The Army of Helaman

by | Apr. 08, 2005

LDS Life

From the time they are little boys singing “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission,” to the moment they leave for the MTC, most young men raised in the Church are preparing step-by-step to go on a mission. Reminded by plaques on the wall outside the bishop’s office, young men often wonder where they might be called. It’s their special commandment to be worthy and go.

Standing with the primary aged “elders” are little girls who also sing that favorite song. Although not all sisters will decide to serve a mission, many go ever onward into the faithful ranks of the army of Helaman. Since serving a mission as a sister falls out of the commandment column and becomes more of a personal choice, sisters seem to have a unique experience in deciding to go.

Factors that lead a young woman to her decision to serve a mission are sometimes very different from those of a young man. Every missionary gives up worldly comforts and makes sacrifices to do his or her duty. For sisters, however, the decision to serve probably doesn’t come from a lifetime knowing it’s her duty to go. Today, less than twenty percent of the Church’s missionaries are female. Because their numbers are much smaller, their unique experiences as women may sometimes go undetected by many members.

We wanted to learn more about what goes into the decision to become a sister missionary and how it impacts a woman throughout her life—from a specifically female perspective. We spoke to women both old and young. We interviewed those who have served, will serve, and might serve. What we found, as you’ll read, demonstrates the tremendous role women play in building and strengthening the kingdom.

Kimberly Gonzalez,16
seminary student

Would like to serve a mission when you’re twenty-one?

I might want to serve, but at this point in my life I’m really not sure.

Do you have any fears about serving a mission?

I think I would be afraid of being away from family and friends, not knowing where I would be called, and not knowing what to expect. I have a hard time expressing my feelings to people that I don’t know or don’t know very well…that scares me.

What are some of the things you’re doing now to prepare if you decide to serve when you’re older?

Attending seminary and being involved with Church activities helps me to get a better understanding of the gospel so that I can be prepared to teach the gospel. I’m living the basic principles of the gospel by praying and reading my scriptures daily. I’m trying to learn how the Spirit works in my life.

Sister Rachel Taylor
New York, New York City Mission; currently serving

What sort of opposition, if any, did you face before you left?

Some of the opposition I felt was concerning doubts as to whether or not I should really go. People were asking me “why” all the time and some even made me feel like maybe I shouldn’t go. But, I received a personal answer and I learned to listen to spirit regarding my own decisions…I had made a good choice.

What works for getting along with different companions?

To get along with your companions, forget yourself, love them, and serve them. Learn that it’s not just about you. Care about your companion and her ideas.

If you had to pick one thing that your mission has taught you, what would it be?

Who I am—we are all children of God! We’re all here because we chose to come here in our previous life. Everyone deserves to hear the gospel and choose for themselves to accept it or reject it. I’ve learned how important Heavenly Father’s Plan is for us.

Denise Mazzanti
Michigan, Lansing Mission; 2000–2001— currently working in an outreach program for kids

What were some of the biggest challenges of your mission?

The roller coaster of everyday life as a missionary was definitely challenging. One minute you were on a glorious high, and the next minute this amazing person you’d been working with says he doesn’t want to be baptized anymore and your emotions comes crashing down. The important thing to remember is that even though there will be some tough moments, moments when your heart breaks and you ache for someone, there are also those amazing moments like when you see one of your investigators be baptized, when that less active family that you’ve been working with for months shows up at church, when a family in your ward refers you to their friend, and when you see the light of Christ radiating from someone’s eyes.

Another challenge for me was being shy and not accustomed to talking a lot. That was something that was a struggle throughout my mission. It was hard for me to stop someone on the street, or to knock on a door, or get up and talk in front of everyone. As time passed it became easier, but never easy. But I did it, I did the best I could because I knew what the Lord expected of me, and I knew what I had to offer.

What most helped you to overcome your mission challenges?

A big part of conquering challenges was learning to trust in the Lord. I knew I couldn’t do everything, but I was expected to do my best; I was expected to give all that I could. I had to put forth the effort, I had to open my mouth (even though sometimes nothing, or something stupid came out), I had to study, I had to pray, I had to live worthy of the spirit, I had to be obedient, I had to do whatever was required.

If you had to pick one thing that your mission taught you, what would it be?

One of the biggest things I learned on my mission was how important we as members are in missionary work. When we as members love our friends, prepare our friends, and share with them some of the joy we have in our lives, missionary work becomes so much more effective for missionaries.

Allison Hardy
Denmark, Copenhagen Mission; 1998–2000—Newlywed, working at a marketing firm in Dallas, Texas

What were you thinking as you walked into the MTC and started your mission?

