Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Reasons for Serving a Mission--George's Post

I.  Introduction

      B.   Reasons for Serving a Mission

There are certainly a multitude of reasons behind my decision to serve a Mormon mission after I retired from practicing law for close to forty years.  The thought of going on a mission had been in my mind for at least ten years before going out.  Year in and year out, when visiting with our bishop during tithing settlement, we would share with him our desire to serve when the time was right—perhaps trying to forestall being asked about serving before we were ready to go.  And, over the years, Carole and I often talked about going on a mission, wondering when it would be best to go, where we would like to serve, how we could bear being separated from family for close to two years, what kind of mission we might like to serve—humanitarian services, church educational services, public affairs, self-reliance, proselyting, or member leader support.  Then, of course, were the more mundane issues to resolve since we would be away from hearth and home for 18 months to two years—what should we do with our home; who would pay our bills, make our tax filings, keep track of our retirement funds; could we afford to serve a mission and what impact would that have upon our remaining resources.  Would we be able to enjoy the same life style after our mission as we had enjoyed before.  In short, just the sort of practical issues one would expect to mull over before making a long-term commitment. 
Fortunately, Carole and I were in accord on the threshold question—both of us wanted to serve and were committed to making it work, whatever the inconvenience and costs.  Likewise we understood the reasons for going out shortly after I retired from practicing law—while we still had good health and enjoyed a relatively robust level of energy.  We didn’t want to leave it until it was too late—the decision taken out of our hands due to death or an unexpected health problem. 
There was however one item left to negotiate.  I wanted to spend a year abroad immediately after retirement—largely to get a break between the rigors of practicing law and the likely self-sacrifice of going on a mission.  Carole was inclined to reverse the order—mission first, then time abroad.  Yet apart from this, we knew the time was right.  Carole was willing to let me make this decision, so we spent the first year of retirement living in the center of Paris—a wonderful, but admittedly indulgent, 12 months in Europe.  And shortly after returning to Seattle, we began working on our mission application, getting physical exams, visiting with the dentist, updating our immunizations.
Carole and I shared many of the same reasons for wanting to serve.  Perhaps foremost among these is an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  The Lord has richly blessed us and our families.  Our children and grandchildren are healthy, bright, curious, and our children have wonderful, supportive, faithful spouses.  Over my career, I was fortunate to have steady employment, interesting work, a good income.  Our life, especially in the latter years, was comfortable, allowing us to travel to see the family and visit much of the world.  Fortunately, yet not due to anything we had done, we have been spared many of the hardships that others have been forced to endure.
This gratitude is rooted in a belief in God and an abiding appreciation for the blessings of Church membership.  Most Church members consider membership in the Church to be among their choicest blessings.  Indeed, if asked, they would be hard pressed to separate their feelings about the Church from those they have about their own families.  The family is about Church, and the Church is about family.  The Church considers the family to be the central unit in God’s plan and frequently speaks of the “eternal” nature of family relationships, stressing that families can be together forever, a belief many others share even though it is not a part of their religion’s formal orthodoxy.   The Church’s commitment to strengthening families is universally recognized as one of its most positive social contributions, even by those of little or no faith. 
Like many in the Church, I have often wondered what kind of person I would be were the Church not in my life.  I suppose it is natural to worry about how our lives might be shaped if we did not have the hope that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13, giving meaning to life where there might otherwise be despair.  The Church constantly reminds me of the person I should be and I certainly get strength from being around others who are likewise trying to be better.  For both blessings, I am deeply grateful.  Indeed, all I hold dear in life is tied up in my feelings about the restored gospel.  The Church’s teachings about salvation and families remind me the universal brotherhood of man, the need to learn charity, the importance of sacrificing for the benefit of others.    
As I approached retirement, I sensed a great desire to dedicate myself to helping others more fully, and in ways different than I may have helped in the past.   I trust this doesn’t sound too maudlin, naïve, soft or fuzzy.  The most productive years of my life were devoted to practicing law to the best of my ability.[1]  This entailed, as one might imagine, spending long hours at work, sleepless nights worrying about clients, being frequently distracted, even when away from the office.  It certainly took away time for helping around the house and being a good neighbor.[2]  I thought it was time to expand the circle of my concern and potential influence for good.   For most of my adult life I had spent my time earning a living, helping raise our family, attending to my calls in the Church.  As far as the broader community was concerned, my efforts had been channeled primarily through the Church, serving as a scout leader, working with young men, doing home teaching, making charitable contributions in the form of tithing and fast offerings, holding various priesthood positions. 
Now the children were grown, out of the home, and independent, allowing us the freedom to look more outward.  It was the ideal time to recommit to serving others, and serving as senior missionaries for the Church, in some capacity, would, we knew, be a great way of giving expression to that urge.  At the time of our calling, the Church had in the field roughly 90,000 full-time missionaries, 8,000 of whom were senior missionaries (consisting of couples and single sisters).  Before submitting our papers for a mission, Carole and I spent an afternoon at the Mission Department of the Church, in Salt Lake City, speaking with a senior missionary about available positions and how mission calls for seniors were processed. That visit reconfirmed our initial impression, thinking we would do best in a hands-on, in-the-trenches, mission, working directly with members and non-members alike, attending to their day-to-day needs. 
In the Church we speak of testimony—our belief in the restored gospel and its principles—as the primary impetus—and indeed, what should be the “right” impulse--behind the desire to serve a mission--sharing the gospel, helping others, establishing the Church.  It may appear to some I have given short shrift to this when talking of my desire to serve, focusing instead on the “service” (i.e., the “charity”) aspect of missionary work, rather than the “faith” side.  My observations should not be so construed.  Certainly it is true that I think of the two principles—charity and faith—, together with that of hope, as being inextricably linked, so much so that they cannot be divorced from one another.[3]  For years I have thought of the doctrines of “faith, hope and charity”[4]as three faces of the same thing—the defining elements of an inward conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  “Faith” is what we believe and the power that motivates us to act; “charity” grows out of that faith and describes the kindness we show to others; and “hope” is the hope of the future we carry for ourselves, those close to us, and, spiraling further outward, for our brothers and sisters worldwide.  It is the hope of peace in this life and the peace in the life to come—the celestial life described in part by John in the 21st Chapter of Revelation:  “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.  And God shall wipe away all tears form their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.  And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.”  Rev. 21: 3-4.    This hope comes from only one source.  “Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.”  Moroni 7: 42.  “And what is it that ye shall hope for?  Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.”  Moroni 7: 41. 
How often we hear in the Church that “faith” is not static; it is constantly in flux, either growing, diminishing or changing form.  And to the extent that charity and hope are tied to faith, these likewise fluctuate.  And while the thought is so frequently expressed as to have become hackneyed, losing its potency owing to repetition, it like similar thoughts is often mentioned because of its fundamental truth.  It is not possible to stand still in the Church, or to stand still in our relationship with God—at all times we are either drawing closer to God or moving further away from Him.  We are deceiving ourselves if we think differently.  As a young man, I served a mission in northern Germany because of faith and a desire to share the gospel.  As an older man, I was ready to serve a second mission because of faith and a desire to share the gospel.  Yet a lifetime of experience is interposed between the two events---the faith of my youth is not the faith I hold today.  In like measure, Carole and I know our current experience is transforming us, slowly perhaps, but surely.   Through this mission experience, we hope the eyes of our understanding are being touched, opening to permit us to see more clearly how things actually are.[5]

