So, my cousin came home from an LDS mission a week ago, and spoke in his church yesterday, so we went to hear him speak and to have a little social gathering at his parents' house.
I've thought, every now and then, that I ought to put something on my blog about LDS missionaries, as they tend to be the face of our church, and the main contact people have with us. For a few minutes, I sat with my uncle (the returning cousin's dad) and he and I talked about how long it had been since we were missionaries. It's been five years for me (I'd guess he'd rather I not say how long it's been for him, so I won't). Five years is a long time. I barely remember what happened two days ago. So, I figured that I should probably write about this while it's still stale in my memory, before it starts growing mold.
All my life, I'd grown up hearing about missions and thinking that I would probably go on one. It was much the same as one thinking that they'll get a job when they get older, it'll just happen. When I turned nineteen though, the reality of it hit me. You see, going on a mission in our church isn't just a few weeks building a school in Mexico. It's two years for men, and one and a half years for women. We don't choose where we go, and literally none of it has any kind of a vacation flare to it. It's right when most people get to do some pretty fun things, nineteen for men and twenty-one for women, and people can still go up until they're twenty-five (couples can also go on missions, but they're different in nature). So, when I was nineteen I really had to think about if I really wanted to go.
Talking to those who had gone on missions was interesting. There's always a light in their eyes when they remember it. I know that sounds really corny, but if you've ever heard someone talk about it, you'd know it's 100% real. They always remember it with fondness, which was always odd to me, because of what they said they did.
A missionary's day starts at six. There are no 'sleep-in' days. They exercise, eat breakfast, get ready, study the scriptures by themselves for an hour, and then study scriptures together. After that, it's knocking on doors (basically cold-calling people), talking to people on the street, teaching lessons, and helping people (as in, helping them rake their leaves, or shovel their walks, or tear down a barn, etc.). Their day ends at nine, unless they're teaching someone, then it ends at nine thirty. Once they get home, they plan for the next day and go to bed by ten (maybe ten thirty, it's been five years and I can't remember). The only different days are Zone Conferences (where a group of missionaries get together, share testimonies and listen to speakers) and Preparation Days (when missionaries do their laundry and go grocery shopping, and write letters to their family and friends). Missionaries still work on both of these days, they just take a few hours out to do other things.
Along with all of this, missionaries are only allowed to call home on Christmas and Mother's Day. That's only four times over the whole duration.
When I thought about all of this, I wasn't sure if I wanted to go. I thought a lot then, prayed a lot too. After some experiences that are too special to share on my blog, I decided to go. I went because I knew God wanted me to, for whatever reason.
I know why people talk about their missions the way they do, because I do it too. You learn to live on your own. It was rough not being able to talk to my parents very often, but I'm more independent now than I would have been. You learn to live with someone, even if you don't like them much. You don't get to choose the guy you're working with, so you learn to work with him. You learn to keep working, even when someone tells you you're spreading the message of the devil, or they just slam the door in your face. You learn to press on. Most importantly though, you gain a relationship with God at a very young age. You learn to trust in Him. You learn that He exists, and that He not only loves you, but loves everyone, and it makes you want to love them too. It may not have been easy, but I loved my mission. I know I wouldn't be who I am now if I hadn't gone.
If you read through this because you wanted to know something specific about missionaries, but this post didn't answer it, put a question in the comments and I'll answer it if I can.