An UnFurled Banner
We’ve had a week where missionaries were quite literally jumping up and down with excitement about the work. We are adding FamilySearch to our finding leads in our mission. The prophets and apostles have been telling us that missionary work, family history and the temple blessings are all one work. This has been a topic championed by our mission president, President Paul Horstmeier, with fire in his bones.
After some months of training for this new approach, we are ready to launch with each zone receiving a kit for erecting at markets, fairs, festivals or any busy place. We’ve had the tables, the tents, the chairs, the sign-up sheets, the pass-along cards, but this week we received these dynamic, professional banners from the Church, that are 7 feet tall, but retract into a cylinder that you can easily carry in the car. They tell people that we can help them find the origins of their last name. Another banner will come saying we can help find scores—maybe a hundred—ancestors for them on Family Search.
When she was opening the banner up, Sister Germane, who serves in Aguadilla, literally jumped with an excitement that had been pent up for months about this new program. It was much better than Christmas morning watching her. She held the box up like Mufasa held up Simba. She was so stoked, and she wasn’t alone in this. The council of missionaries who work with us on this project could not be contained. They were like a rushing river that overflows the banks, ready and more than ready to try this approach.
Our thought had been to steadily and fully draw up a list in each Zone where we would try to get permission for a booth, but when the banners came, suddenly the elders and sisters had already found their spots. “There is a market one Saturday a month. We can do it there.” “We have a big festival this week. We’ll need our booths right away.” On and on it went.
They were brave. Elder Kremin marched into the mayor’s office, too late to apply to have a booth in the current festival but applied anyway. He got word that it looked like they might be able to be there. The missionaries have to be aware of business licenses and insurance, if the location demands it. They have to be smart and they are.
One of the best consequences of this approach is not just the opportunity to find new leads, but the strengthening of the missionaries themselves, who find they have a newfound passion for family history.
Sister Koch told us, with tears streaming down her face, of the joy of helping the members find their names. When they do that, members also give names of their friends who are not members of the Church to teach. Our missionaries have worked closely with them, helping to find their ancestors, and as a result trust is created—enough trust that the members become courageous about sharing their contacts.
Just as the prophets have told us, family history, taught with the end in mind—which is the temple—is powerful.
So many promises are attached to doing family history, but I particularly like this one from President Russell M. Nelson, “Anytime we do anything that helps anyone—on either side of the veil—to make and keep their covenants with God, we are helping to gather Israel.”
Scot is Hanging Around
Every time we stop by the mission office, we see our social media sisters, Sister Harbach and Sister Anderson, hard at work on our mission’s Facebook page, with new videos that are being brainstormed, dreamed up, and created constantly by them and other members of the team. Social media has become a major source of new leads in our mission. In fact, 40% of our leads come from social media and particularly from our page called, “Venir a Cristo-Puerto Rico”.
For Christmas, we had given everyone in the mission Scot’s new Come Follow Me calendar on the Book of Mormon. They had carefully taken off the last page where Scot’s photo was and hung it in their cubicle, with the words printed by them around it, saying “Everything will be OK”. Scot says that all the time, and I think that must be the message they need to hear on those long days editing.
Just outside of our house, it is spectacularly noisy. All the voices of the world are there beyond our concrete walls. The African parrot makes its sound like a garbage truck backing up, a school yard of children scream and shout during recess, dogs bark incessantly, planes fly overhead, the park behind us wails from a loudspeaker, and outside our window as the day begins to dim, it sounds like the most exotic jungle where the coqui frogs sing. The only creatures that don’t talk much or loudly are the ten, nearly identical kittens, quickly growing into cats, that roam the street and forage in the garbage cans. They were born about the time we arrived.
This is not the kind of space where you can record our weekly podcast. Every window is penetrated by outside sound. If we go to the most-quiet room in our house, it has a tiled floor and concrete walls, and it sounds like we are recording from the inside of a very deep cave or a tin can, with all the echo that would drive a listener nuts.
So, desperation has been the mother of invention, and we record our podcast in the front seat of our Toyota Corolla in the garage, with the windows up–so Scot swelters. We only brought one mic, so we swivel it between us and pretend we are in better circumstances. I’m sure this is the only podcast I know of that is created in a car.
She went home.
Our dark-haired friend, a sister missionary, whose bright smile always looked to us with love, left the mission early. Way early. We knew that something was going on because though her smile was constant, her eyes told a different story. We could see pain in them, a mound of home sickness, a bit of bewilderment, and a shipload of anxiety.
