The following is a long letter I wrote home for my dad to read at a youth Mini Mission devotional. He asked me to share with the youth the blessings of serving a full time mission. I’m doing this throwback post partly to save it somewhere, but also to maybe share it with someone who could use the insight or motivation. It’s a long one, but stick with me and enjoy a throwback from my time as a missionary!
Written March 28th, 2016 when I had been serving as a missionary for 14 months.
The Blessings of Missionary Service
By Hermana Natalie Fish
Texas Dallas Mission February 2015 – August 2016
Some say missions are a sacrifice, but a general authority who came to my mission recently put it this way:
A mission is NOT a sacrifice. Look at it this way: for $400 per month you get a decent apartment, food (including free meals with members), a nice car to drive, free fuel, good schedule, no worry about a job or dating or school, days filled with meaningful activity, gospel study, and (for some missionaries) a new language and cultural studies. That is the best deal you can get in your life right now!
So, if a mission is not a sacrifice, then what is it? My dad asked me to write a little something for the youth of the Magna Utah East Stake about the blessings of serving as a full-time missionary in the kingdom. I will try to keep this brief, but these are my feelings about my mission and how it is not really a sacrifice after all. I will be drawing from experiences I’ve had, struggles that have come along the way, miracles I’ve witnessed, and the many ways I have been forever changed while serving here in the Texas Dallas Mission, Spanish speaking.
Receiving the Gift of Tongues
A first and early blessing of my mission was receiving the gift of tongues. My MTC experience was incredible. I got to go to the gorgeous Mexico CCM in Mexico City, I had the best companion in the country, the most amazing teachers who emulated Christ, and the language came very smoothly and very quickly for me.
I was blessed with a trainer from Mexico once I made it to Texas, and I was feeling very confident. However, the first door I knocked on of my whole mission was answered by a Puerto Rican man. In not even two seconds I realized I knew ZERO spanish, and after three days of not being able to communicate with anyone we met let alone my own trainer (who was learning english) I plopped down on the floor of my apartment and cried. My companion was in the shower at the time, so I was alone. I got on my knees and prayed and pleaded and cried.
When I was set apart as a missionary I was blessed to have the gift of tongues, and I reminded my Heavenly Father of that as I prayed. I was then reminded by Him that I would be blessed with the words I needed in the moment I needed them IF I had done my part. So, I studied harder than hard, did my best to apply what I studied, and left the rest to the Lord. I have now been out for about 14 months and Spanish is not an obstacle.
Safety on My Way
Another blessing of serving my mission has been safety on my way. Let me preface this by saying there are some stories I will be sharing that I have not told my family yet because I didn’t want anyone to worry. However, I don’t want to bore the youth to death, so let’s get some adventure going here. I hope you’re on the edge of your seat!
The Lord keeps my companion and I safe every single day. Some days we are kept safe even when we have some very close calls. One of my close calls was my first transfer on bike. My companion and I were biking down the street on our way to dinner. There is a lot of traffic around dinner time, so we were trying to be extra alert. My companion was leading and I was following a ways behind (she rode her bike very quickly, but also had a tendency to crash, so I tried to give her her space). We had passed the bad traffic and had made it to the more rural part of our town. As I was riding I got the impression to put on the brakes a little. I found that odd since we were hurrying to dinner and there were no cars in sight. Again I felt impressed to brake a little bit. I learned at a young age NOT to ignore a prompting, so I put on the brakes lightly. No sooner had I put on the brakes then I saw a car run a stop sign in my periphery. Before I knew what happened, my front end was hit by the car, sling-shotting me around to hit into the side of the car, landing partially on the roof and cracking my helmet.
By some miracle, I was not hurt and my bike was not damaged. Now, let’s just think for a moment about what would’ve happened had I been just a little further ahead than I was. Maybe I would’ve been T-boned and been seriously injured. And what about if I had slowed down on my first prompting instead of waiting for the second? Maybe I wouldn’t have been hit at all! The bottom line is that Heavenly Father blesses His missionaries with safety on their way. He is mindful of His servants, every one.
Increased Self Motivation and Work Ethic
On my mission I have been blessed with increased self-motivation and a better work ethic. Our mission has a vision to become one and become mighty like the Stripling Warriors. I cannot read about those brave young men without getting emotional. They should be especially admired by the youth since they were a bunch of deacons, teachers, and priests (12-18 year olds) fighting against the fiercest army of the Lamanites. Some of the most noteworthy of miracles they witnessed was that while nearly all of the 2,000 were injured, not one perished. Why is that? It is because of their motivation and work ethic. Not one perished because they:
- Kept their covenants (Alma 53:17)
- Kept the commandments (Alma 53:21)
- Recognized their duty (Alma 56:47)
- Honored and represented their families (Alma 56:48)
- Fought most desperately (Alma 57:19)
- Stayed firm and undaunted (Alma 57:20)
- Obeyed every word with exactness (Alma 57:21)
I could go on and on about these mighty heroes of mine, but one thing I wanted to emphasize is their recognition of duty which prompted them to be obedient. When we understand our duty as members of this church which is to be missionaries, and when we recognize our duty as missionaries which is to “invite others to come unto Christ by helping them to receive the restored gospel through faith…repentance…baptism…the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end,” we cannot help but obey with exactness. That is our motivation and that is why we choose to work hard.