I was terrified about learning the language. I love talking with people but I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to share my feelings the way I wanted and that I would look stupid. I was also scared to be away from my family for so long and was nervous that my sadness after saying goodbye to them wouldn’t go away. To tell the truth, I had a moment that first night in the MTC when I was staring at the ceiling on my bed in the dorm room and I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” Of course, with prayer those feelings dissipated and the desire to serve took over.

Have you lost anything you once had from your mission?

It’s very hard to maintain that extremely high level of devotion and drive that the Spirit gives you on your mission. I wrote post-mission goals for myself (and that helped), but it’s been really hard for me to keep that “mission” feeling entirely. The demands of the real world have a big influence. I also lost some of my missionary boldness and I’m much more nervous to share my testimony in some situations.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about sister missionaries?

I think sisters do a great job refuting most misconceptions by their hard work. I guess some people still think that sisters are only there because they “couldn’t get married,” or that they’re too emotional or too needy. This hurts for those of us who prayed a lot about going on a mission. However, there’s another side that thinks that sisters can do no wrong and that they’re practically perfect. Like with most things, I think the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I tried to make it a point to just do my best and not pay attention to these stereotypes. I knew I was there for a specific purpose, and I did my best.

If you had to pick one thing that your mission taught you, what would it be?

My mission taught me a lot about faith…both in God and myself. I still have so much to learn, but I took it as a challenge from my first day at the MTC to learn all I could about what faith is and how it worked. Consequently, I learned about my absolute dependence on the Savior and how things will always work best when our trust is placed wholly in him.

Kimberly Calder
Romania, Bucharest Mission; 2001–2003—Student and part-time ski instructor.

What have you lost that you once had from your mission?

Language skills. Not only Romanian, but I just don’t communicate with God in the same way that I did when I was a missionary. I haven’t lost complete communication, I know He hears my prayers because He answers them, but my will was much more aligned with His will than it is now. It seems that I spend a lot of time thinking about myself: how I’m going to get through my next big problem…or even my little problems. I don’t look at the everyday situations with an eternal perspective like I did as a missionary.

If you had to pick one thing that your mission taught you, what would it be?

How to listen! I learned to listen to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. I gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon before I went on a mission, and I had felt the Spirit confirm that it was true many times before my mission, but as a missionary I felt the Spirit witness a thousand times that the Book of Mormon was true, that Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ in the Sacred Grove, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church, that God loves me, and that Christ’s atonement was meant for me and for the people that I was teaching. I learned what it feels like when the Spirit warns, testifies, and guides. What I learned on my mission about the Holy Ghost has made a complete difference in my life.

Jena Peterson, 22
An English and Journalism major at BYU and a former LDS Living intern

Why did you choose not to serve a mission and how did you make your decision?

Growing up, I never really had a strong desire to go on a mission. Every once in a while, I would be in Sunday School or sacrament meeting and missions would come up. The stories speakers shared were always so spiritual and exciting. Hearing those made me excited to serve a mission, but the feeling never stayed. For the past three years I’ve talked with my friends, both elders and sisters, who served missions and their stories always make me think serving a mission would be so wonderful. But again, the feeling always leaves. When I was twenty-one, school was intense, I loved it, and I couldn’t imagine leaving. I told Heavenly Father that I hadn’t ever felt that it was imperative that I serve, that I loved school, and that I wasn’t going to serve unless He told me differently. I knew if I felt I should go, I would love it, but I never felt that way.

What role did your friends or family play in your decision?

My mom didn’t serve, but my older brother, sister, and my father all had. My friends also had wonderful experiences of their own. Even so, none of them really had anything to do with my decision, and I never felt pressured to go. When I was twenty I thought I was going to get married. When we broke up, a mission crossed my mind, but didn’t stay.

What advice would you give to other young women contemplating the decision to go or not go?

Follow your heart and the Spirit. Our gut feelings hold a lot more weight than we give them credit and, in my experience, are often the ways the Lord has given me answers. If you do decide to go, it has to be all the way. If you’re going to go, go with your whole heart.

Karlena Bond Gonzalez, 54
Peru, Arequipa Mission 1972-1973

Over the years, what have been some of the lasting rewards from your mission?

There are too many to list here, but a few that come to mind are the feelings of gratitude for having had the privilege to serve as a missionary. There were so many life lessons learned while serving. Over the many years since my return I have had hundreds of moments of gratitude when realizing that lessons learned on my mission were helping me as I worked my way through struggles of present life.

