In April 2016, Jessie Carter was called to serve a Spanish speaking mission in the Arizona Scottsdale Mission. For Carter, it was a joyful experience after a long journey. For four years, she had been working to overcome obstacles that would allow her to serve. She didn’t tell her family when she sent in her final application and surprised them with the mission call.
In August 2017, after 12 months of faithful service, Carter was released honorably from her mission and came home early due to health struggles. The letter she sent to her family and friends announcing her return is a powerful witness of Christ and an important piece on mental health and missionary service. Read the letter below.
“Hello dearest friends, family, and random peoples of the earth-bred kind,
Unfortunately, my time in Arizona is at an end. I am now called to the PartyintheUSA, Utah mission! Pig Latin speaking. I’m just so good at Spanish and English, I guess they had to give me something hard this time around. Before I came to grips with the idea, my Mission President had to drive up to Payson to find me wrapped like a Gumby doll around the columns of our parking structure, singing hymns and shouting at the top of my lungs, “I am not dead yet! I can still testify!!!” But alas, he is much taller and stronger than I, so I was persuaded by the very literal arm of Reason to comply with my new calling. I’m not sure what he named his other arm. I think it’s Justice or something Disney-ish sounding like that. Anyway, here I am now, bags packed and the yellow brick road before me.
But in all seriousness… Our Heavenly Father has called me to another mission, and I will be faithful and answer. This doesn’t mean that I am not sad about the change, or that it will not be difficult, but I know that through all things I will have my Savior, Jesus Christ, by my side to help and guide me. (Philippians 4:13.)
I would say that I am going “home,” but home has turned into a different idea for me. Home is where you are most happy and, honestly, I am most happy testifying of my Savior, Jesus Christ. So I guess you could say that my home is right here inside of me, where my heart is. There is no other experience that I have had on earth that equals the happiness I have felt in drawing near to Him and sharing Him with others around me, my brothers and sisters. And, as much as I like being called special or thinking I am unique, this is not an experience that pertains to only myself. You can all feel that way. Draw near unto Him, come unto Christ, and drink from the living water! This is a happiness that will quench your thirst for the rest of your lives. You will never spiritually hunger again. But, you must do it of your own free will and choice. I cannot convince you. I can only testify, and testify I will!
Now, I shall be Frank. But you may still call me Hermana Carter. The real reason that I am being called home pertains to the health struggles I have been battling. Since I was a sophomore in high school, I have struggled with depression. Some experiences that I have acquired since have augmented that personal challenge and tacked onto it anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a few other layers related to that group of fun things. I have come to accept that I may have to coexist with this for the rest of my life.
Depression is very real. It baffles me that some people today, despite the revelations of modern medicine, still make the argument that it is not real, to whom I would say that they are merely in denial or do not believe in things they cannot see. It is just as those who refuse to believe in Christ because he is not physically manifesting himself in front of them. That is relying on the “natural man,” which we are commanded not to do. Depression is a very real ailment in this world and is just as handicapping and painful as a physical ailment you can see with your eyeballs. Just as Elder Hamson’s ankle is broken, I too am a bit broken on the inside, and need to get some extra repairs done before I can continue on my merry way. When we were at the Spanish Ruins, I didn’t need to break my ankle as well to see that Elder Hamson’s ankle break was real – I could tell just by the way he felt that it was painful and very real to him. In the same way, depression has broken me quite a bit and it breaks other people too. For those who do not understand how it works, please educate yourself and see how real and how painful it is for others. You can be just as broken on the inside as you can be on the outside. And it’s not the victim’s fault. Sometimes, you just slip and fall 10-12 feet in your mind, and you need some extra hands of help to get yourself back to a functional state. It can take a lot of time and a lot of patience and therapy.
Ready for a scriptural throw-down?? Sweet! Open ’em up to Alma 26:27.
“Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.”
