A journal entry from the month I received my mission call reveals the mixed emotions of that day—and the Spirit’s confirmation that I was going where the Lord wanted me to go.
It is with a little trepidation that I print this. Becoming reacquainted with your younger self is often an embarrassing experience as you grimace at your bravado, naïveté, and know-it-all nature. Some of the worst of that has been edited out of this version. Also, some slight stylistic changes have been made.
SUNDAY, 26 NOVEMBER 2000
I GOT MY MISSION CALL!!! It actually came about three weeks ago, on Friday, 3 November, but I’ve been VERY bad, of course, and have not been writing in my journal like I should, and that’s why I’m only now mentioning it.
It came while I was at work. Mom and Randy were going to to go Hilton Head [South Carolina] that day to be with Randy’s family as his mother was in the hospital. (I’m not sure why she was in the hospital.) Anyway, because they were getting ready to go, mom was home from work and was able to bring my call up to me [at work].1 She also brought sweet little Miss Katie [our dog] along.
We went up to Independence Park to open the call. We parked at a [medical] office at the corner of North Caswell Road and Greenway Avenue, and we walked over to a beautiful area at the corner of Hawthorne Lane and East Seventh Street with an arbor and a no-longer-used waterfall and pool that are a memorial to a young woman who gave her life in rescuing a child from a waterfall in the [North Carolina] mountains.
Normally you can see a beautiful view of Charlotte’s skyline from that location in Independence Park, but it was obscured by smoke from forest fires in the North Carolina mountains—sadly, in Linville Gorge2—that had been carried by the wind down to the piedmont. Those were a couple of very strange days; I had never before seen in person the effects of a natural disaster. As I sit here now thinking about that smoke, it almost seems very appropriate that I opened by mission call in such conditions, for on my mission I will be helping clear the smoke that obscures the vision of the truth from the eyes of those whom I will be teaching.
I offered a prayer before I opened the call, telling our Heavenly Father of our thankfulness for the opportunity I have to serve a mission, and also asking him to bless us that we may be able to know that wherever I was assigned was the place he wanted me to go. Little did I ever dream that I would really need to rely upon that confirming spirit, for this is the place that I have been assigned to serve my mission:
Utah Salt Lake City South Mission
Yes, that’s right: I will serve in the Church’s Utah Salt Lake City South Mission. I am to report to the MTC [Missionary Training Center] in Provo [Utah] on Wednesday, 17 January 2001. Don’t misunderstand me: there’s nothing wrong with the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission. It’s just that … everyone, myself included, was expecting me to go foreign. But one of the first thoughts to enter my mind was this:
So often we work up in our minds this idea about what would be best for us. I know that I’ve done that many times in my own life, such as what dog would be best for me, what job would be best for me, and, yes, what type of mission assignment would be best for me. So often, what the Lord blesses us with is nothing like that “perfect” idea we’d worked up in our own minds. But always, if we accept the Lord’s will over our own, the blessings we will receive will be far above and beyond what we could have imagined. I know that such will be the case with my mission call.
That thought was the main focus of my acceptance letter, which I finally got signed and ready to send in today.
I also realized a few things about my desire to go foreign. First of all, if I were going foreign, I’d probably focus on the architecture, the language, the culture, the history, and so forth, not the work that I’m really there to do. Further, I really feel that I wanted to go foreign only so I could brag about it. Then again, in a way, I am going foreign. I mean, come on: Salt Lake City can be a pretty foreign place to a good ol’ Southern boy like me. Further, I can still kind of brag about it. How many Mormon missionaries go to Salt Lake City? (A lot, I know, but I’m trying to make a point, okay?)
That first weekend, and, well, even all that first week, and, well, even now I’m still almost expecting another letter to come telling me where I’m really going. And for a couple of reasons. First, with all the speculation people have had over the past couple of years about where I’ll be going, it almost feels like that letter was just someone else telling me where they thought I was going to be going. Okay, so maybe that person was President [Gordon B.] Hinckley, but, you know: it doesn’t really feel like it’s binding. Second, it would have been more believable had it been a place like Zimbabwe or Tahiti. I mean, come on: how many Mormon missionaries go to Salt Lake City? … Also, Brigham Young did always say that God has a good sense of humor, and you never know when he may feel like playing a joke.
