There was a moment, about 5 months into my mission, where everything changed. It was the moment when I went from being an unwilling, unhappy protester of missionary work to a happy, and successful missionary.
This is the story of when it “clicked” for me.
I had gone through 12 weeks of MTC training and arrived in my mission full of a desire to actually experience the ‘work’ of missionary work. I was also hesitant, because I knew my own lazy nature. When I met my mission president one of his questions to me was “what sort of companion do you want to have?”
I answered immediately with “one who works hard.”
I was blessed with a hard working trainer who I shall call “Companion.” He shared my passion for music. Our first day together we had a baptism and sang a duet of “Our Savior’s Love.” We would often make it a point to sing a song for our investigators, and I feel it brought the spirit.
But the phrase “hard working” doesn’t quite encompass the intensity of my trainer. He was driven. He was a maniac. I’ll try to explain just how much this guy loved working.
Most evenings we would spend our time knocking on every door we could until the last possible moment then jumping on our bikes and riding home as fast as we could to try and get there before our curfew. Often he would get ahead of me and I would get frustrated that he wouldn’t wait up.
“Can’t wait! We’ll be late! Push harder!” He would shout over his shoulder.
So we’d kill ourselves nightly in our mad rush to return home. We’d arrive sweaty and breathless and tumble through the apartment door with Companion checking his wrist watch. A minute early? We hadn’t knocked enough doors. A few seconds late? We were disobedient for being out past curfew. We’d remain sweaty and hot for hours afterwards since we were basically on a tropical island and we had no air conditioning.
His commitment level was something I struggled to match. I loved the idea of working as much as I could, but sometimes it almost seemed like he wanted to make things even more difficult for us, as if our suffering would somehow bring us greater blessings in the work. This method started to grate after a few days. It made me angry after a couple weeks. After a month I was full of resentment and anger.
After 6 weeks – one transfer – of this pace, I was pretty beat. We had no baptisms during that transfer which was a first for my companion. He had never had a transfer without at least one baptism.
The night before the new transfer we arrived home as usual, smashing through the apartment door just seconds before we were due to call in and report our work for the day. Companion was furious that he was reporting his end-of-transfer numbers with a big fat zero in the baptisms column.
I, on the other hand, sat in my chair in front of my fan and sulked. I probably should have updated the area book or made some plans for the next day or studied the language or something. Instead I let my mind wander as I half paid attention to companion telling the zone leaders that, “yes, it was a disappointing transfer. Yes, we will strive to be more diligent. Yes, we know we will be blessed.”
As I sat there in the heat I did the thing that missionaries should probably never do. I started thinking about home. It was May. Every year in May I would take a trip to Disneyland. I thought about previous trips. I started fantasizing.
My thoughts went something like this: If I were home right now, I’d be in Disneyland. I’d ride a roller coaster. I’d get myself a milkshake. And most of all, I’d sit down in New Orleans Square and listen to the jazz band there.
I don’t remember all the items on my list of “things I would do if only I were free,” but there were about 5 things I wished I was doing that being on a mission simply wouldn’t allow.
I went to bed that night sullen and frustrated.
About an hour into trying to fall asleep in the sweltering heat, I rolled over and saw my companion still kneeling by his bed, praying. I selfishly thought to myself that he was probably praying about me – praying that I would start working harder so he could get back to his precious baptisms.
The next day was a new transfer and we took over a neighboring area. That made our area the largest in the mission both in area as well as population. Companion decided we ought to go to the other area and visit a recently baptized member who hadn’t been showing up to church lately. It would also give us a chance to start learning the new roads. So, first thing in the morning, we rode across a bridge we lovingly called “The Bridge of Death.” It was about a half mile long and full of speeding cars and motor scooters. It was terrifying. His advice to me? Just pedal as hard as you can and try to get across in once piece.
I remember getting angry that he would choose for us to take this route. I had logical reasons for why I resented it, but it was really just a matter of me being selfish.
Once across the river we headed to the home of the member. She lived on top of a small mountain on the far side of the new area. The ride was, well, excruciating. Finally, we got up the hill and knocked on the door.
Turned out she wasn’t home in the middle of the day on a work day. As if she had things to do or something. Weird.
