Well, my application to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is officially off to Salt Lake City, Utah as of today! I am SO excited for the opportunity to serve the people of my mission, as well as my Savior, Jesus Christ, for the next 18 months! I should get my call within the next 2-3 weeks.
As I have shared with my friends and family my desires to serve a full-time missionary for 18 months, many have asked me how I came about my decision to go on a mission, and why I want to go on a mission. I thought these two questions were no-brainers for me, but within the last couple months, I have seriously reflected on the whats and the whys of sacrificing two years of my life (basically 10% of my life this far!) to serve a mission. This reflection has given me a fresh perspective on missionary work and my role in Hastening the Work.
So in light of me receiving my mission call soon, I want to share how I came about my decision to serve a mission (might as well grab some popcorn or something, because it's a long story):
The first memory I can recall of me desiring to go on a mission can be traced back to Kindergarten. My class was doing a show-and-tell where parents could share a culture they experienced with the entire class. Since my mom was a sister missionary in the Italy Padova mission (the mission no longer exists as it was absorbed by the Milan & Rome missions), my mom volunteered to share Italian culture. All the kids thought my mom was so cool because she brought yummy treats, but I thought she was cool for different reasons. Although the extent of my knowledge of my mom's mission was going to another country and doing good things for people there, that was enough to plant the seed that I would one day serve a mission like my mom.
So all throughout primary and young women's program, I had the mentality that I would go on my mission when I turned 21. However, within the span of one year, I started hearing lots of stories of women who were about to turn in mission papers meeting their spouse and would get married instead of going on a mission. After noticing a trend in all of these stories, I couldn't help but wonder if that was my fate. What if the Lord's plan for me was to get married instead of going on a mission? As a 14-year-old, this thought began to scare me, which is pretty comical looking back considering in the grand scheme of life, getting married is not a bad alternative to getting married. But I couldn't help it.... From a young age, I have loved the gospel of Jesus Christ and I want everyone to have that in their lives! I wanted to be like my mom and all of the other sister missionaries before me, who brought the gospel to many people and set a great example for a prospective missionary like me.
Four years later in October 2012 during General Conference, the church announced the change in missionary service age for men from 19 to 18, and for women from 21 to 19. Words couldn't express how excited I was! The opportunity for me going on a mission became SO real, and it was all thought about for days.
Two years after that, I graduated from high school and decided I would attend Southern Virginia University for a year and then leave for my mission after that. This plan felt right to me, but when I prayed about it at the beginning of my first semester at SVU, I felt nothing. I prayed about it again the next day, and I still felt nothing. This pattern continued my whole first semester, which was frustrating for me because I wanted to know if I needed to start prepare to serve, and time was running short. I was reading my scriptures regularly, I attended my church meetings, I served faithfully in my calling, I was enrolled in institute, and I had a strong testimony of the gospel. The Lord knew I had a deep desire to serve. In fact, he's known of this desire of mine for the last 13 years. I didn't understand why I couldn't get a straightforward answer. I began to doubt whether I was supposed to go on a mission, just like my 14-year-old self.
However, I had this reoccurring thought come into my mind throughout the semester: "You need to get your patriarchal blessing." (If you don't know what that is, check it out here: https://www.lds.org/topics/patriarchal-blessings?lang=eng ). I thought this reoccurring thought stemmed from my procrastinating something I had put off doing for a while, but it kept coming to me, and I kept pushing it away. Finally, the thought entered my mind "Don't make a final decision about going on a mission until you get your patriarchal blessing." Soon after I set up an appointment to get it while I was at home with my family.
I won't go into too many details about the blessing, since it is such a sacred experience for me, but after receiving it and reading it multiple times and praying about it for a few weeks, I came to the conclusion that the Lord wanted me to prepare to serve a full-time mission.
Since then, Satan has thrown me every reason I should not go on a mission. "What about your education/career goals?" "Why would you want to leave your family for that long?" "What makes you think you're worthy enough for this work?" "Wouldn't you rather spend your money on something else?" You get the point. However, I have not felt more sure about a decision than my decision to serve a mission, and light always overcomes darkness if you allow the light to come in.
This leads me to why I want to serve a mission.
Up until I went into the Young Women's program, I wanted to go on a mission because that's what my mom did, so why wouldn't I want strive to be as awesome as my mom? (FYI, if you haven't met her, you're missing out. She's pretty great.) (Also, I still strive to be as awesome as her :) )
Once I started the Young Women's program, my desire to go on a mission was strengthened, but for different reasons. My testimony of Jesus Christ and of His gospel really blossomed while I was in this program, and it was not only something I wanted to share with others, but I wanted others to have their own testimony of Christ because of the difference it made in my life.
Once I graduated from high school and started praying about a mission and struggled with my answer about a mission, I reflected on why I should want to go on a mission. It's not that the reasons I had before were bad. In fact, they were better reasons than some of missionaries have for wanting to go on a mission. However, the Lord knew that part of my preparation for my mission needed to come from searching for my answer to serve a mission. This struggle combined reflection helped me better understand two very important principles of the gospel: personal revelation and the atonement of Jesus Christ.
If I hadn't been actively searching for an answer to this important life decision, I wouldn't have recognized how the Lord was trying to speak to me. Personal revelation is something I will be receiving all the time on my mission, and if I had gone on my mission without learning another way the spirit speaks to me, I could have missed out on a lot of direction and a lot of blessings.
I also would not have understood more fully how the atonement of Jesus Christ works without experiencing it. While Christ atoned for our sins, he also experienced all of the pains, trials, and sorrows His children would face. The atonement is not to be utilized only when we sin and we need to repent for those sins; Christ's atonement can be utilized no matter what trial, pain, or sorrow we face in our life, whether they were caused by our own sin, the sins of others, or of causes no one can really explain. While I struggled to find an answer to my prayer, I gained a deeper understand of Christ's role in my life through the comforting power of His atonement, and I will be a better missionary for that.
I LOVE the gospel of Jesus Christ. I would not have gone through so many personal struggles leading up to my mission call if I didn't love this gospel so much. It has made all the difference in my life, and I cannot wait to bring others unto Jesus Christ!
Have questions about missionaries or the work they do? I hope you'll ask them!
Much love for y'all,
[Future] Sister Leonard