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Editor’s Note: Sister Michaela Proctor has been serving for the last 18 months in the Zambia, Lusaka Mission in Africa and will return home tomorrow morning.
The day I got my mission call was one of the happiest days of my life. As I sat in a BYU devotional with President Henry B. Eyring, my Dad sent me the short and significant text, “Your call is here.” I was shocked. It had only been a week. I bounced around with anticipation all day until I arrived home, opened the mailbox, and held in my hands the next 18 months of my life.
As I opened my call in front of that intimate group and attempted to conceal the whole of the letter so as to read one line at a time, I couldn’t prevent my eyes from sneaking a glance down to the words, “Zambia Lusaka Mission,” accompanied with a gasp of emotion. In that unforgettable moment I could never have foreseen or comprehended the eternity-altering experience that lay ahead.Even with research and daydreaming, I remained in ignorance as to what was to come, relying solely on faith.
No tiny missionary who hugs her family goodbye has any real clue of what she is getting herself into. No amount of Preach My Gospel preparation can prepare the heart and mind for the soul-stretching months that lay ahead as you walk away from your loved ones into a bright, yet foggy destiny. I will never forget stepping onto that escalator and waving the last goodbye to you. The Spirit whispered, “You will blink and you will be coming back down this escalator to greet your family again.” I have blinked and in two days I will be riding that same escalator and returning to your arms.
An escalator–what an insignificant, commonplace thing to constitute the bookends of this glorious mission. It may be easy to imagine I’ve simply spent 18 months in the depths of the Salt Lake airport just waiting for the right time to come back out. But I will assure you that the girl that went up that escalator is not the same woman who will come down.
Where once I went relatively blindly into my mission experience, I now return having actually experienced it. It’s no longer a vague destination on a call letter but it’s a place and a people and an era that is embroidered into the very fabric of my soul. I could have never supposed when I started off from my homeland to a far away unknown, that God would have granted me such great blessings (Alma 26:1).
My mission has challenged me to the very core–body, mind and spirit. I’ve been rejected so much that it doesn’t even make me flinch. I’ve spent so many days without power and running water that it’s no longer a disappointment, just a norm. I’ve walked the dusty roads of Lilongwe, hiked the rainy mountains of Blantyre, knocked the gates of Lusaka, and fried in the heat and “hell fire” (haha) of Luanshya. I’ve seen people in deep despair and have hit my knees in sorrow, too. But amidst it all I have become deeply acquainted with my dear Savior and felt incomprehensible joy.
My greatest joy has come from seeing the miracle of change–hearts touched, sins repented of, branches reignited, and eyes illuminated with the light of the knowledge of Christ. Satisfaction has come as I have seen investigators open the Book of Mormon for the first time or kneel in fervent prayer, less actives remember the Spirit they once felt and enter the tiny meeting house once again, and members step closer to their eternal potentials and give selfless service. I have been inspired by the faith of consecrated leaders who sacrifice everything for the cause of Christ. I have been moved by investigators who step forward to be baptized despite persecutions from family and friends. And I have seen the Atonement work miracles inside of me, too.
The lesson that encompasses all other lessons I have learned on my mission is love. My imperfect and often prideful heart has been softened by the infinite love of Jesus Christ. Amidst pleading for, studying for, weeping for, sweating for, and sacrificing for these amazing people I have tasted just a sliver of what the Savior felt on His mission culminating with the most infinite act of love–the Atonement.
If charity really is the pure love of Christ then charity is, at the core, the Atonement. Therefore, none of us will quite be able to accomplish having true charity, but the closest thing we can get to that true charity–the Atonement–is sacrificing for God’s children. It is only through sacrifice that we can attempt to become like Him.
The Malawian and Zambian people have taught me to truly love and give freely, for instead of strangers they are my brothers and sisters. They, in their greatest need and poverty, have given so wholeheartedly to me, who never deserved such sacrifice. But no eternal or abiding love ever came without sacrifice. Because I have given these months to them they have become my family. One thing I love about Malawian/Zambian culture is that everyone calls each other familial names. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a taxi man call out, “Seesta! Taxi!” or a child giggle and say, “Auntie, how are you?”
Even in meeting for the first time, you call old women your grandmother and middle-aged women your mother. Children call their mother’s sisters their moms, and their father’s brothers their dads, and nearly all cousins are called brothers and sisters. They have taught me to see with clearer eyes that we are eternally connected as God’s family. I haven’t just been loving strangers here–they have become ever so dear to me.
I will not attempt to tell you the whole of the events this week, but I will tell you that my sweet sister Maria Kapembwa was baptized and confirmed as a member of the Church. My skin can barely contain the love I have for this woman. She has come so far in such a short amount of time. I’ve seen her countenance get brighter and brighter and as she put on her baptismal suit I just about exploded with joy. The testimony she bore after her baptism was simple and sweet. The Gospel has changed her. As we taught our last lesson with her yesterday, we all wept together and in her greatest attempt in comforting me she said, “Don’t worry, we’ll meet at the temple.” The temple is already her next goal.
As we walked with her through Kamirenda to have a celebration dinner with the Kanyesha family, drunk men spit degrading words at her about the church and she proudly defended the church and declared she is a member of it. And as we passed a less active working in his garden I said, “That guy hadn’t been to church since 2008 and he came today. It was a miracle!” She said, “That will never be me. I will keep coming to church until the very end.” Truly, she was one of the greatest miracles of my entire mission and I can’t imagine any better “happy ending” than this one. Christ really is the granter of our fondest dreams.
The tenderest feelings of my heart are wrapped up in these people and in what my mission has done to me. As I come home I can’t help but cry to the Lord, “My mission has meant everything to me, yet after all of this refinement I am still so imperfect.” I am sure a similar cry will be said at the end of our lives, “My life has meant everything to me, yet after all of this I am still so imperfect.” I am grateful for a Savior that makes up for my greatest imperfections. I may have come to the end of my full-time mission but this is only the beginning of my lifelong discipleship and dedication to Christ.
For the past 18 months I have walked, talked, ate, slept, and breathed missionary work and I can honestly say I have lost myself in the work. I don’t quite know who I was before mission or who I will be post-mission but I do know that in losing all the “extras” I have gone exploring in the deeper, eternal parts of my divine identity and have discovered something beautiful. I may have a small identity crisis awaiting me at home but this will only lead to even more self-discovery. Eternity is on the up and up and “death” is but my next great adventure.
I love being a missionary (that will always be said in the present tense).
I love my Savior.
And I love you all.
Thank you for your love and support.
Til we meet,
Sister Michaela Proctor
Editor’s note: Death is mission slang for leaving your mission.