It didn’t take me very long to decide whether I was going to serve a mission. I was fortunate to have a father and extended family members whose direct examples stood as evidence of the great rewards that result from obeying the prophet’s voice in that regard. Now that I have been home for 7 years, I can say with full surety that every promised blessing they told me would come from serving a full-time mission was fulfilled - and to my continued amazement, my life is still blessed every day because of it.
A central component as to why a mission is so worthwhile, is the deep and abiding connections you make with the people you meet and teach. I fondly remember the first person I ever baptised: an 11-year old boy named Tutus Sosolito Fred. I did question for a second if one so young was prepared to live what he had been taught - or even understood it for that matter, but his calm temperament and attentive nature showed me he was, and I soon felt assured it was his appointed time to join the true Church. I never knew what happened to him after being transferred out of his area, because there’s no electricity or postal service there to keep in contact. However, now and then I’ll look at a photo of his baptismal service, and memories of our interactions will come back to me.
That photo of his baptismal service has hung in the hallway of the New Zealand Missionary Training Centre for the last 7 years. Recently, staff there contacted me and said they had come to realise one of their new missionaries was the same boy from my photo.
My convert Tutus, was now a missionary himself.
They were kind enough to invite me to meet with him. Our reunion at the MTC was short as I had classes to attend that day, but it was great. We hugged, and in our excitement must’ve randomly shaken each other’s hands about four times throughout our conversation. We noted that we never actually thought we’d see each other again, and how great the circumstances were for our meeting. I told him how proud I was of him for developing his testimony further, and that acting on that testimony by sharing it with others through a mission was the right choice. For me, the feeling I had was somewhat reminiscent of how Alma felt upon reuniting with the sons of Mosiah:
“...[he] did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.” (Alma 17:2)
The joy we shared stemmed directly from the fact that we were able to stand before each other – I, a missionary who had been on the Lord’s errand, and he, a precious soul who had converted to the Lord’s Church - and say that even after all this time had passed, and despite our own mistakes, we had both remained true and faithful to the covenants and commandments I had invited him to live all those years ago.
For a time following my mission, I wouldn’t have been able to feel that way during such a reunion. In fact, before a trip to Utah some years ago, a friend asked me if I would be visiting my mission president. I had no interest in seeing him. I felt if we did meet, he would see a less faithful version of the missionary he once knew.
I hadn’t done anything that wouldn’t prevent me from holding a current temple recommend, but many things weren’t right. Neither did I doubt the truths and revelations I had received, but when I tried to recall them to memory, they were blurry and didn’t stir up as much conviction within me. I questioned how I could have suddenly found myself feeling so far from God, because I had been doing the same amount of good I had always done.
Therein lay the problem: I had been doing the same amount of good I had always done. I had become complacent in my faith, coasting on previous sacrifices and acts of faith, and not keeping the fire alive by making new ones.
The mistake many returned missionaries make is that they want to maintain the level of spirituality they attained during their mission. But their goals should be aimed for something much higher than that. Instead of maintaining their faith, they should seek to build on top of it, and become someone even greater than the missionary they once were. To survive spiritually post-mission, they need to be doing even more than they did for those 18 or 24 months of full-time service.
Fundamental to generating the spiritual power to grow beyond the people we were as missionaries, is the consistent effort to continue those daily practices of studying the Book of Mormon and accompanying it with sincere prayer. For over a year I have read from the Book of Mormon every day, and testify that when we familiarise ourselves with the way God speaks in its pages, we’ll be more equipped to recognise that same voice in our lives. The Plan of Salvation at work around us will also be more apparent and will put both our struggles and ambitions into the right perspective.
Most importantly, the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ will begin to take effect within us. I myself have felt a surge of power to lengthen my stride in service, tackle personal challenges with optimism, and have guilt I once carried swept away. We are so fortunate that our God is a merciful one, and has provided His Son Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for our sins. Through repenting and redirecting my will to align with His, I have become an even better man than I was at the end my mission, and find myself entrusted with more opportunities to pronounce blessings upon people and assist in His work. This current course can only continue for as long as I remain obedient, but I do see that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is truly enabling in helping us to become all that we can be.
If we don’t continue to live the principles we invited our investigators and converts to live on our missions, we make hypocrites of ourselves and the truth is not in us. I envision many of them still retain an image of us as a missionary in their homes, and use it as motivation when faced with difficult choices between right and wrong. The extent of our love for them will always be reflected in our obedience. If wrong choices have been made however, even grave ones, the way is prepared for us to repent and be made anew.
While I was privileged to meet with one of my converts following my mission, the day will come when we will meet again with all our converts, and the Lord. If we press forward in the faith, our meeting will be sweet, and they will be able to hear the Lord say to us: “. . . Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew 25:21)