Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thirty Years Ago Today

Today I attended church where my nephew was speaking. He is leaving in a couple of weeks for Argentina to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sitting there caused me to reminisce...

I don't really remember much about the day. I think it was cloudy. It was probably a bit chilly. I remember the week before had been very emotional.

We had dinner at my grandparents home on Thanksgiving. The next day I attended the Salt Lake temple for the first time. On Sunday I said goodbye to my brothers and girlfriend -- I would have a long term relationship with my brothers, not so the girlfriend. Wednesday I was set apart by President Jesse E. Godfrey as a missionary and said goodbye to my younger sister.

On Thursday, November 30, 1978 I entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah with my parents in preparation to serve two years in the Michigan Dearborn Mission. My parents left after about an hour, but I stayed for five weeks. That mission doesn't exist anymore - at least by that name. It is now the Michigan Detroit Mission, but in 1978 there wasn't a mother anywhere in the Church who would willing send her son to Detroit.

It was the hardest thing I have ever done. Harder than 50 mile back pack trips. Harder than recovering from knee replacement surgery. Harder than anything I have faced in life. That's probably why I look back on those two years so fondly.

I had lots of expectations of what the missionary experience would be like. Looking back, I realize that I didn't have a clue as to what lay ahead.

I made some of the best friends I ever had. Although it seems odd to write that as I haven't really kept in touch with any of them. I have run into them at various times and places. Most have remained faithful to their testimonies. A few, sadly, have not.

Maybe it was because I was more sensitive to the workings of God at the time, but I literally saw miracles. After being in Michigan for five weeks I met a sixteen year old girl, Rose Buccaletto. In answer to prayer she had seen the Salt Lake temple in a dream, but she didn't know what the building was or what it meant. A few days later she saw a picture of the temple in a magazine and called the missionaries. For some reason they only visited her one time and never came back. When I got transferred to the area I was picking up a book and a little scrap of paper with her name and address fell out. One day while on her street I remembered seeing that little scrap of paper. We knocked on the door and when she saw us there she started crying and asked us in.

We taught her the missionary discussions and I baptized her a few weeks later. Towards the end of my two years I was invited to speak to a comparative religion class at a local high school. Several of the students in the class recognized me from a picture that Rose had shown them from the day of her baptism. They said she was always talking to them about the Church and the joy she felt. I haven't ever seen her since then, but I did receive a wedding announcement from her a few years after I had returned home. I think she was marrying a young man from a nearby ward in the Washington D.C. temple. I hope I sent her a card, but I probably didn't.

Dale and Martha Daniels had three young children. Their oldest daughter who was seven at the time had leukemia. The chemotherapy she was receiving caused her to lose all of her hair and she wore a wig most of the time. Her parents were baptized in June of 1980 and I left the area at the end of July. To this day I can remember her telling me how she knew that she was loved by the Savior. She felt His support when sick and His comfort when other kids would tease her about having no hair. Today I wonder where the family is and how they are doing.

I met some wonderful people who had a tremendous influence on me. From my mission president's, William R. Horton and Vernon A. Cooley, to bishops Kurt Mikat and Ray Hansen from Fenton and Adrian, respectively. I got to participate in organizing a regional church conference, held in Ann Arbor on September 20-21 of 1980 with some extraordinary church, business and political leaders -- George Romney, Richard Headlee, Bud Stoddard and Ed Jones, among others. They encouraged me to keep in contact with them after returning home. They offered to mentor me in my schooling and career decisions. Unfortunately, I have never spoken with any of them after leaving Michigan.

For a few years after returning home I felt as though I had 'grown up' while in Michigan. In reality, a mission was just another stepping stone along my continuing path to growing up. I made friends with other missionaries that I hoped would last a long time. In reality I have only spoken with a few after leaving Michigan. I learned a great deal about people, the Savior, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the joy of service. Mostly, I learned about myself in a way that could not have happened at any other time or any other place.

Looking back I see how unprepared I was for the serving as a missionary. I wonder if I could have made a bigger difference in the lives of others. I wonder if my service was acceptable to the Lord. I wonder if anyone can say that meeting me helped them in any way. Ultimately, I was the biggest benefactor of my missionary service and that is not something that I am entirely comfortable with. My guess is that everyone who has ever served has felt this way.

Looking back thirty years I can still say that it was the hardest thing I have ever done. The hardest and most influential experience in my life.

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1 comment:

Designated Conservative said...

Thank you for your post about serving in Michigan as a missionary. I spent a number of years as a member of the Dearborn (Michigan) Ward, in the building that once housed the "Dearborn Stake" (now divided into the Westland, Ann Arbor, and Toledo stakes, if I recall correctly).

Thank you for your missionary efforts!

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