Mission Complete: Jacob Young’s “Harvest”

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.


C. L. Hanson is the friendly Swiss-French-American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! Follow me on mastadon at @chanson@social.linux.pizza or see "letters from a broad" for further adventures!!

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4 Responses

  1. Chino Blanco says:

    Glad to see there’s a Kindle edition. Sounds like I’m gonna enjoy the read.

  2. Donna Banta says:

    Ditto, sounds like a great read.

  3. richard alsterlind says:

    It may be worth noting that the turning point in Jacob’s mission began with his reading Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” when at the novel’s conclusion Jake Barnes, the seemingly aloof and independent minded hero (and with whom Jacob, a fly fisherman himself, identified) failed to commit to Lady Brett Ashley, the woman he loved, and carry her off into the sunset, as they say. But if Jacob had read the novel a little more closely he would have understood that Jake Barnes had had his penis shot off in the war and wasn’t able to satisfy his Lady, ‘the ‘old grievance,’ ‘ the rotten way to be wounded’ mentioned on p.31 which provides the novel with its main tension, is the cross Jake had to bear, not an attraction to an existential lifestyle. Moreover, Jacob’s bosom burning feeling came shortly after receiving two long and heart wrenching letters from his parents urging him to continue on with his mission. Couldn’t it have been his love for his parents and loved ones back home who were so desperately counting on him to succeed as a missionary that caused his bosom to burn? Having gone through a strikingly similar experience three score years ago, it seemed so to me.

  1. March 8, 2011

    […] Mission Complete: Jacob Young's “Harvest” | Main Street Plaza 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. […]

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