Although I have previously shared a couple of stories from my mission, I have been wanting for a long time to express how much I enjoyed my mission and how it changed my life. There is no doubt that serving a mission was difficult but it was also a period of unequaled and appreciated spiritual and emotional growth.
I served in the Costa Rica San Jose mission from August of 1976 to August of 1978. The first two months were spent learning Spanish in the LTM in the old Knight-Magnum hall on the BYU campus. We were one of the last groups to be housed there. All the missionaries after us enjoyed the new facilities of the MTC.
The decision to go on a mission
Up until the day I turned 19 years old I wasn’t sure that I would be going on a mission. Although I grew up in the church, I went through a short period of rebelliousness in my late teens in which I did not attend church for about six to ten months. That all changed when I went to Rick’s College in the fall of 1974.
While there I experienced a mighty change of heart as I listened to prophets and apostles who came to teach us in the weekly devotionals. For those who remember LeGrand Richards, I attribute my desire to serve a mission directly to his amazing testimony of the joy that attends the missionary bearing witness of the restoration.
An idealistic missionary
I wrote a little about that experience in a previous essay. I made up my mind about a year later when I watched and listened to President Kimball teach us that every worthy young man should serve a mission. So I prepared and finally sent in my papers in June of 1976. Three weeks later I was thrilled to receive a mission call.
I wanted to be the kind of missionary that I heard about from LeGrand Richards. I wanted to be a teaching and testifying missionary and so I spent the last six to ten months before my mission studying the doctrines of the restoration so I could feel prepared. I studied, fasted, prayed and did everything to strengthen my testimony.
The shock of reality
I felt I was ready but still, I was in for a shock when I got to the LTM. Anybody who has served a foreign language mission knows what I am talking about. From day three in the LTM we were to only speak our mission language. That was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life so far but it was extremely effective.
By the time I got to Central America I thought I could communicate fairly well in Gringo Spanish. Shock! The native people do not speak slowly and they had very funny accents. Of course, they said my accent was funny and didn’t hesitate to laugh when I spoke. That was tough but they laughed at my companions as well.
Discipline of memorization
In those days we memorized the discussions word for word. Every morning for the first two months of my mission I memorized those discussions until I had passed them all off. From then on I felt like I could concentrate on conversational Spanish and began to feel that I could understand and be understood. Spanish became easy.
To me, learning Spanish in less than six months was a miracle and one of the gifts of the spirit. Once I had the language down, I then focused on being the kind of missionary that LeGrand Richards had caused me to see in my mind’s eye a few years earlier at Rick’s College. We had plenty of opportunities to teach each day.
Teaching and baptizing
Teaching forty discussions in a week was a normal goal for our mission. Some days we taught ten or twelve discussions. We had no problems being invited in as we were tracting so teaching and testifying were everyday activities. Amazingly, I began to recognize early in each discussion those who were sensitive to the spirit.
Without resorting to kiddie baptisms like John Dehlin talked about in his mission, the typical missionary baptized sixty to eighty converts during their two years in Central America. There were four countries in my mission and we could only stay in each county six months. So we changed companions about every six weeks.
First half of my mission
The first half of my mission as a junior companion in Honduras and Costa Rica was a preparatory time for me. I learned a lot from my senior companions. After that I was sent to Panama as a senior companion and then to Nicaragua as a zone leader. We had great success in every county but especially in the poor areas.
In Panama, we found and taught a family that to me, made my time in the mission worth the price. When I think of my mission, I think of the Delgado family. They responded to the spirit and worked hard to qualify for baptism. The way we found them was a miracle and their sweet influence on our whole district was profound.
A vision fulfilled
It was in Panama that I found myself literally fulfilling the vision I had seen of myself as a missionary while at Rick’s College. After teaching a first discussion, we invited a family we had just tracted to kneel with us in prayer. Something special happened during that prayer that brought tears to the eyes of the family.
While still on our knees I testified to them that what they had felt was the spirit of the Holy Ghost bearing witness to the truthfulness of the message that we taught. We asked for and obtained a return appointment and left feeling blessed, knowing that the Lord fulfills his many promises to back up our testimony with his spirit.
Conclusion of my mission
When I arrived in Managua, I was amazed to discover that 85% of the membership in our little branch did not attend church. This was by far the highest inactivity rate we had discovered and we worked hard to change it. By the time we left Reparto Schick, the attendance had increased to 35% and we had new baptisms.
It was just a few months later that civil war engulfed this nation that had already been devastated by an earthquake that had destroyed their capital city. The stories of the missionaries coming out of the area were both frightening and amazing as they bore testimony of the hand of the Lord in protecting them in getting out.
The Returned Missionary
I came home determined to keep my testimony strong. But the transition for a missionary can be difficult. I found myself accepting a job that required working on Sundays. Slowly that fire became dim until I was able to change jobs and get back to regular church attendance. How I missed and appreciated church again!
Soon I met Carol and embarked on a whole new journey of learning to love and serve my own family. Because of what I learned on my mission, I feel I became a better husband and hopefully a better father than I would have been otherwise. I love serving in this church and appreciate the foundation I received on my mission.
Conclusion and summary
It’s hard to summarize the two-year Mormon mission experience in just a few short paragraphs. But if there is one thing I learned and cherish to this day, it is the fact that the Lord really does fulfill his promise that “the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record” unto the things we say when speaking the thoughts he gives us.
The knowledge, gained by two years of testing and proving it as a missionary, has served me well in many callings since that day. I love to teach the gospel. What I love most about it is the feeling I get when I teach and bear testimony to the truth. The feeling is indescribable other than to say that it is delicious and most desirable.