“Mom, it’s really really hard…”
I found myself pondering – on this New Years Eve – how many times in my life I have heard those words, mostly from returned missionaries who are now joking about their first or 15th letter home that began with those words or were embedded within those early letters or emails! In fact I’m wondering if anyone every got through the first six months without either writing, thinking or expressing similar sentiments?
I’ve met one or two who loved every minute of their missions and never had any thoughts of ‘home’ – ‘friends’ – ‘hunting’, but I wasn’t one of them and right this minute I can’t think of a name of anyone who would be on that list (out of several thousands we’ve worked with)…the rest of us have had fleeting moments – or some long nights – when they wondered if they could survive the cold, the heat, the bad companion, the language, the homesickness, the food, the rejection, the whatever…Thankfully the vast majority of those, ‘wake up’ from their moments of negative reflections and take the advice of President Hinckley’s father when he famously told a future Prophet to “Forget yourself and go to work”!!
That turning point happens in nearly every case when we do forget ourselves and discover that 1) Missions were meant to be hard (or there’s no growth) and 2) The road to real joy comes when we stop feeling sorry for ourselves…we go to work and discover the joy of service and bringing hope and joy to others….Those experiences generate the words that come from all successful returned missionaries who nearly always say at the end, “Best 18 or 24 months of my life!”
The joy that consumes our soul when we discover that missions – and life – were designed by a loving Heavenly Father to create opportunities to touch other lives and by so doing we forever change our own and there is no other way to become like God in that capacity–there is no other way. Those who miss it or quit before that revelation permeates their soul, miss, perhaps, the most important lesson for why we came to this telestial testing ground to learn how to be Celestial Beings. There is no other way.
I remember when serving as a Bishop (President of the Priest Quorum), the Quorum Instructor, a great and wise Utah Judge and former stake president shared with our Priests how he had, many many years ago, been sent to a former Mormon hating town to re-open it to the church and was given a brand new ‘green’ companion. When they arrived by train they were met with a note under their door that if they were still there by morning their very lives would be at great risk. He, with fear and trembling, (and his brand new companion in worse condition), called the mission president seeking permission to ‘escape’ during the night to save their lives.
The Mission President said to him on the phone, (obviously a man of incredible faith), “Elder Sam, greater men than you have given their life for the building of the Kingdom…stay and build the Church!!!” His companion could ‘ ear’ the edict by looking at Elder Sam’s face and cried. They never slept, survived the night, left their room the next morning and never had a single bad incident and did indeed re-establish the church during their stay. Faith and tough decisions are part of this telestial test and both are tested and tried and proven, most often, while serving in some far away port, often under adverse conditions and tough times. Missions really are meant to be hard–there is no other way.
My last thought for this New Year’s eve as I ponder the status of those 85,000 missionaries and especially those closest to me is to remember a lesson that Sister Ritchie would teach in her famous Institute class and also one we shared in the MTC about Zion’s Camp and what a most difficult experience that was for the 200 plus who endured and then learned from the Life Lessons that were divinely designed to prepare the churches future leaders for what was ahead of them and how to ensure they could endure and win every time they faced their incredible tests. The Brigham Young’s that came out of Zion’s Camp gave the experience a very high rating for preparing them for their life’s mission. Sister Ritchie would ensure they saw their missions as their Zion’s Camp.
A real life story happened a few days following that lesson as one elder landed in Nigeria and discovered how hard it was; water two miles away, hotter than Hades, packing a five gallon bucket of water on his head and all uphill, of course, brought him to tears about how hard missions are and at the very most crucial point on that trek back to their apartment, he remembered Sister Ritchie’s Zion Camp experience – “It will be hard and it was designed to be hard and there is no other way to learn those tough life lessons…so laugh it off, endure it, learn from it and the sun will come up tomorrow!” He remembered that lesson, began laughing with sweat pouring off his face and said to himself…”This is my Zion’s Camp and I WILL WIN!” and he did.
“Mom, this mission is really, really hard and I’m not sure I can do it!” To which Our moms (and Dad’s) continue responding as they have for 190 years, ‘Yes You Can…it was designed to be hard, but worth every lesson you have to learn, and there is no better place to learn them. Remember President Hinckley’s father, ‘Forget yourself and go to work.’ You are destined to become a prophet or prophetess to your future family and you will be forever grateful that you never gave up, but instead laughed it off, cried a little and then prayed that Heavenly Father will make sure you find those people who have been placed in your path who will bring you incredible and eternal joy as you focus on them and not yourself. We love you, talk to you next Monday…now Go to Work.”
Happy New Year from the Ritchie’s in beautiful – but dang cold – Heber Valley!
Brother Jim Ritchie