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Destiny Yarbro is the author of Home Early Now What?: How to Navigate Coming Home Early from a Mission and maintains a related website with resources for early returned missionaries. She served in the Hungary, Budapest mission but had to return home early and recognized the universal struggle of missionaries whose missions were cut short for whatever reason. Destiny grew up in Prescott, Arizona, and lives there now.
02:15 Background and mission experience
16:30 The ward and stake follows the example of the Bishop: Treat them like any other missionary coming home
— 18:30 When transgression is involved, coming home is the first step forward
— 21:45 Importance of the first Sunday home
— 24:15 Finding some way to keep them involved
— 25:45 Discussing the return announcement with the missionary
— 26:15 Examples
27:45 Meeting with parents/family prior to the missionary’s return to offer suggestions and support
34:15 Meeting with the early returned missionary immediately and often
— 36:30 Healing suggestions for the missionary
— 38:30 “Normal” experiences and universal need for professional counseling
— 40:30 Worries about people they didn’t teach
41:15 Addressing the question of returning to the mission… or not
— 42:15 Different mission options: online and young church service missionaries
— 44:15 Approaching the subject with the missionary
— 45:30 Dealing with change from serving to being the subject of attention
47:15 Points for the ward council and ward members
50:15 Mission Fortify recommendation
51:00 Advice for early returned missionaries
51:45 The Atonement takes difficulties and turns them into opportunities to serve others
Home Early Now What?: How to Navigate Coming Home Early from a Mission
LDS.org: Young Church Service Missionaries
Mission Fortify: firesides and online support
Kurt Francom (LS): Today we’re talking with Destiny Yarbro. How are you, Destiny?
Destiny Yarbro: Doing well, thanks Kurt.
LS: Awesome. Now, what does the Leading Saints audience need to know about you and what led you to be a guest on this podcast?
Destiny Yarbro: Well, I grew up in a small town. I wanted to go on a mission for a long time and when I finally got the opportunity (06:00) to go things went very differently than I planned, I had to come home early for health reasons and thankfully I was able to go back out, but I was only able to go back out for another three or four months. And then I had to come home again. So, I got that experience twice.
LS: So, take us back to when you opened up your call. Where did you expect to go or want to go? Any inclination one way or the other and then where did you end up going?
Destiny Yarbro: I wanted to go anywhere, but, I hope this doesn’t offend (06:30) anyone, but except for Albuquerque. Good people in Albuquerque, but for some reason that’s the place I didn’t want to go. So, when I opened my call, and I opened it by myself because I was convinced I was going to Albuquerque and I needed some time to process. So, I opened up my call by myself and it was to the Budapest, Hungary Mission and it blew me away. I did not expect that at all.
LS: So where were you living at this time when you opened the call?
Destiny Yarbro: I was living in Arizona (07:00), but I was on the steps of the St. George Temple at about 11:00 at night. Anyway. It was great!
LS: And so, there’s no reason or there was not a specific prompting you had that you thought Albuquerque, but nonetheless you convinced yourself that-
Destiny Yarbro: I mean, you always hear those stories of those people who go to places they didn’t want to go, I guess that became the reason why I thought I was going to Albuquerque. Yup.
LS: Then you went to the Provo MTC, I assume.
Destiny Yarbro: Yup, Provo MTC. We were in the impossible language hallway. That’s what we called it. (07:30) The Hallway that you’re just there forever learning your language and watching all the Spanish elders come through and leave.
LS: And so, tell us about how long was it in your mission until you realized, uh, there may be, this isn’t the traditional experience. And then those conversations that started that led to you returning home.
Destiny Yarbro: So, it was actually week ten at the MTC. I got really sick and so this is the first time I got really sick and I started improving. So, I thought I’d (08:00) be able to stay, but the MTC president pulled me in and said I would go home and we’d make sure that everything was good to go. It was a one-time thing. I’ve never had any health problems before. And so, he said, let’s just make sure it straightened out. And then resubmit your papers and come back out.
LS: So, you hadn’t even made it a Hungary?
Destiny Yarbro: Nope. I’d fallen in love with the language, but no I hadn’t made it to Hungary yet and my parents came and picked me up at the MTC, which was a very hard day, and then we drove (08:30) all the way back down to Arizona and I just was determined to get back out on the mission. There wasn’t any other option in my head. This was a fluke or just a short-term trial I thought.
LS: Yeah, and then I’d assume there are a variety of doctors’ visits and checkups and sign-offs before you were able to be approved to go out and obviously probably meeting with your bishop and stake president and so how long before you got the good-to-go? (09:00)
Destiny Yarbro: It was actually only about six weeks because it was again this fluke thing, we thought it was a one-time thing, came out of nowhere, disappeared pretty quickly, and it was just like, “Well that happened”. We’re good to go, I passed all the physical tests. Pretty rigorous and lived the MTC life-style as best I could and lived the MTC schedule while I was home and then I was shocked to get a phone call one day that said, “Can you be in the MTC tomorrow and head out with the next Hungarian group? We want you to spend two weeks in the MTC and just see how your health does. And then we’ll send you back out.” So, they were really working with me, which was awesome.
LS: (09:30) Yeah, because I would imagine a lot of, you know, there are various health problems, but I’m sure the MTC sees a correlation between the stress of mission life and health problems. Right? So-
Destiny Yarbro: I mean I have no doubt because I think they want to make sure that, and I think they’ve improved a lot since then too, as far as wanting to make sure that a missionary has a holistic approach to their mission. There’s the Adjusting to Missionary Life handbook that just came out that’s awesome. They’re working on it.
