quiet, and philosophical in the moments I had with them. I think the biggest factor in the strength of the experience was the tangible present nature of the encounters. We set up appointments to meet with people. The way I approached these meetings was to really sink into the moment; to watch a person's eyes and face as they talked; to really listen to what they had to say, without trying to be ready with an answer or a take on it.

I came back from it all with a clear belief in shared existence and common humanity, and a potent memory of my contact with it.