As I sat across from my companion one morning early in my mission, I taped a hand-drawn December 2013 calendar on the wall next to our desks. I stared at the month ahead of me: 31 more days.
Using a thick black marker, I circled Dec. 28. “I better have my visa by then,” I told my companion quite matter-of-factly. “I will make it to Brazil before the new year.” I told the Lord the same thing in a desperate, emotional prayer later that day.
Though my missionary name tag didn’t show it, I was a “visa-waiter,” temporarily reassigned to the California Sacramento Mission while waiting for government authorization to serve in the Brazil Sao Paulo North Mission.
Serving English-speaking in the States and riding a leftover bicycle from the mission office wasn’t exactly what I expected when I pictured my mission. The six weeks of Portuguese I learned in the MTC was quickly fading.
I wasn’t called to serve in Sacramento, I thought. I was called to serve in Brazil.
For many months, that mindset resulted in feelings of frustration, abandonment and loneliness. I didn’t truly understand my call.
Elder David A. Bednar taught in the April 2017 general conference that a missionary is not called to a place; “rather, he or she is called to serve.”
The first line of a mission call reads, “You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” The second line says, “You are assigned to labor in the ___ Mission.”
“An assignment to labor in a specific place is essential and important but secondary to a call to the work,” said Elder Bednar, drawing on principles from Doctrine and Covenants 80:1-4.
Well, my visa didn’t come by Dec. 28 that year. In fact I didn’t go to Brazil until the end of April — seven months from the time I entered the MTC. But I’m forever grateful for my time in Sacramento.
“Seek not to counsel the Lord,” I learned, “but to take counsel from His hand” (Alma 37:37).
March 19, 2020, marks five years since I returned from my 18-month service. Memories of those seven months in Sacramento and the lessons I learned about patience, faith and my call to serve have flooded my mind with recent announcements regarding COVID-19.
I watched on social media as prospective missionaries scheduled to enter the Provo or England MTCs learned they would be trained remotely by video conference. Many expressed disappointment that their training experience wouldn’t be as they pictured it.
As part of an assignment to write an article about reactions to this and other changes, I posed a few questions in a Facebook group for sister missionaries: “What do you think about the announcements? How do these changes affect you?”
One prospective missionary, Sarah Evans, received her call to the Italy Milan Mission in November and is awaiting reassignment. She begins online training soon. She wrote, “I’m learning more than ever to trust the Lord and His plan for me.”
Emma Shepherd wrote she had been looking forward to the MTC experience since her brother went on his mission. “But it will work out, and it’s teaching the people who need the gospel that matters most,” she said.
Rachel Kaiserman, too, was disappointed she wouldn’t attend the MTC. “Regardless of the recent changes, I know I’ll still have the opportunity to teach, which is a tremendous blessing.”
“I cried for a few hours,” Erin Clinton wrote. “But now I feel peace about the announcement and know that things will work out how they are supposed to.”
Emily Draughon, who recently moved to Florida from Utah, was “heartbroken” she wouldn’t return to Utah to visit friends and family before entering the MTC.
“But I know the Lord has His reasons, and everything will work out as it should because He is behind His work, and nothing will stop it, not even the coronavirus,” she wrote.
Their faithful responses touched my heart.
Though reassignments may happen and online training will be a different experience, I believe these prospective sisters have already figured out the secret to success: it’s not about where you serve but how.