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25th Anniversary Mission Stories

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I recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the start of my mission (in Tampico, Mexico).  Since I wrote in my journal every day of my mission, I have been revisiting that journal each day to read what had happened in my life 25 years ago on that date. 

When significant stories and experiences crop up, I am crafting a brief (but hopefully evocative and well-written) story for my Facebook friends and family.  I'm trying to limit each story to 500 - 700 words in length, and ensure that each one stands on it's own as a story (with a proper beginning, middle, and end).  And because I don't want to over-saturate my Facebook feed with these stories, I'm trying to limit them to no more than two per month.

I posted the first story a few weeks ago, and have the next two drafted and queued up.  I thought I'd share these stories here with this community, since y'all have been as much a part of my faith journey as was my mission.  As I post each subsequent story to my Facebook, I'll also post it in this thread.  I also invite you to share any of your own mission stories that relate to what I've shared.  

I hope this isn't too self-indulgent.  I mean sure, it is self-indulgent.  I'm just hoping that it's not TOO much so.  Happy reading! 

Edited by Stormin' Mormon
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3 hours ago, Stormin' Mormon said:

And then the spirit surprised me with a second, more powerful message, one that lifted the cloud of anxiety from the day before: “If I can testify to you with this power,” it said to me, “I can also testify to those you teach.”

This is beautiful.

I believe in a variation applied to church leaders, even prophets. They are there to help open me up to the Spirit speaking truth to my soul, they don’t need to be perfect or even that great to do so.  They don’t need to supply the answers that can and should come to me from God.  What they need to do is help me find reasons to seek God and sometimes mistakes are better at that than doing things the perfect way. 

Edited by Calm
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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...
25 Years Ago Today…
August 14, 1996
I woke up at 2:00 am, excited to begin the long journey to Tampico, a journey that wouldn’t end until I was assigned my first field of labor, met my first companion, and tackled my first teaching appointment. Little did I know that within two days, I would find myself swimming in isolation and loneliness, dropped in a forgotten village on the sparsely settled coastal plains of north-eastern Mexico. Little did I know that by the end of the week, I would be crying myself to sleep and wishing I were home.
For two full days, I was bombarded with the physical fatigue of travel and the emotional strain of culture shock. I could hardly process each new experience before being thrust into a new environment, with new people, with new expectations. I didn’t catch my breath until late the following day, as I sat on my hard-shell Samsonite suitcase next to an Elder Lopez, watching the sun set over the Laguna de Chairel as we waited for our bus to take us north to my new home.
It was close to midnight when we deboarded the bus onto the dark and lonely streets of Soto la Marina. Elder Lopez and I dragged my luggage down the eight blocks from the highway to my new apartment. Upon arriving, I ate a meager dinner of soggy cornflakes in warm milk and then collapsed into bed. I fell asleep that night believing that the most difficult transitions were behind me, that I could now buckle down and start preaching the gospel in my assigned field of labor.
The morning light, however, brought me little comfort or relief. My new apartment was more rundown and impoverished than any other place I had ever lived. The floor was bare concrete. Several pieces of furniture were nothing more than re-purposed wooden crates. The shower was missing both its curtain and several tiles from the wall. And the cockroaches! Those were certainly a new and terrifying experience for me.
After the morning routine of devotional, breakfast, and companionship study, we left the apartment to begin my first day as a missionary. Our first stop was Barrio Blanco, a poor neighborhood on the south side of the Rio Soto la Marina. Our purpose was to provide service to an LDS family that lived there. We were to mow their lawn. With machetes.
I hacked away at the long grass as best I could, my hands blistering within minutes of starting the task. The sun beat down on my pampered American head, and I looked up at the buzzards circling overhead. “Oh, Heavenly Father,” I silently prayed. “What have I gotten myself into?”
I stumbled through the next two days in a fugue state, barely able to understand what was happening to me, not catching one word in three that was said to me. With no other English speakers nearby, I sank deeper and deeper inside myself, lost, isolated, alone.
By that Saturday night, it all came boiling to the surface as I vented my frustrations on the pages of my journal. Out of my pen poured nothing but a litany of reasons why I was miserable and lonely, item after item showcasing my woeful condition. I concluded the journal entry with an emphatic: “I want to go home!” I then closed my journal, rolled into bed, and cried myself to sleep.
But little did I know how much joy and happiness and fulfillment lay ahead of me. Little did I know that lifelong friendships and unbreakable bonds of affection would be forged over the next 22 months. Little did I know that my present afflictions were actually building a disciple of Christ more faithful, more dedicated, more sure of himself and of his God than the one who was then crying himself to sleep.
My journey had not ended in Soto la Marina. It had only but begun.
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25 Years Ago Today...

