Monday, March 22, 2010

"Press Forward"

A Gay Mormon Missionary Story: August 2004

To think that in four months, I’d be in another country learning another language was mind boggling. That’s just how those months were spent after receiving a missionary call to spend two years as a Mormon missionary in Brazil.

It wasn’t exactly customary to wait four months to leave for missionary training, but I made the most of that wait. I continued to work full-time as one-by-one I watched my guy friends disappear around me as they went on missions around the world. It was somewhat difficult to watch Cole, Nate, Payton, and Bronson all go off to different corners of the globe and be left behind.

In that time, I spent a bit more time with Emily, Jacqueline, Glenda, and Jeannie. Those days were spent going to the movies, hanging out, playing board games, and living out life as we had in high school. As I look back, it’s apparent we were all bracing ourselves for that leap over that canyon of awkwardness into adult life.

Every interaction with them and with my family was asterisked with the thought I won’t see any of these people for two years. What will time bring to us?

When the day finally came for me to say my goodbyes and address my congregation. Family and friends gathered for this one final and ceremonious pre-mission event. As is customary, I spoke in church about the adventure ahead of me.

“The topic is service,” by Bishop told me over the phone weeks before the big day. “Do you think you’ll have any problem speaking about that?”

“Not at all.” How could you turn down such a benign, agreeable topic?

sacrament_meetingLooking out from the podium that morning was a survey of my life I’ll never relive. An audience populated with Sunday and elementary school teachers, relatives who have since passed away, and friends who are now thousands of miles away living out their dreams. Whether there out of friendship, love, or familial obligation, their faces all gleamed with support as I went through this rite of passage.

I hesitated for a moment, tapping the microphone and removing my thick glasses smeared and stained by my acned face. In those days (perhaps my shyest and most innocent), it was difficult to look even the people I most cared for in the eyes, so I elected to blur their faces to make the process easier.

“Brothers and Sisters—

“Thank you for your time today. I’ve been asked to speak about service today and I’d like to start with the words of prophet and King Benjamin who offered a sermon to his kingdom in Mosiah Chapter 2:

King Benjamin“ ‘16 Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.

“ ‘17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.’

“We’ve all heard these words and in some cases memorized them, but really, how do we show love and concern for each other? We must focus on what connects us all. We are all equals—brothers and sisters as I addressed you at the beginning of this talk. Does this not mean that we must treat others as we’d like to be treated?

“For this reason, we must focus on that connection and understand one another as we are all tied together by one creator much as Benjamin bound his people together.

“ ‘18 Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?

“ ‘19 And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!

“ ‘20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—’ ”

I weaved in accounts of service from my friends eagle scout projects, the patient guidance of my parents, and the examples of my ancestors before one last scripture and turning to the future in front of me:

“ ‘21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.’

“Essentially, if we are to serve others, we are to serve God and prepare ourselves,” I said in the most honest and humble, pressing through my insecurities. “I can think of no better way at this point in my life than to serve. There is plenty wrong in the world and I’m certain that I can make a difference in Brazil. That said, I think that I’ll have more to gain and learn from this experience than I could ever comprehend.”

I closed and put my glasses back on to examine those gleaming faces as they offered a reverent, resounding “Amen” in near unison. This was quickly followed by the hymn “Called to Serve”(#249):

Called to serve Him,
Heavenly King of glory,
Chosen e'er to witness for His name.
Far and wide, we tell the Father's story
Far and wide, His love proclaim.

Onward, ever onward, as we glory in His name;
Onward, ever onward, as we glory in His name;
Forward, pressing forward, as a triumph song we sing.
God our strength will be; Press forward ever
Called to serve our King!


Moments later, we gathered at my parents house. Every culture has its feasts and in Mormon culture mission farewells are one of those occasions. Everyone was there—from my grandparents to the newest of my cousins and my dearest female friends—enjoying a picnic in my backyard.

This is how I would leave them and remember them for the next two years—eating, laughing, and reminiscing.


Phunk Factor said...

Best of Luck for your journey!! May these two years be filled with all that is to make u stronger! :)

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

Actually, this is an event from almost 5 years ago. Sorry for the confusing time line. It's sort of relevant to figuring things out and where I'm at today.

robert said...

phunk factor: idk that was pretty funny. GMB: You're pretty articulate and definitely too insightful for someone just about to leave on a mission :)

Phunk Factor said...

Oh wow!! Okay...I had no idea that it was long-past!!! Btw, i forgot to comment on ur's extremely mature!! I like it!

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

@robert: That's about as I can get from memory. I did distill the talk from the scriptures I remember using. I kind of wish I'd kept the whole thing.

@Phunk Factor: Normally, my blog's set a year in the past, but I wanted to write about before I knew I was gay and some of the clues I had, so I started this weekly series on my two years as a missionary.

Thanks for the compliments on my writing. It's basically my therapy. So much cheaper. Haha.

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