12 Moments Every Returned Missionary Remembers
While many kids are saving money to attend college, LDS youth are saving to spend 18-24 months away from everything they have ever known. Many parents establish mission funds for their kids before they enter elementary school and save for years to allow their children to have “the opportunity of a lifetime.” Some may ask why anyone would ever want to leave home at the tender ages of 18 or 19 to knock doors and share religious beliefs but there are heartfelt reasons.
These reasons are often made up of the experiences missionaries remember when they get home. The memories of these moments are locked away safely in the heart. They are thought of often and sometimes shared when appropriate. Here are 12 moments that every missionary remembers:
1. The moment you left your family
Every person who has ever served a mission and every person who has ever loved someone who left on a mission can remember everything about this moment. Whether you boarded an airplane or you were dropped off at the curb of the MTC, no matter how many years have passed, if you served a mission you remember what you were wearing and you remember who was there.
A lot would change in a few years and maybe it is that uncertainty that makes that moment so terrifying but it is that feeling that drives you to hug everyone just a little bit tighter. After all the goodbyes are spoken, every missionary remembers walking away while mustering up the courage to look back and give a confident wave.
2. The moment primary songs took on a different meaning
In the MTC the songs you’d been singing since you were three took on a whole new meaning. For some it was the first day when instead of “We will be the Lord’s missionaries” during “We’ll Bring the World His Truth” you sang, “We are now the Lord’s missionaries.”
For others it was hearing “Called to Serve” sung in different languages and realizing that you and all the people around you had been called to areas “far and wide to tell the Father’s story, far and wide his love proclaim.”, The songs that once were accompanied by “future missionary” nametags were now accompanied by real missionary nametags and it all became very real.
3. The moment you taught your first lesson in the MTC and realized how little you actually knew
It really doesn’t matter if you were speaking a foreign language or not, in your first lesson you wished you had listened better in some sort of class, be it Spanish class or Sunday school class. You looked into your investigator’s eyes and despite the fact that you knew they were really just acting, you wanted to be able to tell them everything you felt in your heart, but you couldn’t.
4. The moment you met your trainer and your first day in the field
You may have immediately loved your trainer, or it may have taken you months to appreciate him or her. You may still not like your trainer but one thing is for sure: you remember your first interaction. You remember that first day. You remember the first lesson you taught and where you lived. You tried to take it all in and it worked. When you stop and think about it, it feels like yesterday.
5. The “Why am I here?” moment
For some missionaries this moment comes soon and for others it comes later but for almost all missionaries there is a moment that made you stop and wonder why you were there. Maybe it was a question that is asked that you can’t answer or faces that stare back at you and seem to ask, “Are you crazy?” as you tell the story of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.
It might have been a struggle learning the language or the conditions in which you were living that led you to question your motivation in becoming a missionary. The good news is that eventually you learned exactly why you were there.
6. The moment money mattered (yet didn’t matter)
You saved up money for years before your mission in order to have the opportunity to serve. You mowed lawns or babysat. Your father deposited a small amount of every paycheck he received for years into your mission fund.
You knew money was important and that you had been blessed but it wasn’t until you sat at the table of a family who you knew possessed little to nothing but yet, offered you a meal fit for a king that you realized how blessed you had truly been. You became tremendously grateful for the sacrifices your family made to let you be there in that moment sharing a meal with a family who offered you the best they had to give.
7. The first time someone you loved told you they didn’t want you to come back
You had been teaching these people for weeks. They had become almost like your family. You looked forward to your lessons with them and you had watched as they made positive changes in their lives. Then one day they told you they had decided they weren’t interested and there wouldn’t be a need for you to return.
You thought you had experienced heartbreak in high school but in that moment your heart literally hurt. You knew how important the things you were teaching would be in their lives and you wanted so much for them to be happy but you also respected their decision. You pulled yourself together, shared your testimony one last time, hugged them and walked away. Still, that night in your prayers you prayed that someday new missionaries would knock on their door.
8. The moment you heard someone pray for the first time
There is nothing sweeter than a person’s first prayer. They’re usually so hesitant. They tell you they’ve never prayed before and they don’t know how but then they fold their arms, bow their head and start talking and you are sure it is the most beautiful prayer you’ve ever heard.
They don’t say all of the things we’ve become accustomed to saying over and over again. They actually talk to God and you feel so privileged that you know there is no place in the world you would rather be in that moment.
9. When someone accepted your invitation to learn more
You had knocked doors for days without success in unpleasant temperatures and then someone finally said yes. You walked out of the door and once you were sure the coast was clear you and your companion did a victory dance. Or maybe the drought was bad enough that you felt tears welling up in your eyes as you walked away.
Either way, it was sweeter than any basketball game you had won or any award you had been given before your mission. Suddenly, you knew what really mattered.
10. The first time an investigator came to church
Maybe you offered to stop by and make sure they were awake and a little girl opened the door in her best Sunday dress or maybe you waited outside the church looking for their car. Or perhaps you were sitting in Sacrament meeting when an entire family walked in unexpected. However it happened, there are few things that bring more joy to a missionary than seeing the people that they are teaching walk into church for the first time.
11. When you stop counting down the days and start making the days count
You probably can’t pinpoint a specific moment when you felt that you needed to savor each moment but for every missionary there comes a time when instead of dreaming of the day you would return home (this doesn’t mean you were never trunky afterward), you began to feel you were running out of time.
Instead of wondering why you came, you felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the experience. You were glad that you saved up money for years just to be a missionary or you were grateful to parents who made regular deposits into a missionary fund. This gratitude became your motivation.
You worked a little bit harder and you spoke more from your heart. You now knew for yourself the happiness the things you were teaching brought into people’s lives and you wanted it for everyone.
12. The day it was over (but not over)
Eventually that day came whether you liked it or not. You tried to memorize everything and you promised yourself you would be back, only later to realize you can never really go back. You set goals for what you would do for the rest of your life that one week later you would decide were totally unrealistic.
You and your companion talked all night the night before you went home. Then you packed up your things and less than 24 hours later you were on a plane headed home but it felt like you were leaving home all over again. You walked off that plane and into the arms of your mother and it felt like your mission never happened.
But it did. And as the days and weeks and months roll by you became more and more grateful for the opportunity you were given to serve a mission. These memories became your most prized possessions and not a day passes that you don’t remember at least one of these moments.
Note: this article originally appeared as a Brandview article in the Deseret News.