25 December 2007

Mission nostalgia

Preface: Mark Twain once said "Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated." Some of my own readers may have started such rumors about this blog. Let me assure you that the blog is still active and I will still post here regularly. A little over a week and a half ago, I finished my next-to-last set of law school exams, and then almost immediately left for Utah where the wife and I are spending the holidays with my in-laws. It has been a hectic couple of weeks and I have not been keeping up with the blogging (mine or that of others) as I ought.

One of the sweetest experiences of this Christmas season has been seeing a convert from my mission in Mexico. Since I returned home in 2003, I have seen a couple of my old companions (both American and Mexican) and a couple of other housemates and missionaries, but have managed to keep in touch with converts only by e-mail. So I was delighted when one of my first converts from my mission contacted me in late November with the news that she was going to be in Salt Lake City over the holidays and wanted to see me.

Z was a 16 year old girl whose investigation and baptism seemed to be the most random circumstance. My trainer and I had taught the first discussion to her older sister F, and had returned on several occasions for a follow-up second discussion, but never found her at home. (for those of you who served missions in Latin America, you will realize that this is nothing out of the ordinary. No one has a phone so you cannot really call ahead.) On about the third or fourth try, we cynically decided to teach a discussion to whoever we ran into at the house who was willing to listen (in order to have something to show for our time). And thus we found Z, who was more than happy to listen to a first discussion and invite us back for more. Being an American on a Mexican mission, and having heard many of the missionary horror stories, I approached the teaching of a Mexican teenage girl with a sizable dose of skepticism about how this would end up; but in the end, you don't choose your investigators, they choose you.

Z was extraordinarily bright, far and above most of the other people we had tracted into on my mission, and for me, it was a breath of fresh air. She was smart and very ambitious. She kept appointments, fulfilled commitments, and seemed prepared at every turn for whatever we taught or asked her to do next. I guess that I saw a great deal of myself in her, only having recently joined the church myself, under somewhat similar circumstances.

Z participated in a YW New Beginnings program even prior to her own baptism, and went about it as if she had been a member her whole life. She was baptized on a freezing cold day in January 2002, in an unheated font (unpleasant for the both of us). I guess I was still somewhat skeptical about the ultimate prospects of her conversion based on her age and the lack of support in her family. Nevertheless, her behavior gave me no other reason to doubt her sincerity or conviction.

I stayed in the area for another 3-4 months and subsequently moved to another city in the opposite side of the mission. We stayed in infrequent contact by letter, and everything seemed to go well. Soon after I left, two of her other sisters were also baptized (and they remain active to this day). Z too moved away to attend a university in another city outside of the mission, and is only infrequently in the city where we initially met.

This December, Z came to SLC to meet an American boyfriend she met over the Internet. We made plans to meet on Temple Square and later went out with both her boyfriend and my wife for dinner. There was plenty of catching up to do, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude both for the experience of having taught and baptized her, but for the chance to see her once again. My first area and my first companion (where and with whom I had encountered Z) were the best of my mission, and many of my fondest memories of Mexico are in that place with Elder C. Generally, the rest of my mission was difficult, draining, and discouraging. I never attained that level of success (measured in terms of baptism and teaching) at any other point in my mission, and I left Mexico wondering how much good I had really done for anyone (even myself). Those doubts have stayed with me in the 4+ years since I returned home. But for the past few days it has been a true blessing in my life to recall those powerful moments that my companion and I shared with Z and to witness how the Gospel has blossomed in her own life in my absence. Life has become ever so much more complicated since returning home from my mission, and I am grateful for experiences such as these which hearken back to a simpler time.

1 comment:

  1. I can understand your examination of your mission. Most of us do it whether we baptize 38 or 1 in reflecting about our part in bringing others to Christ. It is good however that you were able to see the ripple effect in that your one became three and so on. There really is an exponential quality to what we do sometimes it is obvious and sometimes not. I recognized you and your companion's contribution in a job well done. You raised my consciousness with your post as we often forget or lose track of how our former investigators are doing. I also always feel guilty I didn't interact in their lives in more meaningful ways.