The past two months, and particularly the past two weeks, we have had some very special days with our extended family. We've given hugs and shed tears as we've bid farewell to three of our cousins prior to their departure to "foreign lands" for 1 1/2 to 2 years as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mormons, as we are more commonly referred to, send missionaries all over the world to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These missions are funded entirely by the missionary (and his/her family) and for the duration of the mission all worldly pursuits--college, dating, education, etc--are put on hold so that the mission can be a time of service to our Heavenly Father and His children. You might have seen these pairs of young men or young women, with their little black name tags, riding bikes in your neighborhood or even knocking on your door.
My oldest nephew, Andrew, left on his mission one year ago. He is serving in Alaska and will be there for one more year. Here he is last summer, just weeks before his departure.
This is Andrew's brother, William. They belong to my oldest sister. He lives on the East Coast but we were able to spend the last week of August with him and his family before he entered The Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT yesterday. He is assigned to serve in California.
The young men, known as Elders while on their missions, serve for two years. So William and Andrew won't see each other for three years.
This beautiful girl in the middle of my kiddos is Mikala. She is my oldest brother's daughter and she is an amazing person. She's had some health issues throughout her life but hasn't let that slow her down one bit!
The young men in our church are expected to serve a mission as part of their priesthood responsibilities. For the young women, however, the choice to serve a mission is optional. Mikala was in the middle of her freshman year of college and doing fabulously both academically and socially when she started to feel a desire to serve. She is assigned to serve her mission in Tennessee, and has also been assigned to learn Spanish so she left last week for The Missionary Training Center in Mexico where she will spend about 6 weeks learning Spanish and then be on her way to Tennessee for 1 1/2 years!
Here are Mikala and William at the farewell dinner held for her after church last week.
In July we said goodbye to Brian, my other sister's son. He spent six weeks in the Provo MTC learning Spanish before flying last week to Argentina where he will serve for the next two years.
These four cousins, Andrew, Brian, Mikala, and William, are all between the ages of 18 and 20. They are witty and silly and like to stay up late, and sleep in later, and play video games, and go shopping. They like to play basketball and volleyball and go to the pool and attend college football games. They like to date and listen to music and watch movies and tease their siblings and hang out with their friends.
And they love their families.
For 18-24 months of their life they will put all of this on hold. We miss them but we are SO very proud of their decision to serve missions. As they share the love and peace of our Savior they will make the world a better place and in doing so become better people themselves.
So the next time you run into these young people at the park, or the bus stop, or even on your front porch offer them a friendly hello and a smile, because somewhere there is a mother or a grandpa or an aunt missing them, and praying for their safe return, and hoping that until then they will be met with kindness. And if you feel so inclined to listen to their message, I promise you that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing so--including joy and happiness like no other.