LS: Yeah. Perfect. So, then you head out (10:00) and you make it Hungary.
Destiny Yarbro: Finally made it to Hungary! Best day of my life! I’m shocked to still be called to Hungary. I thought that wasn’t going to happen. And I arrived. I was assigned to the most amazing trainer on the planet. I’m convinced all my mom’s prayers went into my trainer because she was perfect and we just worked and it was- I remember one day I was- were running home in the rain, we were so late to get home on time. We made it on time, but we were running as fast (10:30) as we could go and it’s pouring rain, we’re freezing, and I just had this huge grin and I looked over and I was like, “I’m a missionary!” I was so excited to be a missionary. This is the hardest step I was planning on. I played on that. They told me all about it and that’s what I’d always hoped for and dreamed for.
LS: Wow. So, you had made it and you’re living the dream.
Destiny Yarbro: Oh yeah. Soaked it in, all the closed doors, and that we were teaching a second lesson and all that wonderful stuff.
LS: So how long did that dream last before suddenly (11:00) it took another turn?
Destiny Yarbro: You know, some of it is kind of fuzzy in my memory especially because it was kind of traumatic when the same health problems started happening back up again. And of course, the first time it happened, this time it came with the anxiety because I was like, “oh no if we don’t get this under control, what’s going to happen?” And sure, enough it just kept getting worse and worse. We kept trying to work through it, my companion and I. She recognized that I would probably go home much earlier (11:30) than I did or at least much earlier than I would admit and she knew that it was important that I kept working to some degree, so we did the best we could up until then. Then I went to the mission home for a couple of weeks. They tried to see if I could get my health back up and going again and I could work instead of home.
LS: And so, was there an official moment when your stake president or someone came to you and said, you know, this is, we’re probably not going to send you out again?
Destiny Yarbro: No. (12:00) Just that I had heard that there wasn’t an option of coming back after going home a second time. There isn’t really a going back out option.
LS: Okay. And I guess that is- that pretty typical then?
Destiny Yarbro: I think so. I have never seen a policy per say, but I get the feeling that that was kind of the case. But maybe you can wait another five years and then try again, I don’t know.
LS: Yeah. Especially if it’s appearing like a chronic type of illness that-
Destiny Yarbro: And this time it’s just getting worse and worse because we were just trying to push through it. Just (12:30) deny it and keep moving forward and hopefully, I can stay on my mission and pray for miracles, which was hard.
LS: And Janell Walker, she says, “I’m grateful that you’re covering this topic.” This is on our Facebook live. “My question would be, is it different for those who experienced health issues coming home at first, a sin or transgression issue or someone who goes out and just feels like they weren’t ready for the mission, etc., and come home?” And, Destiny, this is the theme of our conversation today because (13:00) since you’ve returned home, you’ve had the opportunity to touch on the subject, even to the point of writing a book that’s called Home Early, Now What? And then you’ve also created an online resource called earlyrm.com, right? And you cover- it’s hard to say that every situation can be addressed the same or approached the same, but there are some broader topics and generalities that maybe we could get better (13:30) right?
Destiny Yarbro: With my book, I knew that my experiences were one person’s experience. And I didn’t handle it very well. So, I’m not the expert. But I realized that we needed to have some resources, and there wasn’t much, and so I started interviewing tons of different missionaries. So thankfully the book has quotes, and perspectives, and suggestions from our writing missionaries, including those who came home for various transgression reasons. And that’s a broad topic, that there’s everything from those who had an addiction that kept popping up again, or those who are with the companion (14:00) who made poor decisions, to the willful rebellions. There are so many different groups under that canopy, I guess.
LS: Yeah, and I think that’s a wise approach that you’ve done to reach out to other individuals who’ve returned home early because your story is just yours. Right? And that’s similar to what we’re trying to do at Leading Saints. I can talk about my experience in church leadership, but it’s only my experience and it’s not going to fit for everybody. And so, the fact that you’ve talked with literally hundreds of early return missionaries is (14:30) valid effort and we’re grateful we have this resource.
Destiny Yarbro: Well, I hope today that even though you hear my own story, that that doesn’t become the face of an early return missionary because that’s definitely not the case; my situation is very unique. But I did, during all those interviews, I found about five pain points such as that for Sunday home, fear of failure, wondering if you’d ever feel okay about your mission again, those points that across the board, no matter (15:00) the reason why you came home.
LS: And obviously we encourage people to go check out her book you can find it- Everybody knows how to find a book on Amazon. It’s there. You can download it today or get a copy mailed to you and jump into those five points. But we want to hit those five points and really these topics from the perspective of a church leader. Obviously, that’s the audience that we strive to serve and create resources for at Leading Saints. And so, you’ve gone through and maybe put a handful of points together (15:30) as they relate to not only stake presidents and bishops, but also general leaders like on Ward Councils, youth leaders, those types of things. So, before we jump into that though, is there anything about your story- and we’ll obviously keep touching back to your story and hearing your experience- but anything else about your story that we need as context or to lay down a foundation before we jump into these points?