Wait a minute, what?? The scriptures talk about depression? You bet they do. This particular passage pertains to some missionaries in the Book of Mormon. What??? Yep. Just like me, there were missionaries testifying of Christ who were struggling with depression as well, thousands of years ago. Depression isn’t a new concept, ladies and gents. Notice that it didn’t say “we were super bummed” or “I felt sad” – they were depressed. Depression is not sadness or a persistent state of bummer-hood. To compare the two would be comparing a sprained ankle to Elder Hamson’s crushed U-bend ankle. Very different injuries, very different levels of pain and recovery procedure and time. One requires an ice pack, the other requires a surgical specialist.
Okay, next one. Turn to Alma 56:16. “
“Yea, and they were depressed in body as well as in spirit, for they had fought valiantly by day and toiled by night to maintain their cities; and thus they had suffered great afflictions of every kind.”
Hold up. Say what? This is talking about the Armies of Helaman. So you’re telling me that the invincible Armies of Helaman, as successful as they were, still became depressed? Yes, they surely did. In BODY as well as in SPIRIT. There it is. Depression may infect a person in spirit. On the inside. And these things were so important that they were etched into gold plates by the prophets themselves, for us to read and learn by. It’s not just random that they use the word “depressed” to describe these situations instead of “sad” or “troubled” or “they had their frowny faces on”.
Alright, one more for the trifecta. Turn to Psalm 31:12.
“I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.”
How is David feeling here? Well, he compares himself to a couple things. First, a dead man who does not have function of his mind anymore. That sounds like a pretty serious ailment. He didn’t say, “I felt like a guy who was bullied and beaten up” or “I felt like a kid whose neighbor ran over his dog”. He said something much more serious than that. Something that requires more than being “sad” or “frustrated”. No tub of Ben and Jerry’s is gonna fix this. He also said, “I am like a broken vessel.” Well, a vessel’s function is to carry and contain something, right? And when it is broken, it cannot carry as much or contain its full capacity inside. The broken part needs to be repaired and heal before it may become full again and be used effectively. If you do not fix the vessel, it may rust and become more corrupted, until it is beyond repair and cannot be healed at all.
I think it is safe to say that David feels a bit hollow inside, a bit empty, and he recognizes that he might have a few holes that need repairing before he can fully function again. So, too, does depression manifest itself. It may first spring a little leak inside, but if it goes unnoticed or ignored, the hole can grow bigger and bigger until it consumes the entirety of the person’s spirit and mind. At this point, that is when you see symptoms of suicide, self-harm, and other drastic measures as a desperate attempt to end the pain or cope. Depression does NOT equate these things – these things are a manifestation of when depression goes untreated for far too long. Just as when a small infection festers, and eventually turns into a need for a limb amputation, so too does depression fester and, when not addressed, can turn into something much bigger and uglier and harder to fix. So if depression arises, do not ignore the smaller leak in the vessel, for if you wait too long, it may turn into a flood and sweep away the victim’s rationality.
So, best part for last. Turn back to the reference in Alma 26. Notice that, after the missionaries recognize their depression, the Lord tells them what? “Bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.”
The Lord did not say, “Nah, you’re fine. Depression isn’t real.” He didn’t say, “Suck it up and stop being a baby.” He didn’t say, “I think you’re just sad. Just be happy!” He didn’t even say that he would make it all go away. He said, “bear with patience thine afflictions.” He recognized that their depressed hearts are an affliction, and that it will not go away at the drop of a hat. He’s not going to snap his fingers to magically fix it and slap a princess bandaid on and call it good. He wants them to learn something from it. Specifically, patience. So, despite their affliction of depression, these missionaries are to continue on with patience and if they do so the Lord will “give unto [them] success.” Didn’t say what kind of success, did he? Perhaps the success is to baptize a nation. Perhaps the success is to simply learn how to rely on the Savior. Perhaps the success is to conquer their war with depression and endure to the end. In my particular case, it may be something very different. I feel that I am learning to continually submit my will to Heavenly Father, no matter what the cost.
