Dear Brother Albright,
When I’m at the airport and spot that familiar black name tag on a missionary coming or going, I always feel compelled to go up, thank them for their service, and find out where it is they’re heading from or to. It seems like, inevitably, we always have at least one mutual friend. A couple of weeks ago, I was flying into Salt Lake City and, as I exited past the TSA checkpoint and entered the baggage claim area, I saw a couple of hundred people standing there with signs, banners and balloons, waiting to welcome home several different missionaries.
I stood at the top of the escalator and watched the scene unfold before me. In just a few minutes, I saw six elders walking single file down the corridor, upright and smiling. I knew that they had looked forward to this day not just for the last two years but for their entire lives. The words of the theme song from Hercules ran through my mind: “I have often dreamed of a far off place, where a hero’s welcome will be waiting for me and the crowds will cheer when they see my face and a voice keeps saying, “This is where I’m meant to be.”
As the group of six rounded the corner, I watched as they pulled themselves up a little straighter, adjusted their ties and stepped into the open area where a deafening cheer arose from the crowd as they separated into groups and each elder headed toward their family. Whether it is by tradition or by default, in each case, the mother was bestowed the honor of the first hug and, when I saw those embraces, my eyes welled with tears as the memory of watching similar reunions with my own sons flashed through my mind.
There is nothing quite like having a missionary out in the field. Your weeks revolve around the day their emails come; your year revolves around when you get to talk to them on the phone and, if you’re lucky, see their face on Skype for a half hour or so. You are always looking for things to send them that will uplift, motivate and show them that you care about them in uniquely special ways. As a by-product of that, every missionary you see in your ward, your stake, or you city temporarily becomes like your own son or daughter as you hope that, somehow, by serving them at home, others will do the same for your own child in some far off land.
I know first–hand that that is true as we have heard of the many kindnesses of people in New York, Bermuda, Arizona, Togo and Benin toward our own sons. What I love most about missionary homecomings is the “unveiling” if you will of “the finished product.” They left boys and girls and came back men and women, confident, grateful, spiritual, and settled. They know who they are, why they are here and where they are going and have helped hundreds, if not thousands of others find the answers to those questions themselves.
One of the by-products for me of sharing these missionary homecoming experiences, even if I am merely an observer, is that it makes me even more grateful for and more joyful because of my faith. Although I may not wear the same black tag that bears His name as they do, I leave those airports more committed to being a better example as an Ambassador of Jesus Christ to everyone I meet.