Thursday, January 24, 2013

For Vanya

I have a very sweet husband. A month or two ago he noticed a new local restaurant that touted southern soul food. Having spent years listening to me comment about the food I ate on my mission, he decided that for the 15-year anniversary of the day I arrived in my mission we would all go eat at Papa O's. So Monday night I ate hush puppies, collard greens, pulled pork, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, baked beans, coleslaw, grits, and cornbread for dinner. And I was transported back to the precious time I spent in the Virginia Richmond Mission--a time when I was led by the Spirit, discovered sacred truths about my Savior Jesus Christ and His Atonement, and loved the people I met so much I thought my heart would burst. I have spent the last few days lost in my memories. And I have wept tears of sheer gratitude for the opportunity I had to serve and the beautiful experiences I still treasure.
In the beginning of my mission I served in Smithfield, Virginia--a quaint little town with people I adored.
My heart has turned to Vanya, a wonderful girl I know from Wales who will arrive in the Missionary Training Center this week for a few weeks of Slovakian language training before heading out to the Czech Slovak Mission in March. What would I tell Vanya (or any other prospective missionary)?

First, I would say that the decision to serve a mission is one of the best you can ever make. No, missions aren't for everyone. But if you serve a mission you will benefit from it the rest of your life. I can think of no better preparation for motherhood or life in general. Fifteen years later I still think of my mission often. And I have always been so deeply grateful I got to serve.

I would tell her that missions are hard, hard work--harder than anyone can really comprehend before they go. But I would give her the advice my mission president gave me: "Get addicted to the Spirit." As you dive into the work and throw yourself into the scriptures you will develop a sweet relationship with the Spirit. You will see miracles, have beautiful experiences, and feel a deep peace, happiness, and joy that is unmatched in life.

I would tell her to love the people. The richness of a mission (and life) is in the depth of the love you feel. So love the people you teach, the local church members, the other missionaries, and the people you meet every day. The more you feel the Spirit, the more you will love them. That love will mean deep disappointment with some people's choices. But in missions and life the best choice is always to love people anyway.

Finally, I would tell her that the best convert she will gain on her mission will be herself. Some missionaries teach and baptize many; some teach and baptize few. But if you are changed throughout your mission--if you come to know your Savior, learn to lean on His Spirit, feel your infinite worth as a child of God, discover the power of the scriptures, and see God's power operating in your life--you will come home a forever better person. And as the years pass you will look back and realize that as much as you loved the people and experiences you had, you are eternally grateful for the deeply personal ways that you were changed. It is a sweet, sweet discovery.

Of course, Vanya is a bright, talented girl who is probably a much better prepared missionary than I was, and she probably doesn't need my advice. But this week as I have been summoning up memories and basking in their warm glow, I have thought of the people I loved and the things I learned. And I couldn't help but share.

I love you, Vanya! You will be an awesome missionary!

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