August 25, 1996

I stood before the tiny congregation in Abasolo, a little pueblito 30 miles north of Soto la Marina.  This small branch consisted of just two families, and my companion served as the branch president.  Today, my second Sunday in Mexico, it was my turn to conduct the meetings in both this branch and the one back in Soto.  Both meetings had gone smoothly and it was now time to close this second sacrament meeting.

I looked around the small room, and my eyes rested on Hermana Pastor, the wife of the newly called first counselor in the branch presidency.  “Hermana Pastor,” I called out to her.  “Will you offer the closing prayer today?”  Her eyes widened, the room grew still, and I looked around me in confusion. 

I then felt a hand on my shoulder.  Our mission president, who was visiting the Abasolo sacrament meeting that day, leaned in to whisper in my ear.  “Hermana Pastor is deaf.  She won’t be able to say the prayer.” 

My face reddened.  I had noted that Hermana Pastor was rather quiet, but I had heard her speak a few words at the dinner table just last week.  However, with my limited Spanish proficiency, I hadn’t recognized the fact that her speech had the slurred quality characteristic of one who cannot hear.  To be fair, no one’s Spanish sounded very crisp to me yet; everyone’s words just blurred together in one long incomprehensible muddle.   

I ruefully laughed at myself and then asked someone else to say the prayer.  I was quickly learning to have a sense of humor about my misadventures as a missionary.  After my tear-filled breakdown the week before, my native cheery temperament had begun to reassert itself and I set to work with a determination to find the silver lining around every dark cloud in my life.   

With morbid amusement, I had started recording the bizarre sights that were odd to me, but were likely quite common to a rural Mexican village like Soto la Marina.  The day before, I had noted in my journal such sights as: “A flattened chicken in the road, a cat eating the intestines of a large turtle, and a dog playing tag with eight cows.” 

But more importantly, I was learning to see the value of overlooked and understated victories.  The grand success stories often heard in mission homecomings happen infrequently over the course of a two-year mission.  But in the spaces between were found the small and simple acts that build the kingdom of God.  Even without astonishing successes, I could find ways to strengthen these remote and lonely branches of the Church.    

That morning in the Soto la Marina branch, for example, I had performed my first priesthood ordinance in Spanish.  I ordained the young son of Hermana Reina to the office of deacon in the Aaronic priesthood.  On future Sundays, he would pass the sacrament to the other four families that comprised the branch.  And that afternoon, our mission president had set apart both a first and second counselor for my companion in the Abasolo branch presidency.  Although a missionary would continue to serve as branch president for the time being, within a year and a half, the man who had been set apart as first counselor today would be called to serve as branch president over both the Soto and the Abasolo branches. 

My initial fears and anxieties had begun to recede, and I was beginning to feel optimistic about my new life in rural Mexico.  I was learning to laugh at my foibles and take satisfaction in small victories.  And while I knew there were still setbacks and disappointments lurking in my future, I also knew that the road ahead would be sprinkled generously with surprising moments of levity and joy. 

Edited by Stormin' Mormon
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25 Years Ago Today...

September 2, 1996


I don’t know how many times I visited Barrio Blanco during my first month as a missionary.  It was only a 20-minute walk from our front door to that poor and undeveloped neighborhood, but much of it was along a dusty, shadeless road.  I always dreaded our visits out there because the hot sun seemed to beat down harder on my head when walking that road, and there was nothing at the end of it except deeper poverty than I had ever witnessed before in my sheltered, middle-class life.  But on a Monday in early September, that dusty road inspired not dread, but the best piece of poetry I have ever written.

