SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Geghetsik Avetisyan had never tasted a root beer float, flown on an airplane, eaten pork or even seen a dishwasher before leaving her homeland in Yerevan, Armenia, to serve an 18-month mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, she had never been outside her own city except for a brief trip to Russia.

Now she is getting a crash course in American culture at her assignment in Chicago, Illinois.

“When I left Armenia for America I only knew the English alphabet, and I walked onto that plane with sure faith that not only was I doing the right thing but that I would be blessed for my service,” Geghetsik said.

Guillermo Franco as a professional soccer player in Argentina. © 2008 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Geghetsik left not only her family behind but also her lifetime love of playing the piano. As a concert pianist, Geghetsik has performed hundreds of times and studied at the prestigious Komitas Conservatory. To prepare for her entrance exam, Geghetsik practiced 10 to 12 hours a day.

“I would only leave the piano for short breaks and occasionally a bite to eat,” said Geghetsik. “I was so hungry and tired, but I never lost the self-confidence needed to continue working toward my goal.”

Now Geghetsik says her goal is to be a dedicated missionary.

Geghetsik is not alone in her sacrifice of career goals to teach others about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each of the more than 53,000 young Mormon missionaries serving as volunteers for the Church has a different story to tell about leaving behind career and studies to serve missions.

Take Blake McKeown, a 19-year-old lifeguard and television actor from Sydney, Australia, who is trading in his beach gear for a white shirt and tie as he prepares to leave for Baguio, Philippines, for two years of missionary service.

McKeown plays “the rookie” on Australian television’s Bondi Rescue and hopes to win one of the coveted 35 lifeguard positions at Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach when he returns home from the Philippines in 2010.

“I will miss the beach for sure,” he said. “But going on a mission is important to me. It is something I have been working towards all my life.”

This month McKeown will travel to the Church’s Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, where he will receive three months of pre-missionary training, including learning Tagalog, the primary language of the Philippines.  

Three years ago, Guillermo Franco interrupted his professional soccer career in Argentina so he could be a missionary for the Church. Now that he has returned, he is once again making his mark on the soccer field.

Franco told Argentine newspaper Diario Uno that he has been blessed in his life and that he was truly happy. “I am coming back in football and in 2007 I married my wife Lorena!”

Senior couples who go on missions later in life also make sacrifices, such as spending time away from children and grandchildren. The 3,000-plus senior missionaries take on volunteer assignments based on their expertise in fields such as health services, humanitarian aid, education and family history.  
 
Last year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reached the milestone of one million missionaries being called to serve since the Church was organized in 1830.

Missionary work in The Church of Jesus Christ is funded by each individual missionary. They receive no payment for their 18 months to two years of service.

Typically, the Church’s missionaries work six days a week and have one day off for housekeeping and other activities. A missionary’s day begins at 6:30 a.m. for personal study and preparation. The day is then usually spent teaching and giving community service, ending around 10.30 p.m.

This article was prepared by the LDS Newsroom at lds.org.