22 September 2009
how was the mission?
a question i've heard a thousand times since my return to the "real world" is, "how was the mission?"
my answer is usually a flabergasted expression, fire in my eyes, a deep breath and - "it was so great. i loved every second." and i feel so incredibly trite, awkwardly unrepresentative, almost dishonest, completely unable to give even a sliver of appropriate passion in the response. suddenly, the conversation has moved on and i feel defeated.
oh my goodness, how was the mission?? it exceeded my wildest dreams and keenest expectations a million fold, on both the hard and the fantastic ends. i could have never imagined how incredible it was; i could have never dreamed up how significant and wonderful and thrilling and heart wrenching and joyful and gutting and celestial it became. i LOVED the mission. i loved every second.
who knew i had such depth of emotion, such an broad ability to love, such a overflowing adoration for the truth and such endurance to endure? i had no idea, and i realize more and more every day what miracles god made within me in those blessed 18 months. really, it had nothing to do with me. i was willing and sincerely attempting to be sincere and god used me. he worked through me. and i saw miracles within and without, every day. that god would use me, even me, as his instrument to touch lives and to change bits of the world astounds me. i feel so blessed and grateful and passionate about the mission. i shudder to think that i even considered missing it for a second. i could have never known how great it was but i took that leap of faith and every day for eternity i will be immensely grateful for that.
as a missionary i felt the spirit rush through me literally every day. i could feel it in my veins and coming out my face and my eyes and my mouth and my fingers. i felt the truth like fire in my bones when it was accepted and when it was rejected. i felt angels around me, no doubt about it, and i felt like an angel myself so often. i came to love and adore people in such a pure and beautiful way and when that love was reciprocated, life felt like heaven. i was happy as a missionary in a way that i've never been before and never will be again. i remember one morning toward the end walking past a full-length mirror in our flat and catching a glimpse of my reflection as i walked to the study room for personal study. there i was, a missionary, what i had always dreamed of being, in my frumpy missionary clothes, battered and exhausted on every end. i did a little dance in front of the mirror that morning. my heart was bursting with joy and i couldn't keep it in. just a little joyful gig and into a hour of peaceful enlightening study across the table from my companion.
what an incredible experience it is to be a representative of the saviour jesus christ. this representation took many forms, whether it was making friends with the homeless people on oxford road or just smiling at all the strangers that passed by me on the high street on a p-day or telling bus drivers and ladies at the till that god loves them or unfolding the secrets of life to those who have been eagerly searching and prepared by god himself. there were sweet times when i opened my mouth and out came something i did NOT concoct and i literally felt like a mouthpiece; a mortal, physical vehicle through which god could tell his children what he wanted he wanted them to know. one day on the high street i met a girl named leigh, who broke down in tears as we started teaching her of god's complete love for her. we testified to her that god answers every prayer, in his own way and in his own time. she said her dad had died, and for years all she prayed for was for someone to tell her everything is going to be okay. my heart beating so fast i looked her deep in the eyes, down to her soul and said, "leigh, everything is going to be okay." i felt like an angel, and i was to leigh that day. countless times i was led by an unseen glorious power to people or places or things or ideas. i remember so many nights sitting in new friends' homes or flats, the spirit buzzing all around us and making my every nerve ending tingle, as they made a commitment or a decision or found an answer or shared their new testimony.
i met and taught people from every walk of life and from all over the world. there were plenty of crazies (the funny stories could make a whole book), lots of cruel hardened people, the humblest of the humble and the haughtiest of the proud. i entered the homes of people with astonishingly diverse ideas, cultures, values, opinions and cares. i mingled with the distraught and boldly testified to the confident. i recounted joseph smith's description of the first vision literally thousands of times and a chill would run down my spine or my face would burn or my heart would glow or just twitter; i said "god loves you" millions of times to all these different, different people and every single time i knew it was true, no matter who they were. all of these different people, all of them, so varied, were or will be blessed by the restored gospel of jesus christ. that's the amazing part. no matter who they are - the gospel is true, and god does love them. i told countless muslims that i know jesus christ is more than a prophet but the very son of god; i challenged many atheists to just pray and find out if god was listening; i poured my heart out to many christians, displaying my conviction that the priesthood power that christ gave his apostles was indeed gone and has indeed been restored. i met so many diverse people, and i loved them all, even the ones who yelled at us and cursed us and demeaned us in every single way. i loved them so much despite it all or because of it all.
