An LDS mission strange and fascinating experience. Up until recently, though, it’s been tricky for people to get an idea of what a Mormon mission is really like without serving one. Part of the problem is that Mormon journals are supposed to be faith-promoting, in order to potentially serve as scriptures, like Nephi’s. “Get a notebook, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity.” says Spencer W. Kimball. And while you’re on your mission especially, the whole point of your day-to-day experience is to serve as a beacon of faith and inspiration, not to contemplate your personal experiences.
With the advent of the Internet, you can easily find a flood of non-faith-promoting snippets, anecdotes, and memoirs from returned-missionaries who later thought better of the whole experience. These paint a very different (often more personal and intimate) portrait of what being a missionary is like. But even if you’re curious about the mission experience, it takes time to find them and read through a bunch of stories of varying quality. And, as the TBMs will surely point out, some of the less-faith-promoting mission memoirs present a biased picture as well, simply skewed in the negative direction instead of the positive direction (like Jack B. Worthy’s The Mormon Cult). But Jacob Young’s new memoir Harvest tells the whole story. It is a remarkably entertaining and complete account of a missionary’s spiritual and personal life, hopes and dreams, triumphs, failures, and ordinary experiences.
Elder Young is a very likeable guy, who sets off on his mission with a sincere desire to fulfil the calling he’s been preparing for ever since he was singing “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” in primary. And his mission experience is fairly standard — even successful. It wasn’t marked by some extreme mission experiences I’ve read about like horrible Mission Presidents or crippling depression, and (spoiler alert) it doesn’t end with a grand epiphany that the CoJCoL-dS is/isn’t true. We meet Elder (Jacob) Young through charming ordinary experiences such as wondering whether he should try to convert people while on the plane to Russia and plotting to evade his companion for a few minutes (pretending it was an accident) by getting into a crowded bus. Harvest is the quintessential [male] mission story — while reading, I was amused by how much Elder Young had in common with the fictional Elder Spencer Hobbs, who was born of bits and pieces of other people’s mission memories. In either case, it’s not that that the mission or the CoJCoL-dS is all bad or evil, it’s just that it’s not quite what it’s cracked up to be. It’s something else.
The story has excellent style and pacing. Young explains Mormon/missionary culture and Russian culture in a natural way that fits into the story. So “nevermo” readers won’t be scratching their heads at the jargon, and lifetime Mormons aren’t stuck rolling their eyes at boring asides defining the jargon. If you’d like to read just one book that will tell you the tale of what a Mormon mission is all about, Jacob Young’s Harvest would be a very good choice.