Destiny Yarbro: I think just sharing just a little bit of what I felt afterward might be helpful, especially because that is what these leaders are going to be navigating specifically. (16:00) I think across the board, nearly every missionary- every missionary that I spoke with struggled with feelings of failure. It definitely did not go according to plan. I say in my book, I’ve never met a missionary that at the airport said, “Goodbye Mom! See you in two weeks or see you in two months!” That never happens. No one ever plans on coming home early and yet, it does happen quite often. So, because I came home to a tiny town (16:30) that really hadn’t had other early return missionaries, I thought I had blown it. I thought I had messed something up or I wasn’t faithful enough to stick with it, or just a variety of things that Satan throws at you. Because I didn’t have anyone down the road that could say it’s hard right now, but there’s actually a lot of us that come home early and missions are measured very differently in the Lord’s eyes than sometimes we measure missions. But I struggled for about four and a half years. I didn’t talk about me mission much at all (17:00) to the point that I remember thinking like, “Will I ever tell my kids about a mission?” Because it hurts so much, it’s so painful. And I think bishops, leaders in general that often is the case across the board, especially depending on how a mission president handles it, and I say that gently because we have amazing mission presidents, but sometimes they don’t know how to handle it, and might say some things that a missionary clings to and it can cause some problems down the road.
LS: (17:30) Even as I’ve introduced this topic today on this episode, like using the term “early” return missionaries, that using “early” just has this negative connotation of “not complete” or there’s this flavor of a failure on that term. And so, I almost wish there was a better way to call it.
Destiny Yarbro: There’s no other way to talk about it really. But I would say its missionaries whose missions went differently than they anticipated or missionaries that came home at a different time than they anticipated. But that’s what I love (18:00) about the mission call is that it says in there that “it is anticipated that you will serve for a period of 18 months” or “a period of two years”. I’m just so grateful for whoever thought of that word because that’s helpful.
LS: Yeah, for sure. For lack of a better term, early return missionaries is the best way to keep it concise. But with the knowledge that we have big hearts for these missionaries and we don’t want them to feel like failures or we don’t want them to avoid talking about their missions. And I’ve seen (18:30) that on both ends of that spectrum. I’ve known of individuals who literally served like two weeks in their foreign country and they talk about it as if they lived there and loved the people and tried every dish which is great! And they’re confident speaking too. Others who just act like, “well… You know, I…” They just avoid the subject altogether. And so, there’s a lot of those layers that it’s not just returning home early, but how do you address it the rest of your life? So, let’s start with the, (19:00) if this is a good point to do this, start with the first principle is as far as the ward and stake follow the example of the bishop and stake presidents. So, however, they will respond to this early return missionary, they’ll follow that.
Destiny Yarbro: Exactly. If a bishop stands up in front of a ward or whatever and says, “So-and-so came home. We are so grateful to have them back in the ward. We need their service. We love them so much. We’re grateful for the time they were able to serve.” Boy, that’s going to set a tone for that entire ward (19:30) that we’re welcoming back a member of our family no matter the reason why they came home; that they need extra support right now.
LS: I can imagine someone comes home with a health issue and then we feel bad that this- went that way, but it is what it is, and maybe the bishop could do the same, “Here’s your missionary plaque. It’s been hanging in the hallway and here it is for you to take home.” Go through the same processes and traditions that they go through. But as you’ve interviewed various missionaries, (20:00) what advice would you have for the early return missionary that’s returning because of a transgression or sort of a negative connotation that maybe they have a- maybe they just got through a disciplinary council, maybe they’re not even a member of the church anymore or they have that disciplinary council coming up. Right? So those are tough waters to wade to the point where I would assume a lot of bishops or stake president just say, okay, let’s just act like nothing’s happening. Let’s just don’t bring it up and let’s get through it. Right? But what advice have you learned as you’ve interviewed all these missionaries? (20:30)
Destiny Yarbro: Well, to be honest, there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all, obviously. And thankfully the bishop and the stake president are entitled to keep. So, they’re going to be able to know for that individual’s circumstance. However, if they have come back to church, if they’re there, I’d like to talk about missionaries coming back early for transgression as a step forward. That it’s their first step in their repentance. Treating it that way, rather than a big step back. But saying, “okay, (21:00) the mission isn’t where you need to be right now. So thus, coming home is your first step. Let’s- Alright, what’s the next step?” That kind of approach can be so helpful for that missionary and knowing that now is the time that they can start going through the repentance process. So even though that disciplinary councils are coming in, all of that, even if the bishop says, “So-and-so’s home, we love him. We are so grateful to have a family member back in our ward family.” You know, something along those lines, that still sets the tone (21:30) that this is the person who’s hurting or who has gone through some really hard times. And a lot of the missionaries, they come forward to share that they needed to go home. And that is so incredibly courageous of them. Something that we can focus on rather than the reason why they came home.
LS: Yeah, I like putting it in that context. Because typically it feels like coming home from the mission is one of the consequences, not one of the steps, right, and so-
Destiny Yarbro: And it is. Right? It is a step. But I think how we approach it as leaders as ward (22:00) family members, can make or break that missionary. And that’s a little harsh to say, but we really can, but we don’t want to lose them. They’re still pretty young and are learning some hard lessons, but this is going to be one of the best opportunities that they can make it through, like Corianton in the scriptures that made some mistakes on his mission, but as far as you can tell, he really followed the advice of his parents and turned his life around and became a leader in the church again.
