Imagine heading off into the wild blue yonder, all on your own, hundreds or thousands of miles from home for 18 months. Relying on blind faith, you’re assigned a “companion,” aka, total stranger, to room with in quarters to be arranged also by strangers and all on your own dime. You take this on willingly, you even ask for it. For some reason you are compelled, you’re called….
It is your “missionary” year in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints.
You may be scorned, cursed at, have doors slammed in your face while you try to bring the word of Christ to members of your mission community. You may be hated in the service of Christ OR you may bring fellowship to the lonely, food to the hungry, hope to the hopeless, laughter and joy to the depressed and forgotten, clothing to the underprivileged, tutoring to the academically challenged, service to community organizations. In short, you bring the word of Christ to others through your selfless actions and deeds. At least this is what 4 young women, from as far as Utah and California, have promised to do.
Meet Sr. Davis and Sr. Gibson (assigned “companions” living in Princeton) and Sr. Johnson and Sr. Perkinson (assigned “companions” living in Hightstown). These women are at various points in their 18 months of service. Srs. Davis and Gibson have completed 14 months, Sr. Perkinson, 13 months and Sr. Johnson is the new kid on the block with one week under her belt. Their mission is to deepen their own spirituality, bring the word of God to others and “to understand how to work with people, their challenges and their stressors.” These women received three weeks of missionary training before being sent to their assignments which were chosen for them by their church elders after prayer and through divine inspiration. Their training prepared them for the teaching aspect of their mission, but no one prepared them for the slamming of doors and angry folks who are non-receptive to their message. They barely mention this though as they rejoice in their being in the service of God and building people’s faith.
Most of the women were born into their religion. Sr. Perkins says “I was raised in the faith, but living the principles is very important to me.” Sr. Johnson says she was converted. “Missionaries taught me. I wouldn’t even be alive if it wasn’t for them. They helped me bring God and Jesus back into my life. I just have so much hope.”
Some of the women come from families with a volunteering tradition.
Sr. Davis’ family cared for foster children and Sr. Davis helped in her mother’s classroom, Sr. Gibson’s family participated in scouting and Sr. Gibson volunteered in an elementary school with autistic children.
Sr. Perkinson says, “This year has been the best year of my life. The experience has made me stretch myself. It has strengthened my faith and given me a deeper understanding of how to work with people and help them manage their challenges and stress. It has opened my eyes to the needs of the community I serve.”
Sr. Gibson agrees that it is the best thing she has done in her life. She loves teaching in Spanish. She hopes to find and strengthen her testimony in God and grow faith where there isn’t any. Sr. Davis believes that this experience is bringing personal change and giving her a life experience she would never have gotten at home in Utah. She’s getting to know Jesus better, praying more and praying more sincerely. Srs. Davis and Gibson are joyful at the thought of bringing repentance and baptism to those who may not have ever known God. They enjoy all aspects of their experience and consider it to be character building, faith enriching and life changing.
Overall, these women each give Rise about 6 volunteer hours per week. They’ll cheerfully do whatever is asked of them from stuffing envelopes to distributing food at the Rise food pantry.
They say that “Rise has it all!” helping kids, parents and families in a well organized fashion.
Sr. Davis thinks the people of the community are so welcoming and Sr. Gibson loves her fellow volunteers and appreciates how staff and clients are so accepting of religious differences. Sr. Gibson says that her community outreach work has solidified her desire to become a special education teacher. One day Sr. Davis hopes to be a nurse and says this experience has helped her learn patience and how to extend hospitality. “My personal goal is to lose myself in the service of others,” says Sr. Johnson.
Sr. Perkinson quotes Prophet McKay when she says, “True Christianity is love in action.” By looking directly for opportunities to help people, changing lives and bringing hope to the community they serve, their missionary service has not been “mission impossible” for Srs. Gibson, Davis, Perkinson and Johnson, rather it is in the process of becoming Mission Accomplished.