[1] For reasons still unclear to me, I always took great pride in trying to do the best possible legal work for my clients, whether or not they cared about it.  It was not enough to get the job done, or to get the deal closed, or to keep to the client’s schedule or price expectations—somehow I found myself driven to master the craft itself, even if others didn’t care or have much appreciation for differences in the quality of legal representation.  This is not to say that I practiced law at a level superior to others—many were extremely able, clearly better than I—but I always tried to do my best. 
[2] Lawyers have been vilified and made the object of ridicule for centuries; they fared poorly in the New Testament, and Shakespeare had a hay day mocking them, poking fun at their foibles.  In their worst incarnations, they are pompous, greedy, self-serving, self-important, double faced, sly, deceitful, cunning, conniving—the worst of men--it is as though they were to the public world what the Pharisees were to the religious world.  “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.    Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Matt: 23: 25; 27.   Some may wish to condemn them with the words of Isaiah:  “For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.  None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.  They hatch cockatrice’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web: he that eatheth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.”  Isaiah 59: 3-5. 
This is not the place to mount a defense of lawyers—whether they be business lawyers or litigators--as they now practice law in the United States, even if such a defense could be made.  I will however share a few observations about the years I practiced law.  Many of the lawyers at Perkins Coie were first rate, morally upright, fine individuals, for whom I have the highest admiration.  They struck a wonderful balance between representing clients, being leaders in their communities, and serving the firm.  Others fell short of those standards. 
But I never felt as though I needed to compromise my personal standards, either to fit in at the firm or in representing my clients.  Any shortcomings I had were mine and mine alone.  Still the practice of law, even on the business side, could be harsh, uncompromising and adversarial.  Many clients on the other side of transactions, and their counsel, were suspicious of my clients’ motives, felt we were devious, trying to lay traps and snares.  While I tried to be honest in my dealings, to avoid deceit, lying, the laying of traps, there is nonetheless an element of gamesmanship inherent in practicing law.  Many believe that within the business context, anything is fair play as long as one plays by general, but implicit, rules of business commonly understood.  You don’t lie, but you don’t share everything either.  You cut as good a deal for your client as you can.  You leave it to your opponent’s counsel to represent the opponent’s interests.  If counsel is incompetent or misses something that he/she shouldn’t, it is not your responsibility to make up the difference.  Indeed, you have an ethical obligation to represent your client’s interest to the best of your ability.  
In any event, toward the end of my career, I was more than ready for a change of pace, a new start, an opportunity to do good—at least to do good in ways quite different than I might be said to have done good in the past.  Carole never was plagued by similar sentiments, having devoted her entire adult life to caring for the children, being a good friend, and doing her duty in the Church and community. 
[3] See, for example, the two sections entitled “Key Principles—Overarching Goals—Love of God and of Man; --Importance of Charity” in Section II. B
[4]The doctrinal affinity of these principles is affirmed both in the New Testament and Book of Mormon.  See, e.g., 1 Cor. 13; and Moroni 7.
[5]Like many others, I find intriguing the references to “sight” or “light” when it comes to things of the spirit.  “And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.”  D&C 76: 19.  “That which is God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”  D&C 50:24.  “And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlightened your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.”  D&C 88: 11-12.  The expressions are undeniably metaphorically, appealing to our senses and parallels we can easily apprehend, yet at the same time, it is as though they come close to capturing an actual physical sensation.  It is as though we can actually “see” more clearly, but now with spiritual eyes, things that were previously obscured or hidden, our spiritual sight being as powerful, and as real, as our physical sight.

