One recent commenter said he was just asked to go on a mission. Being 21 and having just completed four years of military service, he wondered how he could do that, being behind in his education already. “Books of Mormon in Indy” gave some great advice, emphasizing that it’s a personal decision that he must make for himself, prayerfully. I agree.
My second son is about to go on his mission. He leaves next week for the MTC, and will then be serving in Nevada. He just went through the temple – a very positive experience for him – and is pretty much ready to go. We’ll miss him so much, as we missed our first son when he went to Argentina. I appreciate his willingness to make this sacrifice to serve the Lord and serve others.
For those of you who are pondering missionary service and worry about the magnitude of the sacrifice required to go, let me admit that it can be a great and painful sacrifice, depending on your circumstances. It can result in lost opportunities, broken hearts, financial burdens, acquired parasites, stress, illness, and possibly death (sort of sounds like the warning label on a prescription drug or the warning they should provide for some rides at Six Flags). But I think most of us who served will agree that the blessings of the experience far outweigh the risks.
For me, when I went to serve in the Zurich, Switzerland mission in 1979, I thought it would be a real sacrifice. It meant losing two years of education and might also mean losing my high school sweetheart, whom I really hoped would be around when I got back. I might have panicked if I had known how many outstanding guys did try to pursue her while I was gone, but I am happy to report that she became my wife and still is, after all these years – I’m a deliriously happy husband. (So now you know why I seem delirious sometimes – it’s not from too much fasting or overdosing on popsicles.)
As for my education and career, what looked like a sacrifice proved to be a real blessing. I feel like my mission helped me move along faster in the long run than if I had not gone. It was a two-year delay, yes, but those two years gave me an intense education about life, cultures, and many other things. I got to know people from six continents and over 50 countries, learned German and a little Italian, came to understand some of the perspectives of Europeans vis a vis Americans, learned how to get along with jocks and other companions who had almost nothing in common with me, learned how to work hard and sacrifice, learned to see the goodness in others even when they fail or don’t progress or fall away, learned about the challenges of immigrants, experienced the joy of real bread and real cheese, experienced Fasnacht in Basel (!!), saw how chocolate was made, learned a few things about cooking and spices, encountered the strange world of Rudolf Steiner and the Goetheanum, learned a few things about art (including why one should not touch the frames of paintings in museums with sensitive electronic alarms), got to see first-hand the ravages of drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness in several forms, learned to trust the Lord, learned not to trust butchers or anything made with raw ox or raw horse meat, learned that Mormons don’t have a monopoly on truth and goodness, and found out what it’s like to be a young, naive Yankee trying to teach a “ridiculous American” religion to sophisticated Europeans. You don’t get that kind of education listening to a professor ramble on for a couple hours a week.
Almost every moment of my mission was worth it (well, let’s say 84%). It changed my life and my attitudes (for those of you think I’m a self-righteous SOB, believe me, I would be even worse without that mission experience! – thank God for the painful experiences that helped me chill out a bit). It gave me skills and confidence and strength that I think have made it much easier to move ahead with my life and move forward in my career and education. I count it as the best part of my education (apart from the education of marriage and fatherhood) rather than just a two-year delay. And on top of that, I think I made a difference in the lives of a number of people, some of whom became converts to the Church. Yes, that’s the real reason we go, to bless others, but for me – and perhaps I’m an exception – the blessings my mission brought to me were just unreasonably great.
In the early part of my mission, I had a few particularly painful experiences. There were times when I wanted to scream and wondered if this was all in vain. Yet we had some surprising success, and this made it seem worth it. But one experience in particular made me realize that if the rest of the two years was hell, I would be willing to count it an honor to have served. That experience was the baptism of Sophie R. This beautiful girl from French-speaking Switzerland was the prototypical “golden” convert. The Gospel rescued her from despair and hopelessness. When she read the Joseph Smith story left at her door one day, it resonated with her soul – she was sure she knew that story already, that it was somehow already familiar and true to her, though there was no explanation for that. She dug into the Book of Mormon with great vigor and insight, and almost taught us more than we taught her. In spite of some serious opposition from some of her family, she chose to accept the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and became a strong and valiant member, rescued from despair and the captivity of a treacherous Adversary. There was something so special, pure, and unusual about this woman, that it was a great honor to just be there as a teacher and friend. After I saw her baptized, I told the Lord that if the rest of my mission was pain and anguish, that one experience would stand as a pearl of great price to make it all worth everything I might suffer. Hyperbole, perhaps, but I really meant it. I accidentally ran into her and her husband in the Swiss temple about a year later (he was the French-speaking returned missionary who gave the closing prayer at her baptism – we were delighted to that relationship blossom so quickly) – and was again thrilled at the progress she had made in the Gospel and the happiness that I think was hers. I met her again in Switzerland in 1990, about a year or so before a tragic death. But I think I know where she is, and am so grateful that I could have been an instrument in the hands of the Lord to help bring the joy of the Gospel into that marvelous and previous life. Sophie’s story alone made my mission more than worth it.
For those of you contemplating missionary service, don’t go because I said it’s worth it. Don’t trust us mortals, but do trust the Lord: He is there to guide you and help you make the right decision if you turn to Him sincerely. Seek His will first.