LS: This takes my mind to- (22:30) as far as talking about the repentance process, when I served as a bishop, many individuals going through the repentance process may be that one of the stipulations was that they weren’t- I would remove the sacrament- them participating in the sacraments or they are going through whatever it is that they were not going to participate in the sacrament. So, what they would do is just skip sacrament. Right? And so, we talk about that and get down to the doctrine of why we need you there. And they would be so petrified (23:00) that somebody would see them not take the sacrament. They would rather just skip the meeting altogether. And in this context, it is even magnified cause just if somebody sees you there, regardless of what you’re doing, that is- turns everybody thinking, “well, what are they doing here?” You know? And it’s just on a grander scale. And so that’s a tough situation to deal with as a leader that you want to show love, but just their presence there is making people jump to conclusions. (23:30)
Destiny Yarbro: Exactly. But again, this is talking about those who actually make it to church that Sunday. And that’s a huge step! So, if they make it there in their best effort that might be them saying, “I’m trying to stick around.” “I want to stick around.”
LS: Would you say, just from your experience interviewing these missionaries, do most of them not make it there that Sunday? Who would you say? Or…
Destiny Yarbro: I don’t know if I can give a statistic, I do know that quite a few go through some time not attending church. But (24:00) across the board, if an early return missionary, regardless of the reason why they came home, goes to church that first Sunday, the chances of them staying in the church and staying active, increase exponentially. So that first Sunday really is so important. Even if they just show up for a few minutes, take the sacrament and go home, it’s pretty important Which is why I encourage parents to help those missionaries to find a safe way that they feel comfortable with to go to church that first Sunday. But, again, according to the missionary’s needs and if (24:30) you’re in the hospital and such, of course, people can…
LS: Yeah sure, sure. And I think that’s a crucial thing that you can say because I think a lot of leaders would just assume, well, you know, of course, they’re going to be there. I mean, they were just serving a mission. Of course, they want to be at church, but I think it’s important for a leader to recognize if they walk in that door on Sunday, you know, obviously you’re hoping to do things to influence that to happen and help them feel that that’s a safe place, that they’re welcome there, but when they do, that’s a good sign.
Destiny Yarbro: (25:00) That’s a very good sign.
LS: Step one, right?
Destiny Yarbro: It’s a good step one because it’s so scary. Every missionary I talked to, I’d say, “Ok, now tell me about your first Sunday.” They inevitably go, “ughh” or something like that because it was just the most terrifying thing. And having done it twice, people who are surprised. members who are surprised often say things they would never say normally, but in that moment they don’t quite know what to say or they don’t know how to look at that person or they ignore the person, which sometimes feels even worse. And so that’s why I have lots of recommendations in my book for missionaries. But one of them is (25:30) reach out to a few friends and let them know ahead of time so that they can be around you like this little bubble of people who know that you’re home early and aren’t going to be surprised and that just as a kind of guidance, I guess, what they’re getting from many other members who, again, in their love might not know what to say. Which I have a recommendation for that a little bit later.
LS: Cool. So, going back to this main point of the bishop and stake president, the leader, the ward will follow their example. And so, obviously, if they walk (26:00) in, if the individual, the return missionary is there, great. Recognize them, show love. Anything else that you would suggest a leader could maybe do? And again, each situation is different but just generally speaking.
Destiny Yarbro: Yeah, for that Sunday, or the next few Sundays, getting them some kind of responsibility. So even if it came on for transcription, finding some way they can be involved in a service project or anything like that is helpful. If the missionary (26:30) can help wise they’re able to, or worthiness wise, if they’re able to bless the sacrament. Anything that shows this person is back in the ward. Now with that said, this missionary, might be totally in the middle of trauma and might not be able to do it. But offering that little welcome quietly as a bishop when one saying, “would you be willing to do this at some point? Let me know when it’s time.” That can be a really good thing. Again, anytime that you show a missionary that they are still a hundred percent a part of that ward family is (27:00) important, especially if that missionary might be navigating a lot of things with their immediate family.
LS: Yeah, and I think the overall message I’m learning from this discussion is not so much that there’s an a, b, c, d steps, but to be- don’t just act like nothing’s happening or try and bury it or not draw attention to it because that’s really where the shame is born. Right? And shame comes to the surface and that’s not helpful. Right? But (27:30) be proactive and you’re better off over loving than acting like, okay, let’s just get through the next few weeks and act like nothing’s happened and maybe nobody will notice.
Destiny Yarbro: Exactly. And, again, letting that missionary know ahead of time and asking them if they’re comfortable with you welcoming them in front of the ward. They might be awkward, but then you can say, I thought it might be better than having 100 conversations from here for the next few months individually with every single member. I thought it might help them recognize what’s going on and I don’t know. I wish I would’ve done (28:00) it that way. That’s for sure.
LS: John says on the Facebook live. I’ll never forget as an early missionary in my first area, the bishop’s son had gone on a mission just before I arrived. The son ended up returning after eight months or so. I remember going to priesthood meeting and noticed as everyone avoided eye contact. We’re pretending he wasn’t there. The returned missionary sat down in a row in front of where my companion and I were. Our Ward mission leader was directly behind the return (28:30) missionary next to us. He reached his hand over and put it on the return missionary shoulder. The returned missionary turned around and the ward missionary said, “cut it a bit short eh. It’s good to have you back. Welcome home.” What a great example I witnessed that day. Any thoughts on that? I mean…
Destiny Yarbro: I just remember one story about a missionary that had the same experience showed up at church and everyone was ignoring him and a little primary girl that he had taught before he left on his mission. Came running, booking down all the way down to the length of the (29:00) hallway. “Elder”, or you know whatever his name was. “I’ve missed you! It’s so good to have you home!”, shouting at the top of her lungs and just the example that set for the ward of “Yeah someone comes home”, you know, he or she offered their heart to the Lord and things went very differently than planned, but they’re home.