i saw people's lives change. dramatically. i compared the original person i met maybe one night knocking on doors under an umbrella in the rain to a new glowing creature at a baptismal service. they changed! everything changed - the way they looked, the way they talked and acted, the way they felt, the way they looked at the world around them. it was such a miracle to watch. sometimes it was more gradual than other times. i remember many lessons realizing that people were changing right before my eyes. the most exquisite feelings came when i heard these new beloved friends pray for the very first time to their newfound heavenly father. they were almost always nervous and their prayers were always perfect in every way. amber, a beautiful young mother from china said her first prayer in our presence: "heavenly father. sister pedersen and sister eyre have come to teach me today that you are true. i believe it. in the name of jesus christ, amen." we would open our eyes as we all knelt together in that dim room in flats and houses all over the south of england and look into each others' eyes and feel really special about what just happened.
this all seems so trite, and the superlatives of the english language so incapable of description. suffice it to say, in so many magical, perfect, sparkly moments as a missionary i felt floating above the earth; i felt joy and peace and love and wonder that i could have never imagined existed. it was magic, and the very best kind. real magic, from heaven.
and you know what made it so fantastically wonderfully spectacularly exquisitely great? the fact that it was so stinking hard. excruciatingly hard. the fact that every magical moment was matched or temporarily superseded by some horrible, cruel, gutting moment. as much as i couldn't have imagined how beautiful the mission would be, there is no way i could have imagined how brutal and grueling it was. there were so many times when i literally thought i was loosing my mind, or i literally felt like my heart had been ripped out and stomped on. disappointment beyond what i had ever touched on before came to me in floods and in torrents. i was so insanely tired so much of those 18 months; every part of me in every facet was exhausted to the core. i felt alone, scared, defeated, tempted, disoriented, beat up, and sorrowful. and isn't that so so great?! this was my favourite part of the mission: it was HARD! i was in the refiner's fire, i was a rough stone rolling, and i absolutely adored it! all the pain made the joy so much better. the contrast was so deep that i felt so thrilled and alive and vibrant. the paradoxes made every second interesting and fascinating and wonderful and amazing. i felt consistently hollowed out my heartache and my heart was stretched to feel more love. even after being let down over and over and over, i still found faith in people and love for the work. to me, this is another proof that it is indeed the work of god. people often challenged us on the streets or at the door: we were there because our parents told us to or because we had been brainwashed. several times i cried through impassioned eyes as i told these beloved people of the unpaid, unglamorous and often temporally unrewarded hardship we endured everyday. i gushed with emotion as i explained to them the sacrifice and the real rewards. "there is no way, no no way, i would do this," i told them, "if it was not truly the work of god." and so it is.
before i left on the mission, i viewed the things i was leaving behind as ginormous sacrifices. i was stunned by what i was giving up; it seemed so huge. about a quarter of the way through i realized how incredibly tiny these sacrifices were when compared to the blessings of serving the lord full-time. they were so very minuscule, and were paid for a thousand, even a million fold in those magical moments and in those horridly difficult moments. never could anything be more worth it. i would have given it all up willingly, beggingly, just to experience things like: hearing deben, our beloved nepalese hindu friend pray hushed and careful to heavenly father; seeing delightfully eclectic colin smile for a solid, beaming ten seconds out at the congregation as he came out of the waters of baptism; crying with the atkins family as we discussed the reality of being with their daughter (who died of leukemia just weeks earlier at age 8) again and forever; listening to terry say he found what he felt was missing in his life for years; witnessing overworked and poverty-stricken george from china stand up from his confirmation and immediately hand his tithing to the bishop; watching the ruffels family get enthused on every hand about the gospel; drowning tammy's cigarettes and gleefully listening to her describe that she felt the spirit in little "moments"; hearing richard beautifully present his testimony at his own baptism service; helping dani sort out all her unchaste things to bring to the charity shop across the road; seeing dianne absolutely blossom right before our eyes and come out of a dark tunnel she had been in for decades; and watching smiles or tears come out on the faces of strangers as the felt the spirit in connection with our message. yes, i would give up anything over and over again for these supernal experiences.
well i think you all get the point: i loved the mission. i will forever be passionately grateful that it was right for me. and that badge i wore for 18 months is emblazoned on my heart.