Sweden did not simply get under my skin. It went deeper. It has become a key part of my identity and always will be. You can serve a mission in a foreign country for two years and return as the same old American Joe who will remain in America and be quite American till the day you die. But, Sweden had different plans for me. I’ll always be American, for 18 years in America does that to you…. but I can’t simply let go of my two years of being in Sweden as if it did not change me…. because it did. Sweden changed me.
I’m not going to go as far as to call myself a Swede, because if anything I’m genetically Norwegian/British, but I do not feel simply just American anymore. There is too much of Sweden inside of me. This has put me in a wee bit of an identity crisis. What am I? Two years is not enough to say you’re entirely something else… but I’m certainly not the same as I when I came out. Maybe I should just scrap the whole struggle and move to Scotland or be one of those bearded ramblers with just one backpack and an alpaca haired jumper who spends his winters in India and summers in Iceland and calls myself a “citizen of the world” . Then again, I want to have a family and deodorant….so I probably shouldn’t go that route.
But, while where I want to be a part of becomes less and less one place or nation, my spiritual identity of who I am and what I believe has become more and more steadfast. Missions do that to you,or at least mine did. It loosened my binding to one physical place and strengthen my conviction and dedication to one spiritual belief: The belief that Jesus is the Christ, who atoned for our sins, that through faith in Him, sincere repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end, all might have JOY. That such joy is found in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, restored to the earth through the prophet Joseph Smith.
For nearly two years I’ve been presenting that message every single day to someone, whether in their home, in their camp, in our church, or on the street. For 24 months I’ve studied the message, delivered the message and testified of the truthfulness of the message….
Just the other day I was in a temporary tripanionship, meaning three of us were together while the fourth was at a meeting in Stockholm. Contacting people on the street in threes is awkward so the other two branched off and started talking to people on the other side, leaving me quite alone, with just a bag full of copies of the Book of Mormon and my own free agency to motivate me. When you do missionary work the way it should be done, with a companion, you have the pressure to contact, to teach and to testify because your companion expects you too. In turn, you expect your companion to, making you both accountable to the other. But when I no longer had someone on my side expecting me to work, and with literally less than a week left before I finish, there seemed to be absolutely zero pressure to do anything. No one was expecting me to. It was purely dependent upon my own free will.
I began talking to people and after a few minutes I was sitting on a bench teaching a man. Teaching alone felt odd. I was used to a companion’s support and pressure to direct me…. but this time it was purely myself teaching out of my own intuition; not because I was forced to or expected to. As I began to share the story of how we received the Book of Mormon, I distinctly felt in my soul that I sincerely believed every word I was saying. With a companion you teach about the Book of Mormon because you are supposed to. By myself, I could’ve talked about anything I wanted or say or nothing at all if I so pleased, but I really wanted to teach and bear testimony of the joy and light found in the book I placed in that man’s hands. The realisation that I was purely acting on my own will and not for any social pressure or gain gave me an energy to teach as many people as I could on the street that day about the message that I was giving purely from my own free will.
I have foolishly struggled with missionary work done for ulterior motives on my mission. I would get so caught up in the amount of pride and competition involved in the culture of the mission, that I would fight against anything that would appear prideful. Though pride can very well be a great stumbling block for some, my stick-it-to-them attitude in response was just as much a stumbling block for me. It simply was just another form of pride. What I should’ve done the whole time, and what I would suggest every current and future missionary to do is instead of letting others’ pride interfere, let your desire to give the message, purely from sincere desire, enliven you and perchance enliven them.
So, that odd little solo contacting hour made me ask, “if there was no one to account to, no companion to work with, no expectations to meet, what sort of missionary would I be?” Would I still get up every morning and work the whole day through? Would I still be finding and teaching and serving and loving every day? Virtue is essentially determined by what you do when you think no one is watching.
Many who have served honourable missions, unfortunately fall away from the truth when they re-nter normal life. For each and every case is a specific story with specific circumstances but I believe that a great portion of the circumstances are at least in part because after the mission you suddenly are handed free agency back. You do not have a schedule to follow for scripture reading. You do not have a companion always within sight and sound expecting you to follow a white handbook of rules. You do not have to report how many times you taught someone about the gospel each day. Scripture study, obedience to commandments, and being a missionary are suddenly dependent on your free agency and desire alone. You are no longer compelled to do the right by the expectations that are in full time missionary service. Social media, Netflix and a million other great things you never had as a missionary are suddenly available, which though can be nice, also have a habit of distracting you from spiritual matters.
