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To be completely honest, my first few weeks in the Spain Madrid Mission was a little bit of a shock for me – culturally and spiritually. I doubted my abilities to speak the language, and even in the strength of my own testimony. I remember thinking, “Could I really do this for 2 years?” I loved my mission – there isn’t a day I don’t think about how it has blessed my life. I want you to love your mission. Since being more fully prepared will help you in that endeavor, here are a few things I wish I would have known before I served. Some of them took a few months in the mission field to learn, others took a few years after my mission to learn.
1. Working with members is more than just asking for referrals.
In order to get referrals from members, you need to gain their trust. They aren’t going to send some random people they barely know wearing dresses or ties to visit their loved ones. You will need to gain their trust by getting to know them and letting them get to know you. Attend ward activities where you might have opportunities to talk with members in a less formal setting. Find opportunities for service where members will be – show them you are a hard worker and capable of getting things done. Help members understand they are putting their friends and family in good hands.
2. You are a literal representative of the LDS church.
If you go to McDonald’s and the cashier is impatient and short, you are going to have a bad taste (no pun intended) for McDonald’s – not the cashier. Their interaction with you reflects poorly on the company. By wearing a name tag with the name and logo of the church, you are representing the church. If you leave your smelly garbage in the hallway in your apartment for your neighbors to see, they might not know you, but they will know you are missionaries of the Mormon church. If you are seen having shopping cart races in a grocery store, you are going to leave a bad taste about the Church because you are wearing a nametag. Understand that your nametag bears the name of the Church, which bears the name of the Savior. Be sure to act accordingly.
3. Not all missionaries are perfectly obedient.
Before I became a missionary, I thought all missionaries were sinless and perfect. Missionaries were little angels sent straight from heaven. I remember being a little shocked my first few weeks in the mission field when I discovered that neither was true. Don’t be surprised if your companion drinks Mountain Dew or has a tattoo. They are trying to be better just like you. We all come from different backgrounds and life experiences. Don’t judge someone because they sin differently than you.
4. Obeying all the mission rules isn’t easy.
There will never be a time in your life that you will have so many “rules” and such high standards as you will while serving as a missionary for the Church. If your mission president tells you not to take naps, you might feel guilty when you fall asleep during lunch study. Getting up every morning for two years straight at 6:30am might be a challenge for you if you are a night person. Understand that if you or your companion sleep through your alarm and don’t get up until 7:06am, you are not vile sinner. Repent and get up on time tomorrow. The mission rules are strict and can be difficult to keep – do your very best.
5. Be obedient.
The rules outlined in the white handbook and others implemented by your mission president are in place to protect you and your companion and help you keep the spirit that missionaries need to be successful. Don’t ever think that a rule doesn’t apply to you. If you obey the mission rules with the same zeal and dedication that you would approach any other commandment, you will be a better missionary.