I want to make clear that I did not make the decision to go home. I have been challenged with my health for quite some time now. I have been very physically sick as well as mentally and emotionally, struggling with different medications and their incompatibility with my body. I fought and fought and pushed through and endured for as long as I possibly could, because I love my mission and love serving the Lord. However, the Mission Department determined that the compounded weight on so many fronts is too heavy to handle with the responsibilities of the mission life at the same time. The decision escalated to the Brethren (leaders of the Church and Twelve Apostles of the Lord, for those who are unfamiliar with the lingo) and they counseled with our Heavenly Father, specifically on my behalf, as they usually do with these cases. With time, they came to the conclusion that I have served with all my heart, might, mind, and strength, and now it is time for me to go somewhere where I can recover and regain some of that back. I cannot deny that my heart is breaking as I leave a place so dear to me, but I know that good things lay in store ahead. I hope to continue serving as a missionary always, and will strive to continue my service in other ways at home.
I find all of this to be a slight similarity to when Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. (Not that I am, by any means, on Abraham’s level of awesomeness.) Abraham obeyed and went to do as the Lord commanded. It was when he was nearly to the point of finishing his deed of obedience that the Lord stopped him, commanded him to loose Isaac, and let them go back home. The Lord already knew of Abraham’s obedience before this experience. So, then, why did he command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? It is because Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham. He needed to know that it was in him to give up everything dear to him to dedicate it to the Lord. In a way, I have felt the same change in me. I feel like I had things brought out of me on the Lord’s errand that would never have otherwise been brought to my attention. I learned a lot about myself and about my relationship with God and the Savior. Just because I didn’t go “all the way” with my sacrifice doesn’t mean that it is not acceptable to Heavenly Father. It is the intents of the heart that matter most at the gate to the celestial kingdom. Although I know I face persecutions ahead, with naysayers telling me that my race was not entirely run and, therefore, it is unacceptable, I know that it is acceptable to the Lord. That is all the acceptance I need in this world.
Now for my testimony. I will not say my “final” testimony, because my testimony will never be final. I will always be continually bearing testimony of my Savior, in word and in deed. I am not perfect but, in Him, one day I can be. Because of Him, it is possible. Right now I am very imperfect. I am depressed both in body and in spirit. But that does not depress my testimony that He lives. He loves me. He loves you. If we rely on Him, we will never be alone. I knew this to be true before my mission, and I gave up everything I had in this life on earth to share my testimony with others. But it wasn’t until I truly gave up my heart to Him that I felt it to be true. And now, He requires me to once again give up everything I have. My mission has become everything to me. It changed me. I am not the same Hermana Carter who left a year ago. Giving up the calling I have served in as a missionary will be the greatest thing that the Lord has ever required of me. But I will do it, for I know that my Heavenly Father will take care of me and that He loves me. In a recent blessing, Heavenly Father told me that I “truly have been a good and faithful servant” and that my mission in Arizona is complete according to His plans for me. For the rest of my life, however, I will always be a missionary wherever I go, just simply without the black name tag. I will forever be grateful for the 12 months that I have been privileged to serve as a full-time missionary for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I believe in miracles. It was a miracle that I was called to serve. I filled out my Mission Application three times, submitted it twice, was deferred once, and finally received my call last year. I had to fight for this opportunity for several years and when my call came, I answered. I sold or gave away the majority of my possessions, left everything remaining behind, and took a leap of faith. I would do it all again, even if it was only for a day that I would be able to serve as a full-time missionary. I have been spoiled with the experience of a whole year being called to serve. God has been good to me. I have seen angels, miracles, tender mercies, and permanent changes in people around me and myself. I have learned, grown, and been challenged on a daily basis. This experience has not been easy, but it has always been worth it. I cannot tell you the sweet feeling of joy that fills my soul every time I see someone come closer to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ by entering the waters of baptism and walking through the gate to their beginning of eternal happiness. I encourage you to take part and feel this joy. Help others come unto Christ. Come unto Christ yourself. There is no better feeling on earth than this.
I know what I have said is true. I say these things in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hermana Jessie Ann Carter
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.