Of course, Scouting has much to offer to prospective missionaries. That’s obvious; the Church wouldn’t include it in their youth programs if it didn’t.
Many of our youth even achieve the high esteemed Eagle Scout rank. However, the real questions are, why are they achieving the Eagle Scout rank? Are we holding their hand as they go through Scouting or are we allowing boys to take on challenges as they develop within the Scouting program?
Brad Harris, past member of the LDS Young Men’s General Board, author of Trails to Testimony, and 22-year career professional with the Boy Scouts of America, has much to say on the topic.
Harris believes a paradigm shift is needed. Our focus in the LDS community must not be to just GET YOUR EAGLE. Instead, we must hone in on how Scouting is a tool to bring young men to Christ. If it’s simply about the Eagle rank, the answer to if Scouting keeps boys on missions is potentially a huge no. Scouting done right prepares young men for missions in ways that few other programs can. Harris has a few ideas on how. First is privation.
What is Privation and why is it Necessary?
Missionaries now come home early because they have not had much privation before their missions.
Privation is lack of the usual comforts or necessaries of life. According to Harris, many missionaries return home simply because they have addictions to video games that they can’t let go of. With the many comforts our youth have, it is imperative now more than ever to make sure our youth have mini-privations. As Scout leaders and parents, we should ask ourselves, “What am I doing to help them have mini-privations?”
Privation has been a part of missionary work since the beginning. Privation is referenced in Alma 26: 28-29:
28 And now behold, we have come, and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world—not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God.
29 And we have entered into their houses and taught them, and we have taught them in their streets; yea, and we have taught them upon their hills; and we have also entered into their temples and their synagogues and taught them; and we have been cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon our cheeks; and we have been stoned, and taken and bound with strong cords, and cast into prison; and through the power and wisdom of God we have been delivered again.
Missionary work is hard. It has been hard since the sons of Mosiah were doing it, and it will continue to be hard. Ask anyone that has served a mission, and they will tell you that there were some days that felt like they were not going to end. Rejection, weather, language barrier, culture barrier, distance from family and many other trials make the mission difficult.
Youth need tough experiences before the mission. They need them, so that when they get on the mission it’s not the first time they encounter difficulty. As Scout leaders, we shouldn’t be the first one to always come to the rescue when a problem arises. If a youth forgets his sleeping bag for a camp out, a night on the rocky ground won’t kill them. These tough love experiences will pay dividends in the long run.
Mimic Mission Life Before Their Mission
Harris has a list of things that young men should accomplish before they go on their missions. According to him, young men should have experienced the following:
- Have been away from home for an extended period of time
- Worked from sunup to sundown
- Cooked their own meal
- Shopped for groceries to make that meal
- Gotten up early
- Walked more than 10 miles in a day
The great thing about all of the things he lists is that each can be accomplished in the Scouting program. However, accomplishing it is not enough if we are doing the work for them or spoon-feeding them along the way. It’s ok for them to make mistakes and suffer a little as they do these hard things.
A survey was done in 2014 of 62 recently returned Elders ranking resources that helped prepare them for the rigors of their missions. Scouting ranked number one above seminary and mission prep class.
Scouting done right will help youth stay on missions. So, next time you want to jump in to save one of your Scouts, think twice. Does making your son get his Eagle before he gets his license make that much of a difference? It may pay in the long run to go against your natural inclination.