Question: Why did you choose to serve a mission?
Answer: Honestly, that’s a tough question. At first I never really thought about it personally – at least not before I was actually on my mission. As unfortunate as it sounds, I started my mission mostly out of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, but mostly fear of letting my family down. At the time I felt that if I didn’t serve a mission, then the world would look down on me. My self worth kind of hinged on whether or not I served a mission. That being said, I am happy to note that with time, my mission became just that – mine. I was amazed at the effect the gospel had on people, including myself, and I came to really want to be there for me, and not for others. I came to love who I served and gained a desire to work. In the end, I chose to serve a mission because I wanted to.
Question: What does conversion mean to you?
Answer: Conversion to me really just means to consistently renew your faith. This, of course, includes both thought and action. Therefore, to me, conversion means that when you feel something is right, then you consistently try to act on those feelings. It means to be true to what you believe, and to stand up for it. It means that even when we feel down and defeated, that we still continue on until those times get better.
Question: Could you tell a trying/ challenging experience from your mission? What did you learn about yourself from this experience?
Answer: One of my favorite stories from my mission takes place somewhere near the middle of my first year as a missionary. It was transfer time and I was with a new companion, Elder Burrows. Both of us were relatively young in the mission, he younger than I, but I remember he was annoyingly chatty that day as we drove back to our apartment in Fontainbleu, Florida. It was my first time driving in the mission and I soon realized that I didn’t know the area as well as I thought I did. We had gotten onto the freeway and all seemed well until I started to see road signs displaying Key West on them. I knew that my area was nowhere near the Keys, and so I quickly exited the freeway, thinking that I must have driven too far already. My companion began to shuffle through the glove compartment to find a map, but the only one he found had been taped over to show only the borders of the Fontainbleu area. I eventually turned the car back around to head back to the freeway, realizing that Key West must advertise its whereabouts really early.
As we headed back I remember noting an intersection with a green light up ahead, and so I glanced over at my companion who was still trying to un-tape our map. When I looked back up, the street light had turned bold-red, and the car in front of me (a brown Escalade) was already at a stop about 20 yards in front of us. I was going 45 mph, and rammed head-on into the SUVs back bumper. Luckily, no one was hurt, but our car was completely demolished. The Escalade didn’t even have a dent! As the police arrived (and an ambulance) things seemed to slow down for me. When my mission president called to ensure our safety, I was told not to worry anymore – I wouldn’t need to drive for the rest of my mission… Not necessarily happy news, I began to “wallow in self pity”. Our area was massive, covering what seemed to be hundreds of miles. We had no progressing investigators, and in the past our area had been termed a “dead zone”. I didn’t really have much hope for the transfer, and already my companion was getting on my nerves. He had this ridiculously large smile on his face. I wanted to ask him what was wrong with him? Couldn’t he see that this was not a good thing that had happened? We were going to have to walk or bike everywhere in the sweltering heat and he was actually happy! Before I got a word out, he said, “Elder! Do you know what this means?” I obviously did not, but said, “What”. With an even larger smile he practically sang, “This means we are going to baptize a family this transfer!”
I remember wanting to punch him right then and there, but stopped myself. He would realize soon enough that our area wasn’t all that great. We eventually got to our area (a random man whose wife was a member pulled over and offered us a ride) and started to work. We had one true investigator at the time, but who we hadn’t been able to visit at all during the previous 2 months.
His name was Nelson Montilla, and although he came every week to church, his wife and 3 kids had shown no interest in the church and because of this, we hadn’t been able to establish a working relationship with any of them. The day after our car accident, Elder Burrows and I knocked on their door without calling them before-hand. Nelson answered and let us in! I don’t remember much of the actual lesson we gave, except for the very beginning. Elder Burrows and I had decided to begin each of our lessons with a hymn, and so on this particular day, we started our lesson with “Oh Esta, Todo Bien” (also known as “Come Come Ye Saints”). A feeling of overwhelming peace was there instantaneously, and as we sang the, the rest of Nelson’s family came out of their rooms to join us. It was truly amazing! We soon found out that Nelson was battling a brain tumor, which kept growing back after each operation. The song we sang had touched Nelson deeply and made him want more of that spirit that it brought, testifying that all would be alright. Nelson and I developed a great, close relationship and within weeks Nelson was baptized, soon followed by his wife, Jenny, and kids – Kathi, Genesis, and Nelsito. It was one of my favorite times in my mission.
I could stop the story there, but what came only a few months later defined the rest of my mission. Just after Halloween I was transferred to a new area, and so was not there when Nelson passed away in the middle of the night at the hospital, right after one last operation on his tumor. His funeral was beautiful – I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many people come to pay respects to someone before.
Because of Nelson my outlook on my mission completely changed. Instead of it being about me and the blessings I received, or the hard areas I was sent to, I began to really feel blessed to be a missionary. I realized that what really matters are the people around me – and the happiness that the gospel of Christ can bring them. It’s not up to me to decide whether an area is bad or “dead” or not. But it was my responsibility to give those people the chance to accept the gospel into their lives. I also learned that miracles come from bad situations, and that as long as we keep faith, we will see those miracles happen in our lives.