Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Receiving the Call

There's no feeling in the world like waiting for your child to receive a mission call. There's no emotion I can compare it to except that overwhelming anticipation and excitement that comes when you are about to give birth to a new baby. In both instances, you know your world is about to change in ways that you can't fully comprehend and you know without a doubt that what is about to happen will bring you a new kind of joy that you have never experienced in quite the same way before. There is an excitement that builds with every passing day and then before you know it,one day, it finally happens. The papers are filled out, the interviews are over, the hours and days have passed waiting for that envelope in the mail, the call finally comes, and a missionary is born.

We live in a place where the postman calls you in the wee hours of the morning the day the call arrives. More than once I have hopped in the car (still in my pjs) with my teenage son and driven to the post office at 6 am to pick up his call. We usually have a world map hanging on our wall by then with many of the countries labeled with names of friends and family whose guesses we have practically memorized during the past weeks. But now--with that white envelope actually in front of us--the guessing really begins! How much is the postage? Could that mean visa papers are included (and thus, a foreign mission call?) What date is on the postmark? How many pages can we feel? Believe me, our family has thought of almost every possible thing that could be considered a clue and, unfortunately, we were always wrong. The only sure way to figure out what was inside of that envelope and where our missionary would be serving was to wait until it was opened.

When our oldest son received his call, we were serving as mission president and wife in Boston. His papers had been sent from our Boston ward (yes, back then they were actual papers)so his call came to us there. At the time, he was living in Utah with my sister and brother-in-law as he finished his senior year of high school and was coming to Boston in 2 weeks for spring break. Because we could not send it to Utah and go there to watch him open it, the only option was to keep it in Boston and wait for him to arrive. I thought I would go crazy--mission call in hand and knowing I would not see what was inside of it for SUCH a long time! Believe me, I considered everything...steaming the envelope open (I knew this would not work), opening it and resealing it (I could never explain that to him),and even just coming right out and admitting to him that I had opened it (and that I wasn't one bit sorry!) Nevertheless, common sense prevailed (common sense AKA my husband) and the big white envelope was placed between the mattress of our bed and our box springs to keep it "safe" from anyone who might get ideas as the days went by (I knew full well that anyone was...me!) Oh well...out of sight, out of mind.

I know kids who have opened their calls all alone in their bed under the covers, some who have waited many days to open their letter to allow family members to return home from vacation, and some who have opened it immediately the minute it was placed in their hands. In our home, we gather friends and family together the night of the day the call arrives, place the soon-to-be missionary in front of them all, and listen intently as he reads every word of his letter aloud. I'm sure you've seen the videos online--the mass pandemonium when the name of the mission is announced--and the inexpressible joy and excitement that immediately fills the room. That is what our house was always like. It was a celebration!

There isn't a parent alive who hasn't worried that their child would be disappointed in their mission call--or a parent who hasn't worried that they will not feel comfortable about the place their child is called to go. We want so much for our children--and for us--to feel happy and at peace. Here are a few ideas of things you can do to make that possible:

*Talk ahead of time about the holiness of the call. The Lord is in charge. It is His work and only He knows where every missionary belongs. There are people waiting for your child in the mission where he is called to serve--people who only he can touch. I always loved this talk by Elder Jacob de Jagar entitled, "You Never Know Who You May Save." (Link in the comments) It is a touching illustration of the fact that it is impossible to know exactly who your child will save as he serves the Lord. But someone is there, waiting for him. There is someone there who will respond to something he says or does or the way he talks or testifies. There will be something in him that touches something in them and they will have an impact on them that no one else can. I love the emotion and excitement this thought evoked in my own boys as they prepared to serve. It kept them constantly on alert--watching for those people who they could save. Now that all of my boys have returned from their missions, I am absolutely positive each of them would say they found those people who were waiting for them to teach them the gospel. They have become their dear and lifelong friends.

*Most kids want to serve in some far away exotic place. The idea of it sounds exciting. But, in reality, every mission has its challenges and one missionary apartment looks pretty much just like another one thousands of miles away. Help them understand that no mission is better or worse than another. One of our sons had a friend who was called to a mission in the US and all of his other friends received foreign mission calls. This friend was disappointed--somehow his mission just didn't seem as cool (I've tried several words in place of "cool" but honestly that's the most accurate word I could find!) But, you know, something interesting happened when all of these boys got into the mission field. All of them serving in foreign countries had a period of time when it was difficult to teach because of the language barrier. And when missionaries can't teach and testify, it is easy to feel frustrated and yes, even homesick. The boys who were in foreign countries had additional struggles because of this fact. And the boy who was serving in the US? He hit the ground running--he was able to teach the very first day he arrived because he was teaching in English. It was an incredible blessing for him. Every mission has it's benefits--and it's challenges. The work they do in a small town like Boise, Idaho (for example) is the exact same work they do in Paris, France.

*Make it a special experience when he opens his call. Decide what you want the feeling in the room to be and then manufacture that. Do you want to have family only? Does he want to open it alone? Would you like him to have a priesthood blessing before? After? Maybe have family prayer as he prepares to open his call? There are endless options and ideas of ways to make it special. Think of what would make it the most memorable, spiritual, and meaningful experience possible. And then, do it.

*Begin reading that night about the culture of the place he has been called to serve. This will help him feel excited and give him a connection to this place where he will be spending the next two years of his life.

*Encourage him to pray for a confirmation of his calling--as well as the place he is called to go-- so that when he struggles on his mission (and everyone does) and when he is asking himself, "Why am I here?" he can remember that confirmation he received. It will give him strength and peace of mind. It will help him overcome challenges and doubts. It will help him endure and persevere. It will make him a better missionary.

In the words of Elder Henry B. Eyring: "Some missionaries may wonder whether they are in the right place, in the right mission. It is no accident for them to be where they are assigned. The Lord knows the missionaries. He knows their mission presidents. I think He knows who their companions will be. I don't know the detail to which He knows the future, but my impression is He knows a great deal. He calls missionaries to the places they are assigned. So, even when it's difficult, you can have confidence that the Lord knew the difficulty in advance, and just as He assured Nephi that He wouldn't give a commandment save He prepared a way for it to be accomplished, missionaries can have that same assurance, tough as it may be, whatever the situation, that the Lord knew the difficulties would be there. He has prepared a way. Have faith. Go forward." (Henry B. Eyring, "To Know the Truth," New Era, May 2004)