Maybe youth is wasted on the young, but that’s OK by me. I’m not sure the middle aged would be crazy enough to embrace it anyway.
I’ve been thinking lately a fair bit about my nineteen-year-old self. You know, the guy who traveled to the Dominican Republic, sight unseen, armed only with a fledgling faith in Jesus Christ and a stronger sense of duty, to serve a two-year proselyting mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The entire proposition was terrifying then. I’ll never forget that sickening feeling as the plane lurched off the runway in Miami en route to Santo Domingo. (“There’s no turning back now!” I thought to myself.) Or what about that first day spent wandering the dusty streets, drowning in the humidity and completely unable to understand a single word anybody said? (The native children eventually resorted to unloading their entire English vocabularies in a desperate effort to communicate with me. “Wuht tyme ees eet? Howw ahr yoo, miy freynd?”)
From where I stand today, it’s hard to believe I ever had the guts to go through with it all. Somehow, I did. What an adventure. I survived flying cockroaches, sweltering heat, a hurricane, spotty electricity, unfamiliar food, cold bucket showers, and the list goes on. I saw staggering poverty. I was also on the receiving end of unmatched kindness and mind-boggling generosity.
I sometimes think about those people I met, the ones I taught a lifetime ago, and I remember a man who once said to me, “The missionaries are all the same. They finish their time here, they go back home, and we never hear from them again. But you’re different, Elder See-pare.” (They never could pronounce my last name right. It always came out sounding like the Spanish word for zipper.) “You won’t forget us.”
Well, yes and no. I haven’t forgotten them. How could I? But I’ve also lost contact with almost every last one of them. I wish I knew where they are, what they’re doing right now. Mostly, I wish I had been better for them.
Oh, it’s easy to look back and see everything I could’ve done differently. I’m now over twice as old as I was then. I have the benefit of experience and perspective. Back then? Youthful energy, optimism, and the Holy Spirit were my guides.
In the end, I’m not sure it could’ve been any other way. I did my best with what I had. I planted mustard seeds. Maybe I made a difference in somebody’s life. They certainly made a difference in mine.
All of which brings me to my young nephew who recently received his own mission call to labor for two years in, of all places, the Dominican Republic. He’ll be heading there soon, and I’m extraordinarily proud of him. He’s a young man of faith and intellect and maturity – and so many talents, really. He’s infinitely better prepared than I was. Even though I know a thing or two about those steps he’ll be taking into the darkness, I also know this adventure will be uniquely his.
He’s eighteen years old, the world is at his feet, and something tells me he’s not going to waste it.
Chris lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, Sara, and their six children. He has a B.A. in communications (print journalism) from Brigham Young University and a J.D. from the University of Nebraska College of Law. Chris enjoys music by The Piano Guys, flying kites, and pumpkin pie. He also spent two years in the Dominican Republic without a pillow, but that’s a story for a different day.