In the next two months, we have three young men leaving from our congregation to serve missions in California, Mexico and Brazil, respectively. This afternoon was a sweet gathering to honor the first to leave. Friends came to his family home to say goodbye for two years, to wish him well, to reminisce about their own missionary experiences (many members of the LDS church have served missions, so there exists a strong culture of common experiences) and to rejoice with the family that a son would take such a great step.
If you are not familiar with what Mormon missionaries do, here is a primer. Between the ages of 19 and 26 or so, young men and women are eligible to volunteer to serve a mission for the church. It is a common misconception that it is required. It is encouraged and considered a major form of devotion, but it is strictly voluntary. The missionary or his family pays their own way (but if someone desires to serve and can't pay, then the church will support them) for 18 months to two years for the individual to go anywhere in the world where it is legal for the church to be established, from Pittsburgh to Paris, Jacksonville to Jakarta. Once there, the missionary endeavors to share the gospel of Jesus Christ through service, friend-shipping, and proselyting . Contact with family is limited to email, mail and 2 phone calls per year (Christmas and Mother's Day). They don't come home for visits. It is a big deal. Even though it is a fundamental part of the culture of our church, and that familiarity makes it easier to get one's mind around all that is asked of the individual, it is still a big deal.
Sharing the joy of this family tonight made me think a lot about my own missionary son. He is three-quarters of the way through his service, but I only had my knitting blog back then. So, here is an excerpt of my report of the moment of his leaving. Now we're already looking forward to him coming back. I just cannot believe how fast the time has gone. We spoke to him on Christmas, and it was wonderful to hear his voice. He sounds like himself, but there is a definite additional warmth and depth in his voice.
Anyway, I hope my friend has the same kind of sweet parting with her son that I did. No fear, no worry, and just a moment of sadness tempered by pride, excitement and peace. It is all I would wish for every mom and dad.
July 1, 2006: Well, the last weeks were spent fitting the knitting in around the major endeavor of getting son number one out the door for his two years of missionary service for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There were so many last minute details and so many things to try and savor and enjoy and not get stressed about. It was wonderful to see him rise to the occasion and be really quite poised and mature about the whole matter. He took care of all the practical aspects like visas, shots, applications, etc.. He mostly just told me what he was already taking care of on his own. It does a mother's heart good to see a kid actually function in the real world. I always said my job was to create humans who could live without me. Some have called me callous for having that attitude, but really, what better gift can I give them? I certainly don't want them dependent and suffering without me there to make them a sandwich. So we went with him to Utah to begin his service. We won't see him at all for two years, but instead of being scary or sad or difficult, it was a good parting. He was ready to go, and the sense I had was that he is in the right place at the right time. That to me is the definition of peace, and that is what I felt.
Here he is on the way from the hotel to the Missionary Training Center. He really was that relaxed-he fell completely asleep. I love this picture.
Here he is with his Dad walking toward the next two years. If you're noticing that that is not the MTC, you're right. He went in during the last week of June, so the new mission presidents were at the MTC. His intake occurred at a nearby chapel.
The yellow sign on the door says no more photos inside, so this was a quick last shot of him before he left us.
To my friend Cheri, I will be thinking about you and your family during this tender time.