LS: Yeah awesome. So, the next point you talk about is it’s important for the bishop or stake president, whomever, to meet with the parents before the missionary actually gets home. Obviously, from what I understand, (29:30) I’ve never been a leader in this situation, but there are various phone calls from the mission president, the stake president, or the bishop and you know, plans are put in place and but there’s always a flight to be made or some lag time there for the family or the leader to prepare for that returned missionary to come home.
Destiny Yarbro: It depends on the situation. There are times where it’s in the middle of emergency mode and they’re just getting home as soon as possible, but it’s still connecting with them prior to that as a good thing. I think parents get told that their missionary is (30:00) coming home and depending on how experienced that mission president is, they might navigate a little bit differently… if they had more experience they might navigate it better than some others such as saying, you know, your missionary served in this way and we’re so grateful that they were able to touch these unique individuals or anything like that, that can be an affirmation to his parents in. Anyway, the point is they have this little window and those parents are going through how much it’s like a missionary. That word trauma, it took me years to use (30:30) that for this situation. That’s really what it is. You know, one of the definitions of trauma is when you plan something and you expect something and you’re moving forward in this direction and then everything changes the other direction, your mind and even your body don’t quite know how to handle it. And so, for a bishop to meet with those parents, even just for a few minutes and say, “I’m here, I’m going to be with that missionary 100 percent. We love him no matter what.” And then in my book, I have a little guide for parents like you know, a few points that (31:00) if I could tell you anything before you pick up your missionary means there are some points. If you wanted to hand that to them or anything like that just for them not feel alone because often they feel extremely alone.
LS: And what’s some general guidance that the bishop could give to those parents before they walk off the plane?
Destiny Yarbro: Yeah. I think the number one thing is that first priority at the parents needs to be that missionaries healing, physical, spiritual and emotional mental feeling, and not to put any pressure (31:30) on that missionary because they’re going to feel pressured from everyone around them. Everyone they see without meaning to is putting pressure on them to either return to field or go back to school or anything like that. But if they can have a safe place at home where they can talk about their mission if they want to, and not talk about their mission if they don’t want to. That can be a real blessing for that missionary. Another thing is to kind of meet me, walk through the parents’ process of what we met the missionary in the airport. We have balloons and (32:00) extended family or is it a quiet thing. If you can, I always ask the parents to ask that missionary ahead of time if you can on the phone and say would you prefer this or that? I found It’s about 50/50. The number one thing is to not leave a missionary not only that but by themselves.
LS: Exactly right. And, and I guess you just have to ask those questions right over the phone or as they’re coming home and the bishop can help the parents know what questions to ask because they may not know or they may (32:30) think, well it’s sort of silly to ask if he wants a big sign and balloons at the airport because does really anybody want that.
Destiny Yarbro: But some of the missionaries I’ve talked to that was the most normal thing of their mission right? was ah… ya cause they always planned them.. but I talked about my book how I always planned on walking up that plane, having done my mission and perhaps with a little pride, more of a righteous pride there. Feeling mad at myself for having completed that mission and it was so different than that so (33:00) Yeah, if you get the chance to ask them. That’s definitely the best way to do it.
LS: Any other as far as in regards to that meeting with the parents before the missionary gets home any other points would be worth mentioning.
Destiny Yarbro: Just that those parents might be feeling the loss of that mission or their missionary just as strongly if not more strongly than that missionary than that missionary coming home. and that missionary coming home might have received confirmation or prompting or comfort from the Lord and those parents might not recognize that. So, they don’t know what their missionaries feeling.
LS: Yeah, and especially in a, (33:30) you know, if there’s a transgression involved or something like that, like so much is like exploding and they went from, from the parent’s perspective having this, you know, “perfect young man”, young woman who’s on a mission and they’re just, you know, all these pictures are coming back, letters and everything’s going great and then everything hits, you know, comes to the surface. Not only are they returning home but you know, as far as their maybe their memberships in question and, and they’re kind of dealing with their own trauma to some degree (34:00) as a parent and that Bishop is better that the Bishop address that maybe before the missionary gets home rather than like now things are exploding at home and the bishops in the home trying to ease or trying to bring in, you know, therapists or recommend therapists or counseling or it’s just a lot coming out. And so, this is an opportunity for the leader to take it chunk by chunk, right?
Destiny Yarbro: Yeah, yeah to minister and to help those parents know that you’re not alone, especially with the transcription. Then it’s like, okay, we’re going to, we’re going (34:30) to tackle this together. And one thing that the parent can focus on in the case of transgression, in most cases, this is taking a lot of courage to come home early and to address these issues and to start tackling the repentance process. We’re proud of you for tackling those things. That’s something that I think most parents if they can focus on that and kind of that perspective, that might be helpful.
LS: Yeah. That’s the overall theme throughout this is like nobody’s claiming we figured (35:00) it out here, but it’s better to talk about it then act like nothing. Maybe we can just not say anything and it all go away. That is not a good option. So. And then you give the recommendation that the bishop or stake president, whoever the leader should meet with that returned missionary immediately and then often thereafter,
Destiny Yarbro: My recommendation is you know you’re going to feel best. I think treating them as someone going through a very traumatic experience is a good thing and helping (35:30) them their priesthood leaders, no matter the reason, even if it’s visiting them in the hospital, talking to them over the phone, whatever it may look like, I recommend once a week, the first month or two if you can and I know bishops have a lot on their plate, but this is a very vulnerable time and I say this gently, but we lose too many missionaries during that time so we have this little window that if it’s all hands on deck, if we can get them through that time. Then we might make it.
