In a potentially game-changing talk at the October 2002 general priesthood meeting, Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “The standard for missionary service is being raised.” He instructed bishops and stake presidents to “recommend only those young men and women whom you judge to be spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared to face today’s realities of missionary work” (M. Russell Ballard, “The Greatest Generation of Missionaries”, Ensign, November 2002).
Now fast forward to July 2009. I was serving as the stake Young Men president and as a member of the stake high council at the same time. At a high council meeting a just-released mission president and his wife reported on their experience leading a mission in the central part of the United States. During that report the sister lamented about how ill-prepared some young men are when they enter the mission field. She was shocked at the things she had to teach the boys once they were on their missions that she felt they should have learned long before they embarked to serve the Lord full time.
As she spoke I wrote down her list of concerns. At the conclusion of the couple’s remarks, the stake president asked the high council what we could do to better prepare the young men of our stake for missionary service. After considerable discussion I declared that the Lord already had put in place a program to address each of this sister’s concerns. The Young Men program—if carried out as the Lord intends—is perfectly designed through Aaronic Priesthood quorum duties, Duty to God requirements, and Scouting activities to prepare a young man for every situation he may face on his mission.
Over the next few blog messages I wish to explore how Scouting, in particular, provides extraordinary mission preparation training for a young man. In doing so I hope to show that each of the concerns raised by this faithful mission president’s wife can be proactively addressed during the six years a young man serves in the Scouting and Aaronic Priesthood programs.
Let me start this series by sharing just a few of the concerns she identified. Some of the issues on her list may not be as obvious as you think.
Her first worry was with the missionaries’ feet. Many missionaries aren’t used to walking long distances. They don’t know how to choose proper footwear that doesn’t cause blisters. They don’t know how to take care of their feet to treat blisters, warts, heat rash, athlete’s foot, or other foot ailments. Nor do they know how to treat ankle sprains with RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). She emphasized that the effectiveness of many missionaries is impacted when young elders are hobbled with foot problems.
This concerned sister also said missionaries are not used to carrying heavy backpacks. They don’t know how to wear backpacks properly—using both straps so the weight is distributed evenly. Some missionaries develop back problems early in their mission and are plagued with back trouble throughout their mission. This, of course, limits their usefulness and efficiency in the work of the Lord.
Obviously future missionaries would benefit from acquiring the Hiking, Backpacking, and First Aid merit badges. Young men can better prepare for their missions by taking many long hikes carrying heavy backpacks. Scouting leaders can help the boys realize that these hikes are more than just walks in the woods—they are experiential preparation for two years of trekking down long, unpaved roads in Asia, Africa, South America, or some other far-off place. Likewise, young men should be taught that acquiring the First Aid merit badge is information they will need when they are away from their mothers for two years serving the Lord.
Completing the Medicine merit badge would also benefit future missionaries. During the three years this sister served in the mission home, she spent a great deal of her time taking care of simple ailments, such as bug bites, burns, stomach pains, colds, and flu—the treatment of which she felt the missionaries should have learned while still at home. “Missionaries need to know what medications work and have a way to procure them from home,” she counseled. “They need to know the difference between cold and flu symptoms. Most important they need to understand that few illnesses need medical treatment if properly cared for. Few injuries result in problems serious enough to require a doctor’s care if treated properly.” Scouting is designed to toughen up young men before their missions. This is why I suggested in earlier blog messages that boys need activities that require them to do hard things, even in bad weather, so they know how to persevere in harsh conditions (see Mac’s Messages #22, #23 and #24).
With the lowering of the age requirement to serve a mission, many young men are going straight from high school and the comfort of their homes into the mission field where they have to fend for themselves. As a Young Men leader you have numerous opportunities to help prepare your youth for the challenges they will face. Almost every endeavor in which you engage with your young men is a prospective missionary preparation experience. Help your boys to keep this in mind when planning activities. Instead of choosing activities that are merely entertaining or fun, they may be more inclined to focus on pursuits that will have greater benefit to them in the future as they serve an honorable full-time mission.
Take a Moment to Reflect
- Have you done your part to help your young men raise the bar in their missionary preparation?
- Are you proactively doing all you can to prepare your young men spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally for their missions?
- Do you realize how many elements of the Scouting program help boys prepare for their missions?
- Do you consciously plan your Scouting calendar to provide experiential mission-preparation opportunities?
Turn Your Reflection Into Action
- What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?
“So that when he had finished his [missionary] work at Melek he departed thence, and traveled three days’ journey on the north of the land of Melek; and he came to a city which was called Ammonihah. And it came to pass that when Alma had come to the city of Ammonihah he began to preach the word of God unto them.” (Alma 8:6, 8; underline added).
-Mac McIntire is a dedicated Scouter who has blessed many lives through his service and acute understanding of the Scouting program. He currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.