I remember thinking “Jeez, Companion, you couldn’t have called first to check?” I might have even been so rude as to say it out loud.
So we started riding back down the hill. My companion was going super slow. I asked him why he was going so slowly.
“I hate going down hills.” he said.
“Going down is the best part!” I said.
He shook his head. “No, I hate it. I like going up. Going down is… scary.”
Our next task for the day was to try and visit a former investigator to see if we could get her to come back to church again that Sunday. Oh, did I mention? Her house? On the top of another mountain. In our old area. On the farthest point possible from where we currently were.
So, back across the Bridge of Death we went.
Back in our old area we started up the mountain to our investigators home.
Now this road remains, to this day, the steepest road I’ve ever seen. It was built onto one of those tropical asian mountains which rise straight up out of the ground like a jungle covered pillar. It was so steep we couldn’t ride up the road even in our lowest gear. We had to zig zag back and forth across the road to incrementally gain altitude. Occasionally we would jump off the bikes and simply walk them up since that was just as fast as riding.
We finally reached her door and knocked.
Not surprisingly, in the middle of the day on a work day there was nobody home.
My companion cheerfully opened the area book and started looking for a less-active member to visit. I sat and stewed, blaming my companion for having such poor plans for the day and dragging me across the entire area and up mountains and murmur murmur murmur…
Eventually he chose somebody for us to visit. I knew basically how to get there, so I decided to take the lead.
I set a goal at that point that I wouldn’t touch my brakes. I kicked off, and started down the mountain road.
I don’t know how fast we were going, but I don’t recall ever going faster on a bike. I stayed low to reduce drag. My tie flapped over my shoulder and my nametag clung to my shirt in terror. My poor companion was torn between his desire to stay obedient to the rule of always staying with your companion, and his fear of down.
We came to a stop under a freeway overpass. After a few minutes, Companion caught up, looking only slightly terrified. I think he figured I was upset at that point because he asked if I wanted to grab a smoothie before our next appointment. I happily agreed.
Once we arrived at the home of the less-active member, she would not let us into her home, but she did stay in the alley to talk with us. My grasp of the language was poor, and my interest was low, so I found myself walking around, peering into crates, and examining our surroundings.
Here’s something worth noting: Only looking back do I realize just how rude and unhelpful I was. At the time I felt like I was acting perfectly appropriately considering my circumstances.
The alley was homes on one side, and a long brick wall on the other. The brick wall was the border of the grounds of a local high school. The building of the high school was a few stories taller than the wall and the upper floor had a large window propped open to let in the breeze. I leaned against the wall and waited for my companion to finish talking with the member.
Just then, from out of that upper window, I heard the school band start blasting out some hot jazz tune. I mean the best sounding big band you’ve ever heard. It sounded great. I perked right up and started edging even closer to that open window.
My companion’s eyes got wide and he gestured for me to get away from the wall, as if being close to the music of babylon would corrupt my missionary zeal.
I pretended I didn’t notice.
“Companion!” he hissed at me. “Come on!”
Reluctantly, I pulled myself away and stood next to my trainer till we finished our visit with the member. The band finished their song and remained silent the rest of the time we were there. As we got on our bikes and headed to lunch I asked my companion if he heard the band. His response was “We’re not supposed to listen to stuff like that.”
I opened my mouth to say “I used to go to disneyland every year and one of my favorite parts was listening to the jazz bands.” But instead I just sat on my bike with my mouth open.
In my mind I went over all the things I had lusted for the night before. The roller coaster ride, the shakes, the jazz band, and so on. As I thought about it, I realized that every single thing I had thought about I had already experienced that day as a missionary. The ride down the mountain was more thrilling than any roller coaster. The smoothie was just as delicious as any shake. The jazz band was the best I’d ever heard. And so on.
It felt like a bolt of lightning striking me. I can’t think of how else to describe it. I realized that it wasn’t even noon and already a loving and merciful Heavenly Father had given me not just happy feelings, but the specific things that I had insisted to myself I needed to be happy.
I hadn’t prayed about it. I didn’t tell God about how badly I wanted to be home. I didn’t complain out loud.