LS: I will often just marvel at the (36:00) missionary model that our church has and what it’s done for me personally in my life and how it, I mean we. We send these young men, young women on missions and they grow up 10 years, you know, maturity wise, come home and they’re just jumping into life. They’re prepared. They handle college grant. I mean I’m speaking generally here, but for 90 percent of missionaries it is just a remarkable thing, but that also. I mean that effective machine also, for those that don’t experience that dramatic growth (36:30) because of whatever situation it can have a dramatic swing the other direction and if man, it just is heartbreaking to hear that these return missionaries, I don’t know what the statistics are, but I, I’m sure they’re not encouraging that as far as you know, especially those that go through transgression or something that they come back to church is just probably heartbreaking. And uh, and man, I, I, there’s gotta be more we can do. And so…
Destiny Yarbro: (37:00) Definitely and you know what it’s getting better and better that the church has trainings for the mission presidents before they go out now that’s huge that was not the case when I came. For mission presidents they set the tone for how a missionary views their mission, for better or for worse they really do set that tone and I think it’s important to add in this little part because this part almost feels a little depressing if you think about it because it is, if you feel left behind from that massive machine. It can be extremely hard, but I think that’s where it’s valuable to connect with earlier returned missionaries, who come home around like sometime before you. (37:30) So for example, like now I can say, oh my goodness, I’m so grateful for my mission, but six years ago, seven years ago, I couldn’t say that. I truly wonder, why did I even go on a mission? Why would you let me go on a mission if you knew I’d be worse off than when I left. Right. If you view it as a step backward, then that could be a hard thing, but now I’m going on 10 years next year. I am so grateful for my mission and the lessons along and grace and perfectionism (38:00) and recognizing that it’s been amazing. So, if you can connect with an earlier returned missionary whose got five years down the road from you, that’s a good recommendation.
LS: Right, and I don’t think we can expect that early returned missionary that, you know, it’s been three months, you know, six months snap out of it, you know, be grateful for your mission and you know, we can’t, we just have to let that naturally unfold and have faith that they’ll get to a point where they’ll say, you know, proudly I served in Sacramento or I served and in Hungary, you know, and say so proudly, but… (38:30)
Destiny Yarbro: Elder Holland said just to say I served, just say that, don’t say but only for this many months. He said that specifically about early returned missionaries which…
LS: At some point, they’ll be able to cut that ”but” out. Right, and just say, I served just like you. Right. That’s awesome. You know, on this topic of meeting, obviously the leader meeting immediately and often after they return home, I would guess, again, I’ve never dealt with this type of situation as a bishop. I actually only helped one missionary (39:00) go out just for the demographics of the ward that I served in, but I would imagine a lot of times I would say the majority of times there’s gonna be a need of professional counseling of some degree. Would you agree?
Destiny Yarbro: Yeah and even those who come home with physical valuations often are just because of how it happened are struggling with depression afterward or some anxiety or those kinds of things. I mean, I came home for physical health reasons. Like I said, the second time that I came home, my anxiety went through the roof because I knew (39:30) what was gonna happen. And so than now getting all of that was tricky. So professional help or just giving yourself the chance to heal, it takes time.
LS: Or if they do come home for a physical health reason, don’t assume that that’s not going to spill over into some mental health issues or anxiety that need to be addressed.
Destiny Yarbro: And to tell the missionary that that’s ok, that’s normal when you’re sick, when your body is shutting down it’s a very normal reaction for depression, or anxiety to come. Your body is not coping. (40:00) So rather than that missionary feeling like I’m struggling in every direction, which was how I felt, I was just like, oh my goodness, this sounds a little rough, but I feel like I’m been kicked down because now I’m struggling spiritually, mentally, physically, and my testimony, I don’t know where it went. You know, all of these all at once. I wish someone, maybe someone did, and I couldn’t just hear it quite at that time, but say, no, that’s normal. You’re going to struggle in probably a lot of different ways.
LS: I love that, and as we (40:30) go through these interviews, I always love to point out the practical tactics a leader can use and just defaulting to those words, “Yeah what you’re experiencing is normal.” Like normal word can do so much for an individual to hear because they’re thinking, not only am I an outlier with how I returned from my mission, but now how I’m responding to it, you know, there’s something wrong with me and that’s when the shame piles on, but using that phrase of you, what you’re experiencing is normal and we’re here to help you through it. And so, this is normal. (41:00)
Destiny Yarbro: Exactly. And on more element to that is a lot of missionaries that I spoke with and myself especially, I worried about all of the people I should have taught if I had stayed. Again, your perception is a little off; I couldn’t stay. But I felt like I dropped the ball somewhere and that’s where I wasn’t out there still. And so, for someone to say, you believe that the Lord can handle all those details. Because we emphasize only you can teach in the mission, and that’s, that’s true. But (41:30) on the flip side, it’s good to also emphasize this the Lord’s work we’re talking about. He can handle it. So just focus on the mission that the miracles that are still happening in your mission. Trust that he’s got those bases covered.
LS: Yeah, that’s great. Uh, the next point you say is just as far as setting the expectation that they may or may not return to their mission. What advice would you have on that?
