I have a friend who recently served a mission with his wife. A few weeks ago, he was speaking with his mission president about what he felt were some of the biggest problem areas with the missionaries that served under him. My friend, also being an avid Scouter, noted just how closely these problems aligned with the purposes and aims of Scouting. Here's an abridged version of what my friend had to say about the conversation (he asks, though, that you "remember that these are areas that the mission president, his wife, and I observed and it should never detract from the work these wonderful missionaries are doing. They are good missionaries that did they best they could in a home or system (young mens/young women) that wasn’t perfect."
"1. Many Elders and Sisters did not know how to budget so they would not go thru all their money in 1-2 weeks. Many times my wife received a call [from] a missionary stating they were out of money. They were not given any additional funds and had to 'leech' off their companion for the rest of the month. For those with wealthy parents, they had a personal credit card that they would use as their backup when they ran out of the church money they were given. This led to problems when one companion would spend like there was no tomorrow (using his/her personal credit card) and the other coming from a poor family and couldn’t afford such luxurious activities. We need to teach our youth to budget their money; one problem I see is that there are parents who don’t know how to budget either, thus creating a cycle of ignorance regarding finances.
"2. Many of the missionaries did not know how to cook a simple meal (including oatmeal). Those that did, had problems in learning to cook within their budget (being creative with less costly food items).
"3. The senior missionary couples, along with the mission president and his wife, had to keep drilling manners into the young missionaries. The missionaries frequently failed to thank their host for the meal or taking the time to let the missionaries in to teach, etc. On the first day in the mission field we advised the new missionaries they had better use good manners at the mission home dinner table and to thank the mission president’s wife for the meal. If they forgot, they were reminded before they could leave the dinner table. Manner, Manners, and Manners is a must, and too many of our youth lack such.
"4. The parents of missionaries are creating a child that is dependent upon the parent(s) to do the work for the youth. As a result, the youth has a poor work habit and does not take responsibility for their actions (or lack of them). They have become codependent. The cause may be in that too many moms or dads have earned their son’s merit badges or built the sons pinewood derby car, etc. The parents need to let the son take responsibility and do the work.
"5. In the mission we found a good percentage of missionaries that were not good at communicating. The missionaries first need to learn to listen, then speak (one of the topics the adult scouters are taught in Wood Badge). The missionaries need to learn to speak in public and be held to a high expectation. For example, a 5 minute talk by a Deacon is understandable; however, a 5 minute by a Priest is not. The Priest should be able to provide a 12-15 minute talk. Too many leaders are helping in the cause of missionaries sharing the gospel by allowing mediocrity to be the standard. We truly must raise the bar."
I found it interesting how closely these relate to several of the "required" merit badges and to letting the youth learn to lead and do things on their own. My friend's observations/suggestions were:
"First, a major key is that leaders must allow the YM to lead. Let them preside in their quorum, presidency meeting, report at the priesthood opening exercise. Quite frankly, we need to teach the adult leaders to stand back and be patient so the youth can lead. Either that or we muzzle the adults who try to lead without the proper authority :)
"Second, we must never assume the young man knows what a council is or what we mean when we say “keys” (of the priesthood). A missionary actually advised the mission president he did not know what was meant by “keys” or “council” (as in ward council for example). Apparently he had never been part of a Bishop’s Youth Council or a Patrol Leaders Council.
"Third, the young men must engage in the work and responsibilities of the Aaronic Priesthood. Parents need to support their son in this marvelous work. The goal of a scouter is to use scouting to help the young men fulfill the mission of the Aaronic Priesthood, not just get the Eagle rank.
"Fourth, a good work ethic needs to be taught at home. Service projects are a weekly part in the missionary field. Having service projects that reinforce a good work ethic is important. (Planting flowers by young men is not very challenging and probably better left to the primary children; helping to fix an elderly member’s home is a more effective service project). Sacrifice should be part of the service project.
"Fifth, adult leaders should start to correlate scouting merit badges and activities to help the young man become a better missionary. For example, cycling merit badge teaches a YM to ride a bike, repair it, and build up his endurance; automotive maintenance teaches the YM about taking care of a car and maintaining the vehicle in top notch shape; etc."
The Scouting program really is the Lord's program for preparing young men to serve missions (and likewise, Personal Progress and Young Women are the Lord's programs for preparing young women with what they need). I think this list shows just how much of a disservice we are doing these young men when we do not use this inspired program exactly as it is laid out. What are everyone else's thoughts on this?