A 19-year-old farm boy sets off from Idaho to share the gospel with the people of Samara, Russia. There he learns how to approach strangers in thick fur coats and deliver a thirty minute message about God -- and how to knock on door after dreary door and testify with a conviction he did not always feel. Between adventures like evading an annoying companion in the public transportation and even finding himself in jail, Elder Young learns to love the Russian language and the Russian people. Setting off to teach, he learns how much there is to learn.

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. But Jacob Young’s 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. Read more