Destiny Yarbro: So, most missionaries when they come home early they get asked the question immediately by everyone. So, are you going back out? And that is totally people’s (42:00) perspective. I’m sure they’re thinking this is a very positive thing. Let’s focus on the future. So, when are you going back out? That kind of cheerleading, I guess. On the flip side, what they don’t understand is that for some missionaries their mission is done! And they can receive that prompting from the Lord, they know that their mission is done. And then others will feel that prompting that they’re supposed to keep serving. And so that is a very personal decisions between that missionary and the Lord. And while a Bishop and (42:30) other leaders or parents can help guide and help them consider the different things that still need to be between that missionary and the Lord. I think our perspective is let’s get back out and finish that mission. Right? And that’s probably the biggest lesson that I’ve learned over the last 10 years is that missions come in all shapes and sizes and that the Lord has different plans for each one of us. But for me, when I came home even the second time I felt like I was supposed to serve, this drive. And I was so (43:00) frustrated I didn’t know what to do. So, I just felt broken. I felt wrong. And it wasn’t until someone at Church said that “did you know there are online missions?” And I was able to start serving as an online missionary for nine months. As soon as I finish that nine months, I felt completely fine and my mission was complete. And that was fine. If anyone out there feels this way, and I think it’s important for bishops to give this option, but there are other kinds of missions that are called young church service missions and you can look at lds.org/whycsm (43:30) YCSM: Young Church Service Missionary, but there they have so many different options that you can do from hospital or…
LS: Yeah, that’s great. And, and you know, obviously telling you from the standpoint of a leader, obviously a general person in the ward, it doesn’t, you know, it’s obviously none of their business whether this person goes back or not. And I would imagine between that leader and the return missionary, you know, it, I wouldn’t, it sounds like the bishops shouldn’t necessarily (44:00) bring this question up of “are you going back or not?”, but help them process maybe if there is some trauma in their return or there are some health issues. Let’s wait until all that is taken care of before we start seeing- So there’s some stability there and then we can start saying, okay, well what are some plans now? Are you of thinking go back, do you want to go back? Or maybe you’re thinking college now, like what are your plans? Right. But it doesn’t have to be- that question doesn’t have to be answered in week one.
Destiny Yarbro: (44:30) Exactly. I think sometimes we feel pressure from above either from the stake level or higher that are saying, “okay, are you going back?” And they might have to put that down so they might be feeling some pressure that way. But I think how you approach it can be helpful. So, if it’s saying, do you feel like your mission is like the Lord is satisfied with your- maybe not complete, but maybe do you feel like the Lord is satisfied with your mission as it was? Or what companies have you felt? Kind of allowing that door to be open (45:00) saying that you don’t have to go back out. That it’s okay to not go back out if you feel like your mission’s done. Sometimes missionaries don’t know that that’s really an option, and that you can feel okay about that.
LS: Yeah, that could be the decision for, you know, three months and then they may have a change of heart.
Destiny Yarbro: Exactly. And that would be the best thing if that missionary can totally feel like they have time to heal before they make that decision. So, if at all possible, protecting that missionary a little bit from those questions is good.
LS: Yeah. Awesome. Anything else around that point (45:30) as far as you may go back or may not go back?
Destiny Yarbro: No, but just a little bit to add in regards to the bishop’s meeting with those missionaries. I think again, helping that missionary know that they’re part of that family is important, so that can come in the form of what callings or what responsibilities do you feel like you could do? So, if that missionary is sick and in bed, maybe emailing someone who’s also sick and in bed in the ward. Or just anything, because that missionary is going from full time 24/7, (46:00) eating, drinking, sleeping a mission to all of a sudden everyone’s attention on them. Doctors, therapists, everything on them and it feels very wrong. At least my experience, it felt very wrong and so having some way of serving can be helpful.
LS: Yeah. That’s a point of view I would have never thought up on my own that, you’re right, that they come home and whether it’s health reasons or others, there’s a lot of attention on them and they’re not used to that. Right? They’re used to serving 24 (46:30) hours a day. Wow, awesome. So, there are, we’ve gone through four points as far as what advice you’d have for bishops or stake presidents that have somebody in their ward or stake returning home, “early” from their mission. We talked about that the ward follows your example, so it’s a good time to set a good example. Meet with the parents before the return missionary comes home. When their returned missionary comes home, meet immediately and often thereafter and then just addressing the question of whether they go back or not on their mission. And then as (47:00) we wrap up here, you just had three quick items of advice for just the general ward councilor or youth leaders. The first one being that it’s not important to talk about the why of why they came home or not, and Amy in the comments that talks about this too, that it’s really nobody’s business why this person came home.
Destiny Yarbro: Yup. I think it can be hard to know what to say. So, I’ll just give some suggestions for ward members. Just say, “we love you and we’re so grateful to have you back in the ward (47:30) and either let me know if there’s anything I can do or if you want to go hang out” or anything proactive can be helpful, but more than anything just say, “we love you and we missed you.”
LS: Perfect. Awesome. And then the general guidance of treating the early return missionary as you treat a new convert, right? As far as finding them a friend, a responsibility and just nourishment of the good word of God.
