I served as a full-time volunteer church missionary for 18 months in the Japan Okayama Mission. Yesterday my oldest daughter was called to serve as a missionary in the Hungary Romania Mission. Anticipating my daughter’s upcoming mission brings back a flood of memories and miracles from my own time of service.
My mission was a wonderful and challenging experience. Learning to speak Japanese, riding a bike, and coping with the physical and emotional aspects of missionary life were soul-stretching yet spiritually fulfilling opportunities. Several times during moments of difficulty I naively thought to myself, “Serving a mission is the hardest thing I will ever do!”
Now I am married and have ten children. The physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges I have faced as a mother are even greater than those I experienced as a missionary! However, I have learned that motherhood is a mission, and I am grateful everyday for the lessons I learned as a missionary which helped to prepare me for motherhood.
At the beginning of my missionary service I entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. At the MTC I spent nine hours a day intensely studying Japanese and principles of missionary work. After arriving in Japan, I continued to study each morning. Learning was a key factor in successful missionary work.
Since becoming a mother, I have often wished for a different MTC, a Motherhood Training Center, where I could have studied in preparation for the challenges of parenting.
Although there is not a physical MTC where mothers go for instruction, mothers do have many gospel resources available. Regular attendance at church and the temple provide learning opportunities. General conference addresses, scriptures, and church lesson manuals contain instructions and counsel for mothers. Although our uninterrupted personal time is often short, mothers can find creative times to study the gospel.
Arising early to attend the temple, reading Church magazines in the car while waiting to pick up a child, or studying the scriptures while the baby is napping are just a few of the moments I have found to squeeze gospel study into my busy schedule. No matter how short, daily learning has blessed me as a parent, just as it did as a missionary.
Serving a mission requires sacrifice. Leaving friends and family for 18 months or two years, financially paying for a mission, and taking time away from educational studies are sacrifices many missionaries make. On a mission I learned that the blessings of sacrifice often come later, just as seeds take time to grow and bear fruit. Although I returned from my mission over twenty years ago, I am only now fully enjoying many of the blessings of my service.
Recently, I met a young woman I had taught in Japan, who has since been baptized, married in the temple, and is raising a beautiful family in the gospel. Seeing her success and feeling her testimony was a sweet and fulfilling moment which came many years after my service to her.
Mothers also make sacrifices – physical, financial, and personal – to bear and raise children. These sacrifices can also bring future fruits of joy. I have faith that my hours spent doing laundry, fixing meals, and caring for children will eventually yield results as I see my children grow and mature.
Learning to trust in forthcoming fruit as a missionary has also taught me to “wait upon the Lord” (Psalm 37:9) until my motherhood sacrifices are brought to fruition. The sacrifices of both missionary work and motherhood are minimal when compared with the sweet fruits of service.
The Japanese word for missionary work or proselyting is “dendo.” Literally translated, the Kanji characters mean “show the way.” I enjoyed teaching the gospel and “showing the way” to investigators and friends on my mission. My purpose as a mother is similar to my purpose as a missionary. I “show the way” to my children, teaching them the gospel, and helping them along the path that leads back to our Heavenly Father.
I remember standing by the font watching one of my daughters being baptized. As she entered the water, I had a sudden flashback of watching a sweet Japanese investigator being baptized. It occurred to me that I had taught my young daughter the gospel, just as I had taught my investigator, and the joy I felt at my daughter’s baptism was the joy I had felt as a missionary.Scriptures
On my mission I kept a quote by Heber J. Grant written on a scrap of paper and tucked into my scriptures. “The Book of Mormon… is the greatest missionary that we have…” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, p.19) Years later, I still carry this quote in my scriptures. Missionaries use the scriptures daily in teaching the gospel.
Mothers can and should use the scriptures too as a daily companion in teaching our children and ourselves. We generally have the privilege of being the very first people to introduce children to the scriptures, just as missionaries are often the first to introduce investigators to the scriptures. Sitting by a child, first reading to them, then helping them read on their own, and then watching them have personal scripture study is a very fulfilling part of motherhood.