But I know that the Spirit was there when I opened my call. I’ve felt that confirming whisper telling me that Salt Lake truly is “the place” for me. And I’ve thought of many advantages of going there. Foremost in many people’s minds is the fact that the 2002 Olympic Winter Games will occur there about halfway through my mission. And who knows: I may be at the far edge of Summit County, Utah,3 during the two weeks or so of the Olympics, but I may be right there in the middle of everything, and it may be there that I have the opportunity to use my knowledge of foreign languages and cultures.4
Also, being in the United States, I shouldn’t have to worry about unsanitary living conditions. I won’t have to worry about obtaining vaccinations and visas. And I shouldn’t have to worry about having to eat strange food. Though Utahns’ love of Jell-O with who knows what in it is a little strange… (Everyone keeps on telling me that I can expect to eat Jell-O with carrots in it.)5
Another advantage in going to Utah is the large Mormon population. I’ve been told that people will often go up to missionaries in the grocery store or in a restaurant and offer to pay their bills for them. As missionaries are walking down the street, people will often offer them rides. That’s really cool. Also, Brother Griffiths in Carmel Ward served part of his mission in the Salt Lake City North Mission.6 He said that they didn’t go tracting there, but that everything was done through member referrals. And though they frequently laugh at me me when I tell them where I’m going—Sister Cope in Carmel Ward even told me to “shut up”7—they also frequently tell me that the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission is one of the highest-baptising missions in the world because of the large LDS population and that I’ll have a great time.8
One thought I’ve had is that either they send the best missionaries to Salt Lake City because they can do something that even millions9 of Mormons there can’t do or they send the worst missionaries to Salt Lake City to keep a close eye on them. I’m probably among the latter. I can just see one of the General Authorities watching me through a telescope on the twenty-sixth floor of the Church Office Building and listening to me with a long-range listening device.
I’ve been hard at work telling everyone where I’m going. Like I said, they laugh at me at church when I tell them where I’m going. Nonmembers are often perplexed as to why missionaries would be sent to Utah, especially to Salt Lake. The one thing that has bothered me is some people think that I’m disappointed. I’m not. It’s where God wants me to go. I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to go on a mission. I can’t wait!
Ever since I received my call, it feels as if time has been sped up. I can hardly believe that it’s been three weeks since it came. Then again, it feels as if I’ve always known. In all those times I joked around about getting called to Salt Lake City on a mission, I never thought that it would really happen. But, it has, and I couldn’t be happier. I just hope that I can do the things that I want to do before I leave, and that in the short time I have left that I’ll be able to prepare myself as I should; that I’ll be able to buy the things that I need; that I’ll be able to read the things that I should read; that I’ll keep myself on the straight and narrow. I hope that I can prepare well for my open house and farewell. …
You know, I don’t think I’ll ever care about what I receive in the mail again. I mean, what I just got is the most important thing I’ll ever get in the mail, so it’s all downhill from here.10 And on that happy note I’ll end.
- I was working at my very first job, as an administrative assistant at Charlotte Pipe and Foundry’s headquarters on Randolph Road in Charlotte, Specifically, my office was located in the building at 2039 Randolph Road, at the north corner of Randolph Road and North Chase Street. ↩
- I had visited Linville Gorge a few years earlier on a ward Scout camping trip and had fallen in love with the unique beauty of Linville Falls and the rugged gorge beyond. ↩
- As I somewhat incorrectly pointed out in the original journal entry, at the time I served in the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission it covered the south half of the Salt Lake Valley, from around 4500 South (give or take—the boundary was not a straight line) to Point of the Mountain and from the Wasatch Mountains on the east to the Oquirrh Mountains on the west. It also covered Summit County to the east, including the towns of Park City, Kamas, and Coalville. But … (see next footnote). ↩
- I never served in Summit County. There were at most four companionships serving there at a time and, of those, two were sister missionaries working in part at the Family Tree Center on Main Street in Park City while another set were Spanish-speaking missionaries. And, seriously, who was I kidding—“knowledge of foreign languages and cultures”? I didn’t know nearly as much about them as I thought I did. ↩
- For the record, I was served Jell-O at most half a dozen times on my mission. Which is good, because I’m not a fan. Though even I have to admit that some Utahns’ Jell-O creations are spectacular. ↩
- The official name of this mission is the Utah Salt Lake City Mission, but many people refer to it as the “north mission” to distinguish it from the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission (and, these many years later, the other missions in the Salt Lake Valley, including the Central, East, and West missions). ↩
- This was a friendly comment and not a rude one. ↩
- All of this, I learned on my mission, is pretty much true. ↩
- It’s actually not quite “millions”. More like, “hundreds of thousands”. ↩
- In all honesty, I’ve cared plenty of times since then about what I get in the mail. Everyone, especially in today’s world saturated by electronic media, likes receiving cool stuff in the mail. ↩