Missionaries thinking of coming home early have another, little-known, option

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are concerned about serving a mission due to mental or physical health reasons have another, lesser-known service option. (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) — Are more Latter-day Saint missionaries coming home early?

One group says yes — and it's as many as one out of every five missionaries.

Jana Riess said millennials are changing standard norms for missionary service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"The challenge for millennial LDS is how to be in the world and not of the world," Riess said.

Riess, who reports for The Religion News Service, speaks regularly on church issues. She said the most commonly cited reasons for returning early from a mission were for physical and mental health limitations.

Lizzy Kartchner said she was hesitant to volunteer for missionary service, specifically due to mental health concerns.

Kartchner takes medication for anxiety and the thought of being away for long periods of time troubled her, but she still wanted to serve.

“We didn’t even know that there was another option outside of the standard mission call that is out there” said Jennifer Kartchner, Lizzy’s mom.

But, there is. It’s called a "two-transfer mission."

First, the missionary serves three months, comes home for a brief period to get trained, and then missionary has the option to serve the remainder of their call. That's what Lizzy chose to do.

“I believe that the church and the brethren are looking into different options so that missionaries can serve on different levels,” Jennifer said.

Lizzy has 12 months left on her mission in Pocatello, Idaho. All two-transfer missions are domestic, usually within driving distance from the missionary's home. The parents drop the missionary off directly at the location of the call.

Some LDS church leaders had a private meeting about the topic of millennials coming home early on Tuesday morning. Spokesperson Daniel Woodruff said the number of those who come home early is closely tracked but, in a statement sent to 2News, Woodruff went on to say “while we do not publicly share this data, it is significantly lower than the figures cited in recent media reports.”

2News asked for an on-camera interview to follow up with further questioning about early returns and the two-transfer mission, but received this full statement instead:

Missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serve around the world voluntarily, at their own expense. These missionaries bring with them a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. They make a great difference in the lives of the people they serve.
At times, a missionary's service ends earlier than anticipated. This can be due to a number of reasons including physical and emotional health and other issues. The church tracks very carefully the number of missionaries who return home early. These numbers vary from country to country and culture to culture. While we do not publicly share this data, it is significantly lower than the figures cited in recent media reports.
As a church, we do all we can to support those who return home early. This can include counseling, support groups, and access to medical and mental health services. We encourage our members to be loving and understanding, and our local leaders are given resources to help these missionaries and their families as they transition back to life at home. Above all, we know our heavenly father loves each missionary and values his or her service, however long it lasts.
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