~by Michelle
[The photo above does not include me…it’s just a general photo of LDS missionaries. My photos are from back in the day before digital photography!]

I recently read the Business Week article on the significant impact missionary and Church service has had on the lives of several prominent Latter-day Saint business executives. The article caused me to reflect on the many was my service as a missionary in South America all those years ago affected my life.

I remember very distinctly feeling that I had chosen to serve a mission because I wanted to be able to serve and help others, but I was astounded at all the ways being a missionary enriched and blessed my life.

I should start off by saying that the fact that it was through one of my mission leaders that I eventually met my husband! That alone is reason enough to be grateful for my mission experiences {grin}, but here are many other things for which I am grateful.

– I learned to work hard. I had been a straight-A student all through junior high, high school, and college, but I was still blown away by how hard missionary work was. The intensive language and missionary training for two months was extremely demanding — which is part of what it made it so amazing! Once I got to the country where I was to serve for the next 16 months, I learned even more about time management and wise planning and personal discipline. And did I mention hard work?

– I learned to work closely with a lot of different people, with a lot of different personalities. Some of my companions and I struggled to get along, but we also found that if you can focus on working hard with someone, a lot of differences become less important. Work can be a real unifier.

– I learned to love a new culture, with its customs and foods and language and the dear people. I learned to love what made this country different from my own. I will admit to serious homesickness when I arrived. It was the holiday season and I realized how much I had take for granted in my life, like water I could drink without boiling and produce I could eat without fear of contracting cholera. But when I left the country, I cried. (Gratefully, I had the blessing of returning — twice! — years later. I still crave the delicious food. And I wish more of the people I met were easier to find on Facebook!)

– I learned to respect the principle of agency, or the right of people to choose.

– I learned that the best way to gain understanding and conviction of a principle is to live it.

– I learned to be fearless in talking to people. (For me, this skill translated in amazing ways as I went on to get an MBA and learned the importance of networking.)

But most importantly is what I learned from a spiritual point of view.

– I learned to hold onto past answers to prayer that I had received. There were a few times when things were so challenging that I thought I might rather be home. But I remembered the clear answers I received about the fact that serving a mission was the right thing to do, so I trusted those divine answers and they helped me through hard times.

– I remember a particular day when I had a very clear understanding come about one reason God wants us to be married and be parents: He is a Parent, and as we follow His commandment to marry and to have children, we are leaning to be more like Him.

– I learned that I cannot be perfect alone, no matter how hard I try. (For a perfectionist, that was a hard lesson, indeed!) But that also taught me more about learning to lean on God and trust in the Atonement.

– I watched how The Book of Mormon changes lives, including my own! I learned how to lean on scriptures more than ever before as a source of inspiration, comfort, and knowledge. I also had the unique experience of having the book be like new to me as I learned to read it in another language.

– Related to the previous point, I learned that if people really want to understand The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, earnestly reading The Book of Mormon is the key. It really is the keystone of our religion.

– I received my own personal conviction about the divine, prophetic mission of Joseph Smith. Teaching repeatedly about his role as a latter-day prophet of God gave me the privilege of feeling the Holy Ghost witness to me that he really was a prophet. Before, my testimony about Joseph Smith was tied to my testimony of The Book of Mormon — again, with its keystone role, knowing the book is true, one knows that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. But I had begun my mission seeking a specific witness of the divine calling of Joseph Smith, and through several missionary experiences, I received that witness.

I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I had to serve the Lord as a missionary.

If you served a mission, what did your mission experience teach you?