Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Missionary Experience is Greater Than a Broadway Musical

The Book of Mormon: Broadway came to a city near me. The kids and I actually drove by a huge crowd waiting to see it one afternoon. If I didn't know The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints takes out a three page ad in the playbill, I probably would have rolled my window down and shouted "Read the book!" Heck, even knowing that I still wanted to.

A couple days later my neighbor informed me she saw it. I sensed she was offended by the crudeness of both the language and the content, but her husband shrugged it off and said, "you've got to laugh at yourself." They assured me the musical doesn't make particular fun of my religion, but rather it makes fun of all people who profess a faith in God (and the sufferings of Third World Countries). While I agree (based on the synopsis they shared) that the musical pokes fun of people of all faith, it does so using one of the most humbling, sacred, life forming, wonderful, difficult, joyous, and painful experiences of my life. The Mormon Mission.

Like most Mormons, I've tried to take the high road in regards to the musical. I'm not writing this post to voice complaint or offense, but rather to let you know that you have a fabulous primary source when it comes to understanding Mormon Missionary service. Use the musical for what it is: entertainment. Do not use it for what it isn't: knowledge. Neither of the musical's creators served a Mormon Mission; they aren't even Mormon. Please realize that the Broadway play that won nine Tony awards is simply an R-rated, stereotyped version of something I lived day in and day out for 538 days.

It's hard to sum up 18 months of life changing moments in one blog post (feel free to read my mission memories tag in the sidebar, which still doesn't do the experience justice), but I'm going to attempt it. Why? Because if my readers, friends and neighbors get their info from the Broadway play, I am at fault. Tonight, I'd like to give you a glimpse of my own personal Mormon Mission. The experience is different for each of us, and yes there are great news articles and church websites that can give you a basic overview. But I want to share with you dear reader, friend, and neighbor -- my own personal journey as a missionary.

Missionary service is voluntary, not paid.
No one is paid to be a missionary. Quite the opposite. Missionaries are financially responsible for their service. I had the great fortune of having two loving parents who paid the monthly total (somewhere between $400-$500 a month) for me to be a missionary. They also foot the bill for my two older brothers. When my parents were young adults they did not have the same level of support. My mother relied on her own funds and donations made by her local congregation. My father relied on money he'd earned in college and the help of his widowed mother. Some missionaries labor and save for years in order to afford this service opportunity.

The area of service is assigned, not chosen.
As part of the missionary preparation process young men and women fill out a great deal of "paperwork" -- which is now all done on line. They are given a chance to rate their level of interest in learning a foreign language, but that is the best chance they get in saying they'd like to go overseas (and their preference is merely considered, often ignored). When I was deciding for myself if I really wanted to serve, I had to make sure I would not be disappointed with an assignment in the States. My parents and two elder brothers each served in Europe, so I had to make sure my expectation wasn't a cool overseas experience, but a real desire to serve the Lord. I had to determine I could be happy serving anywhere, even in the Salt Lake Temple Square Mission (my "worse possible" assignment scenario). I was assigned to serve in Singapore and East Malaysia. I had to look that up on a map.

Missionaries are great ambassadors for the people and cultures they serve. 
It is difficult to find a missionary who does not have a profound love and respect for the state and people they served. Even missionaries who lived in some of the world's most politically troubled nations will tell you something wonderful about the society there. Mostly, they will tell you of the beautiful traditions, customs, and cultures.

I love Islam. I respect anyone who chooses to practice Islam in the manner it is intended to be practiced. I have no problem separating Muslim from Terrorist. I firmly believe God expects me to be a voice of reason for those who do struggle with this separation.

Mosques are exquisite and simple. I'd give almost anything to hear the daily prayer, called out five times a day, while I ride my bike through the jungles of Borneo. I'd love to spend just a few brief moments walking through a Malaysian food gallery just before the close of Ramadan. I've never seen so much devout worship in all my life.

I love the respect Buddhists have for their ancestors. I love the long history of their celebrations.

I long for Asia every Chinese New Year, or, as I still prefer to call it, Gong Xi Fa Cai.

I miss Gawaii like crazy each summer, as my facebook feed lights up with old friends celebrating Borneo Islands harvest season.

Indian food is now my favorite, and Deepavali (more commonly known as Diwali) is an amazing religious festival we would all do good to celebrate -- the victory of light over darkness, hope over despair, knowledge over ignorance. What wonderful principles to embrace as a human family.

There are Malaysian/Singaporean things I don't embrace with love, like Durian. But I love the memory of my first bite!

My greatest lesson learned was love.
I knew love before a mission. I loved my family. I loved my dearest friends. I'd even loved a boy. But what I learned as a missionary was a new kind of love. I learned of the love Christ has for all of God's children. This love is immense. It has the power to save lives. It has the power to bind families together for eternity. It has the power to overlook human weakness, struggle, and sin and replace it all with love.

Charity, the pure love of Christ, is the absolute most wonderful thing I gained as a missionary. I am not perfect in my charity, and I wasn't perfect in it as a missionary, but those tiny glimpses of Christ's love for the people of Singapore and Malaysia have impacted me greatly and carried me on through difficult times in my life. It served me well as a teacher in inner city DC.

It serves me well as a mother.

I gained perspective. 
The play gets one thing right, a missionary experience is a great coming of age journey. I'm forever grateful that during those young, formative years I learned how unimportant worldly possessions are.

I learned how crucial it is to respect people who speak different languages and have different backgrounds.

I learned how to make a marriage work. Missionary companionship's require work, compromise, love, and understanding.

I gained so much more from this experience. Bruises from bike accidents.

Blisters from miles of walking. Heat exhaustion from 100 degree temps with 100% humidity.

And heartache from crushing disappointments. Just as I had glimpses of the Savior's love, I had glimpses of His suffering. I was not with Him in Gethsemane, but I know the agony He felt there was real. I felt a portion of the pain He must feel every time His love is not returned.

I know what it is like to want to lay down my life in order to save another. All because I was a Mormon Missionary.

**I want to reiterate, please, please feel free to ask me ANY questions you have about Mormon Missionary Service, in the comments or on facebook. At the risk of cliche, there are no dumb question, and I've probably fielded many of your questions before. I welcome the conversation.** 


Anonymous said...

Beautiful post from a beautiful daughter...

Claudia said...

Loved this post sis. You said it all so well. "Well done thou good and faithful servant!" Thanks for taking the time to share (though those bruises look awful!) Love ya, Mom

Tiff said...

Yep I feel very similar about my mission. I did the same thing in getting myself psyched up for my least desired place to go which was Montana. After being in Italy during the Iraq war with a lot of antagonism toward the U.S. going around I felt sure that I would have been happy doing missionary work anywhere. Even Montana :)

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