I had penned other poems throughout my teenage years, most of it overly-sentimental dreck.  But I continued writing because I found poetry to be a soothing way to give definition and form to the barely-understood emotions that were always churning under the surface of my teenage soul.    

Today’s churn of emotions was inspired by a chapter I had read the previous evening in “Jesus the Christ,” by James E. Talmage.  The chapter had detailed how, in the final year of Christ’s ministry, many of His disciples began to realize that this Jesus of Nazareth was not going to throw off the shackles of Roman bondage, that the salvation He offered was something else entirely.  As Christ’s popularity with the masses waned, many disciples stopped following Him.

I read that chapter on the bus ride home from our Sunday meetings in Abasolo.  I closed the book and gazed out the window as the sun set over the mesquite and chaparral landscape.  What would I have done, had I lived back then and walked with Jesus the Christ?  Would I have been able to dig down deep and discover the faith to keep following Him, even after my initial expectations had proven unsound? 

I doubted it, given how deeply challenging this first month had been.  The loneliness and fear that had caused me to cry myself to sleep a few weeks earlier were not the hallmarks of a sincerely devoted disciple of Jesus Christ.   I wondered if I really had the faith necessary to . . . walk the dusty road.

With a start, I realized that every day that I chose to walk the dusty road to Barrio Blanco I was making anew the decision to walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  The logic of the world gave me no reason to brave that wearying trudge; I walked that road because I had an earnest desire to bring my savior’s love to the people who lived in that outlying neighborhood.  The faith that inspired me to walk that dusty road today was the same that would have inspired me to walk the dusty roads of Palestine or Palmyra. 

These thoughts lingered with me through the night, and now it was our day off.  Elder Lopez and I packed our bags of dirty clothes and headed out to do our laundry.  I usually used that time to write letters home, but today I used it to start sketching out a poem that was based on these musings from the previous evening.

Over the next two years, I would continue to fiddle with the poem, rewording bits here, adding new thoughts there.  By the end of my mission, it had been polished and refined in much the same way that its author had.

That dusty road to Barrio Blanco has since become a symbol in my life—a symbol of faith, of dedication, of discipleship.  Whatever dusty road I am called upon to walk in days to come, I pray that I will walk it as faithfully as I did that first dusty road so many years ago. 



Walking the Dusty Road


Had I walked the dusty roads on the shores of Galilee

With His disciples faithful, with scribe and Pharisee

And heard the words that Jesus spoke, the truth that He proclaimed

Would I have then accepted Him, or turned my back in shame?


If I had witnessed miracles: the lame take up their bed,

Sightless eyes receiving light, the raising of the dead

Would I have given Him my all and grasped the Iron Rod?

Would I have found the strength to say "Thou art the Son of God"?


While others mocked the Holy One and claimed His cause was lost,

To Calvary would I follow Him and there take up His Cross?

Would I have stood before the world with faith my voice would ring,

And testified of Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Our King?


And had I walked the dusty roads from Palmyra to Nauvoo,

In company of critic and with the faithful few

And heard the words that Joseph spoke, the truth that he proclaimed

Would I have then accepted him or turned my back in shame?


If I had heard the Lion's voice rebuke the prison guards

And witnessed majesty in chains beneath the silent stars,

Would I have given him my all and suffered in Far West?

And having viewed the frozen plains, proclaimed this but a test?


While others mocked the call divine and claimed he fell from grace

To Carthage would I follow him and there die in his place?

Would I have stood before the world with faith and with no fear

And testified of Joseph Smith, our prophet and our seer?


As I walk the dusty roads of rural Mexico

I think of all the varied paths that others chose to go.

In Galilee I have not walked, in Kirtland I've not tread

On the streets of Panuco I place my feet instead.


Yet I have witnessed miracles: the Gospel taking root,

Within the hearts of humble men, I've seen the Spirit's fruit.

I have given Him my all, forsaken friends and home

Upon a lonely road I walk, yet I am not alone.


It matters not which dusty road is mine to walk today

For all who've ever served Our Lord have also passed this way.

And I have stood before the world with faith in Him above

And testified of Gospel Truth: My Witness and My Love.


Edited by Stormin' Mormon
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