Having a companion 24/7 taught me how to communicate and work through differences, and it also taught me that you can have disagreements and still love someone. I learned a great appreciation for my temporal blessings as well as gratitude that I was blessed to have been born into the gospel. I learned that no matter your culture differences and language differences, there is a language of the Spirit that can cross all barriers. I loved the humble people of Peru.

What advice would you give to your daughter who wants to serve a mission?

I would advise a teen to seek the Spirit. As she follows the Young Women’s program and lives by the For Strength of the Youth guidelines, she will align herself with the principles of the gospel and be in a position to learn the language of the Spirit. I would encourage her as an older teen and young adult to follow those principles learned as a youth and step up the process.

How has your mission influenced you today as a wife, mother, and member of the Church?

On a mission you learn to sacrifice self and seek to bless the lives of others. Your desire is to bring others to an understanding of the gospel and its principles. Your most important role is to love the people you are called to work with and serve. These are the exact roles of a wife, mother (and husband, I might add), and sister in the gospel.

What do you tell your daughter about missions?

A mission is a wonderful opportunity to serve the Lord and His children. It is an opportunity to study and strengthen your understanding of the gospel. It is one of the hardest works you will ever do, but will bring some of your greatest joy. There is nothing better than being in partnership with the Lord in His work. You will have some of your deepest struggles as a missionary. You will learn some of your greatest lessons as well.

Do you hope your daughter will serve a mission?

I do hope that my daughter will serve because it is such a wonderful opportunity to serve and grow.

Would you be disappointed in any way if your daughter didn’t want to serve a mission?

I don’t believe every LDS girl should serve a mission. If I am confident that my daughter is seeking the Spirit to guide her and consequently does not serve a mission, I will be content.

Ann Calder, 61
Argentina, Buenos Aries North Mission; 1965-1967; Mother of six kids and grandmother to 11

How has your mission influenced you today as a wife, mother, and member of the Church?

It’s influenced everything—every part of my life: every job I’ve ever had, every Church job I’ve ever had, every boy I’ve ever dated after I got home, and every committee that I’ve been on. It’s had such an influence, including in our home. I think that [my husband] and I both totally enjoyed our missions and our children have grown up thinking that they can serve missions because it’s influenced what we’ve done how we’ve raised our family.

My mission helped me set patterns and priorities: patterns of prayer and patterns of service. So, I already knew how I wanted things to be.

What did you tell your daughters about going on a mission?

I always felt like it was their decision. I don’t think that I ever tried to influence them that they had to go on a mission. I just always told them that it was such a privilege to serve a mission, but that it was their own decision. Two of our three girls served missions, and the third one wanted to but was in a relationship and decided to get married. I think our girls grew up with the idea that a mission was a real privilege. I told them “It will be the hardest thing that you’ll ever love.” Missions are not easy and I always told them, “Don’t go unless you really want to.”

I think that on a mission you come face to face with who you really are. It’s a great opportunity for service and for forgetting one’s self. Also, living with another person 24/7 teaches a lot about the kind of person you want to marry.

Sister Dayna Driscol
wife of President Dirk Driscol, president of the Iowa, Des Moines Mission--Mother of five from Aberdeen, Idaho

What have been some of your observations about sister missionaries during the time that you have been serving?

The sister missionaries in our mission are amazing. They work very hard, they are so dedicated to following all of the rules, and they have a sensitivity that draws people to them like a magnet. They set goals and work hard to reach them.

What are some of the qualities they have as women that help them as missionaries?

Love, compassion, a nurturing spirit, patience, and always wanting to do their very best.

What is your advice for future or currently serving sister missionaries?

I don’t think that I would give different advice to sisters or elders. They should all try to put forth their very best efforts; study the scriptures and the new “Preach My Gospel” program; and work, work, work so that they can reap the rewards of knowing that they have accomplished what they were sent to do.

What do you most hope sisters in your mission take home with them?

A love for the Savior and a determination to follow His teachings all of their lives. I hope that they will know that they have done a marvelous work that will span the generations.

How do you think missions influence women specifically?

I feel that it helps them to be a wonderful teacher of the gospel to their future families. It seems to me that it helps them enhance the great abilities that they already have to love, nurture, and teach.

What have you learned most as a missionary in your unique position?

Conversion is truly a miracle and there are people all over looking for answers and willing to hear and listen to the gospel message. Missionaries bring a special spirit to the world; just their presence is a great blessing and when it is coupled with their testimonies, many great miracles are brought about in people’s lives.
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