A lot of people thought I was crazy when I revealed that my plan after graduating college was to move to another part of the country to do missionary work. But, I knew that this would be an important time in my life because I was dedicating every day of the next eighteen months as a missionary— serving the Lord and my fellow man. What I didn’t know was how much I would personally benefit from this service in ways I could not have comprehended.
Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as “Mormons”) decide to serve missions in their youth. They are eligible to serve beginning at ages 18-19 years old and leave their family and home for a period of 1.5-2 years to travel to another part of the world (could be near or far) to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ as well as to engage in whatever service opportunities that are put into their path. I had recently joined the LDS Church at age 20 after learning about it from my then-boyfriend (now husband) and receiving lessons from missionaries myself. I knew that what they taught me about Jesus Christ’s Church being on the earth in its fullness, being led with modern day prophets and apostles–just like Christ set up in His original Church with Peter, James, and John–was knowledge that had brought me newfound joy that I wanted to share with others.
What I experienced still affects me to this day, and I’m going to share the most striking lessons that I learned.
The World is a Diverse Place
I ended up serving my mission in West Virginia and parts of Virginia. I had lived in Texas all my life and all of a sudden I was meeting so many different people with different life experiences. As a missionary, you are supposed to speak to everyone you see. This leads to some pretty interesting (and sometimes weird) conversations. I talked to a lot of homeless people, elderly people who were lonely, sick people in hospitals, people who were hurting emotionally, and people with complicated family dynamics.
Probably the experience that sticks out in my mind the most was visiting a woman in the hospital who was newly baptized and later became homeless and disappeared. She had a substance abuse issue and was found unconscious in the snow after touching an electric fence. Her fingers were black from frostbite and had to be amputated. When I saw her and how she had changed, it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. Yet we still had hope. You learn so much about why people are the way they are, and how they ended up in situations they were in. Your perspective widens dramatically when you realize just how diverse the world and the people in it are.
People Are the Same Everywhere
But the happy lesson in noticing these differences is realizing that people are still the same: there are good people and bad people in every place you live. I prefer to focus on the good people in every place we went. You find out you have a lot in common with people who may seem different: they love their families, they want to leave the world a better place, and you can almost always find something to laugh about together. Once you look a little deeper behind superficial differences, you see a person’s heart and realize how special each person on the earth really is. Some people that I taught lessons to exuded sheer joy from learning about Christ. You could almost literally see them light up–and my heart was so full I thought it might burst. It was truly a miraculous feeling!
God is the One You Can Rely On
It was hard being away from home, family, and friends…despite feeling that what I was doing was the right thing. Missionaries each have a companion, or partner, that they live with and work with. I assumed that I could rely on my companion to always pull me out of my hard days. But it’s not that simple. People don’t always understand what you’re feeling, and I was too demanding in thinking that others could help me fix my problems. It was very humbling to realize this, and I got down on my knees and pleaded for help. I called upon the comfort and healing of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, to give me strength and peace as I adjusted to my new life. And I realized that He understood me. He was there. He felt my pain. He gave me strength and confidence. I knew I could turn to Him always. I don’t think I truly understood that until I felt completely alone in a new place. I deepened my relationship with God in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
I would have to say that was the crowning glory of the life lessons I gained. Being forced to become humble and rely on God brought me to where I wanted to rely on Him the remainder of my life. I was not perfect (and I still am not perfect), but the Lord guided me, and I was able to serve the Him with all my heart, might, mind, and strength. When I returned home from my mission, I felt an indescribable peace knowing that I really tried my hardest and I gave my all in the work of sharing Christ’s gospel.
These important lessons helped build a stronger foundation for the rest of my life. I understood people and the world a little bit better (although I still had a lot to learn). I knew what was important in life and what I wanted for my future. I am thankful for all of the experiences I had from being a missionary–too many to be listed here. But it definitely was not a wasted time in my life. Although starting my career may have been delayed a few years, I know I benefited greatly from accelerated life experiences. I wouldn’t have changed any of it for the world!
To learn more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, visit www.mormon.org.