November 28, 1998
It’s kind of dark and I can’t see very well, so I hope this is legible when the sun comes out. I can’t turn on any lights or I’ll wake up the other sisters. I have no idea what time it is but it must be pretty early because I’ve been up for an hour already and the sisters get up at six.
Yesterday was my first day as a real missionary and it was quite the day. My experience with Madagascar so far is that most of the rumors about mosquitoes and dirt and humidity are a little bit far-fetched, but the ones about diarrhea are right on the money. The reason I’m up so early this morning is because I’ve been sitting on the toilet for the last 45 minutes while all of my insides released themselves in liquid form. I’m feeling a little bit queasy right now. I hope this is something that I can get used to because I can’t imagine doing today everything I did yesterday when my body feels like this.
November 29, 1998
What I wrote about yesterday morning was just the beginning of a long miserable day of illness. But let me skip back and tell you about my first day as a missionary before I go on about that.
First thing in the morning, the AP’s came and picked us up at the mission home and drove us to our various areas. Although Soeur Wilson and I are not companions, and we serve in different cartiers (areas), we live in the same apartment. So we didn’t have to have a big dramatic goodbye, which was nice. You’ll be pleased to know that my area is the scummiest, poorest, most polluted area in all of Madagascar. I have smelled smells here that I have never smelled before, and they are not pleasant. But I love this city. It is beautiful to me. However, I have never seen such poverty in all my life.
So anyway, I arrived at my apartment, said bonjour to my companion, and off we went to teach a first discussion. We stopped at a member’s house first. We had to bring her with us because the people we were teaching spoke mostly Malagasy. So, before I knew it, there I was sitting in a little dirt-floor house made of mud and sticks teaching real investigators. I was so overwhelmed. It was exactly how I had always imagined it would be. Even the part where the woman fearlessly removes her shirt to breast-feed her baby right in front us. Somewhat uncomfortable, yes. Soeur Abriel is an awesome missionary and I have learned so much from her already, but she likes to teach me things the hard way. I quickly became familiar with her nod and smile that means, “start teaching, go ahead, your turn, etc.” That’s when my heart starts racing and I start praying for the words to say. Later in the afternoon we went street contacting. Seour Abriel made me go up to people, introduce myself and invite them to church on Sunday. So I proceeded to do so, in a very ungraceful fashion. The people are very nice. They smile and say, “Sure, we’ll come.” But then they don’t show up. Anyway, why would they go to church with a dumb vasa who can’t speak French? I’m telling you, if I could have one wish right now, I would wish for the gift of tongues.
…The remainder of the day was spent doing similar things in similar places. We taught a new member discussion, a fourth discussion and we read 3rd Nephi 11 with three teenagers. I didn’t quite catch if they were friends or relatives or what. All the while, of course, we were trudging up and down hills and stairways and alleys. I think I hike at least a mountain a day. By the way, our apartment is pretty good. Most of the modern conveniences are broken, but we are livin’ the life compared to these people. I am a little bit wary of the fact that the water comes out of the faucet brown and this is what I will have to wash myself with for the next year and a half. But, whatever.
So, about yesterday…
I think that was the closest I have ever come to death by illness. It started out with diarrhea, and then my stomach hurt like never before. I moaned, groaned, tossed and turned in my bed for most of the day. Twice I tried to get up to take a warm bath, but both times I passed out and collapsed on the floor on the way there. After which my companion dragged me back to my bed, where I proceeded to moan, groan and suffer. I have never wanted my mommy so bad. My zone leaders came over and gave me a blessing and my companion gave me a bunch of nasty medicine. One of the two must have worked because I feel much better today. Still not 100% normal, but well enough to work and that is all I ask.
So, to summarize my thoughts on my mission so far, I would have to say, THIS IS HARD! This is the least easy thing I have ever done! I would be lying if I said I have been completely happy since I’ve been here. To tell you the truth, several times a day I have wished that I could just go home. But I know this is good for me, and it will get better. And I will get better. All things aside, I am very grateful to be here.
The church is true.
Jesus Christ lives.
God loves us.
I was thinking today about all the times people have asked me what was the most important thing I learned on my mission, or how my mission changed me the most, or what my mission was like. I was also thinking about how I’ve never had an adequate or accurate answer for those questions. But today in my mind as I was driving, the perfect explanation came. My mission was exactly like being thrown into the deep end of the water to be taught how to swim. Even though I was in complete compliance, and I had been told to prepare, from the moment I went under, terror set in. My thoughts were these, “I can’t do this after all; I don’t know what I’m doing; I may not have what it takes; I can’t breathe; I’m sinking; I’ll never make it.” All the while, I’m kicking and paddling ferociously, awkward and uncoordinated, but having no other means to survive, fearing eminent failure. Along with fear and panic and weeping and flailing come exhaustion like I’ve never known it. But I keep at it because at least my head is staying above water. And from there, I think you get the idea. Eventually I discover that I can tread water fluidly. Once I figure out a smooth stroke or two, I can make progress in a forward direction. Before long, my form is clean and my pace is fast. Finally, I look right and left and realize there are few people who can do this swimming thing better than I can. In fact, I can scarcely remember what it was like to be on land and I’m quite comfortable with the idea of staying here forever. Just then someone hooks me, yanks me out and sends me home.
What was different about me after my mission, as opposed to before, was some serious spiritual muscle. I had courage (a lot of it) – which I think sometimes is the same as faith. Confidence – like nothing that lies ahead can be harder than what I just did. I can do anything! Certainty – that I know what the Spirit sounds like and how God speaks to me. I’m not confused. I get it. I became a competent person. Not someone who worries they’ll get lost if their mom doesn’t go with them. Not someone who turns outward to others for answers or solutions. Not someone who is afraid to be alone or thinks her looks are her only selling point. Not someone who questions her ability to succeed, for lack of trying anything challenging. If I was a boy, I would say I became a man – and I can see why so many of them say that.
I know that God is the one who threw me into the pool, in spite of the danger and the difficulty, hoping I would be something different when I came out. I know he is the one who kept me afloat all the while.
Maybe there are other things in life that evoke dramatic change in people in a similar fashion, like military service or being orphaned at an early age or something. I’m sure life in general would refine us adequately, though it might take longer (like years of conventional swim lessons). I bet I will look back at the end of my life, like I did at the end of my mission and say, “That was so hard; that was so scary; that was so great; I was so happy; I am so lucky.” And maybe when we get home to heaven, someone will ask us, “How was mortal life?” And we’ll say, “It was good.” And we won’t have the time or the terminology to explain all the reasons why. We’ll just be so glad we went.