"I Hope They Call Me on a Mission" – When I saw the title of this primary song next to my name on the letter asking us to participate in sacrament meeting, my first impression was that I was supposed to sing this song. Anyone who has heard me sing knows what an interesting rendition that might have been. I was greatly relieved that the grandchildren were going to sing the song and then I was to speak on that topic.
I have been asked by several people, often with a tone of incredulousness, why on earth do you want to leave your home and family for 18 months and go to Finland.
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a missionary. As a young man I served a two and a half year mission to Finland. I still remember my interview with my stake president. Knowing that I had studied Russian he commented, “I understand that Finnish and Russian are related languages.” I energetically protested that they were very different and that speaking Russian would not help me learn Finnish. You see, my preference was a two year English speaking mission to somewhere like Australia or New Zealand.
However by the time I received my call, I would have been very disappointed if it had been to anywhere else. I loved my mission in Finland; I love the people, the country and even the language. A very vivid memory related to my mission was the day after I returned home. I was sitting in my Dad’s easy chair listening to “Finlandia” and I was so homesick for Finland that I just bawled. The hymn “Be Still My Soul” which is sung to the music of “Finlandia” is one of my favorites and still strikes a very emotional chord within me every time I hear it.
After my marriage, Anne and I frequently discussed serving a mission together. We were ready by the time Peter, our youngest, received his mission call. As soon as we knew when he was leaving we submitted our papers and were in fact in the MTC at the same time he was. Our mission to Ukraine and Russia was not without its challenges or opportunities as I like to call them. But it was a richly rewarding for both of us.
Upon returning from Russia in 2006 I was ready to go again in 3 or 4 months, but Anne wanted to wait longer, so we compromised on a year. This allowed us to serve as ordinance workers in the Sacramento Temple when it opened in Sept. of that year.
But our mission plans were frustrated; perhaps Anne’s prayers were being answered. Four times we prepared to submit papers only to have to back-off:
· Following our release from the temple presidency in November 2012 we wanted some time before undertaking a an assignment as full time missionaries. So a year later in November 2013 we began the process again. Our papers had actually been submitted to Salt Lake, when Anne’s dad, whom most of you know and love as Grampa Gene, was hospitalized with some life threatening health issues. We called Pres. Perez and asked him to withdraw our papers.
We finally submitted our papers again this spring, when Gene recovered his health, and received our call. We are both excited to be going to Finland. We can leave knowing the Grampa Gene is healthy and will be watched over and cared for by our children, as well as by many of you who have grown to love him almost as much as we do.
As our departure has drawn near the impact of answering this call has struck me in a very personal way. After 8 years of serving in the temple 3-4 days a week, I have come to love the temple more than I imagined possible. Our lives have been so richly blessed by our service there – we have grown to love the people with whom we served – fellow workers, volunteers and patrons. They are an inspiration to me, and my association with them has motivated me to try to be a better person. We have been blessed with knowledge and a closeness to our Heavenly Father as we have pondered the ordinances and blessings of the Temple.
It is far more difficult to leave that than I imagined it would be. A few weeks ago, I stood in the celestial room on my last shift as a sealer – I looked around the room and the impact of giving up that assignment finally hit me – my eyes misted over, and it was everything I could do to maintain my composure. I have grown to love the temple, and the people with whom we served there.
I still haven’t answered the question – Why would you leave all this to go on a mission? My answer is four-fold:
- Because the gospel is true;
- I want to keep my covenants;
- For my grandchildren; and
- For my marriage.
1 – Because the gospel is true.
Jesus Christ is who He said He was. He is not a normal man. He is more than just a wise and compassionate teacher; His life more than an example worthy of our emulation. He is the only begotten Son of our Father and Heaven in the flesh. He took upon Himself the burden of our guilt, our pain and our sufferings, that we might be forgiven of our sins, washed clean through His atonement and return to our Father in Heaven to become joint heirs with Christ and partake of His glory!
This conviction is fast disappearing among men and women throughout the world. There is no more important thing that I can do than to share this testimony and knowledge with any and all who will receive it. As Nephi wrote (2 Nephi 2:6-8):
The invitation that we extend to all who will receive it is found in the last chapter of the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:32):
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is His grace sufficient for you, that by His grace ye may be made perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
I want to serve a mission because I know that these things are true.
2 – I want to keep the covenants I have made with the Lord
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, I have made sacred covenants with the Lord to follow Him and keep His commandments. These covenants include a commitment to dedicate my whole life and everything I have, may have, or aspire to in order to build up His kingdom on the earth.
