My Mormon Mission in Russia

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 10 Permalink 0

For a few years after I returned from my 2 year Mormon mission in Russia, I would jolt awake in the middle of the night with a gasp. With my heart racing and my brow covered with beads of sweat I would look around the silence of my dark and familiar room then relax, knowing that I had not been called back on a mission to Russia; it was only a dream. I wasn’t going back. They couldn’t make me go back. I wouldn’t go back. I had this dream dozens of times.

Many years ago I was a child, 18 years old without money, means, direction or passion.

I was mediocre and frightened of the big, bad world where sin and evil and debauchery waited to drag me down to the devil. In high school I never quite lived up to my potential. Achievement and success were always just out of my grasp and I had no guidance in attaining it, except from church leaders who told me simply to “be obedient”, “follow the prophet”, “magnify my Priesthood calling.” Worldly success came second to building the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Stbasil

When I turned 18 I decided I wanted to go on a mission. I had been accepted to college, but with no way to pay for it I felt lost, stumbling around in a fog of confusion, and at the same time painfully restless. I wanted to learn a new language, see a new country, meet new people. On a late spring day in Mesa, Arizona I made up my mind to turn in mission papers. A mission would be a safe escape from my life, a reason to leave Arizona with a purpose and a clear goal. I didn’t fear punishment from God for not going, nor did I make the choice because I was commanded to. I made the decision because I honestly believed it was the right thing for me to do, to bring light and warmth to people who didn’t have the pure love of Christ in their life.

I went with pure intentions, thinking I was a part of something bigger than me, and more important than anything I could possibly do. When I got to the MTC I had heavy blinders covering my eyes for weeks until that voice of reason, the voice that had been repressed and silenced began to shout at me. My eyes were opened! I saw the politics, the back biting, the two faced hypocrisy from young men who would shake your hand with one hand and pick your pocket with the other, and from the old white men in suits who knew it. I went as a volunteer, asking for little and received even less.

I was abused mentally and emotionally and on a few occasions almost duked it out with fellow missionaries.

I was given tasks and assigned goals impossible to achieve and was told that if I didn’t, it was because of my lack of faith, my disobedience to God or the mission rules, or my sins. If ever I succeeded it wasn’t because of anything I did, it was thanks to God. If I failed, it was always my fault. Guilt and fear are powerful motivators. I was assigned roommates or “companions” and endured a cold, self-isolation and verbal and mental abuse from a few self-righteous, arrogant, judgmental boys who thought they were endowed with power from on High. I had no recourse to move out into a healthy environment.

mcdon

“Sometimes the Lord tests you. Sometimes we live with difficult people. It is your responsibility to seek comfort and strength from the Lord” my Mission President told me, omitting the fact that, no, I don’t HAVE to live with anyone I don’t want to. I don’t HAVE to endure verbal abuse from anyone at any time, ever. And as an unpaid volunteer, I should never have been forced and threatened the way I was under the pretense that the Church was looking out for me and had my best interest at heart.

I lived in squalor in some cities. Sometimes I had no heat, once a roach crawled into my mouth while I slept but at least I always had hot water. I washed my clothes by hand in the bathtub. I ate poorly since there was little more than bread, potatoes, soup, questionable meat, concentrated fruit juice, and cheap Russian candy at the stores. I fulfilled my youthful, adventure seeking nature and I look back on much of my time in Russia as a wonderful adventure.

It was not the “best two years of my life” as the worn out bromide goes. But I’m not convinced that I would give it up or trade my experiences either. For despite the negatives and ugliness, there were many positives and much beauty. I got everything I wanted: a new country, a new language, new people, just not in the way I expected.

Oh, to be a young man in post Soviet-Russia! I lived in buildings commissioned by Stalin, I had picnics in Birch tree Russian forests, I slept in cold, crowded trains and woke up in Moscow, I picked fruit on Russian dachas with old old women who could endure anything, I fished in the Volga, I watched Communist parades and saw important historical locations of the 20th Century, like the birthplace of Lenin and Stalin’s secret bunker. I learned a culture that can’t be learned from textbooks and I lost my faith.

I would never be a missionary for the church again. That experience comes, thankfully, only once in a lifetime.

10 Comments
  • Tara
    December 9, 2009

    I learned a culture that can’t be learned from textbooks and I lost my faith.

    One of the best lines you have ever written.

  • Tara
    December 9, 2009

    I learned a culture that can’t be learned from textbooks and I lost my faith.

    One of the best lines you have ever written.

  • jsethanderson
    December 9, 2009

    Thank you. :) I liked this piece. I started to write about something else but this came out instead.

  • Paul (Павел)
    June 16, 2010

    That means that you’re thinking when you were in Russia. I probably dagadyvayus about whom you spoke the phrase “judgmental boys who thought they were endowed with power from on High” =)
    My feeling is that you decided to provoke pity from your friends who read your fantastic stories.

  • Vicka M
    August 22, 2010

    I am so sorry that your experience of Russia was not pleasant… And I read this post as the one that is written by the one who have not benn born and raised in Russia:) Did you ever find your faith again?

    • Seth Anderson
      August 22, 2010

      Hi Vicka, I actually really loved my time in Russia. I was very young and didn’t know any better and it was an adventure. Life wasn’t always perfect, but it wasn’t always bad. I met wonderful people and made great friends. I even went back to Russia and lived in Moscow for a few months to go to school. Moscow is one of my favorite cities in the whole world.
      The real message behind this post is how poorly the Mormon Church treats their missionaries.

  • J Seth Anderson
    August 23, 2010

    я не имел в виду, что на этих фотографиях отражение россии – на этих фотографиях просто моя квартира, в которой мне случилось жить 8 месяцев. я видел квартиры в таком же состоянии во многих других странах, они не являются какой-то уникальной особенностью россии. в других альбомах у меня есть другие фотографии – архитекруры, разных городов, искусства, моих друзей, и различных красивых вещей, которые я видел в россии. я люблю эту страну, и она по своему замечательна. москва остается одним из моих самых любимых городов. мне очень повезло провести в россии 2,5 года своей жизни и я ценю этот опыт.
    фотографии обшарпанной квартиры в большей степени говорят против богатой церкви мормона и о том как они относятся к своим миссионерам.

  • Jeff Ward
    October 27, 2010

    Seth,

    I read you post and served a mission too, I am very open minded and for some reason drawn to stories like yours. Would you mind telling me more about your experiences? How you were treated and what life was like when you got home and leaving the Church. I have some terrible experiences the were f-ing wrong but I took a different route.

    Jeff

  • Rustam
    June 8, 2012

    Dear Seth,
    Thank you for posting this wonderful story about your mission experience in Russia. I am Russian and I was born in Russia. Reading your lines here makes me even proud of who I am and that I live in Moscow, Russia.
    I have never served a full time mission though I had been trying to for more than 6 years..Then I would quit going on a mission and started serving people around me no matter what gender, color of skin or gods they believed in, and I found happiness and peace.
    You are a great kid and I miss my best time of my life spent in UT. I always wanted to visit AZ though, hopefully I will do it soon :)
    Stay strong and be always loved.

    your russian friend,
    Rustam

    • J. Seth (I go by Seth) Anderson
      June 8, 2012

      Thank you, Rustam. I appreciate your kind words. I love Moscow and Russia and I’m so thankful for the years I was able to spend there. I hope to come back soon and hope that someday you can see Arizona and the Grand Canyon. :)

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