As Tannon (top photo) prepares to leave on his 2-year LDS mission to Malaga, Spain one week from today, I am wrestling with so many mixed emotions; among them are happiness that he has chosen to serve this mission and heartache knowing that I will not see him for 2 years.
After having my older son, Easton (bottom photo) also serve a mission, I am acutely aware that those 2 years are not only spent in serving others, but through doing so, these 'boys' equip themselves with the experiences necessary to be the kind of 'men' they should be. I was reminded of this, and felt very comforted when Easton emailed me an essay he had written for his English class a few weeks ago. I thought I'd share it with you since so many of you have emailed me with questions about my family, and specifically about my boys' choices to serve missions. Maybe through reading this you will understand more how a mother and father can send their 19 year old son out into the 'big, bad world' for two years without even being able to see them during that time.
A Life Changing Experience: A Mission Not Impossible
by: Easton Daniel Pedersen
What is a ‘mission’ for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? A mission is two full years that change 19-26 year old boys into men. Before you go on thinking that I am being arrogant with that statement, allow me to explain how it’s really the contrary. The majority of the boys (including myself) that embark on this two-year adventure have little knowledge of the big world ahead and its entangling mysteries. As boys progress through these two years they come back men in a smaller world holding answers to their deep questions and understanding how to go through life and face its everyday battles.
A mission is something that 19-26 year old men and women can choose to do as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Each missionary is assigned to somewhere in the world and a language to speak in. Missionaries spend their two-year service strictly in the area they’ve been assigned to. Each missionary walks alongside another missionary just like them in a companionship. It is no exaggeration to say that these young men are working from sun up to sun down. A normal day for a missionary consists of 3 hours of study, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to every creature and offering help to all those who stand in need.
A mission is so important because there are many people in this world searching for peace and happiness in one way or another who don’t know how or where to find it. This is why missionaries go on missions. They are there to be the means of being somebody’s angel, miracle, answer to a prayer or simply a helping hand.
In my own mission experience in Houston, Texas I met someone named Francisco. Francisco was a 32-year old alcoholic and drug addict with many other personal problems. He was looking for answers and help in his life. My companion and I felt very strongly the day we met Francisco that he was a special man with so much potential, if he’d simply give up some of the things holding him back from being happy. After two weeks of visiting with Francisco and teaching him the principles the Savior Jesus Christ taught, he had gone from 2 packs of cigarettes a day to 3 cigarettes per day. He was sober for two weeks straight and was working on some of his other personal problems. Eventually he overcame his problems and put them in his past. We were able to see a light in Francisco’s eyes that we had never seen before. He was happy and you could see the wrinkles on his face where his permanent smile had left them. To this day Francisco is still sober and hasn’t touched his cigarettes or drugs. In his words, “I no longer have to live in a feeling of misery and guilt. Now I know true happiness and what it means to reach my own potential.”
If there were no missionaries fewer people would have the happiness they have so long desired and sought after, not because they are supermen, but because they are there to offer a shoulder to lean on. A mission is so beneficial to many people; to the people being served because they feel love and understand what it means to give, and to the missionary because they learn that forgetting themselves and thinking about others truly does bring more happiness. This is what I meant from going from a boy to a man. Francisco not only learned from us and received our help, but he did so much more for us than we could possibly have done for him. He taught us how to attack a weakness and make it a strength. It is something I will never forget.
I had the blessing and opportunity myself to serve a mission. I was assigned to go to Houston, Texas to teach and serve the Hispanics, speaking the Spanish language. If anything, my mission taught me to love everyone and understand what their circumstances are and understand where they are coming from. I learned how to love and help strangers regardless of color, situation, native tongue and race. I learned that everybody is loved by a supreme being and I was nothing but a means of helping those I spoke to realize that. In return those people helped me see the vision of the man that I essentially want to be.
One incredible experience I had was teaching a woman named Cindy Navarro. My companion and I had run into her on a sidewalk in Houston one day walking. We asked her if she knew what the meaning of life was. She responded saying, “I have no idea, and I don’t feel like I have purpose or a direction. I am a single mother with two children and one on the way. I am struggling daily to hold on and provide for my family. I have not been happy for years and I don’t know how or where to find peace.” My companion and I knew at that moment that we were meant to meet Cindy and help her with her concerns and stresses of life. We made an appointment for the next day and sat down with her and her young children. We taught them about what we believed the purpose of life is as members of our church and told them that there is a God that absolutely loves and adores each one of them. We taught them that each of them has a purpose in this life and have each been given specific gifts and talents to be able to complete this purpose. We told them that one of our beliefs as members of the church was that families can be together forever and that it doesn’t just end at death. In that lesson I would dare say that Cindy, my companion and I probably all went through a whole box of tissues. There were so many tears of joy and relief on her part. She, to this day thanks my companion and I for being her ‘angels’.
While I was in Texas, Hurricane Ike hit the coast. There were many people killed, injured, devastated, separated from family, and many houses destroyed. We as missionaries were able to help people clean up the damage and give them aid. The gratitude of those served was overwhelmingly strong. I saw more lives change in two years than I ever could have even imagined would be touched.
This is the reason I chose to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I went because I wanted people to have what I have, to feel what I feel, and to be as happy as I am. A mission matured and changed me from a boy to a man in a mental, emotional and spiritual way. I have a different mental approach to my life than I did before I left. There isn’t one day that passes where I don’t think of the things I learned in my ‘life changing experience’. I loved my mission and know that it was the means of changing lives in a positive way, including mine.