The scriptures speak to me of the need to share the gospel knowledge that has so richly blessed my life and the life of my family. As I study the scriptures, I try to follow the example of Nephi to liken the scriptures unto myself (1 Nephi 19:23).
Therefore, as I read John 21:15-17 the Savior is asking not only Peter, but me, “Lovest thou me?” And His responding admonition “Feed my sheep” is also directed to me.
In Luke, He is admonishing me, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).
And His command, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15) is not directed to just the apostles, but to me as well.
Modern prophets have called me to this work. That call comes in every conference that I can remember. Pres. Thomas S. Monson was speaking to me, when he said:
We continue to need many more senior couples. As your circumstances allow, as you are eligible for retirement, and as your health permits, I encourage you to make yourselves available for full-time missionary service (Pres. Monson “Welcome to Conference” Oct. 2012).
3 – For my grandchildren
A few weeks ago before Sacrament meeting I stood and looked at my grandchildren – John and Julie’s children as well as Tom and Emily’s, and I got a little emotional as I realized how much I would miss them. Yesterday as we enjoyed a hectic, if casual time with our family the same emotions came to me. And this morning as Jake curled up on my lap in my recliner it hit me again. We are leaving our grandchildren!
A few months ago a delegation of these grandchildren confronted Anne in her sewing room with a list of reasons why we should not go on another mission. One by one they plead their case – “You’ll miss my baptism.” “You won’t be here when Jessica’s baby is born.” “What will we do on Sunday afternoons?” As Anne effectively parried each argument Faith finally announced in frustration, “It’s not working guys, let’s go.”
Pres. Parmley related some comments by a general authority in a gathering of older couples in South Africa. He spoke about the need for senior couples in the mission field. In a Q&A following his talk, one sweet sister asked if it wasn’t more important for her to stay with and teach her grandchildren. This wise general authority paused thoughtfully, and then responded “You grandparents who put off missionary service to be with your grandchildren; don’t be too hard on them when they make the same choice.”
If you will indulge me for a few minutes, I’d like to speak to my grandchildren.
It is a great deal more difficult to leave you this time than it was when we went to Russia. We love and appreciate our association with you – the privilege and joy of seeing you mature and become responsible and faithful youth and young adults – and we will miss that more than you can imagine. A testimony can be born and instruction given with words, but the most effective testimony and teaching is given by actions. Serving a mission is our way of bearing our testimony to you and demonstrating our dedication to the Lord and to His work.
We love you! And that is why we are going on another mission.
4 – For my marriage
My mom and dad had to leave their mission in England after only 9 months because of Mom’s health. Shortly after returning home she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died within 5 months. While visiting with them during her illness Dad and I went for a walk along the Wasatch front one morning.
Dad told me of how dismayed and even betrayed he felt when Mom’s illness was diagnosed. In his whole life, he had never been more dedicated and faithful in serving the Lord than while on their mission. Surely the Lord knew in advance of Mom’s illness. How could He call them to serve in England, where she was unable to get the diagnosis and care she needed early enough to prolong her life?
He had poured out his frustrations to the Lord in prayer and received an answer. He realized that he and Mom had never been closer in their lives. As they served together, spent almost the whole time together, ate every meal together, prayed together several times a day, planned and worked together, and shared the same concerns for others, they had come to love and appreciate each other more than ever before. Dad realized that the Lord did know of Mom’s illness and impending passing, and that their mission together was the Lord’s blessing to Dad, to prepare him for that loss.
Pres. Monson said about senior missionary service.
Both husband and wife will have a greater joy as they together serve our Father’s children (Pres. Monson “Welcome to Conference” Oct. 2012).
My favorite callings in the church have been callings where I was serving with my wife – the nursery before our call to the temple presidency; serving in the temple together while I was a counselor to Pres. Parmley and she was an assistant to Sister Parmley; and our mission to Ukraine and Russia. Each has brought its own unique opportunities and challenges, but all have brought innumerable blessings. As I have served together with my amazing companion, I have been blessed immeasurably by her insight, inspiration, determination, and faithfulness, as well as by her patience and support of me. My love and appreciation for her has grown
So why on earth would I choose to serve a mission, when I could stay at home and enjoy the association of my family and the comfort of my home, when I could travel to exotic places, go fishing whenever I wanted or when I could simply relax and enjoy my golden years?
- Because the gospel is true;
- I want to keep sacred covenants;
- For my grandchildren; and
- For my marriage.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.