Who is your best mortal friend during your mission? Your answer should be "the mission president." Because the adversary works to divide and conquer, some unfortunate missionaries do not understand the true relationship that should exist between them and their president. The mission president is not perfect, but if you learn to trust him, he will become one of your lifelong heroes. He has been given the spiritual keys necessary to guide you through this exciting time of life. He will differ from the mission presidents where your father, mother, brothers, or sisters may have served. He may be tall, short, fat, or skinny, but appearances will not matter. The sooner you learn to trust him, the quicker he will be able to identify your personal needs. His real spiritual insight comes as he interacts with you. How can he get to know so many missionaries! Are you just a number to him! Does he really care about you individually! These questions and many more deserve answers.
How does he get to know you! In zone conferences, in interviews, at socials, through phone calls, through your weekly letter to the president, and through prayer. As you sit in a zone conference with so many other missionaries, you might wonder how the mission president could possibly get to know you. It really isn't difficult. As the president looks at missionaries' faces, those who are doing well and keeping the rules have a certain aura of peace, unlike disobedient missionaries.
For those of you who wonder whether you are judged according to whom you associate with, the answer is yes. Since "likes" attract in the gospel, you will naturally gravitate toward those who have similar interests and the same attitudes toward leadership, the gospel, and life. If you do not want to be labeled as one of the "back-row crew," don't sit on the back row. If you do sit there, don't be surprised if you gain the reputation of being too casual. If you are concerned about missionaries talking behind your back about your lack of devotion, watch carefully whom you associate with on preparation day (the day known as "P day," most of which is set aside for missionaries to attend to personal matters such as letter writing, shopping, and enjoying wholesome recreational and cultural activities) and in district and zone activities. Are you developing a casual attitude toward the divine charge to serve with all your heart!
When the mission president shakes hands with you before or after the zone conference, look him in the eye. Too many missionaries look guilty because they refuse to meet the president eye to eye. That doesn't mean you have to stare at him or his wife. It does mean that if you consciously look down or away every time your eyes meet, you send a strong message that all may not be well in your personal life.
Because the mission president has between one hundred fifty and two hundred missionaries to supervise, use wisely your precious interview time with him. When he asks how you are doing, don't say "fine" if you are not; be honest and direct. As a way to get straight to the point, my first interview question was "How are you doing?" The second question was always "How are you really doing?" In other words: Don't put me on. We don't have all day, and I'm only here to help. Trust me and tell me what's on your mind.
The normal interview cycle (unless you serve in a geographically huge mission) is from four to six weeks. The interview may take place before or after the zone conference or at a separate time. Whenever it is held, be sensitive to the time restraints of the mission president and also to other missionaries waiting to be interviewed or waiting to take you home. If you need extra time, ask if you can set a time for another interview. Don't be offended if the mission president suggests another time; he wants to give you the time you need, but he doesn't want to detain others who have schedules to meet. Be sensitive to other missionaries' needs. Practice a little empathy—put yourself in the president's place—and you will generally see why he does what he does.
In the interview, describe as concisely as possible any problems or concern-producing situations. Don't try to give every little detail. Some missionaries take so long describing a problem that little time remains for investigating solutions. Don't expect the president to answer all your questions or tell you how to solve all your problems. The mission is meant to be a place of learning for you. If the President were to solve all your problems, you will never learn to find solutions through study and prayer. Take his suggestions and try to implement them, but don't expect an immediate answer or solution. Many times the directions or insights I received came later while I was driving, retiring for the night, or waking from a deep sleep. The Lord works on his own timetable, even where mission presidents are concerned.
Be careful not to confess your companion's sins. It is a real temptation to blame everything on your companion. You call always describe a situation without assessing fault. You may also believe that you are the only missionary struggling to keep up with missionary requirements. That isn't true. Everyone struggles in one or more areas. An honest difference of opinion between you and your companion does not spell doom or failure. The mission president will have had much broader experience in life and in the mission than you. Usually he will be able to tell you whether your experiences are normal or whether you should be concerned.
Ask for special interviews very sparingly. At district, zone, and half-mission activities, make it a point to chat with the president. He will probably be more relaxed than usual and able to deal with problems that otherwise would have to take a back burner. At the activities, be sensitive to the other missionaries who also would like a little one-on- one time with the president. You may discover that you become irritated when some elder or sister monopolizes the president's time. If you have a pressing need, contact the president for a special time when you might be able to meet.
Some missionaries hold back through lack of familiarity, fear, or a desire not to want to burden the president. You can overcome the feeling of unfamiliarity by initiating contact. Most Mission presidents welcome the opportunity to chat with missionaries. If you fear the president, it is probably because you don't know him or do not understand why he is there. Your success is his success; your failure is his failure. Let him help smooth the rough spots and create an environment where you will most likely succeed. Missionaries not wanting to burden the president cost me more sleepless nights, more gray hairs, and more anxiety than almost anything else. If you ignore a problem, it will probably not go away. In fact, if you stuff all your problems under the rug, they begin to accumulate (with interest!) until they finally blow up. Then, instead of a bandage, you need major surgery to correct the problem. What did you save by not being open and frank with the president! Nothing! Silence costs so much that you will regret being so shortsighted in your quest to help the mission run smoothly.
Another disease you can help destroy is the habit of criticizing the president. Your president will be human—I don't know of any that aren't. He will make mistakes, but they will not always be the ones the missionaries think he is making. Usually he will err in trying to be too kind or to do too much for you. He gains nothing from your distress or failing; happy missionaries make happy mission presidents. If you hear anyone criticize your president, let them know you disagree. Almost always the criticism is made because the person criticizing doesn't have access to enough information to make a wise judgment. If the gossip is particularly vicious or potentially damaging, call the president and inform him of what is being said. Don't let the adversary blindside your leader. When he hurts, you all hurt. When he prospers, life is great for you too. Most of the time, it will not be necessary to bring petty criticism to his attention. He will almost always be aware of the problem before you mention it. The fact that you care enough to protect him raises your value to him.
Your president has been blessed with keys to administer the mission under the direction of the General Authorities. Just as you, as a missionary, receive blessings and abilities because of your sacred calling, so too is the mission president magnified by the Lord for his willingness to sacrifice in your behalf.
Finally, when you return home, you will want to keep an occasional correspondence with your president. He will be a special person in your life until one of you passes away. His interest will always be in helping further your success. Remember that with over six hundred missionaries who served with him, he may not be able to correspond with you as frequently as he would like, because of the continuing demands on his time.
Excerpt from the Book: Serve With Honor by Randy Bott