Seventeen months ago, my youngest brother's oldest daughter, barely a "pup", left the warmth, security, and comfort of her Hawaiian home to serve an LDS church mission in (often biting cold, overcast and rainy) Scotland. Her biggest concern was not if she would be a good missionary or not. It was whether she would survive the bite-to-the-bone cold weather. Truth of the matter, the weather ended up being the least of her concerns.
Three to five months into her mission, my beloved niece began suffering from severe depression, deep anxiety, unbearable homesickness, a destructive and unrealistic view of "not being perfect", and wanting to leave the mission-field. Each week, her letters home became more and more despondent. Could she please come home? She promised she would get back in school at BYU-Hawaii. She could serve in her home ward and in the temple. Seemingly, she had lost the desire to continue serving in a hostile place.
I thank heaven that she has had a mission president who has been sensitive to the Spirit and to her emotional suffering and sadness. He contacted her parents to tell them what was going on. He got her medical help to deal with the depression. He found a missionary couple in Germany who, by profession, were psychologists, to help her with cognitive therapy via Skype. Her parents encouraged her to stay, shared their unconditional love for her, told her they would support whatever she ultimately decided, shared difficult and hard experiences from their own missions, and let her know she did not have to be perfect for them to love her, nor did Heavenly Father, or they, expect her to be perfect as a twenty-year old.
The sadness, depression, and anxiety went on for months and months. Each day, she felt like she was on the edge of a cavernous and frightening precipice. New medications were tried with the hope of finding one that would work best on and with her body chemistry. She continued in therapy several times a week via Skype. Her parents, siblings, friends, boyfriend, uncles, aunts, and grandparents continued supporting and encouraging her.
Eventually, her depressed mood began to lift. She was exercising regularly, getting restful and good sleep at night, and was eating healthier foods. Her missionary efforts, sharing her testimony, declaring truths day and night to the Scottish people all began paying off. With the help of the Holy Ghost, she helped lead a first investigator to baptism, then a second, a third, a fifth, a twelfth, and, very recently, a seventeenth. Her missionary days began flying by. Love for the gospel of Jesus Christ, her gratitude for Heavenly and earthly parents, an abiding and comforting testimony of the Savior, and her great love for her companions and investigators all grew by leaps and bounds. And, now, in a few short weeks, this niece whom I have loved since before she was born will be completing her mission in Scotland and returning to continue her life in Hawaii.
Recently, I shared the following with her in an e-mail:
Dear sweetie pie,
I think of you every day. You are in my every prayer. I am so proud of you and the work you are doing and have done while on your mission. I know a mission can be a really hard thing and I am so happy and proud that you have had the courage to serve your mission. As I told you before you ever left for Scotland, your mission will serve you your entire life. You will find blessings associated with it that you never dreamed about. Think of the spiritual strength you have been able to build for your life, your love of the Savior, your dependence on Him and Heavenly Parents who love you and care about you so much. Think of the hard things you have gone through. The next time a hard thing comes along, you can think back upon your difficult times in the mission-field and you will now have the confidence in yourself to face and get through them.
I thank Heavenly Father every day, and multiple times every day, that you have been blessed to have this collective missionary experience in your life. I love your Mama and Papa for helping you to be out on a mission, for the sacrifices they have made to have you there in Scotland. I pray daily for your safety, for your happiness. I pray for your investigators and that they will feel Heaven's love for them, that they will feel and see the truths that have been restored, and that they will desire to align themselves with the Savior and be baptized. You, your companion, and they are all loved, very much!!She quickly responded back saying that she did not have much time to write because she was so busy, but wanted to tell me how much she has loved her mission and how sad she will be when she has to leave it. She expressed her gratitude for all the people who have given her support and so much love while being out and how much it had helped.
This lass will be coming home a different person from the one she was when she left- she comes home a confident, contented, hard-working, trusting, loving, and joyful returned missionary. I am glad that it will make her so sad when the time comes for her to leave Scotland, for that means she has: loved the work, loved the people, loved her companions, loved the principles and teachings of the gospel, loved the Church, and loved the Savior like it was meant for her to love while out on a mission. Her mission has changed her, forever.
And, thus, the lesson for us each: life is meant to change us.