A Missionary’s memoir: Two years in Los Angeles
You know those young guys and girls that ride on bikes and knock at your door talking about the Book of Mormon? Well, up until a month ago, I was one of them.
Serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Los Angeles, California has easily been the most transformative, fulfilling, challenging, and mentally taxing thing I have ever done. Rather than talking about the doctrine of what I believe in this article (all that information is on my church’s website: comeuntochrist.org), I am hoping to give context to the “LDS missionary” experience and relay how I am learning to apply some of the habits that I picked up as a missionary to the current world.
In short, missionaries are young men and women who put their lives on hold for anywhere between 18 and 24 months to serve others and teach people about Jesus Christ. They pay their own way and are assigned to one of over 400 missions across the globe. It’s a completely voluntary lifestyle change. Of course, there are missionaries that serve out of a sense of duty, but most leave their homes with a sincere desire to just serve God and share a message that has brought them joy.
For 24 months, I woke up at 6:30 am every morning, exercised, studied the scriptures for an hour or so, and was pretty much outside all day teaching lessons and chatting with people on the street.
Those people I met changed my life. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for the opportunity I had to live in Los Angeles. As incredible as my mission was, there’s no denying it was difficult.
Just as Christ urged his disciples in Mark 6, we missionaries are invited to preach “two by two.” For months at a time, I would live 24/7 within sight and sound of a “companion” who I did not choose. Oftentimes, we would hail from completely different states, cultures, and households. We would harbor our own biases and, at times, have totally dissimilar interests and personalities, yet we were asked to teach and serve in unison.
I quickly learned that, in life, there is a reason we are cautioned to “take it or leave it,” and never to “take it or leave it or change it.” When I began the mission, I was frequently frustrated by roommates’ and companions’ language, humor, cleanliness, teaching style, you name it. I would catalog demeaning rhetoric that I heard and actively looked for opportunities to discard and categorize others. Slowly, I realized, that I was happier when I ceased to entrench myself in a pattern of victimization and opted instead to look for similarities rather than differences. I felt so much liberation in recognizing that not everyone saw the world the same way I did, and that was okay.
Having been home for a few weeks now, I, unfortunately, have had to reacquaint myself with the tribalistic warzone of modern American politics. While I by no means am attempting to appoint myself as the poster child for civil discourse, I have found it helpful to remember that I cannot change others, and instead try to approach differences of opinion with the objective of seeking to understand rather than agree.
A generous assumption goes a long way, both on the mission and off it.
For anyone interested in learning more about my experiences in Los Angeles, I wrote a book. The pdf is free for download at my blog: grantbradywilliams. wordpress.com Grant Williams is 20 years old and a lifelong Chandler resident. He is currently attending school at Harvard University.
Grant Williams Guest columnist