While riding our bikes on the streets of Japan, my companion and I would often stop and visit with the people we passed. These spontaneous missionary discussions were a regular and fulfilling part of our work. Although we often never met the person we visited with again, I felt we were planting seeds, which could someday grow into a full testimony of the gospel. Perhaps that person on the street would meet with missionaries or Church members in the future, and eventually come to a full understanding of the truth.
Children, too, need spontaneous religious discussions. As mothers, we can participate in gospel discussions whenever they are appropriate or necessary in our children’s lives. I have enjoyed deep religious discussions with my children at random times such as while fixing dinner, doing yard work, driving to or from activities, and late at night.
Although these discussions are almost always unplanned, parents can use them as opportunities to plant gospel seeds in our children’s hearts.
During my mission I often recalled a phrase I had read in the Missionary Guide. President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Without the Spirit, you will never succeed, regardless of your talent or ability.” (Seminar for new mission presidents, 25 June 1986, Preach My Gospel, p.176)
One of the sweetest joys I experienced as a missionary was learning to feel and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. When I did, I always felt peace and joy, and saw success in my missionary work.
A wise mother once counseled me to follow the promptings of the Spirit—no matter how small—in raising my children. These promptings have come as a mother just as they did as a missionary – in quiet times, during unexpected moments, and usually in a still, small voice.
Often the promptings require immediate action on behalf of my children. One day I was prompted to pick up my son early from school and spend some personal time with him. Another time I felt impressed to keep my daughter home from an activity. Recently I felt inspired to sit by a certain child during Sacrament meeting. Whenever I have followed these promptings, I have seen and felt blessings as a parent and in the lives of my children. Following the spirit has been a comforting and vital tool in my work as a mother.
Teaching investigators to feel and recognize the spirit was another important task of a missionary. The spirit is usually present at missionary lessons. Taking extra care to identify the feelings of the spirit for investigators allowed them to recognize the spirit on their own, and made their gospel conversion even deeper.
One of the sweetest tasks of parenthood is helping our own children feel and recognize the spirit. Taking time during family home evening, family council, family testimony meeting, or spontaneous family discussions to identify the sweet peace of the spirit has led to meaningful family experiences.
Feeling the spirit with my children has been sweet, just as it was with my investigators. Watching my children identify the spirit on their own has given me additional joy in knowing that they are capable of this important tool for spiritual success.
Hard Work and Joy
Before leaving on my mission, I often imagined that missionaries lead a life of drudgery: knocking on doors, experiencing continuous rejection, and spending long hours laboring. However, even on the very first day of my mission, I thought to myself, “Missionary work is fun! Am I supposed to be enjoying my mission this much?” I discovered that each day on a mission had moments of work as well as joyful times. I truly enjoyed the many (and mostly) happy experiences as a missionary.
Motherhood can be the same way. When we take time to enjoy our everyday life – even when it is filled with mundane tasks – we can truly be the best mothers possible.
In addition, I learned as a missionary that the most discouraging moments in life are usually right before the most happy and fulfilling times. Each of the baptisms I saw as a missionary was preceded with surprising difficulties, including hard rejections, contention with my companion, and even a typhoon!
When I get discouraged as a mother, I reflect on the emotional ups and downs of my mission, and recall that opposition is a sure sign of coming success. My missionary experiences have taught me to press on as a mother until difficult times improve.
Finally, with the new, younger missionary age and the increased interest in youth serving missions, mothers have the opportunity to make their homes a Missionary Training Center. Sister Julie B. Beck, former Relief Society general president stated, “Think of the power of our future missionary force if mothers considered their homes as a pre-missionary training center. Then the doctrines of the gospel taught in the MTC would be a review and not a revelation. That is influence; that is power.” (Conference Address, October 2007).
President Gordon B. Hinckley emphasized that the work of righteous women, “Must begin in their own homes.” (Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 10, 2004, 20) Family home evening, family scripture study, family prayer, and spontaneous gospel discussions can all be “missionary training” for our children.
I am grateful for the soul-stretching and eternally fulfilling experience of serving as a full-time missionary. My mission prepared me for the challenges and work of motherhood, and the fulfilling and important role of teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to my own children. Now I see not only the fruits of my missionary work—but also of my motherhood—fulfilled as my own daughter goes forth to serve.
My purpose as a missionary and as a mother was and is the same: To bring souls unto Jesus Christ.