Forty years ago today, alone and scared, I walked into the front doors of the Salt Lake Mission Home—the old Lafayette School—at 75 North Temple in Salt Lake City. It was terrifying, but it was also one of the best investments I have ever made.
Mothers and fathers were weeping with their departing missionaries. My parents were 800 miles away. I was there against their will, so I was alone. I was rebelling against them by going on a mission.
I had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 14 months earlier. Nobody talked me into going on a mission, and no one could talk me out of it (except myself, but I didn’t). I knew from day one of my conversion that a mission was my destiny, that this is what I should be doing with the end of my second decade and the beginning of my third. And I am so glad I did.
My mission was really hard, but I loved it. I loved the people of northeastern Ohio. I loved my companions. It was so hard it was funny. Not just in retrospect, but while I was in the middle of it, it was funny. Sometimes our trials can be so incessant and ridiculous, we just have to laugh.
Here’s an example. I was in my first area, Alliance, Ohio. My trainer and I were knocking a door. A man came to the door and said “not interested!” in 3.22 seconds. He tried to close the glass storm door, but it was cold and windy. The wind caught the door and blew it open again, and the glass broke on my hand. It started to bleed, a lot. Our erstwhile antagonist softened. He apologized profusely and invited us in so he could get a bandage for my hand. That door approach still makes me laugh!
I’m grateful beyond measure for those trials—and for my current “great fight of afflictions” (see Hebrews 10:32)—because they do three very important things for us: they make us grow up; they prepare us for upcoming trials; and they open the door for us to draw closer to God.
On that cold Saturday morning in January 1977, I had no one and nothing to turn to except the true and living God. He did not let me down that day. He never has. It’s through extremity, when we can feel Him carrying us, that we come to know Him best.
The old Lafayette School was torn down in 1994. Behind it was an office building, built in 1973, that is still there. I have no memory of that other building, but I no doubt noticed it at the time. It’s the building where I now work. Incidentally, I am currently a ward mission leader. I go out with the missionaries almost every week. Where will I be in 40 years? I don’t know for sure, but I hope missionary work is involved.