I’m returning back to normal life in just a few short days and therefore it is as important as ever for me to capture the spirit of that solo contacting hour and apply it to my real life. The spirit of doing out of desire, and not simply duty.
If I only read my scriptures out of duty, what will I do if it is no longer a duty? If I only open my mouth to share the gospel because I’ve been called to do so, what will I do when I’m released? Discipleship and missionary work are two things we are never truly released from…. so I cannot forsake either as soon as no one is standing over me. True conversion is tested when we are left to our own devices.
I’m facing the crossroads in my life where I cannot simply blow with the wind anymore. My childhood is long gone, my mission is coming to a close, and I’ll be living away from parents with absolute open free agency. If all the gospel practices and beliefs I’ve upheld and followed all my life were only out of duty or expectation, this is where I’ll be falling away into the darkness of misused agency.
But. …I believe this gospel, and want to live it the best I can, because I sincerely have the deepest desire to. It is truth. It is life. It is happiness, more than any happiness obtained on earth.
When I return home, I promise to continue living it, even if no one watches over me or cares what I do, I will stay fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ because these “are the words of eternal life.” Admittedly, I’m scared of the ominous future. I want to do and be quite a lot in life that is off the standard route of average RMs. Money, university education, marriage, and occupation now will be real oncoming mountains to climb and not just distant peaks on the horizon as they seemed a few months ago.
On Monday, we were visiting the breathtakingly beautiful mountains of Jämtland, the western half of our area. This is secretly the most gorgeous corner of all of Sweden. The entire land just feels, smells, looks and sounds like adventure…. anyways…. on top of one particularly snow capped fjäll, overlooking the mist draped valley below, the reality of my mission ending hit me. Nature sometimes has a habit of doing that. I stood there on the silent snow, looking over the preciously dear country I had come to love so fondly, and I just panicked in my head. I’ll have to face the “real world” where I have to pay for my own food and housing and education and hope somehow in all the chaos I can grab hold of some foundation and live my dreams. This will not come with a reboot button. It isn’t a demo where if I fail, I can just restart. It won’t be like the mission where if I run out of MSF money for the month, I can just wait for the automatic 200 dollars to be put in my account the next month. If I’m out of money, I’m out of money. If I can’t get hired, I won’t get paid. All the material matters I never had to worry about as a missionary will suddenly be very worrisome. It’s easy to freak out over the future and want to hold onto the mission life for as long as possible. But all things must pass and sooner or later I will have face life. Embrace life.
I believe one of the keys for my temporal well being will be finding strength in my spiritual well being. If my spirit is strong, if my relationship with the Saviour is alive, if my priority is the gospel, then everything will be okay. Maybe I’ll be broke and considered crazy for going after wild dreams in the creative industry rather than forfeiting for a safe desk job….. but when Christ is the centre of your life, life has a habit of turning out…. not exactly your way maybe… but the right way.
So “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! ” (King Lear. Act II, sc.ii)
I’m ready. My mission is closing, and that hurts, but my mission has given me the needed spiritual tools to withstand whatever incoming storm that may be brewing. Life is going to be wonderful. Life is going to be beautiful. Life is going to be joyful….. and a great deal of that wonder, beauty and joy is thanks to my mission.
They may have been the hardest two years, but they were absolutely the best two years. I loved my mission. I loved it more than words can say. I love every human soul I worked with.
I do not have the time here to write a proper swan song to it, and perhaps I can never truly give my mission justice with any string of words, but I really did love it. I loved my mission. I love the gospel. I love Jesus Christ. I love our Heavenly Father. If two years of missionary service taught me anything, it’s He loves each and everyone of us more than we can ever comprehend.
Thank you everyone that has read my letters, written me letters, supported me, financially, spiritually, and emotionally through these last two years. Thank you for your wonderful words of love. (And sorry for the times I’ve been rubbish at writing back)
I love you all as much as I love Sweden, which is a great deal.