IDAHO FALLS — Each week day, and sometimes on Saturdays, Elder Garrett Mill rolls out of bed at 6 a.m. The 21-year-old studies his scriptures for about 30 minutes and prepares for the day. By 7:30 a.m., he’s out the door and on the road for a 25-minute commute to work, where he’ll spend most of the day driving a tractor, helping to direct projects or handling other agricultural duties at a welfare farm owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Driving a tractor at a Church welfare farm as a service missionary was not what Elder Mill envisioned when he was called to a proselyting mission in Oregon in 2019. But last March, the young missionary needed a change and was reassigned to a customized service mission, where his family, leaders and friends say he has thrived and is having the time of his life.
Through it all, one message has been clear to Elder Mill.
“I know the Lord loves me and is aware of me,” he said. “He knew what I loved the most.”
Elder Mill was raised in a faithful Latter-day Saint home and looked forward to serving a mission from a young age. But his mother, Marijke Mill, said he sometimes struggled as he grew up with a learning disability called auditory processing disorder, which affects a person’s ability to process and digest information or speech, as well as formulate a thoughtful response.
His parents weren’t sure if their son would be called to a proselyting or service mission. His mother hoped for a proselyting mission so he could have the experience of going away from home, becoming independent and feeling successful, she said.
Garrett was called the Oregon Salem Mission. He departed in January 2019 and served there for 14 months, experiencing the all the ups and downs of mission life but having an overall positive experience.
Unfortunately, some health problems affected him mentally and emotionally. After one particularly rough day wiped him out, Elder Mill prayed and wrote a letter to his mission president explaining he’d received a distinct impression that it was time for him to go home.
He returned home but wasn’t released. After counseling with his Oregon mission president and others, Elder Mill was invited to continue his mission service at a nearby Church welfare farm in the Idaho Falls area.
Service mission opportunities
In November of 2018, the First Presidency announced in a letter changes to its recommendation process for prospective missionaries. Starting in 2019, all missionaries apply the same way through an online portal.
The letter also promoted increased opportunities for young missionaries with health challenges and went on to say that missionaries unable to serve proselyting missions may be called or reassigned as service missionaries.
Service missions can be tailored to a missionary’s unique talents, skills and abilities, offering opportunities to serve in approved charitable organizations, Church operations and other stake-assigned service opportunities, according to ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
When offered the chance to work at the Church welfare farm, Elder Mill didn’t hesitate. He eagerly resumed his missionary service within a week of returning to Idaho.
“I love farming. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I grew up right next to one, and whenever I had free time I was working with my neighbor,” he said. “It’s like my passion, I guess. I like tractors, but mostly I love seeing visually what I’ve accomplished. With farm work, you can see that easily, and I just know the potatoes we produce are going to help people. It’s really comforting to me.”
As a toddler, Elder Mill was introduced to farming when he saw his neighbor Galen Williams drive by on the way to work in a field. Young Garrett followed him there, hoping for a ride in the tractor. When Williams found him, he gave him a ride before taking him home. They have been friends ever since. Even while serving on the welfare farm, Elder Mill has made time before and after work to help his longtime friend with chores on the Williams’ farm.
“He puts in some long days. As far as my wife, Susan, and I are concerned, Garrett is our sixth son. He is good to the core,” Williams said. “As with most Idaho farm boys, he knows how to work and what it is to solve a problem. He has a good attitude and looks clean. He’s the kind of guy you’d like to have sitting in your pickup driving to McDonald’s to get a hamburger, and we did that plenty of times.”
Finding growth and joy
David Neilsen is the supervisor of Idaho Falls Idaho Crops, the welfare farm where Elder Mill is serving. From his first day in late March, Elder Mill has proven to be an asset to the operation. He’s always on time with a good attitude, ready to drive equipment, fix something broken or find ways to beautify the farm, the supervisor said.
Neilsen recently made Elder Mill a “zone leader,” giving him foreman-like leadership responsibilities in working with other service missionaries and overseeing some projects on the farm.
“He’s always happy to be there and never eager to go home,” Neilsen said. “He wants to be there.”
His mother can gratefully attest to that. Marijke Mill was concerned when her son came home from Oregon that he might feel like a failure. But she has never seen him happier since his service mission started.
“Waking up every morning to go farming? It’s like heaven to him,” she said with a laugh. “I can’t picture anything better — more perfect — for Garrett. He’s happy, so I’m happy. We’re grateful for his good attitude, and I love having him home.”
President R. Scott Wilde, Elder Mill’s mission president in Oregon, has continued to stay in touch with him since he was reassigned and has rejoiced to see him prospering in his new assignment. Every week, the president receives a new picture or video from Elder Mill with captions that say things like, “I’ve never been so happy,” or “I can’t believe I’m doing this!”
“God wants us to find joy in His work,” President Wilde wrote in an email. “He has fallen in love with service and recognizes the important role he plays in building the Lord’s kingdom. Elder Mill is also developing talents and skills that will help him later in life. I’m confident this mission will be a springboard to other opportunities God is waiting to grant him.”
Bishop Matthew N. Porter, Elder Mill’s bishop in the Cottonwood Ward of the Ucon Idaho Stake, agrees.
“Whether it’s a proselyting mission or a service mission, you learn to rely on the Lord. … It’s all about growth,” Bishop Porter said. “I can definitely see the hand of the Lord in how he’s taking care of Garrett.”
Elder Mill will complete his mission next January. Looking back, he’s grateful for the timing of the reassignment, which came just before the global COVID-19 pandemic compelled the Church to make changes in missionary work. He appreciates the environment and the people he works with, and has learned a great deal.
One lesson is when things break down — and they inevitably will — don’t waste your energy getting upset. Just fix it.
“When I left the Oregon Salem Mission, I didn’t know exactly how things would go or what I was going to do when I got here,” Elder Mill said. “But knowing there was a way to complete my missionary service and help people shows how the Lord is completely aware of me.”