Destiny Yarbro: Yup. That’s the best way to say it. Meaning many people who are not (48:00) judging and who are there to support them and love them. Like I said, we talked about just getting them something to do to serve to be engaged in. And the last one, the nourishment of the good word of God, I think that’s where it can be so beneficial for parents in particular, but also bishops and a young men- a loved young men’s leader or young women’s leader to sit down with them and share all the different experiences in the scriptures of people who had plans for this and it became this because (48:30) the scriptures are full of them. And that has been one of the most healing elements for me is recognizing that this is actually, this happens quite often. The Lord knows how much we can grow in those unexpected times.
LS: Awesome. And then the last point you mentioned as far as supporting the family that this isn’t just one individual going through a maybe traumatic experience, but this is a family that is experiencing that same trauma in a different way.
Destiny Yarbro: Exactly. You’ve got the parents that are navigating so much, like we talked about earlier, but you also have even the siblings who, the last time they saw their siblings (49:00) they were cheering them on and waving at ’em, you know, in airports sending ’em off and everyone was excited and getting the weekly emails and so happy and then instantly all attentions is on that missionary who came home that his siblings are trying to cope with it in their very unique ways. Instead if they have good friends that are taking him in, bring him over to play or anything like that as the parents are trying to navigate both the physical health but also the financial (49:30) problems that sometimes pop up when you have a new health problem or it can be helpful to remember that the whole missionary- that the whole family is needing extra administering during that time.
LS: Yeah. So, any, I mean obviously you wrote a whole book on this so there’s a lot to go over, but anything that we haven’t covered that would be worth mentioning at this point?
Destiny Yarbro: I have a couple thoughts. One is that there’s a nonprofit called Mission Fortify that I recommend. They are doing early return missionary firesides every (50:00) quarter, so every three months.
LS: And these are like online firesides, right?
Destiny Yarbro: Well, unfortunately, no. They’re in Utah. But they do have an online support group that they just barely started up. And it’s just a great program that’s really taking off. So, I do recommend that and I also- think it’s important- I just, if I could take a second and speak directly to a missionary, if they’re listening in, I just would want every missionary to know that the Lord has different plans for us. And so sometimes when things look so different from (50:30) others, we feel broken. We feel like we’re a mistake and because our plan doesn’t look like someone else’s plan, but it’s hard to open our heart to the thought that there might be a different plan for us, but the Lord can do a lot. This is the Lord we’re talking about and He can navigate any struggle that we’re going through and if we’ve come home for transgression, I love the verse in First Nephi 3:7 right? “The Lord has already prepared away. He’s prepared a way that we may accomplish the thing which he has commanded.” So, He’s got a plan in mind that can help you navigate (51:00) this. And about the time that you feel like sometimes when you come home early from the mission, that failure seems to feel like it bleeds into other areas of your life. You feel like, will I be able to be successful in marriage? Will I be able to be successful at school? And I think that’s it, that’s Satan compounding on our worst fears. Just work on being okay with the Lord and with time it will be okay. There’ll be a time down the road when you’ll be able to look back and say, wow, that was an experience, but I’ve learned so much. (51:30) That’s kind of what I wish I could go back to the plane that I was coming home on and say, “Guess what, it’s okay. It’s okay that you’re coming home.” I asked them that question that if you could go back and sit next to yourself on that flight home. What would you say? And the responses were just awesome. I wish I could take an hour and share them all with you, but it’s really amazing what we see when we’ve had some time.
LS: That’s fantastic. If there’s anybody listening that wants to learn more about what you’re doing, (52:00) follow what you’re doing and obviously gain access to your resources, where would you send them?
Destiny Yarbro: At this point, to earlyrm.com my email is there as well, so feel free to reach out if you’d like. But on there we have resources that are made by members, but also from the church. There’s a link for bishops to the- there’s a resource for bishops that’s relatively new, a small resource, but bishops that have early return missionaries in their ward. There are videos of missionaries being interviewed. Of Elder Holland (52:30) speaking directly to an early return missionary that’s just awesome. Yeah, a bunch of different things. And like I said, and there are also guides for parents, bishop, stake presidents, mission presidents and/or councils.
LS: Awesome. Fantastic resources. I’m glad you’re out there making this happen because it is definitely needed. Last question I have before we conclude is, as you’ve obviously gone through your own experience of returning home and an unexpected time from your mission and now, uh, you know, taking it (53:00) upon your personal ministry to interview other return missionaries that had a similar experience, how has that process of leading in this experience made you a better disciple or follower of Jesus Christ?
Destiny Yarbro: That’s a great question. Obviously, if you would have asked me five years ago that I’d be doing this, I would have told someone flat out, “No, I don’t think I have anything to offer.” I felt like I struggled so terribly after the mission. But I think that’s where the Lord’s atonement comes in. He takes something that’s so painful (53:30) and not only helps us heal for us but can even increase it exponentially so then we are able to help others. Like me being on this podcast today is not something that I can do by myself. Like this is totally the power of the enabling power of the atonement because this was a very hard experience and something that should be something that continues to weigh on me. Somehow, I love in Enos where Enos says, “Lord, how is it done?” I think that’s what he says. (54:00) That’s how I feel like, how is this done? How am I able to have hundreds and hundreds of conversations with missionaries and read thousands of missionaries responses about coming home early without feeling pain and broken each time I do it? Again, that’s the Lord and I think it’s good to know that you don’t have to rush to rush into trying to help others with your own experience, but know that if you are open, the Lord can do so much with it. So, He’s helped me become, (54:30) I think, a better disciple because I realized that well, I’ve been able to work with members who have been in prison, members who have disabilities, members who struggle with mental illness all, I think, because of this experience of coming home early. So hopefully I became more understanding person because of it.