“For me, my thought wasn’t ‘What are they going to think,’” said Travis Kienholz, a senior studying chemistry. “I knew what they were going to think.”
Kienholz said stigma has emerged in the Latter-day Saint community concerning missionaries who return home early.
Based on the an article “Mormon Missionaries Returning Early Face Stigma from Community,” by the Huffington Post, out of the current 88,000 missionaries out on the field, 1.2 percent return home early making members like Kienholz a minority in the Church.
After serving for two months in San Antonio, Texas, Kienholz returned home to Puyall, Washington.
Kienholz said he had to close himself off to people to be able to deal with his situation.
“My very first Sunday, my bishop actually told me not to come to church,” Kienholz said. “He wanted that time to address the elders quorum, the Relief Society and everybody else.”
According to a survey conducted by Utah Valley University, more than half of the 378 early-returned missionaries surveyed felt that they were treated “poorly or indifferently” by the wards they returned home to.
“Serving a full-time mission has become a cultural responsibility,” Kienholz said. “There shouldn’t be a stigma associated with not going. There is always going to be some trepidation knowing that I didn’t serve a full mission, and people are going to look at me differently because of that.”
Jeremy Geiger, a senior studying construction management, served for 14 months in Halifax, Canda before returning home to Harlingen, Texas.
Geiger said although he did not care what anyone thought, he still felt unaccomplished and a sense of failure about his parents’ approval, but the social stigma accompanied with returning home early.
“Because missions are such a big thing in our culture, it’s one of the first five questions when you meet someone,” Kienholz said. “When you get into the dating realm, that’s where it’s the most difficult.” Kienholz said.
Kienholz said he feels every female member of the Church has “returned missionary” on her list of criteria for dating and marriage.
“Essentially, I have three choices when I tell girls about my mission,” Kienholz said. “I can say, ‘Yes, I did,’ then clarify; Say ‘No,’ then clarify; or tell them the complete truth right off the bat. Either way, all the girls I’ve met care to some degree.”
Geiger said the common unity that is present among returned missionaries who served two years became a divide between himself and some of his fellow classmates and members of the Church.
“In institute, you introduce yourself and where you served your mission, so I kind of just stayed quiet so I wouldn’t have to do that,” Geiger said. “I avoided talking about it as much as possible.”
Taylor Brady, a junior studying communication who returned early from her mission in London, England, said she feels elders who return early face more of a stigma than the sisters.
“There is more of a stigma, definitely,” she said. “I’ve had guy friends who have felt a lot more scrutinized.”
Brady said she had to deal with some negative reactions when she returned early.
“I’ve gotten one of two things, and it’s never been ser negative,” Brady said. “But people are either really uncomfortable with it, or they’re ser sportive, and they understood that medical things happen.”
According to Deseret News, although 75 percent of early-returned missionaries feel ashamed of their partial service, Elder David F. Evans said missionaries who come home early from a mission, still feel that the future of missionary service remains positive.
“We believe the young people of this Church will continue to say ‘Yes’ to missionary service, and they’ll continue to choose to become young disciples of Christ,” Elder Evans said. “For them, it’s an absolute free-will offering to the Lord and to their fellow man.”
Brady said she feels the most important thing in being able to cope with her early return was to come to peace with herself.
Geiger said he took his early return as an opportunity to learn and grow from his experience in order to look towards the future.
The blog, “The Returned Missionary” features a blog post titled “8 Powerful Reminders for Missionaries Who Come Home Early” which encourages members to remember the doctrine and truth of the Church and to forget the cultural misunderstandings associated with a missionaries who came home early from his or her mission.
“It’s a bigger story than just a mission,” Kienholz said. “I don’t need to rely on anyone else except the Lord. It doesn’t matter what other people think. I have faith in the Lord and believe in Him entirely.”