What a week of contrast. As thousands and thousands of missionaries are making their way home to the states due to COVID-19, my Dad, and his new wife, Sue, are making plans to leave.
Last week they opened their mission call. All of my siblings and their families gathered on Zoom. Our tiny faces dotted the periphery of my laptop screen, as my Dad read aloud the words of their call.
“You are hereby called,” he began, then quickly paused, emotion creasing the seams of his lips and filing the rounds of his eyes, “to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints…Your purpose will be to help others come unto Christ by serving them as the Savior would. As you serve with all your heart, might, mind and strength,” another pause, as he gathered the emotion tight in his throat so he could go on… “you will feel the joy that comes of giving of yourself to lift others. You are assigned to labor in the Apia, Samoa mission.”
They had been expecting and hoping for this call, but it was uncertain where they would land. Several discussions with Seventies had ensued about where they were most needed. Elder Vincent Haleck, however, had reached out to my Dad months earlier, wondering if he and Sue would be willing to accept a call to serve in American Samoa at a government hospital there. Elder Haleck is a native of American Samoa. The mission would be a welfare mission that would last two years. My Dad, a retired emergency physician of 40 plus years, would be the first board certified ER doc they’ve had in a long time, if ever. Currently the ER is being run by family practitioners and an anesthesiologist. So it was with much curiosity they waited and waited until the assignment finally came.
Right now, my Dad and Sue are scheduled to begin their training at the Provo MTC mid-June and will leave for American Samoa after one week’s training to serve as welfare medical missionaries. We’ll see how all of this plays out. Come what may, they are willing and ready to serve. I know my Dad well enough to know if the call had come two weeks ago and they were asked to leave immediately for Samoa, he would have said yes and had their bags packed to leave on a plane the next day.
Now, here’s the contrasting view.
In coming weeks, our ward will welcome home a total of 11 missionaries from their assignments abroad. We are still praying for two of our missionaries to make it out of Peru, and one out of Argentina. We have tied white ribbons on trees, stop signs, and fence posts, all throughout the neighborhood, as symbols of our love and support. We have shared tears watching one of our Brazilian Elders return home and drive through the neighborhood, as we stood on our porches and waved green and yellow balloons to send our love through his car window. My heart breaks for these special Elders and Sisters, both young and retired. I know their hearts are still with the people they came to love so devotedly in their various countries around the world. Cutting that time short must have split their souls.
Global circumstances are so tenuous now, with the coronavirus creating new complexities every day for transportation, health care infrastructures, closed borders, supplies, and other hurdles. There is no telling where things will be in a month, or even two.
My parents always wanted to serve a mission together. They were forced to turn down an assignment to serve at the Jerusalem Center when my mother’s cancer returned and they knew she would not be well enough to go. That was completely heartbreaking for them, especially my Mom. So it was a blessing my Dad found Sue, two years after my Mother passed away. Sue is willing and adventurous and absolutely open to going anywhere they are called.
I asked my Dad, “How do you feel about going on a mission now? With all the risk and uncertainty that has developed?”
This was his response: “In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we are both excited and humbled. As missionaries, old and young, return home in droves, to mitigate the impact of this terrible disease, callings to serve are still being issued. Our call tells us the Lord is mindful of His children and has a plan that will not be hindered. This tasks us to have faith that He will temper this plague and open the way to fulfill our mission call. We trust in Him and rely on Him and will serve Him with our whole hearts. Our faith is resolutely in the Lord.”
His words remind me of the recent message President Nelson sent to church members about the future of the church. The Sunday after my Dad received his call, I read these words to our family during our tiny and intimate sacrament meeting at home.
“We live in a time of turmoil. Earthquakes and tsunamis wreak devastation, governments collapse, economic stresses are severe, the family is under attack, and divorce rates are rising.” (Let’s add global pandemic to the list.) “We have great cause for concern. But we do not need to let our fears displace our faith. We can combat those fears by strengthening our faith. Why do we need such resilient faith? Because difficult days are ahead. Rarely in the future will it be easy or popular to be a faithful Latter-day Saint. Each of us will be tested. The Apostle Paul warned that in the latter days, those who diligently follow the Lord “shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). That very persecution can either crush you into silent weakness or motivate you to be more exemplary and courageous in your daily lives.”
Then the promise – the declaration that the work of God will not stop. It will continue to go forward and will not, cannot, be frustrated.
“I humbly testify to you that—as the Prophet Joseph Smith proclaimed—the restored gospel of Jesus Christ “will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (History of the Church, 4:540). We are engaged in the work of Almighty God. I pray for His blessings to be with each and every one of you.”
I love my Dad for his faith and willingness to serve. I trust there are many people he will not only help, but save. He has this unique ability to simultaneously offer physical and spiritual care. It’s his deep and genuine love for others. Patients feel it. They are eased just by his presence, his sense of humor, and his peaceable walk.
On the front windows of our home we put up two signs. One reads, “We love our missionaries!” And the second, is a phrase from our much loved hymn, “I’ll go where you want me to go.”
Right now, for many of these missionaries, it may not be a the battle’s front the Lord will have need of them. But for others, like my Dad and his wife, it may be into the battle they are called to go. I am touched by his heart, his lack of fear, and his complete trust in God. And I am reminded of this truth: wherever we are called, whether it be to an island in the pacific, or to our neighbor’s front door, it is our duty to listen, to rally our faith, and go.