being back in the areas where i served as a missionary evoked an intense web of emotions. it was part wildly familiar and part foreign and different; part weird to be back and part weird that it’s not weird to be back; part anguish and part rapture. mostly it was about remembering – remembering miracles. i loved the mission more than i could ever express (although i’ve tried here, here and here). to be back was an absolute flood of memories both sweet and sour – but all sweet, really – and of sheer gratitude that i had the opportunity to serve in these places and among these people. i’ve never had more heart that i did as a missionary, and in basingstoke, reading and trowbridge this summer i found that heart again – shreds i had left in england.
i was so caught up in the sensations of being back that i took hardly any pictures during my time in basingstoke, my first area. i was too excited to see old and dear friends, people whose examples fundamentally changed me forever. i was too enamored with the memories that were stuck in the crevices of the well-worn roads i walked up and down in my ugly missionary shoes. i was wrapped up in the stinging, almost painful love that missionaries feel for those they’ve taught and the local members of the church that supported them. suffice it to say, it was like my heart was bare against the world during my quick over-night visit to what we missionaries called “amazingstoke” – i felt in those hours so deeply.
my friend terry picked me up from the train station. it was amazing to see him again, and to give him a hug. we met terry on easter afternoon, knocking on his door. we saw his world change as he learned about truth and developed a relationship with god. sister pedersen and i developed a sweet friendship with terry as he developed real faith. because i know so well what terry knows – because i was an eyewitness to him receiving answers from heaven – it was really hard for me to talk to him about his doubts this summer. to be with people that you care about so profoundly, who have tasted of the blessings of the gospel and aren’t savoring them fully, is one of the deepest and truest kinds of sorrow the world knows. while with terry and many others who i taught, i wanted to crawl into a corner and weep. but, simultaneously and strongly i felt such a warm hope, a hope that i couldn’t deny. during my time back in the mission field this summer i learned a lot about time, eternity, service, and hope.
in this picture terry and i are on the basingstoke high street, where i spent hours and hours street contacting – it was fun to be back.
terry drove me around the town to old friends’ homes, past the house my companion and i lived in, and to a park where we would love to go on runs and spend sunny preparation days:
then that night i got to go see the atkins family. few people in this world mean as much to me as joanne, lee and george atkins. sister pedersen and i stopped joanne on the street one blustery day and felt like we hit into a wall of the spirit – we had a really somehow powerful interaction with this new stranger. when sister hardisty and i went to the atkins’ home for the first time a few weeks later, lee told us that we had knocked on their door months before, which we had forgotten. one thing i know more surely than most anything in my life is that we were absolutely meant to meet the atkins family – it was divinely orchestrated, i am positive. when we first taught them, it had been only two weeks since they lost their little 8-year-old daughter to leukemia. the following weeks teaching in their home were some of the most profound and spiritually intense and sweet times of my life. it’s something i’ll never be able to explain to anyone else. it was a truly amazing experience for us all.
joanne and lee were baptized after i left basingstoke. while visiting with them this summer, i felt that glow of hope i mentioned earlier so, so brightly. i do know that one day the atkins will realize the outstanding and glorious blessings of full activity in the church and of the temple. bring back in their home was incredibly tender and wonderful. joanne pulled out her “mormon box” where she has kept everything we ever gave them – dozens of notes and articles and letters, etc. it was fun to reminisce. on my heart is emblazoned an image of these three atkins standing at their doorway waving goodbye to sister hardisty and i. to see that again, years later, feeling a so so beautiful human connection, was sublime.
i stayed overnight with one of my favourite couples from basingstoke ward, chris and karon banks. since i served there a long time, that ward became my family. the next day at church was an absolute party of love and fondness for me. i love those people so much and it was a delight to hug them and see the gleam of remembrance in their faces. as i left sunday school, i did a double-take when i saw someone familiar – it was the first person i had ever taught as a missionary. my first night in basingstoke my trainer took me to darren’s house, where we taught him and his wife and i was introduced to the wonders of the spirit of god guiding missionary work. long story short, darren broke our hearts and we lost contact with him. and here he was in sunday school! he told me he had been baptized one year, and he gushed thanks and gratitude for our service all that time ago, which was still so very in his heart. seeing darren was so neat.
basingstoke, amazingstoke! it was so crazy wonderful to be back.