By Jason Wright
As many of my readers know, in the 1990s I served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brazil. It was among the greatest experiences of my life.
Recently, I've been curious about the differences in missionary work between my mission and the young men and women serving today in my own backyard.
To get a first hand view, last week I arranged to spend an entire day with four missionaries assigned in Woodstock. They are Elders Kenneth Kuhn of Las Vegas, Nevada, Spencer Jensen of Utah and sisters Briana Moore of Texas and Brook Swisher of California.
The church's Woodstock congregation covers all of Shenandoah County and odds are you've seen them walking your local streets, pulling weeds in someone's garden or chatting on the porch with your neighbor.
Missionaries Briana Moore, from left, Brook Swisher, Spencer Jensen and Kenneth Kuhn help clear a fallen tree in Edinburg. Courtesy photo
My first stop was to meet the young sister missionaries for an appointment in Strasburg. Sadly, the woman wasn't home and we decided to walk down Main Street and visit with people on the street.
Swisher, with a laugh you can hear from one end of the valley to the other, struck up a conversation with a sweet woman named Janet. Before they said goodbye, she'd accepted an invitation for a visit.
Next we stepped into a flea market and visited with Sally. She has family who belong to the church and she enjoyed the conversation about the importance of eternal families.
While the sisters broke for lunch, I met elders Kuhn and Jensen back in Woodstock and drove them to Mount Jackson. They introduced themselves to an older gentleman and explained their purpose of spreading the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Kuhn, who's learned Spanish on his mission, spotted someone across the street. The woman, Enriqueta, asked what differentiated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from her Catholic faith. With humble conviction and in fluent Spanish, Kuhn laid out a few key differences, and before we walked away, the woman gave her address and accepted an invitation for a weekend visit.
I had to laugh that as Kuhn was wrapping up with one person, Jensen was practically running alongside a jogger. "Can I give you a card for our church? Visit the website to learn more about Christ's church and love for us."
The woman shouted "thank you!" and jogged on.
"You never know, Jensen smiled.
Then we hurried back to Woodstock for an appointment with a family they'd met a few days prior. But when we arrived at their apartment, they were struggling to carry a large desk to their second-floor apartment. Both the husband and wife have health problems and they were thankful for the elders' help. Though they were then unable to meet that day, they expressed gratitude for arriving just in time and the young men explained that serving others is an important part of their work.
Our next stop was also service related. Local church members Jerry and Christine Clipp arranged for us to help a neighbor cut and clear a large, fallen branch. Jim Heishman, another local member, provided the chainsaw and completed the team. Jeanne, the 88-year-young neighbor, was delighted with the missionaries' energy and enthusiasm.
After changing back into dresses, shirts and ties, the sisters and elders joined my family for dinner. Because they pay their own way on their missions, church members and others often invite them in for meals and a message.
After dinner, the elders went to visit another family and I met the sisters at the home of a recent convert, Sue, in Toms Brook. They took turns sharing favorite scriptures and Sue expressed her deep love for the sisters and appreciation for their visits.
When my "day in the life" experience came to a close, I asked them what they'd learned.
Moore, who began her 18-month mission less than two months ago, spoke like someone who's been serving her entire life. "Everything happens for a reason. We don't know how everything is going to play out, but it doesn't matter, because God knows."
Swisher, whose mission is nearly over and will soon return to college, agreed. "Plans don't always work out. In fact, they rarely work out exactly how you wanted. But this doesn't mean failure. It means you tried your best, but it wasn't where you were supposed to be. I've also learned how I've developed unconditional love for people I hardly know. I might only meet someone once, but I love them and want the best for them and their families."
When I finally returned home, exhausted from keeping up, I recounted the day with my wife. I noted that despite some changes in the work since my mission two decades ago, the similarities are all that really matter. It's the same spirit, the same unconditional love and the same faith.
Just as I did in Brazil, the missionaries you see around the valley love each and every one with the same spirit and joy as every other missionary in every other part of the world.
Whether Moore, Swisher, Kuhn and Jensen are teaching, preaching or pulling weeds, they do it all with an enormous love for their fellow brothers and sisters of all faiths.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The 13th Day of Christmas." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.jasonfwright.com.