Before leaving the mission, some missionaries are already laying the foundations for their return trip. Others have enjoyed their time but are focused on one thing — returning home. The craving to return to their mission doesn’t hit them until they’ve been home for a few months. I was in the former group, having made plans to return to El Salvador for the temple dedication a a mere 18 months after my mission. I worked to save money and even after I got married, the idea of going back to El Salvador was something my husband and I wanted to do. So, in August of 2011, we were on our way to El Salvador.
Returning to the mission evoked the same emotions I had felt returning home some 18 months earlier. I knew the people would be different, the places changed, and the experiences unlike those experienced as a missionary, but something inside of me wanted to believe nothing had changed. I wanted El Salvador to be just as I had left it — like time had hit the “pause” button. What I didn’t realize was how things would be different.
As a missionary I worked, loved, and tried my best to live the mission rules. My purpose was clear and the longer I was there, the more deeply it was rooted into who I was becoming. Elder Bednar once spoke about becoming a missionary rather than just being one. I was becoming someone I liked being, someone the Lord knew was progressing as well as I knew, and I loved that feeling. Upon returning home from my mission, my schedule had changed, but what I realized going back to the mission, was that my purpose was still the same — inviting others to come unto Christ. My trip helped me see how I could achieve my purpose without my name tag.
One thing I should mention is that I was pregnant. Traveling was difficult as I was nauseated and exhausted most of the time. The vision I’d previously had of returning with loving arms open to work and help others was on the contrary as others opened their arms to me and took me in. The people I had once served and taught were now serving me, making sure I was comfortable. I knew some of these families were without stable work, gaining little for the hard work they did do, and yet they continued to serve me and my family. It was beautiful seeing the love I’d shared come full circle to bless all involved. These were moments I had only dreamed of experiencing.
Opposite that joy was also the pain of watching the chapel fill up one Sunday morning and having the meeting start while a family I’d seen change and grow, be baptized, receive and fulfill callings fail to enter the doors. I felt just as I had as a missionary. There we were, sitting, waiting, hoping with all the anxious love one could muster that this family would walk through the doors. But, they didn’t. When I asked the Bishop about them, he said they’d not been for months and were having problems. I didn’t want to believe it, but knew this type of thing happened. I wanted to try my best to remedy the situation.
With a member of the ward to guide us, we visited this family. The parents weren’t home, just the adult daughter and her child and the grandmother. The daughter smiled as we entered the home, but I could also see pain and almost embarrassment behind her eyes. As we talked, I could tell life had been rough, and even after sharing my heartfelt words of hope, it seemed nothing could be done. How could it be? This family had made plans to be sealed in the temple and the last I’d heard they were doing great. How was it that they were so hopeless? Then came the self-evaluation. Had I done everything I could have done as a missionary? Had I loved them enough, taught them enough? What had I done wrong? These and many other thoughts pounded on my already tender heart. Luckily I was with my husband who provided the sounding board and comfort I needed. The roller-coaster of emotion (no doubt accentuated by pregnancy) caught me off guard later in the trip when I discovered another family I had taught was also missing.
But those sad experiences pale in comparison, to the beautiful joy I felt sitting next to another family I had taught while we witnessed the dedication of the San Salvador, El Salvador Temple. This family had been sealed the previous year and hearing them express their excitement to have a temple so close was beautiful! They were happily enjoying a life full of faith and the peace the gospel brings.
We also encountered another member who proudly shared that most of her family members had joined the church after I had returned home. Her mother-in-law met me with a strong embrace and thanked me many times over. As a missionary I had carried her ailing husband from his bed to use the restroom, cleaned him, and helped him return to bed. He had passed away while I was there and my companion and I had sat with her while she had cried. Until she reminded me of that story, I had almost forgotten. Now she and most of her family had been baptized and she was preparing to attend the temple so that she could be sealed to her husband. What joy filled me! I hadn’t expected to experience such things, and how sweetly surprised I was.
It has now been almost a year since my husband and I visited El Salvador. Life continues for us as it does for those there. Sometimes I remember the emotions of my return to the mission field, and honestly other times I’d rather not. For some missionaries, returning to the field is worth it. For others, they’d rather not and I can’t say I’d blame them. As for me, I am of the former. As difficult as it was beautiful, the return to El Salvador was well worth the return.
Please share your Returned Missionary Stories.
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