Serving a full-time mission for 18 months or two years, during which you dedicate yourself completely to focusing on serving the Lord, is something that will change you forever in so many ways, but only if you let it. That was the best advice I ever got – to let the mission change me. What grew and strengthened the most while I served in the New Hampshire Manchester Mission was my faith and testimony in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel. Before I went, I knew it was all true. But I didn’t necessarily know how to apply what I believed. I just knew it. Now, there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, just as there is a difference between testimony and conversion. Knowledge, or testimony is basically just having information. Wisdom, or conversion, is knowing how to use the knowledge you’ve gained, especially in a way the Lord would use it. So, while my childhood and teenage years gave me knowledge and testimony, serving a mission gave me wisdom and conversion. I’m definitely not perfect, though so I don’t have all the wisdom and knowledge. That will take a lifetime to gain, but at least I have more in the areas that really pertain to my eternal salvation.
From the very beginning when I was set apart to serve the Lord, to the time I was released, I was tried and tested in many different ways. Each time, I received more experience and strength. There were things that happened in my family just as I was leaving that might have made others question if there was even a God. But right then, I knew I was being tested to see if what I knew was what I would actually do. I knew my Heavenly Father and Savior needed me to serve them full-time, and I wasn’t about to let anything stop me. Because I chose to serve anyway, despite the circumstances at home, I was greatly blessed and given so much strength for me to go on, and so was my family. I learned better how to rely on the Lord and how to allow others to comfort and serve me when I needed it. But I also gained experience that let me be a comfort and a beacon of hope for those I served. I was able to let my light shine in a way that strengthened my companions, my leaders and my ward families.
My faith was tried and tested as I received companions that I had to get used to. I was reminded daily that my companion was someone who I needed to love, serve, communicate with and open up to. I couldn’t keep everything in the way I was used to doing. My prayers became more earnest and sincere as I pleaded with the Lord to give me strength and patience. Because of that, my relationship with Him grew stronger and I became more and more comfortable sharing what was really on my mind and in my heart, both with Him and with my companion.
Every day, we faced people who hated us, slammed doors in our face, called us devil-worshippers, or blamed us for problems. We struggled to find people who might be interested in the Church, let alone those who were interested in being baptized. There were times when my companion and I had to stop for a minute, hug each other, maybe cry a bit, say a prayer and continue on. Sometimes the tears were because we didn’t know if we could keep going, but most times, the tears were for someone else who was struggling or who had rejected the opportunity to learn more about their Savior.
My faith was strengthened as I grew in the knowledge of the scriptures and words of the modern-day prophets and apostles. I heard the testimony of my companion on a daily basis, and my leaders’ testimonies on a weekly or monthly basis. I shared thoughts during companionship study, as did my companions. I learned to follow the Spirit on a regular basis because without it, it would have been impossible to continue forward, doing what the Lord had called me to do. My faith was strengthened as I listened to the trials other people were going through. Compassion and the pure love of Christ flooded through me on each occasion, and I wanted nothing more than to help them in any way that I could. On all of these occasions where my faith was tested, tried, and strengthened, I began to understand on a deeper level who Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father are and how much they truly love us, despite all of our shortcomings.
Before returning home, I started to wonder if I would be able to continue progressing as much as I was while serving non-stop, day and night with nothing to think about but other people. I was a little worried that I would fall into bad habits I’d had before, or that I wouldn’t be able to feel the Spirit as much or continue seeing the way God sees. Until I was released, it seemed as though my mission was just another chapter that I was finished with and would never get back, only through memories.
Thankfully, within just a couple of weeks, I was proven to be quite wrong about all that. Because my mission was teaching me how to apply what I had previously learned, that knowledge and wisdom became more deeply ingrained into who I am today. I still feel God’s love for me and those I see every day. I still feel the Spirit guiding me and helping me when I need it. I may not be able to study for two hours every day, or spend all day, every day serving people. I might not have the opportunity to teach the Gospel as much as I did on my mission. But I can still share my testimony monthly, weekly and even daily. I can still serve those around me. And I know that I will always continue pressing forward, as long as I remember the Lord and always strive to do His will instead of mine.
I believe that before serving my mission, I was just trying to figure out how to deal with and getting used to having a body and being away from my Father in Heaven. Anyone during that time, and sometimes even longer, has to explore the natural man and figure out how to control it. Your mission, whether it’s serving full-time or another section in your life where you learn to serve, put others before yourself, and grow closer to your Savior is when you learn to re-connect with yourself spiritually, who you were before this life when you lived with Heavenly Father. I’ve felt that my mission was more of a training center for life than anything else, especially now that I’m home and am having to apply what I’ve learned. Because now, I get to see that my mission truly taught me how to have an eternal perspective and love. It taught me how to forget myself and care for the welfare (spiritually and physically) of others. If you learn to start thinking the way your Father in Heaven and Savior do, then your mission is most definitely not the only time in your life that you recognize great blessings and are close to the Lord. Your mission is only to train you how to BE – it’s simply just the beginning.
Mosiah 3:19 says: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” After a mission, you now know yourself as a spiritual being as well as a physical being, or a natural man. So now, your job is to figure out how to balance the two – worrying about yourself enough to keep yourself strong physically and spiritually, but still serving others more than yourself.
It’s quite the fascinating journey, but I love it so much! I have continued to be amazed each time I look back at where I started and where I am now. Just when I think that there is no way I could progress anymore, the trials, lessons, then miracles and blessings pour down even more abundantly. I have learned to love trials and even look forward to them because I know that they are something that will make me better and stronger than who I was before. If we never fail to remember the Lord in every instance, true happiness and joy will always follow. Once we learn to look through heaven’s eyes and have unshakeable faith in our Savior, then we will be amazed at how much simpler, how much happier, and how much greater life is. You don’t have to serve a full-time mission to learn all these things. You just have to be searching for truth, peace and joy. That’s what the Gospel of Jesus Christ does for us. It brings us each of those things! It teaches us how to be like God in every way.
I know this not just because I’ve served a mission, but because I have faith and hope in my Savior Jesus Christ. Alma 32:27-28 says:
“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”
Faith starts as a seed. It takes time to cultivate, to help it grow into a large, strong, beautiful tree. If your seed of faith is one that you continue to strengthen, it will enlarge your soul and bring you closer to Christ. All it takes is a tiny seed of faith to bring knowledge of truth and wisdom of how to use it.
I know my Savior and my Father, and I look forward to strengthening that knowledge and testimony every day for the rest of my life. Life truly is wonderful. The Lord is magnificent. I love them both. This knowledge has blessed me. It has allowed me to look forward with excitement and joy to the future, to trials and hardships, to happy times and to sad times. I know that it can do the same for you, but only if you let your life mission change you.