My life is filled with amazing young men and young women who are willing to leave home and family for 18 months to 2 years so they can help others feel joy and come closer to Jesus Christ and learn of His gospel and doctrine. That’s no small thing in today’s world. They not only give up being with friends and family, they live out of 2 suitcases, assigned to places they’ve never been, living with companions they’ve never met. They talk to strangers, every day, in every sort of weather. They do hundreds of hours of community service (from dancing with Alzheimer’s patients in care centers to pulling weeds in hot prickly places so children’s bike tires aren’t punctured).
They study the life of Jesus Christ and study scriptures every day. They interact with people of all faiths, backgrounds and personalities. They are welcomed into homes and they have doors slammed in their faces. They learn from other points of view and share what they know to be true. Some do all this in another language.
They also learn how to live away from their moms, managing their time, doing their own laundry and cooking, and getting around town without devices connected to the internet. They learn how to work hard. They have only one preparation day a week where they can take care of their own needs like shopping or doing laundry or writing letters or emails home.
These young folks learn how to set goals and achieve them. They learn how to speak to individuals, groups, and even crowds. They learn to think critically and question things they don’t understand. They become readers and students, gospel scholars and friends.
They develop social skills and manners. They learn telephone etiquette and how to write thank you notes. They learn to exercise and eat well. They learn how to travel and appreciate differences. They learn to clean toilets and wash their own cars. Some learn how to ride bikes all over again. Every day, every hour, they are learning and changing.
All these things they do without their Moms. During the last 2 years, I’ve become a Mom to hundreds of these amazing young people. I watch them come, scared, homesick, awkward, lonely, timid and hopeful, and I see them go home bright, bold and strong.
This month, 23 of my mission children will return home to their parents and 29 more will leave their families to come here. Those who go are not the same people they were when they arrived here. They come and they change. And they change me. They stretch my heart out. My life becomes larger because they are in it; I feel more filled with love and hope and goodness.
Today was a day when a good sized group of them returned home to their families, to their Moms. It’s the Exchange. Yours for mine and mine for yours. For 18 to 24 months, I’ve been a Mom, a Teacher, a Cheerleader, a Confident, a Nurse, a Grammar Nazi, a Chef, and a Distributor of Hugs. And then the day comes when they return home.
It’s a bittersweet day for me, today in Yakima, as photos come into my phone of airport reunions and embraces I can’t feel from here. I love these missionaries and what they do and who they become. I love them with all my heart.
I pray every day that I will change just a little bit as each one of them changes. They are a gift to this world, and to me. If you ever see one of these good souls, I hope you’ll sit down with them and listen to what they have to say. Ask them what they learned while they were away. Ask them how they changed. And pay attention to what they say. They speak truth and they have had some remarkable experiences.
There are not many things that would entice me to leave my own children for 3 years to be here with yours, but this is an Exchange that has become a treasure to me. Thank you for sharing.
“I promise you that as you lift those around you, the Lord God, the Creator of the universe, will lift you up. If you will only believe and incline your heart to our Beloved Father, He will place within you a peace that surpasses understanding. He will give you joy. May each of you always remember this.” –President Uchtdorf