Once a week, missionaries all over the world excitedly gather for district meeting. It’s one of the few moments of the week for elders and sisters to get together, learn from each other, share struggles and triumphs with each other, and take a breath of fresh air. For those who don’t know what a district or district meeting is, I’ll explain. Each mission in the church is made up of anywhere from 80 to 300 missionaries (approximately—I don’t know what those numbers are like now with the surge in missionaries over the last year and a half). These missionaries and their companions are assigned to zones. Zones usually consist of 20 to 40 missionaries and are further sub-divided into districts. The mission president designates one elder as a district leader, who, in effect or at least in theory, supervises the other five to nine missionaries in the district.
Among his other responsibilities, the district leader is expected to prepare a training to present each week during district meeting. This training is intended to give the district leader the opportunity to “teach other missionaries,” “train [them,] and coordinate the work” (Missionary Handbook 61-62). District meetings could be spiritual, doctrinal, practical, or (ideally) all of the above. Together, we would study gospel principles laid out in Preach My Gospel, discuss and improve on the day-to-day tasks and techniques of missionary work, and practice teaching. More than anything, district meeting is a time to recharge your missionary batteries and rediscover the drive to work hard.
District meeting was one of my favorite days of the week! It meant train rides, exchanges, good friends, good food, good laughs, and for than half of my mission, it meant Paris! District meeting days taught me many lessons throughout my mission. Though most lessons that missionaries learn must be discovered by the individual, and those that can be taught aren’t very well transmitted through a blog, I’d like to have a weekly “District Meeting” post to focus on passages from Preach My Gospel and the scriptures that teach gay missionaries how to be successful in authentic and healthy ways.
Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day. Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work; For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul; And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work. Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence. Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be unto you. Amen.
This scripture is perhaps the best-known and most-quoted missionary scripture in the Doctrine and Coventants. I am sure I will revisit this scripture in the future because there is so much to be learned from it, but today I want to focus on one line from this section that is especially pertinent to LGBTQ missionaries: “Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that you serve him with all your heart, might, mind, and strength… Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work” (Verses 2-3) These words are frequently used along with the adage “forget yourself and go to work” to encourage missionaries to forget about distractions and personal matters and engage fully in the work. I wish to suggest a different reading: accept yourself and go to work. I think that for you, a gay missionary, to truly accomplish what you are capable of on your mission, you need to remember and accept who you are. Serve God with your heart, might, mind, and strength. Sure, this means that you need to cultivate the discipline and diligence to keep knocking on doors when you’re tired, but this also means that you need to incorporate every part of who you are into your work; you need to offer your heart and your mind, not just your talent and hard work.
When I began my mission, I was terribly ashamed of my sexuality. I had never spoken to a soul about this colossal, mysterious secret that I carried around with me. I was convinced that if I served a faithful mission, worked hard, and obeyed the rules, then God would simply take this secret away from me. I would be transformed through the grace of God, and in my new life as a straight man, I would never have to speak of my past orientation. I was so sure that because I was bisexual (though I didn’t use that word at the time) there was something fundamentally wrong with me and therefore my worth as a person and child of God was diminished. I tried to ignore these insecurities and bury them away in hopes that they would disappear. That didn’t work so well. As time went on, my inner turmoil increased and as I disconnected from myself, I disconnected from other people. I was so emotionally broken that it was extremely difficult to form close relationships with my companions. Because I felt unworthy (as if my sexuality were the result of some unresolved sin or inner failing) and incapable, I lacked confidence in my interactions with members, investigators, and the people we met on the street. As my depression grew, my ability to function crumbled. I was frequently sick, slept horribly, and lost all motivation to get up and go. Anyone who has served a mission knows how essential that spring in your step really is. In other words, because I couldn’t accept myself, I wasn’t serving with everything I had—I had very little to give and no strength to give it.
With some good help and God’s grace, I began to recover, and was in a very healthy place for the last fifteen months of my mission. I certainly wasn’t where I am now, but I began to learn to love myself and to trust that God loved me, too. As I slowly remembered who I was (a child of God with eternal worth and potential), I was able to give more of myself to those I served. I even reached the point where I felt comfortable talking to my mission president about my sexuality, in whatever halting terms I could find. That brought me even more peace and I was able to serve more effectively and love more fully.
I wonder how my mission would have been different if I had been sufficiently self-aware and self-accepting to acknowledge my sexuality from the start and served my mission authentically as a bisexual man. I don’t know, but I’m sure I could have touched more hearts, because I would have been at peace with my own. In the end, however, that doesn’t matter because I did my best where I was and I made progress. You see, the grace of God did transform me over the course of my mission, just not in the way I expected. It didn’t change me from gay to straight, but it opened my heart and taught me to accept who I am and the gifts I’ve been given.
I hope that you, as a gay missionary, can learn and internalize this truth. The more you are at peace with and accept yourself, the more you can connect with and love others. Love, connection, peace, and acceptance. These are central to missionary work and to the Savior’s message. The sooner you can learn this for yourself, the sooner you can help others do the same.
So, elders and sisters, you have the desire to serve, so you are called to the work. Now it’s up to you, not to forget yourself and go to work, but to accept yourself and go to work. Serve the Lord with your whole self, sexual orientation included. Remember who you are and serve him with your heart, might, mind, and strength.