Photos Associated with Second Installment--I. Introduction B. Reasons for Serving a Mission

Note:  As you might imagine, it is easy for us to find photos of missionaries in our photo file


This is one of the three couples, the Seamons of Ferron, Utah, who were assigned to our district, in the Provo, Utah Mission Training Center (MTC).  The Seamons went to the Marshall Islands.

The third couple in the Provo MTC District were the Labrums from Carrollton, Texas.  They were assigned to work in the Kentucky Louisville Mission.

These sister missionaries are obviously somewhere in Japan and have a zest for life and their missions.

Looks cold. Another photo from the Provo MTC.
If the last photo looked cold, this one surely was.  Brave missionary and equally brave new member.  Photo in the Provo MTC.
You will recognize one of these intrepid missionaries.    Sister Beal with Sisters Rasband and Komiha.  They were the sister missionaries in the Zingwangwa Branch when we first arrived in Malawi.
Sister missionaries and members making a compassionate visit to one of the Zingwangwa Branch members.  Photo taken during the first month of our stay in Blantyre.
Sister missionaries, together with Sisters Reynolds and Beal, before heading out to Majete for an outing.
Photo on the sisters' outing to Majete.  Getting airtime.
Sisters Bulha and Komiha, both now "returned" missionaries.
Maxwell Mbera, a Zingwangwa branch member, before leaving to serve as a missionary in Mozambique.  First, he went to the Brazilian MTC to learn Portugese.
The young missionaries, Elders Barnard and Johnson (from Idaho and Utah), on their last day in Blantyre before returning to the United States.  The Reynolds are in the middle.  They are now back home in Everett, Washington.

Sister Agnes Chirwa, the day she left to go to England as the first sister missionary from Malawi, surrounded by friends and family.