This view wasn’t always available—not always, but enough that we knew she was drowning in a river of dismay. Many times we took her aside and whispered in her ear, “How are you really doing?” and she would answer that her homesickness was getting better and that she was okay. But once in a while she shared all of her feelings in phone calls.
She was filled with dread and fear. We wondered what kind of fear? Talking to strangers in Spanish? Talking to strangers at all because of shyness? Making the grade where so much was required? It was hard to know.
We were so grateful that she would share deeply with us, and that she found our home to be a safe harbor. One time we called her just as she and her companion had been praying on their knees in a park for help. The timing seemed divine, an orchestration for both of us to remember that the Lord is always there.
But she didn’t tell us she was going home. She only left us a note before she was gone, and so many of us felt a huge loss, a personal loss for this sister who is dear to us.
Sometimes the Lord enlightens and clarifies your thinking with a series of linked events, and this was the case for us. We have been silent in our reports for the last few days, because we went home to help my sister through her husband’s death. This was a brother-in-law who was truly just a brother to me—you can drop the in-law– since I had known him since I was nine years old.
During our time home, my friend, whose daughter had come home early from a different mission, and finished off with meaningful service, said something I can’t forget. She, too, spoke of the pressures missionaries are under to perform well, to meet the numbers imposed on them, to speak a foreign language that may sound like so much gobbledygook to them, to meet strangers every day. She said of this regimen, it is better to lose a baptism, than to lose a missionary.
Her daughter had never known any anxiety until she had gone on a mission.
Our young missionaries in Puerto Rico seem like they can do anything. The come into a room with smiles and confidence. You ask them how they are and they say, “Great.” They are having successes, but, as we’ve been praying about how to be of most use on this mission, the Spirit keeps whispering to us to strengthen and support our young missionaries.
It has made us wonder about the stories in the hearts of these missionaries who seem so fearlessly able to organize, plan, work, learn, study and stop anyone to talk about the gospel. As one fellow missionary from the MTC who now serves in Spain told us, the missionaries outstrip most High Councils in their carefully managed and organized work ethic.
Since we trust the Spirit, we know, however, that some are discouraged, some are frightened, some are tired. Some are missing the mark because they are hoping to be a leader in the mission. They are jockeying for position (an age-old issue). Some are anxious and some depressed. Some feel that they are running so fast to get numbers that they can’t imagine running any more. Some are on a treadmill that is turned up too high.
How do we help? The reason our missionaries leave as children and come back as adults is because they have had to grow enough to do hard things. You wouldn’t want to rob that opportunity from them. They have experiences they remember and cherish their entire lives. President Holland and President Ballard have talked about the impact of their young missions many times. These young ones have this flow of power within them that comes from doing something really good. While their counterparts at so many universities are lounging and drinking, they are disciplined, clean-cut, wholesome and pure.
Yet, here is the rub. This is in so many ways a fragile generation because the general upheaval of the world has made them anxious. How can you tell when you are asking too much of them? When you demand an exhausting precision? When their systems are overtaxed? They tell you by leaving the mission field. Maybe they don’t tell you at all.
That is why, I think, that Scot and I are being taught by the Spirit to look into the souls of the young missionaries and see what’s happening there, and then do what we can to support and love them.
All of us can help. We can help our children and grandchildren who go on missions in many ways. From earliest times we can teach them to accept real responsibility and that other people will count on their work. Our friends who have been mission leaders tell us that Idaho farm boys make great missionaries. From their childhood, they work and know that their work counts.
We can demonstrate to our children that life is about learning. We can’t do things and then we can. We can’t imagine talking, and then we talk. It is okay not to be a finished product. We don’t have to pretend that we are. The great thing is to be in the making.
We’re not finished, and we accept that, joyfully. What wonderful things lie beyond where I am. Where would I be without fear? Where would I be if I truly trusted the Lord? What does it feel like to be transformed by light that Christ offers?
We can show our missionaries that doing hard things is one of the hallmarks of a good life. “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me,” (Phil. 4:13).
This is not meant to be an analysis of the depression and anxiety that has spread with a ferocious contagion among many of our young people in today’s world. It is just our musings on our missionaries who are a powerful force for good, but some may carry a backpack full of rocks—rocks that we don’t see.
We don’t want any missionary to leave a mission thinking that God is too demanding to please, too unyielding to accept them, too distant to notice their fear. We want them to know the atoning One who reaches out beyond our anxieties to encircle us in love, who sees how hard we try and who helps us gently learn.