What is a Mission?
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a full time mission is an opportunity for young men and women to take two years or 18 months respectively to spend all of their time sharing the gospel. After filling out an application, they receive an inspired assignment (mission call) from the general authorities of the church. My assignment is to San Antonio, Texas and I will be speaking Spanish.
What Does a Mission Look Like?
February 4th: I will be set apart by our stake president as a full time missionary. This means that his hands will be laid upon my head and through the power of the Priesthood which was restored to Joseph Smith, he will pronounce me a missionary and give me a special blessing to help me through the next 18 months (trust me I'm going to need it).
February 5th: At the crack of dawn, I'll be on a plane to Provo where I'll spend the day say goodbye to my family that live in the area.
February 6th: This is my official "report date." At 12:45, my grandparents will drive me to the Provo Missionary Training Center (MTC). I'll spend the next 6 weeks in the MTC learning Spanish, effective ways to teach the gospel, and generally how to be a missionary.
March: Once my 6 weeks in the MTC are up, I'll be making my way to San Antonio where I'll be spending the next 16.5 months. It sounds like a long time, but my days will be full, and time will go by faster than we think. On a missionary schedule, I'll get up at 6:30 every morning, exercise for 30 minutes, shower and dress and then eat breakfast. Afterward, I'll spend about an hour reading and studying by myself, and then another hour studying with my companion (as a missionary, you are assigned a companion and expected to always be within sight and sound of each other). By 10 am, we should be out the door and on our way to work. This part of the day will involve teaching investigators, meeting with church members, attending mission meetings and other things like that. Once a week, I will have half a day called Preparation Day (P-Day) to do my laundry and run errands. This is probably also the day when I'll respond to all of the letters that everyone is going to write me!!
The San Antonio mission is a bike and a car mission. This means that I will most likely be sharing a car with several other missionary companionships for traveling long distances when we need to, but most of the time, I will be riding a bike. Bring on the burn! The mission boundaries cover the city of San Antonio as well as Austin, but extend all the way west to the border with Mexico. My mission president will assign me an area to work, and transfers (switching area assignments) will take place every six week. On a given transfer, I may be moved, or I may stay in the same area. Likewise, I may or may not get a new companion to work with. Because I will be learning Spanish, I will most likely be assigned to areas with a high population of Spanish speakers and I will be focusing my attention on teaching people in the Spanish language. This is one of those times when I'm glad I took four years of language in high school.
Why Am I Serving a Mission?
I am serving a mission because I have a testimony that the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church that has all of the truths of our Heavenly Father's gospel. The gospel is Heavenly Father's plan for his children (us) to learn and become like him so that we can return to live with him after this mortal life. As we follow this plan, we can have true happiness and peace in this life, even when our circumstances are less than ideal and we are inundated with challenges we think we cannot manage.
I have thought about serving a mission my entire life, but I made the decision to go for sure while I was doing a field study in South Africa this summer. Volunteering at an AIDS hospice, I met people every day who were extremely ill with tuberculosis, HIV, cancer, chickenpox, bed sores, paralysis, alcoholism, you name it. We had one girl as young as eight, and our oldest patient was about mid fifties. Mostly, our patients were in their late twenties or earlier to mid thirties. By the time they came to us at Dignity House, many of them were so sick they were going to suffer irreversible damage to some part of their body even if they got well enough to go home, which was often the case. Although this would have been devastating news to me were I in their shoes, their lives were so hard already, most of the people just took the news like it was an expected part of their sad mortality. I also had an opportunity to work with a woman at the Red Cross who told me stories about her friends and neighbors. Most of them go like this: I know a woman. She got married and had a baby or two. One day her husband decided to leave her for another woman. Now she is alone without an education, several children to feed, and no way to earn money. If we don't help them, they will starve.
What I realized, is that all of these problems--disease, alcoholism, broken families etc--were frequently caused by or exacerbated by social problems. In the townships of South Africa, a culture of poverty prevails which perpetuates disease and unhealthy habits. These habits and attitudes then prevent people from getting the tools they need to help themselves better their lives.
In contrast, I also had the opportunity to spend time with the members of our church in the local ward. Although many of them still faced challenges like those of the patients we tended in Dignity House, or the women I met in the townships, their lives were not crushed by the trials they had to face. In fact, I would say that because of their challenges they were stronger. The difference is the members of the church had the gospel to help them, and others did not.
Ever since I was a little kid, I have wanted to play a role in changing the world. I want to solve hunger, end disease, and give people better lives than what they have. In order to do that, you have to go to the roots of the problems, and the roots are invariably social and cultural issues. What I realized in South Africa that made me decide to serve a mission, is that in order to permanently fix those social problems, people have to change, and in order for people to change, they need the strength and the tools that come from the gospel of Jesus Christ and our Savior's Atonement for each of his children. This is true everywhere. Heavenly Father wants all of his children to have that power in their lives, whether they live in South Africa or San Antonio.
I am so grateful for the opportunity that I have to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have a testimony of this gospel and of the power of the Atonement to help us change and become like our Heavenly Father. If I didn't know that this was true, I wouldn't be signing up to go to bed bone tired every day for the next 18 months of my life. Those of you who also have a testimony, I would encourage you to pray for opportunities to share it with others. Those of you who don't have a testimony yet, I would encourage you to do anything it takes to get one. Read the Book of Mormon, and ask Heavenly Father for yourself if the principles taught within it are true. He is a loving Father, and he will let you know.