I came home from my mission ten years ago today. But my real mission has only just begun.
Shall the youth of Zion falter
In defending truth and right?
While the enemy assaileth,
Shall we shrink or shun the fight? No!
True to the faith that our parents have cherished,
True to the truth for which martyrs have perished,
To God’s command,
Soul, heart, and hand,
Faithful and true we will ever stand.
Ten years ago today, on the morning of 27 January 2003, I went with my mother, my stepfather, and my sister Amanda to Salt Lake City International Airport and boarded a flight to Denver. From Denver we flew to Atlanta, and from Atlanta we drove toward their home in Fort Mill, South Carolina, just outside Charlotte, my hometown.
I had met them at Salt Lake’s airport five days earlier, on 22 January. I remember the scene vividly. They had a few carry-on bags in hand, and Amanda, who had just turned four, was being pushed in a stroller. When they first caught a glimpse of me waiting for them, they weren’t quite sure it was me. I had changed a fair amount since they last saw me: I was wearing contacts instead of glasses, and I had grown up some. But when my mom realized that it really was me, she dropped everything and ran up to me and embraced me, crying. It was the first time in over two years that we had seen each other.
They had come to pick me up at the end of my service as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I wanted to share that experience with them—as well as I could in five days’ time. Cottonwood, Murray, Sandy and Draper, Bennion, Riverton, Kearns, and West Jordan and the people in them were indelibly impressed upon my soul, and I was excited to take them to the places and people they had heard about in all my letters home. I was also anxious to introduce them to a valley and a state that I had grown to love.
That evening we attended a testimony meeting with the other outgoing missionaries at my mission’s “transfer building” on Salt Lake’s east bench. I said my farewells to my fellow missionaries and some of the senior missionaries who worked in our mission office. I had worked on some assignments in the office and had grown to love and admire these men and women very much. After taking some photos and saying our goodbyes, that was that. I was no longer a missionary in the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission. I was without a companion, and an area, and district and zone leaders, and a mission president for the first time in two years. My transition back to normal life wasn’t quite yet complete; I wouldn’t be released as a full-time missionary by my stake president until the following Tuesday, so I still wore “pross” (our nickname for the white-shirt-and-tie outfit we wore while proselyting) and a nametag, I was still to keep basic mission rules, and I had to be accompanied by my mother or a priesthood holder at all times.
We also had some business to take care of. Almost five years earlier, in August 1998, my mother and I had gone to the Mesa Arizona Temple to be baptized and confirmed for her parents. It was time to complete my grandparents’ ordinance work. So one morning we boarded TRAX and headed downtown. In the Salt Lake Temple my mother and I attended an endowment session together for the first time and received the endowment by proxy for her parents. We also served as the witness couple in that session. Afterward, we went to the sealing office to arrange to be sealed on her parents’ behalf. When we arrived in the sealing office there was Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve chatting with the temple worker. He shortly arose and shook our hands and, with a smile, said, “Congratulations.” It wasn’t the first time that day we had been mistaken for a couple going through the temple. But we certainly considered completing my grandparents’ temple work reason enough for an apostle’s compliments, so we accepted them and finished the work we were there to do. It was in every way a capstone to the work of bringing others to Christ that had just consumed the past two years of my life.
It would be impossible for me to quantify the number of people I met in the course of my two years as a missionary. But serving in 7 areas and 10 stakes and over 70 wards, to say it was thousands is not hyperbole. And in those five days it was evident. Virtually everywhere we went we ran into someone I knew. On the train. On the street. At Hard Rock Cafe, the one that used to be at Trolley Square. Seriously—Elder Galbraith, my final mission companion, and I had eaten Thanksgiving dinner with the hostess’s family just a couple of months before.
(How the invitation to that dinner happened is somewhat unusual. Elder Galbraith and I were grocery shopping one preparation day at the Macey’s in our area, at the corner of 7800 South and 3200 West. While we were next to the refrigerated section, a woman came up to us and asked if we had an invitation for Thanksgiving, which was coming up in a couple of weeks. Even though we were covering two stakes at the time, we actually hadn’t been invited to anyone’s home for Thanksgiving dinner yet. So she invited us to her family’s gathering. We got permission from our mission president to join them—in Sandy, at nearly the opposite end of our mission.)
Jaunts to Park City and Provo rounded out our tour. The five days flew by too quickly. Before I knew it, I was looking out over the valley I had called home for two years, unsure of when I would return. Within moments Salt Lake disappeared behind the Wasatch, and with it my mission.
Ten years ago today I came home. But part of me has never left that place; or, rather, part of that place has never left me. Unexpectedly I ended up returning to Salt Lake merely four months later for a completely different experience: college. Though my years at the University of Utah were spent in the same valley, it was a different place altogether, both because of the different nature of that experience and the fact that the U was well outside my mission boundaries—a place that might as well have been much farther than the few miles it lay from my areas in Cottonwood and Murray. During my college years, whenever I crossed the mission boundary at 4500 South or so, a hushed, slightly nostalgic, deeply grateful calm came over me. I was, after all, re-entering the place I had gone in heed of a prophet’s call to proclaim to others that the gospel of Jesus Christ had been restored through a prophet in our day. This was the place where I helped others, fellow children of God, realize that God really is there and that he has a plan to help us be happy.
Those were two really good years. Some people say that they were the best two years. Now, a decade later, I can’t say that. But what I can say is that they were the beginning of the best ten years. Another decade from now, I hope I can say that they were the beginning of the best twenty. My years as a full-time missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have, as I hoped they would, formed the foundation of everything I am and have in my life. Whatever impact I had on those people and that place pales in comparison to their impact on me. Today, ten years later, I am more committed than ever to the principles I taught then—and now, with Susan and Fiona in my life, my work has only just begun.
True to the faith I will ever stand.
And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!
Doctrine and Covenants 18:16
This article will appear in Issue 9 | January 2013.