But in that moment it became shockingly clear to me that God knew what was in my heart and how hard it had been for me. And more than that – that He wanted me to be happy and would bless me for serving him.
Heavenly Father seemed closer that day, in that moment, than I had ever known him to be.
It was a total change for me. It wasn’t like I suddenly believed something I hadn’t believed before (I had always had a testimony) but I suddenly felt a huge change of heart. I was able to let go of my resentment. I was able to start focusing not on how difficult my life was, but how blessed it was. The work was the same. I was different.
I made a change that day in how I behaved outwardly as well. I made the decision to try my best to fill the role of Alfred to my companion’s Batman. To be a servant instead of a bossy brat. Whatever he might need to help him be a better missionary I would do my best to provide. If he needed me to make phone calls so he could plan our day, I would do it. (Even though I hated phone calls with the fury of a thousand suns.) If he was going to need an address that day I would have it ready so he wouldn’t need to waste time thumbing through the area book.
Within a week we had 16 baptism commitments.
By the end of the transfer we were the highest baptising companionship in all of Asia.
And I spent the rest of my mission enjoying my life instead of suffering through it.
That would be a great story right there. I could just leave it at that and it would be perfectly satisfying. But there’s more. There’s Companion’s side of the story.
About a year later I was in a totally different area serving as a district leader. One of my zone leaders was my old trainer, now just a few days from heading home. We had a chance to go on exchanges one night. (That’s where you swap companions for a day or so.) We talked about how the past year had gone for each of us. The subject of that first transfer came up. I told him my story.
“I remember that day very well.” He said. “It was also the day my mission changed forever.”
I asked him to explain.
That night, when I had noticed him kneeling at his bed for an hour, he had also had his own change of heart. “I had never had a transfer without a baptism,” he told me. “The mission president had told me the very best thing I could do for my trainee [me] was to have a baptism in the first transfer, and I had failed. I was depressed. I was angry. Everything seemed to be going wrong. I thought it was the worst day of my entire life. [sound familliar?] So when we finished the day and went to say our personal prayers I had a hard time. You know how you follow a pattern in your prayers? Like, ‘Heavenly Father, I thank thee… I ask thee…’ like that? Well I still remember my prayer. It was like this:
“‘Heavenly Father, I thank thee…’
“then I couldn’t think of anything for about five full minutes. Literally nothing. Do you know how long five minutes is when you’re praying? It’s forever. Finally I knew I had to say something, so I said ‘I thank thee… that we didn’t die.’
“Then I remember thinking that was about the most lame prayer ever in the history of lame and I should do better. So I kept thinking. What can I be thankful for? There’s got to be something. So I was kneeling there, trying to think of something else to be grateful for. After a while I was like, well, I guess that stupid fan feels pretty good right now. ‘I thank thee for this electric fan.’ What else? Well, I guess there aren’t very many mosquitoes in here right now. ‘I thank thee that there aren’t too many mosquitoes in here tonight.’
“This went on and on. Eventually it got easier, and soon I couldn’t keep up with all the things I thought of that I was thankful for. I ended up spending the entire hour praying about things I was grateful about. I didn’t ask for anything at all. I had never done that before. When I finished, I felt more refreshed and uplifted than I ever had over my whole mission. It changed my attitude about training, and about being a missionary, and everything.”
Companion told me that from that point on whenever he found himself struggling he would have a prayer of gratitude and things always got better.
That was the worst and best night of my mission. It was the time when two missionaries went from being selfish and bitter to being grateful and successful. We learned to recognize and count our blessings (and God blesses his missionaries abundantly.) We learned that sometimes you just aren’t aware of your own behavior – your own selfishness – until after the fact. And we learned that the Savior is able to free you of those chains of bad thoughts and bad behavior if you try to do what he asks.
What lessons did you see in my story? Is there something you can apply in your own life? For me, this is the spiritual event that just keeps giving. I hope it can also help you.
I know that Heavenly Father blesses us. His tender mercies surround us and uplift us every day. God will help us recognize his hand in our lives when we do our best to serve him. When we recognize those blessings and the source of them we gain the power to accomplish all that God has sent us here to do, and the power to do it joyfully.