Marshall Snow Thomas
The plane starts to accelerate, as a young man, who has labored in this part of the world, now his home forever, looks down on memories. However, 24 months before, when he landed in this foreign land, he was just thinking what he had gotten himself into.
A boy, who has always gotten whatever he wanted, living the ideal childhood. He has grown up a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints all his life, but he doesn’t know what it means. Like millions of other young men and young women before him, he decides to serve a mission, but he doesn’t know why he’s going. If you ask him why he’s going on a mission, he will answer because he knows that the church is true and wants to spread this joy throughout the world, but he’s been taught that answer since he was eight years old. In his heart, he’s going because he feels obligated to, because his father, grandfather, great grandfather have all served, and because his ancestors came over from England because they believed in this church. Put frankly, it’s a family thing, and its something he has to do, and besides, whats two years?
The days draw closer to his departure, he begins looking at suitcases in his room, soon to be filled with white shirts and his fathers ties. His aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents all tell him that it’ll be the best two years of his life, but he doesn’t see that, all he sees is being able to get these two years done as fast as possible, because there are more important things in life.
The night before he leaves, it begins to sink in a little. He says goodbye to his friends, girlfriend, and he feels that his world is falling apart. He asks himself how he could leave all this, and is terrified to wake up the next morning. He goes to sleep, for the last time in his own bed, for two years, two long years.
Dad wakes him up, today is the day. It is the single biggest day of his life so far, in a life that hasn’t been that hard up to that point. He picks out the suit he’s going to wear, ties a terrible knot in his tie because he hasn’t quite mastered the art of tying ties yet. The house is quiet, nobody really knows what to say. Mom is crying in the back, and deep down, he wants to cry as well, but is trying to act tough so the goodbye won’t be as hard. He can barely eat anything, as a million thoughts are running through his head. The truck pulls out of the driveway, with his bags in the back. He takes one more look at his house, knowing that it’ll be a long time until he sees it again.
He arrives at the MTC, his home for the next two weeks. It looks cold and uninviting, as he’s only heard horror stories of this place, and is anticipating the worst two weeks of his young life. He says goodbye to his family, the worst 30 seconds of his life. The brothers he’s fought with for so many years, he doesn’t want to let go. He walks away, holding back the tears, trying to look tough in front of the other missionary that is escorting him. He receives the famous name tag, the one that will be on his shirt for the next two years, “Elder,” and so it begins.
Two long, sleepless weeks pass by, its time to board a plane and head to his assigned mission. He’s excited, but nervous as all get out. How will he be as a real missionary? Will the people like him? How many baptisms will he get? Suddenly, he’s feeling more self conscious than ever before in his life. The plane leaves, and he looks down at the Utah mountains one last time.
The plane touches down, he’s greeted by his mission president and wife, and two other missionaries. He tries to make a good impression, which is why he wore his special Brooks Brothers tie that day. He drives around this mysterious city that definitely isn’t Salt Lake.
He’s assigned to his first area, with a companion that he tries to impress right of the bat. The first few weeks go by, not great, actually they’re terrible. You actually have to work out here? He thought that you knock about 5 doors, and baptize an entire ward? He hasn’t ridden a bike since the Clinton administration, and now he’s riding one everyday. He’s riding in the rain, in the heat, over hills and through traffic. Everyday he wakes up and cries, begging someone up above to make the time go faster. He desperately tells people that this church is true, but he doesn’t know it for himself. Moments of happiness and good times, are replaced by long bike rides, unkept appointments, and mean people.
The first six months go by. He’s starting to get the hang of it, but still he struggles. He realizes that he can go through the motions, and still be an ok missionary. He reads the scriptures, but they’re just words, right? He testifies of this guy named Jesus Christ, but in reality, he has no idea who he is. He says he’s happy, but deep down, he wants to go home everyday.
The next six months go by. Thank goodness you’ve made it a year, but wait, you still have another year of this? Another year of sweating profusely, gaining weight, going through the motions? The people are great, but home still dominates his thought process. He’s tired, and realizes that he’s still the same person he was when he left Salt Lake. He thinks, this is supposed to be the best two years, why don’t I feel it? He decides to change.
Through the next year, he experiences what the prophet Alma said, “a mighty change of heart.” He reads his scriptures, every chance that they get. Of course these words are true, I know it! He tries to share it with everyone he can talk to. He gets up each day, excited to walk the streets, and see if he and his companion can walk the soles out their shoes. Prayers become more meaningful, he gets to know his Heavenly Father. When he teaches people, he knows what he is saying is true. He stops memorizing a line that he’s prepared to say at a certain time in the lesson. He finishes the Book of Mormon, and restarts it the next morning. Sleep is not important, what is important is gaining more knowledge, reading until his eyes can’t take it anymore. He goes to sleep, happy, happy and grateful for the person he’s becoming. He loves his fellow missionaries, and hugs the elders every chance he gets. He creates friendships that will last his entire life. He’s smiling more, he’s smiling all the time. Sure its hot out here, but think about the fun we’re having! He loves the people, he absolutely loves the people, he would do anything for them, he gives ties off his shirt to complete strangers. He loves Sundays, he stays as long as he can after church so he can talk to the members more. He loves going over the members homes for dinners, and talking about their family, and making jokes, joking about himself.
Somewhere in that time, he finds a friend, a lifelong friend, a friend that has been there all along, but just hasn’t know it. That friend, is the Lord Jesus Christ. He comes to know of a Man, who performed an act, on a quiet night outside of Jerusalem, in a garden, that changed the outcome of the world, forever. He believes, and knows, that through that act, he can change, the people he teaches can change. When he talks about Him now, he gets teary eyed, he knows who He is. He realizes that this is His church, and that makes him happier than anything in the world.
That last year fly’s by, and it feels like six months. He realizes that his time is drawing to an end. Older missionaries, that were his heroes, are now gone. Groups of missionaries leave, until its his time. He packs his bags, for the last time. He can’t control his excitement to see his family and friends, but he can’t imagine life without the mission. He makes his last drive to the place it all started, bags in the trunk. Its his last night, and he can’t sleep. Laid out on his bed, is the suit, shirt, tie and shoes he’s going home in, the outfit he’s going to hug his mom in. In 24 hours, he will be home, surrounded by friends and family. His plane leaves, not knowing where time went, wishing he could hug everyone, every single person that he taught. He looks down on the streets where he walked, the city that is his home now, and will always be home.
His plane lands, he’s in the terminal, the mountains of Utah are outside the window. His family and friends are waiting at the bottom of the escalator. He’s read thousands of pages of scripture, tied thousands upon thousands of ties, talked to thousands of people, walk and biked who knows how many miles. But above all else, he has one testimony, his own, the one that he made, the one that he prayed for, studied for, cried for, and worked for. He knows that his mission has been accomplished, and realizes that its over. He walks down the escalator, amid the cheers, tears and laughter. Its over, 2 years, just like that. Later that night, he takes off his tag, for the last time, sleeps in his own bed, a changed man.