Sunday, August 10, 2014
The last month of our mission has been a whirlwind. People in our Rome ward thought we had gone home without saying goodbye... a mortal sin in Italy. We attended church in Caserta last Sunday, July 27 and conducted a baptismal interview with a wonderful Nigerian lady named Joy. Seeking a better life includes finding the Gospel. She showed me scars where she had been beaten by her ex-husband. She and her three children will join the church and will experience support and love. She called me later in the week asking if I would return to perform the baptism. I told her that I was honored but would be thinking of her. She called me right after the baptism on Saturday to express thanks and to let me know that she is the happiest she has ever been. We also spent a couple of days trying to get some photos of the Amalfi Coast for the temple frescos (it rained most of the time).
The previous weekend, accompanied by the Fenns, we took the bullet train on the 19th to Mestre for another temple presentation. We were hosted by the Finotto family. They were the first members to join the church in Mestre and the last baptism of my mission a week before I left Italy as a young missionary 43 years ago. Spending the weekend reminiscing together and then attending church in the beautiful Mestre Stake center on Sunday was a fitting way to end our mission as Seniors. There is nothing sweeter for a missionary to experience than seeing the seed he planted grow from a single family to an entire Stake.
The week before that (10th - 13th) we accompanied the Waddoups to Malta to perform a biannual financial audit and Branch Conference and also spend a day of sightseeing on the Island of Gozo for our P-day. Our replacement couple, the Stevens, arrived while we were in Mestre. During the past two weeks we have been attempting to train them on our many responsibilities. I'm sure the mission office will be in good hands and they will probably make fewer mistakes initially than we did. The 6th of July we were asked to do our last temple fireside presentation for the Rome 2nd Ward. It has been nearly two years since we gave our very first presentation there and members wanted an update before we left. All are anxious to see it finished one day.
The Church website announced recently an "urgent need" for senior couples who might be willing to serve as office couples as nearly a third of the missions are without and must rely on the young missionaries to perform such work. There has also been a 30% drop from a year ago in the number of senior couples willing to serve missions. I can understand the reluctance for couples to serve in mission offices. Serving in the office is not an easy assignment and you have to seek for the spiritual and teaching experiences to feel fullfilled as a missionary. We will serve again someday, but will probably seek a different assignment other than the office so that we have more teaching opportunities and can interact more with the members. Nevertheless, we have enjoyed the experience and learned much and look forward to serving another mission one day.
As Miriam and I reflected on the last two years of serving in italy, we came up with a list of ten reasons to serve a mission:
Missions are all about change. A mission provides an opportunity to build gospel skills you always desired but never managed to do at home. It's an opportunity to break some bad habits and learn some good ones. Separating oneself somewhat from the world and focusing on the mission of Christ is life changing. You have an opportunity to witness the power of the atonement and the miracle of change that occurs in the lives of members, missionaries and their investigators. Not only do you get to witness the changes in others but you can experience the Lord teaching you individually what changes need to occur in your personal life. Missions accelerate the process of becoming more Christlike. Just as most young missionaries dramatically mature during their service, so can seniors. As we come unto Christ he will show us our weaknesses and how to improve.
Missions are an opportunity to learn how to receive personal revelation and then teach others to do the same. We are not salesmen of the Gospel. We teach people how to communicate with their Heavenly Father in order to receive personal answers and then we teach them the steps to receive the marvelous gift of the Holy Spirit and receive personal revelation for the rest of their lives. There is no greater gift that that of the Holy Ghost.
Missions are a training ground for leaders, young and old. Training young missionaries how to teach. train others, acquire life skills is high priority. Senior missionaries are able to use their church experience and skills to train others. They also learn new skills. Each has something to offer. A mission experience is a "lifetime compressed" allowing us to learn from the life choices of others. The sister missionaries are also an integral part of the mission leadership experience. The strength of the church will be forever changed in the coming years as the influence of returned sister missionaries "power couples" is felt througout the world.
Your prized possessions are reduced to 100 lbs. of belongings stuffed in two suitcases. Living out of a suitcase for two years is a liberating experience that helps to free you from the constant temptation to endlessly acquire "stuff" because the same weight limit applies coming home. Ultimately all must decide at what point they have "sufficient for their needs", before and after the mission experience. A mission helps you get some perspective on what stuff is really necessary in your life.
5. Making a difference.
By putting aside the routine of normal life, we had an opportunity to awake each day and develop a different routine that allowed for full time service to others. You can truly make a difference in the lives of those you serve as well as your family and loved ones when set apart from the world and focusing on service to others.
The love and support of family is important. Today we have the blessing of technology which makes it possible to connect virtually. My mother commented that I actually talked for longer periods of time with her using Skype than when I would stop by only to leave after a few minutes. Having two grandsons serve missions during our service created special bonding opportunities as we compared lessons learned and miracles experienced. Our famly will forever be blessed by missionary service.
Learning to love differences is an importance lesson. One of the members commented that we really seemed to appreciate the Italian way of life and did not desire to "americanize" things. Couples who criticize or try to transform Italians to their way of thinking never really learned to embrace Italy. Italians are learning to appreciate differences in cultures as well. There is a worldwide gathering of people from many nations who are immigrating to Italy hoping to improve their lives. In our mission those who have joined the church during the first six months of this year originated from 18 different countries. Just 44% of the baptisms were native Italians. We all have much to learn from other cultures.
A Mission is Opportunity to live Temple Covenants. I know of no better place than missionary service where we can learn to live the principles of sacrifice, obedience, and consecration. Missions require that we give of our time, talents and all that the Lord has blessed us with.
Missionary work is after all… WORK. Hard work. I think we worked harder than we ever did in our businesses. It was also important for us to discover the spiritual blessings that exist when doing the temporal work of the Lord. Serving in the office is mostly office work except when we had opportunities to interact with missionaries and members... and then we realized the spirital nature of our service. There were good days and bad days, good experiences and some not so great, but the lessons learned are priceless and we will cherish them forever.
The most important qualification for serving a mission is love for people. An act of kindness and a smile is understood in any language. We fell in love with the people of Italy. Friends ask us, "What did you like best about Italy?" Italy is country of unparalleled history, art, style, music, language, food, and culture, but the wonderful missionaries and special people of Italy are what we will remember first and foremost... more so than the monuments. Gelato will be a close second. We gained more than a testimony it seems!
Serving our Savior 24/7, wearing his name on our hearts and representing his Church has been a special honor for which we will always be grateful. Yes, we paid for the priviledge and sacrificed much for the opportunity to do so. Just as with anything meaningful not every day was heaven, but that is all part of the learning experience. We always seem to learn more from the challenging experiences which teach us to appreciate and strive for the good. We are so blessed and thankful for the priviledge is has been to serve our Savior.