I actually mailed this to my brother-in-law a few weeks ago, but thought it was worth posting here.
Before I go into anything else, let me first tell you how proud L. and I are that you are out there serving a mission. You are involved in one of the most important roles in the church, and from your letters I can tell you are taking it seriously and working hard.
This month marks the 12 year anniversary of my baptism, oddly enough, not too long (7 months) before you were baptized as a child of record. I will never forget Seth and Taylor, my missionaries, who completely changed my life. You will now have that same opportunity to find people who are ready to enter into discipleship. One of the greatest lessons I learned from missionary work, I learned while being taught. I don’t know if you know this, but 2 weeks before my baptism, your sister told me she didn’t like me and didn’t want to see me again. You see, she was afraid I was joining the church for her, and not out of sincere conversion. Frankly, after she left me, I wondered if this in fact was true. Was it possible I was just deluding myself, and that it was merely for a pretty face I was joining the church? Was I confusing romance for the spirit? Anyway, with the romance shattered, I got down on my knees and asked the Lord for guidance, only to discover the missionaries moments later knocking on my door, out past curfew, following a spiritual prompting to come see me. Seth and Taylor sat down and Seth told me he didn’t care if I was baptized or not, as he only wanted me to make the choice that would make me happy, and that we would be friends forever. It was having that release from the pressure to make a decision that allowed me to ultimately feel the confirming power of the Holy Ghost which allowed me to acknowledge that yes, the spiritual promptings I had experienced up to that point were not artificial, but that God really did want me to become a member of the church. As a missionary, when you genuinely care about people as individuals rather than as potential converts, that’s when you gain the ability to show the love, and it is love (charity) which never fails.
Having served a mission myself, I know it can be a challenge to always think about people as individuals with real lives and needs and feelings. Missionaries attract crazy people and crazy people are exhausting. I’ll never forget the guy on my mission who swore he had found the stone of Coriantumr’s people that King Benjamin translated and then was brought to the Philippines by Hagoth’s ships. It was a small boulder with a crack down one side which looked absolutely nothing like any form of writing. While it was hilarious, dealing with people like that day in and day out can have a sort of numbing effect on you. You can’t worry about it too much, but don’t miss the forest for the trees, and forget why you are there while you are racking up baptisms. I remember at one point on my mission being in district meeting after a stent of 10 weeks straight of baptisms in my area, when it occurred to me that there I was, gloating about the numbers I was hitting to my fellow elders when I realized that no one else in my district had any baptisms for months. Heck, no one in my zone had baptisms. Suddenly convicted of my sin of pride, I desperately wished there was something I could do to help the other missionaries have success in their missionary service, as I was having. To me, that is the next level of missionary service. It’s not just about helping people who aren’t members of the church find the Gospel and be converted, but it’s about helping the other missionaries have an incredible experience with Christ and helping the members to feel the power and love of God in their local congregations. I don’t mean lording over them as “one above them all” but loving and serving to and with them as Christ did.
I don’t know why I’m getting into all this with you M. Maybe it’s only to remind myself of it so that I don’t forget. That reminds me. 11 years ago, I was not sure I would serve a mission. I really struggled with it, as a convert. I just wanted to marry your sister and get on with my life. I was 22 years old and just starting my senior year of college. My Dad made me promise I’d finish college before I did anything else, and L. had just received her mission call to Italy, so I was reeling, unsure of what the best choice was. I felt like I was being asked to offer up my whole life on the altar of the Lord. We came to Texas after Philmont and visited your family, and went to talk to Bishop Hargrave about the struggle I was having with the choice to serve a mission. What an amazing Bishop! He and I talked and he assured me it was my choice and we frankly talked about how as a convert he had never served a mission, and the culture of Mormonism and how he felt it would be easier for his kids if he had served. Anyway, again feeling that there was no external pressure to make a choice, I went to the Lord on my knees, and asked him if I should serve. In that moment, in my mind’s eye, I surveyed those who would be impacted by my not serving. I saw in my mind’s eye the converts I would have. I saw L. and R. and A. and B., and that serving my mission would benefit them. And I saw you. Little 8 year old you. And so I chose to serve a mission because of you. That choice, though it was so hard at the time, was one of the greatest things I have ever done. So thanks for being a good little 8 year old. Your earnest example of Christlike love meant a lot to me.
Anyway, the girls[ed.-my daughters] ask about you. We love reading your letters. We’re so glad you’re a missionary.