Top Ten Reasons I’m Grateful for My Mission: 5

You can find the earlier posts in this series here, here, here, and here.

5) The Elders

I have no younger brothers. On my mission I came to feel a sense of siblingdom with a lot of the Elders in my different zones and districts – a feeling of occasional exasperation mixed with tenderness and deep affection, what I imagine I would feel toward my younger brothers if I had them. I loved those guys.

I served in the Provo MTC alongside an Elder from California. He and I were in each other’s district there and again after we moved to a smaller MTC in Latin America for our Spanish language training. Then, after we arrived at our mission country, we happened to be placed in the same district again. I will try to be careful in how much detail I give in this story because it is his and not mine.

He was a very thoughtful person. One day I discovered that every transfer period (every six weeks) he wrote a personal, individual letter – in Spanish – to each of the (around 15) Latin American missionaries, Elders and Sisters, in our mission. He had learned that their own families could not afford to send them letters, so he wrote short notes to them, offering words of encouragement and support. (This was technically against the rules – *missionaries are not allowed to write to other missionaries in the same mission. I think, though, that had the MP known he would have been proud of this Elder who wanted the Latin American missionaries to have something tangible to open alongside their North American companions.)

When I learned he was doing this, I felt both a sense of admiration for him and a sense of deep shame at my own inadequacy – it hadn’t crossed my mind even once to reach out in that way. And this Elder struggled more than most with Spanish, making it doubly impressive to me that he quietly, unobtrusively, sought out ways to buoy people up without letting the fear of making mistakes get in the way.

One day in our small district meeting – we had only two companionships in our district – he felt the need to tell us his story: He came from a large family, one of the youngest children of nearly ten and the only child to serve a mission. He was an athlete, a strong, big guy, as were his brothers, and he had turned down a sports scholarship to serve.

And, he told us in that small, intimate meeting, he came from a gang family.

A couple of years before his mission, one of his older brothers was killed in a gang feud. He explained that normally in those situations, gang families seek retribution by plotting revenge. But his family “remembered the church” – that phrase stuck in my mind – and chose another path. His father and mother and older brothers and sisters decided instead to pray for help to forgive his brother’s murderer. And he decided to be the first in his family to serve a mission.

He struggled with the language and with the culture of the country we served in. And, he said, on a more profoundly personal level, he struggled privately to expurgate himself of the gang norms of his past and to fit in to LDS mission culture. His biggest fear was that he wasn’t strong enough to see it through – that all the friends and family back home who had doubted his ability to be a good Mormon missionary would be proven right.

They weren’t. He completed his mission, and recently we got in touch again.




*Update* – I realized after I wrote this up that I was remembering this rule incorrectly – missionaries were not allowed to write to missionaries of the opposite sex who were serving in the same mission. For me as a sister missionary that pretty much meant that I couldn’t write to other missionaries. (Sisters made up just over 10% of my mission, and there was rarely more than one set of sisters in any district or zone, with the upshot that sisters rarely got to know other sister missionaries who weren’t their own companions.)

The fact that this Elder didn’t exclude the Latina sisters in his letters spoke volumes to me. They weren’t love letters (my one Latina companion showed me a couple of the notes he had written her, and they were 100% mission-appropriate in terms of content). I was glad that he looked at us as his sisters in the gospel and fellow missionaries first, and as women (off-limits!) second.


  1. It lifts me and surprises me that this missionary’s story, (snippet, really) filtered through your words, can inspire me on a badly uninspired Sunday. I’m inspired by his Christ-like, rule-bending creativity to support his fellow elders, and by his courage in changing the entropic flow of his worldly life by choosing a mission. But mostly, your post somehow purges some of the cynicism about the church and missionary work that infects me. You have my gratitude too.

  2. Galdralag,

    Thanks for this wonderful next installment. I never ceased to be surprised on my mission by the low-key amazingness of people I met.

    One time I was on splits with a greenie who I didn’t know very well. He came to my area to help teach a man who wanted to be baptized and was trying to quit smoking and drinking. The man was struggling with how hard it was. The greenie, Elder White, started telling him a story about this kid who became an alcoholic at age 9, was on cocaine at age 11, got involved in gangs, and was involved in gang violence several times when he was high. Then he met the missionaries, quit his drug and alcohol habits, was baptized, and wanted to go on a mission. He had to be interviewed by an apostle to be able to go. After hearing his story the apostle told him that he had not done anything that the sons of Mosiah hadn’t done. Then Elder White said, “I know you can quit those habits because I did. That boy was me.”

    He had taken me completely by surprise. The man and I just stared at him for several seconds. He grinned and the man grinned, and the man said that he was going to quit. They stood up and hugged and it was awesome.

    I got transferred and never saw the man again, but Elder White and I became great friends. I have other wonderful stories about him, but maybe I need to put them in a post.

    Anyway, just wanted to agree with you that the other elders (and sisters) were pretty much the best part for me about being a missionary.

  3. Thanks for your comments, all.

    Mike C. –

    I never ceased to be surprised on my mission by the low-key amazingness of people I met.

    This sums it up perfectly. I found my fellow missionaries to be such inspirational people. They gave me a lot of hope and belief in the goodness in the world.


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