Sorting Out My Priorities
A tremendous blessing I’ve received from serving a mission has been the blessing of sorting out my priorities. How many of you have seen the vine of the little girl whose mom asks her how old she is? She replies, “Sixteen! I’m a grandmother.” What about the YouTube video “Charlie Bit My Finger?” How cute are those kids and how funny are those videos? A couple Zone Conferences ago I saw a video way cuter and way funnier than those, but you won’t find it on YouTube or Vine. It was a selfie video of President Eyring’s granddaughter. She took the video to give a message to the missionaries of the Texas Dallas Mission. This granddaughter is 6 years old. She told us how beautiful and handsome we are, told us it’s okay to cry if we miss our families or our homes or our toys, and then she finished by teaching us the restoration in 2 minutes and 39 seconds because “strangers will get bored if you talk too much.” Is that not the cutest? And can you tell that the gospel is a frequent topic in their home? Can you go so far as to even assume it’s the most important topic in their home? I can.
And while we’re talking about gospel centered homes, how do you think the Stripling Warriors were raised? You can read all about their valiant parents in Alma 24. Coming back to the blessing of sorting out my priorities, I have been blessed to have gained clarity about teaching the gospel in my future home and family. Missionaries go into homes and teach families the gospel, doesn’t it make sense that we’ll go right on doing that in our own homes one day?
God Is Watching Over My Family
Which brings me to my next blessing of my mission. Most missionaries are promised that their families will be watched over, taken care of, and blessed. I have seen my Heavenly Father take care of my family in countless physical, spiritual, and emotional ways. I’m sure if you asked them, they could tell you more than I even know about. I have been overjoyed as I have seen my family have regular Family Home Evening and Family Scripture Study, evidence that my Heavenly Father is taking care of them on a spiritual level. My Heavenly Father knows how I long to see my family again, and is blessing me accordingly as He takes such sweet care of them.
Standing Firm and Standing Up
And now for some more crazy mission stories. I had heard a lot about Southern hospitality before my mission…but I think that must not apply to missionaries. Many have heard my story of having Ramen Noodles thrown at me from a car driving by, so I’ll save that for another day, but how many have heard about the man who stuck his german shepherd on me? Or maybe the one about the man who spit a plug of tobacco at me? Or the woman who answered the door with a shotgun pointed at me? And then there was the man who sprayed me with a garden hose, the gangster who pulled a knife on me, and the woman who tried to cast a devil out of my companion. We have been chased, hollered at, soaked, and told all manner of lies about “the cult” we belong to. Persecutions still rage! Gangsta mobs still assemble! Home owners escort us out of their neighborhoods! Restaurants don’t feed “the Mormons!”
A blessing on my mission has been standing firm and standing up. It would be easy to deny Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. It would be easy to run from the dog instead of holding your ground. However, the more a tree is beaten by the storm, the tougher the bark gets and the deeper the roots go. I love persecution, because it reminds me that I am a valiant believer and that Satan cannot stand that.
Developing Christ-Like Love for All People
A sweet blessing I have received from my mission is being able to develop Christ-like love for all people. One of my dearest converts was one of those people. In his life before the gospel he did drugs, was a prostitute, a pimp, an addict, and did hard time before fleeing as a fugitive and coming to this country. Oddly enough, the more I learned about this man the more I knew Heavenly Father loved him and wanted him to repent and be baptized. The day he took that step was one of the happiest days of my life and his. This sweet man has received the priesthood and will be going through the temple shortly before I come home.
Another notable time I felt this love was with a particularly challenging companion. We could not see eye to eye on anything and were total opposites in every way. One day over street tacos and horchata she confided in me her struggles in the mission and the love the Savior had for her rushed through me like a hot summer wind. Our relationship was forever changed because I saw her through Heaven’s eyes. Charity, the pure love of Christ, is a blessing the Lord will give you as you strive to put your mission before yourself and fight to kill the natural man.
God Has His Hand in the Work
Heavenly Father blesses His missionaries by having His hand in the work. One of the many ways He has His hand in the work is by working on the hearts of the people we meet and teach. I was shown evidence of that with a man my companion and I began teaching in October. This man’s wife had just been baptized a couple weeks earlier and he wanted to see what our church was all about. In the first lesson we set a baptismal date with him. It turned out to be the first of seven dates we set. After a month is became apparent that he was very closed to the gospel and not at all interested.
We still came by to teach his daughter (who got baptized in January) and give his wife the new member lessons. A visit didn’t go by that we did not invite him to be baptized, even though we were not “officially” teaching him as an investigator anymore. Then one night after a lesson with his wife and daughter, this man walked into the room and sat down. Before I could open my mouth he put his hand up to stop me and heaved a big sigh. “Hermana Fish,” he said, “what is the question you ask me every time you come over here?” I laughed and said, “Will you be baptized?” I stopped laughing as he sighed again and replied, “And what is my answer every time?” My heart sank as I answered, “You say no every time.” He then became very quiet. I was nervous as to what he was feeling and was absolutely taken aback when he spoke up, with tears streaming down his cheeks, and said, “Hermana Fish, when can I be baptized?” I was so shocked, in fact, that I thought it was a trick question!
