As my family and I stood near the security line last December at the Salt Lake International Airport, I noticed a young woman with a beautiful, tentative smile and sturdy shoes.
She was surrounded by her family and reminded me of my oldest daughter — who had just returned recently from the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission.
As the young woman hugged her relatives goodbye, my husband and I moved with our own children through airport security.
But a few minutes later, we noticed the young woman again, walking through the airport terminal all alone.
Our daughters ran to the young woman and asked what they already knew: “Are you a missionary?”
They learned that she was traveling to the Guatemala Missionary Training Center and would serve in the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission — the very mission in which our oldest daughter had been serving just two weeks earlier. This sister missionary, who had a layover in California on the way to Central America, was also on our flight.
The Church has 67,000 missionaries serving in 399 missions throughout the world, yet somehow we had connected.
As we sat in the terminal awaiting our flight, my husband and I watched as our daughters talked with their new friend about missionary work and Honduras and their testimonies.
I was filled with a sweet knowledge of the Lord’s love for His missionaries. My oldest daughter was desperately missing her mission and was now enthusiastically sharing her experiences. Our second daughter was eagerly awaiting her 19th birthday and the opportunity to serve herself. And our new missionary friend was no longer alone on the first step of her journey.
For one magical moment, past, present and future missionary work intersected.
My mind has returned to this sweet experience many times in the last few weeks.
Just days after our second daughter’s stake president submitted her missionary recommendation to Church headquarters, the worldwide COVID-19 crisis intensified. Facing increasing health risks and nations about to close their borders, Church leaders began returning missionaries to their home nations; some 30,000 missionaries were on the move at one specific time.
It was not long before our daughters received an email from their friend in the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission.
“With everything happening with the Coronavirus, all of the missionaries from my mission are returning to their home countries, and I am now at home with my family,” she wrote. “It’s nice to see them, but I really miss missionary work. I will be here for a two-week quarantine period and then will be reassigned to serve somewhere inside the United States.
“I am O, SO grateful for the three months I was able to have in Honduras, and I am heartbroken that I can’t stay there preaching the Gospel. But I know that the Lord’s will is to have me serve somewhere else, and that I can still fulfill my purpose of helping others come unto Christ wherever I serve. My heart will forever be in Honduras, with those people I love.”
This week, our second daughter — now taking her BYU classes online and recently wrapping up her job at the mailroom of the empty Provo Missionary Training Center — received her own mission call from President Russell M. Nelson.
“Sister Weaver, you are hereby called as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
My daughter’s assignment to labor in the Brazil Fortaleza East Mission came at the end of the letter. The call also contained a statement that circumstances may require a reassignment to serve in her home country.
As I heard my daughter read those words, my mind returned to the moment four months earlier in the Salt Lake International Airport when I had noticed sturdy missionary shoes worn by another faithful missionary traveling to Latin America. That missionary was willing to wear those shoes out on the streets of Honduras — yet they had not carried her through one rainy season there.
I thought I had seen her image on the Honduras mission Facebook page in a photograph of missionaries lining the curb at the Tegucigalpa airport — standing with their luggage and wearing masks as they awaited flights home.
I wondered how my own oldest daughter would have felt if her mission had been disrupted by the pandemic. I prayed for our missionary friend and the Church’s 67,000 other missionaries — those who are home, those who are quarantined in the mission field, those laboring in a new mission in their home country, and those awaiting reassignment, all wearing the Savior’s name and representing Him.
Elder Uchtdorf emphasized that there are two key moments in the life of any missionary — the decision to serve a mission and the acceptance of the missionary call extended by the prophet of God.
Everything that happens after that is often influenced by circumstances not within the decision of the missionary, he added. “You prepared, you accepted the call and you gave your best. That is what counts. That is what makes all the difference. That is what makes a missionary.”
In coming weeks, we will buy our own daughter sturdy missionary shoes.
We hope she wears them out in Fortaleza, Brazil — the city which has already become part of our daily prayers. But if she doesn’t, it will be OK.
It is the message we learned from a young sister missionary we met in the Salt Lake International Airport, on a special day when a returned missionary, going-to-serve missionary and a future missionary all connected. Back then, our family thought we were helping her. But it is her testimony — and the testimonies of 67,000 others — that now sustain us.
“I can still fulfill my purpose of helping others come unto Christ wherever I serve,” she had written.
It is as clear to me now as it was then — our meeting was not coincidental.
In a busy airport terminal, we had noticed sturdy shoes and listened as our daughters asked a most important question: “Are you a missionary?” In response, the Lord showed us His love for all who make the decision to serve Him and accept a call — past, present and future.