Dear President Wilson,
It is likewise with mixed emotions that I send you my “going home letter.” As I've been reflecting on the things I've learned and the experiences I've had, I have felt so much gratitude and love for my Heavenly Father for giving me the opportunity to serve as a full-time missionary.
Through the experiences on my mission, I've come to a greater understanding of how my Heavenly Father speaks to me and loves me. The summer before I began my mission, while I was still trying to decide whether or not I should serve, I felt like I couldn't receive an answer. I kept praying and praying to know if a mission was the right thing for me. I finally submitted my mission papers without feeling like I had received an answer, only that I knew a mission was a good thing and I wanted to do it. Many times on my mission I've prayed and sought for an answer through my feelings without receiving anything. I've come to realize that my Heavenly Father normally speaks to me through my thoughts.
Since then, I've had more revelatory experiences. Occasionally, thoughts will come to my mind that are so clear and so powerful that I know they didn't come from me. For example, I was washing dishes one day in my apartment and the impression came to me that I needed to change my major to something else I was considering. It was very specific. Another day I was praying and the thought came to me that I need to live with my older sister, not with my parents, when I return home. These lightning-like experiences don't happen every day but happen often enough that I can recognize a pattern in the way my Heavenly Father reveals His plan to me.
I love the scripture in Romans 8 that says, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I can't always feel this outpouring of love, but I have felt what is described in D&C 121:33: “What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.” I know that God loves me because He speaks to me in such a personal sense and pours knowledge upon my head in a way that I can understand and receive it.
On my mission, I’ve also learned what it means to be happy. In Preach My Gospel, it states that more happiness than I’ve ever experienced awaits me on my mission. I used to think that that meant that I wouldn’t have any trials and that happiness would come easily. My mission has been a happy experience, but more importantly, it’s taught me how to be happy through the trials and the disappointments. I know now that real, lasting joy comes from making and keeping covenants.
Before my mission, I don't think I could have explained that the Gospel of Jesus Christ means having faith in him, repenting, making and renewing baptismal covenants, following the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. I know that because of the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ, living his Gospel will bring me happiness in any situation. There have been so many times on my mission where I’ve felt overwhelmed and unable to continue. And now at the end of my mission, I feel overwhelmed by how far I’ve come. I know that I couldn’t have done it on my own.
I also feel that my mission has increased my overall quality of life. Before, I enjoyed going to church, reading the scriptures, waking up early, planning, exercising, getting to know people, etc. Now, I really love all of those things! I also have a greater appreciation for the things I’ve given up, especially my family. There are even some things that I didn’t like before that I enjoy now! For example, embracing the awkward. I feel so blessed that I was given the opportunity to serve!
The final lesson that I've learned on my mission (or will at least be sharing in this letter) is how to be bold. Before my mission, I studied Spanish for two years in high school and three semesters at BYU. When I submitted my papers, everyone guessed I'd go Spanish speaking. My Patriarchal Blessing also implies that I'll have the opportunity to learn a language on my mission. When I was called English speaking, I was pretty disappointed but willing to serve wherever and however. Still, my Dad and my Spanish teacher promised me that I'd have the opportunity to speak Spanish. I didn't believe them because I didn't think there was a large Hispanic population in Virginia.
Anyway, a few months later I told you that I wanted to speak Spanish on my mission. To be honest, I thought you had forgotten and I decided that it was never going to happen. However, my trainer Sister Olsen was really great and encouraged me to study Spanish while she studied Portuguese for language study. During my next interview with you, you informed me I was going to become an Hermana in two weeks! There have been many times where I've wondered if I stepped out of my bounds to make that happen or if that was what my Heavenly Father really wanted for my mission. Then, something that you shared a Sisters' Meeting really impacted me: “If you ever feel like a little pebble on the beach, try being a little bolder.” I related this to my Patriarchal Blessing. Many wonderful blessings have been promised me, but I know that they won't come to pass unless I prepare myself to be worthy of them and boldly pursue opportunities to fulfill them.
I'm so grateful that I was able to serve as both a Sister and an Hermana. Both callings helped me learn to be bold. It's really easy to talk to everyone because I feel confident preaching the Gospel in English and in Spanish. I really know what it means to talk to everyone. I have loved being a missionary and I hope that I will also love being a full-time finder after my mission. I have a powerful testimony that if I talk to everyone, God will place people in my path because He knows that He can trust me.
As for my greatest missionary experience, I had the opportunity to help a 10 year old boy named Robert be baptized while serving in Stafford with Hermanas Peñaloza and Clark. His grandma was a member, but his parents were not. His grandma would take him to church every week and he wanted to be baptized. All of the members of the Branch discouraged us, saying that his parents were never going to give in. One day, we felt inspired to visit his parents and ask them for their opinion. We stopped by and Robert’s dad was outside washing the car. We started to chat with him about it and he explained that he felt that Robert was too young and didn’t know enough. We helped the dad understand our purpose as missionaries to teach him and prepare him for baptism. He agreed and we put Robert on date for the end of the month!
At the same time, Robert’s grandma began working in housekeeping at a hotel. She had to work Sundays and was no longer able to bring him to church. The parents weren’t very cooperative and kept taking Robert and his sister on family outings on Sundays. One I fasted that Robert would be able to come to church. We set up a ride and called his parents in the morning to confirm. His dad said that they already had plans. My companions and I were so disappointed! When we got to church, right before Sacrament Meeting started, Robert showed up with his grandma! She had miraculously been given the day off!
About a week and a half before the baptism, we still hadn’t been able to teach him any of the missionary lessons. Both of his parents and his grandma worked, and he was often away from home being baby sat by other people. We weren’t sure if he would be ready in time or be prepared to keep the baptismal covenant. One day my companions and I decided to stop by, only to discover that his grandma had had an injury in her work and had dislocated her shoulder! She was to be on medical leave for the next few months. The Lord works in mysterious ways! In one week we taught him all of the missionary lessons and he was baptized!
This was one of the greatest experiences of my mission because I had to rely on my Heavenly Father and trust that He would prepare a way for Robert to be baptized. It was also impressive to see Robert’s faith. Even though we weren’t meeting with him continuously the month before his baptism, he read from the Book of Mormon almost every day. At his baptism, his mom mentioned that his diligence in reading the scriptures convinced her to let him be baptized. That and Robert is just an adorable child and will someday be a great missionary!
Thank you so much, President Wilson, for all you’ve done to make these learning experiences possible! I feel so humbled to have had the opportunity to serve in the Virginia Richmond Mission. I’m sad to be going home, but excited about the new person I’ve become and what the Lord has in store for me next.
With love, Hermana Sarah Crandall