As I realized he was serious, I asked him what made the difference for him. His answer has always stuck with me, “Little by little I saw my wife and daughter changing and God began to whisper to my heart that these two gringas are really onto something. I just had to stop ignoring God and let my heart be changed.”
On February 21, 2016 this family was completed and are now looking ahead to a year from now when they can make it eternal. The Lord prepares His children.
My Heavenly Father Knows Me Personally
My mission has blessed me to know that my Father in Heaven loves me on a very personal level. In fact, He goes out of His way to show me how He feels about me. Have you ever had a friend write you a note that was just exactly what you needed to read in that moment? They were showing you how much they care. Similarly, our Heavenly Father shows us how much He cares with what you could call a note from heaven. I like to call them tender mercies. Here are a few sweet and funny ones He has sent my way.
I don’t know how many of you have experienced a Texas summer, but they are really something else. I spent last summer on bicycle. The first two weeks of that were pretty tough. My body had to get used to the sweat, the sun, and the physical demand of riding many miles every day. Just when I thought a day could not get hotter or I could not be more tired, Heavenly Father would send me a little note. One evening it was the most beautiful sunset that filled that big Texas sky.
Another day, a kind old man gave me a bouquet of flowers, just because.
Another day a paletero turned onto the street we were riding on and gave me my favorite flavor of Mexican popsicle. Three simple messages that meant a lot to me. Those moments remind me that Heavenly Father knows my heart and knows what will lift me.
A Perfect Brightness of Hope
The final blessing I would like to touch on in the blessing of having a “perfect brightness of hope” as the scriptures say. As a young woman in the youth program of the church, I remember having countless lessons about marriage, family, and my eternal future. I had great hope for that time. As I turned 16 and began dating, my hope took a nose dive. I could not understand how I could possibly ever date to marry or even try to be a mother. When I went away to college, things seemed even more dismal to me as I saw many people struggling with pornography, addictions, selfishness, mental illness, loneliness, doubt, and fear of commitment. Thank goodness my views have changed!
My mission president and his wife have turned my entire frame of mind around. They have helped me understand that eternal happiness is for everyone. Furthermore, they have taught me that by making and keeping my covenants, I don’t have to fear the bad because I will find the good. This doctrine is not confined to myself. No matter what kinds of examples you’ve had to look to in life, no matter how far away eternal marriage and family seems, you can look forward to the future with a perfect brightness of hope and prepare for it by making and keeping covenants.
I heard an analogy once that says that we pass thousands of cars as we drive each day, but the only ones we notice are the ones that get in accidents. By dwelling on one car accident, we forget about all the other cars passing us on every side. The same goes for our opinions about the family. Will you get caught up on the car wreck and decide not to drive anymore? Or will you choose to be safe, obey the law, and take care of your car? I have been blessed to learn that happy homes are the rule, not the exception. I have learned that I too can have a happy and eternal marriage and family just like my parents do. This is not a thing of the past, and in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we know this is our future. We may all be blessed with a perfect brightness of hope.
My Final Thoughts
In closing, I want you to know that serving a mission is the single greatest decision I have ever made in my entire life up to this point. Greater than what school to go to, and much greater than what boy to date.
Serving a mission is not a sacrifice. Is it hard? Oh yes! Does it hurt my heart sometimes? Absolutely! But I’ll tell you what, the grass is not greener on the other side. There is absolutely nothing you could do with your time as an 18 year old boy or 19 year old girl that is of greater value to your present or your future than serving the Lord full-time.
I have touched on basic blessings, but the truth is that I am blessed in great and significant ways every day. Also, I’m not even finished being blessed by my service, because every returned missionary will tell you that the blessings only keep coming. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland says that “every good thing that has happened to [him] in [his] life can be traced back to [his] service as a full-time missionary.” This is boot camp for your life. Prepare to serve! Save your money! Study the scriptures! Be clean and worthy! If you’re not worthy right now, talk to your bishop and repent. Repentance is wonderful. It is joyful. It is not something to be scared of. That is Satan trying to talk you out of coming closer to Jesus Christ.
I have so much faith in the youth of the church. I have only one final question to pose to you. There are only 60 seconds left in this game and we are down by one point. Can your coach count on you to suit up and play, or will you sit on the bench and let victory pass you by?
I testify that we are on the winning team. The victory is set. Heavenly Father is our coach. Jesus Christ is the captain. We have all the gear. I testify that the Book of Mormon is the play book. I testify that your mission is your two-a-day practice time to get you into shape to play the game. I testify that we have a living prophet and that we will always draw closer to our Heavenly Father if we obey his counsel and teachings. My prayer is that there will awaken in you a desire to consecrate two years or 18 months of your life to the Lord. Come join me on the front lines. It’s the greatest place to be. Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.