Since returning from my mission just a little under two weeks ago, a certain phrase from a general conference talk from the October 2011 conference has been swirling around in my head
Upon my return home, it became increasingly apparent that even though I had left my mission, my mission didn’t leave me. In fact, even after all these years, I still feel that my mission was the best two years for my life.
I really like this quote because as it becomes more and more obvious to me that the mission experience will altar the course of my life for the rest of their life and into the eternities.
Another recent talk spoke about how the mission is designed and in fact even custom tailored to each of us in order to allow us to develop and reach the potential that Heavenly Father sees in us.
Long before leaving our earthly home to serve a full-time mission, we left heavenly parents to fulfill our mortal mission. We have a Father in Heaven, who knows us—our strengths and weaknesses, our abilities and potential. He knows which mission president and companions and which members and investigators we need in order to become the missionary, the husband and father, and the priesthood holder we are capable of becoming.
Elder Waddell in that talk extended a challenge to returning and returned missionaries which I really took to heart
A few years ago, while Sister Waddell and I presided over the Spain Barcelona Mission, I would extend one last assignment to each missionary during their final interview. As they returned home, they were asked to immediately take time to consider the lessons and gifts provided to them by a generous Father in Heaven. They were asked to prayerfully list and consider how to best apply those lessons in post-mission life—lessons that would impact every facet of their lives: education and career choice, marriage and children, future Church service, and most important, who they would continue to become and their continued development as disciples of Jesus Christ.
I want to in this post look at a couple of aspects of missionary service that strike me as particularly helpful to me in my personal development and that of others and highlight why the mission truly was the best two years for my life.
Mission as an equalizer in Mormon Culture: The Israeli military example
Today I actually read an interesting book about Israel and the economic miracle the country has experienced. Surprisingly ( or not so surprisingly), reading this book actually helped reflect on one of the key practical benefits of a mission for me.
The book speaks about how military service for missionaries has a great equalizing effect on Israeli society. All those sectors that participate in the military are brought into interaction with one another. Whereas otherwise, the society would be very stratified and divided. Because in the Israeli military there are lots of opportunities for interaction and involvement ( In fact superior and inferior officers have a much more casual relationship than they do in most armies) it leads to a great degree of social mobility, networking and equality.
I think that a mission is a very similar experience. As a recent convert from a very unique background, I had never had a lot of unjust stereotypes about Utah Mormons or lifelong members. The opportunity to spend time with so many different members really shattered those stereotypes. I realized how heterogeneous the missionaries are even though most came from a background in the church. Some were from rich two parent families, others were from struggling broken families, and others were likewise converts. Additionally, even within those that came from similar backgrounds there were many differences in personality, testimony, experiences etc. On a mission I really was able to break down stereotypes that I had built up and interact with so many different people I probably would never have been friends with otherwise.
Tied into this is the incredible opportunity to live with several companions. I have of course lived with roommates before, but a companion on a mission is a different breed of animal altogether. You spend 24 hours of the day living together and practically are never apart. You are also responsible for working together and planning for investigators. With their eternal salvation on the line, there is a great deal of pressure and stress and I think conflict inevitably arises. The companionship is a workshop for building conflict resolution skills through discussion, prayer, goal setting and humility. It’s a wonderful opportunity because on a mission there is a shared level of understanding that helps. Both are on the same page and can be certain that the other has a desire to improve and to serve the Lord. Outside of the mission, this level of common understanding is often in question and leads to major roadblocks in resolving disputes. Resolving these conflicts on a mission is like training wheels that prepare one for marriage disputes and the rest of life.
Diligence and hard work
One of the strongest benefits of my mission service was the strong testimony I have developed of the importance of diligence and hard work. I saw time and time again that if we work hard and consistently despite trials and setbacks, that we can see miracles. I served in five different areas and in all but one when I came in there was an empty teaching pool and few people to work with. My first area in particular had no investigators because the last transfer the missionaries in that area were sick for most of the transfer. We went out and worked very hard spending most of our time going door to door but saw little results. I found that results and success are often delayed and come after prolonged periods of diligence. By the end of the transfer one of my now best friends Yliana decided that she wanted to be baptized and we soon found through our English club an amazing investigator Zamira who was also baptized. I love those girls so much and I know that our success with them came as a result of my diligence. Mission service teaches that if we work hard we will see results even if not as a direct result of our actions.
In our over privileged society these virtues are not really encouraged or cultured. When I was a university student, I noticed that the typical students there were spending 30,000-40,000 dollars a year of their parent’s money to go to school and yet were so far from diligent and hard working. Indeed, many would skip classes and then ask me for notes, avoiding doing any reading throughout the semester and cram at the last minute. There was a culture of trying to get as high of a grade for as little effort as possible.
In contrast, on a mission there is no way to cram and no way to get by with a bare minimum. Instead, you have to be consistent: studying every day, talking to every person that you see, building your testimony daily. These are the key things on a mission and for real success in the real world. Even when things are touch, a mission teach consistent applied diligence and not quitting no matter what.
Opportunity for leadership
One of the great things about my mission was that almost every missionary was at some point in their mission given a substantial leadership position. Sometimes, missionaries after just finishing training were given the responsibilities of training another brand new missionary. Also, because of the rapidly changing nature of callings I think the mission develops a culture in which anyone is viewed as a potential future leader. This is a great model for how we should treat others in life.
There is also the fact that in a mission there is a deep sense of accountability not just to your mission president or to other missionaries, but to the lord himself which makes leadership in the mission more meaningful
Some of the greatest responsibility I have ever experienced in my life to date came as a trainer and as a district leader or zone leader! A trainer of course is a great incubatory for parenting skills and learning how to be a good mentor without being overly critical. It was one of the hardest challenges of my life, but one of the most meaningful and rewarding.
I especially loved being a district leader however and having responsibility for the work in a whole city and the well being of other elders. I loved working closely with the branch president and seeking revelation from the lord. I have never received more revelation in my life than as a district leader. I received specific and constructive insights about events to plan, district meetings lessons to teach, helping the missionaries in my district with their particular needs and much more. These leadership callings have helped me learn how to inspire and motivate and to plan and coordinate effectively. I am so thankful for those opportunities and how they contributed to my growth.
Taking a step back
One of the unheralded benefits of serving a mission for me was the opportunity to step out of the world for two years and take a step back. In this time period I reevaluted my education plans, political understanding, future family plans and much else. I was able to build my life from the center outward on a firm foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of this time period for instance I realized that I should attend BYU Law school rather than the University of Chicago and was able to apply to BYU and get a full scholarship for the fall! I am so thankful for the insights that came to me about the course of my life because I was able to take a step back from the world and focus on what mattered the most.
Scripture Study, Prayer and seeking revelation
This point is the most obvious and so I will not spend a lot of time on it, but the opportunity to truly learn to daily study the scriptures, pray on your knees and seek the lords guidance is so invaluable. More than anything else these are the skills needed for successful spiritual growth and staying on the straight and narrow path.
I certainly more than anything else perhaps learned the sacred power of prayer. Between kneeling prayers with investigators to companionship prayers to seek unity and district prayer and fasting for baptisms, I have a strong testimony thanks to my mission experiences of the power of prayer.