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On Saturday, August 29, 1981 I received a life-changing letter in the mail: A calling from the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to serve as a missionary in Colombia, South America for a period of 18 months. This calling was not a surprise to me, nor to my future DH. I had been planning for this call since April, before I even met DH. In order to serve as a missionary for our church, young men and women must go through an application process that involves a series of interviews, doctor's appointments, and paperwork. I had shared with DH the fact that I was preparing and submitting my paperwork for a mission, and we had many long discussions about how our relationship was evolving and about whether or not this mission was something that I should do. It was a difficult decision, but one that I felt committed to, so I accepted the call.
On October 29th 1981 I entered the church's Missionary Training Center which was located next to the Brigham Young University campus in Provo where DH was still a student. After that day, the only contact that I had with DH and my family was through letters and packages. My days and evenings were filled with Spanish, religion, and culture classes, with an evening gym class where we were led in aerobic exercises and sports games before getting ready for bed. I did see my sister one Sunday evening at Church sponsored fireside meeting that missionaries were encouraged to attend, and I did see my family and DH at the airport in January when my group of missionaries departed for Colombia. And then it was only letters and packages until I returned home in April 1983. I'm sure that most courtships do not involve an 18 month period of time with no dates or phone calls, but I suspect that there are many people who do have similar situations.
I did love the time I spent in Colombia, a very beautiful country with many kind and faithful people. I've never regretted my decision, in spite of long hard days, homesickness, and many disappointments. I spent days and nights visiting church members, teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, participating in Church services and meetings, teaching Sunday School and Relief Society and Primary classes to women and children, teaching members to play simple hymns on the piano and teaching others to read. I learned to speak up and not be afraid to share my faith and my testimony with others. Once a week we had one day to do our laundry and shopping and visit the beauties in the local cities where I served: Bogota, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla, Ibague, and Florencia.
So why did I accept this missionary call and leave my cute, new found boyfriend that I was growing to love for a whole year and a half? There are several reasons that I made this decision. It may not have been the right decision for anyone else, but for me I feel it was the right one.
1. The spring of 1981 had been a hard time for me. I felt a little bit lost as to where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing with my life at that point. I had never seriously thought that I would ever serve as a missionary as I have always been somewhat shy and don't normally or easily approach others first, but I began to feel in my heart that serving as a missionary was something that I could do. One spring morning I was on campus enjoying the nice weather and came across these verses from Proverbs that have been favorites of mine ever since:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5,6
I just knew then that even though I felt like I wasn't quite the missionary type, that if I trusted in the Lord, he would help me to know what I should do. So that's what I did. I made this decision before I met my DH, and I wanted to follow through with it.
2. A previous boyfriend was currently serving as a missionary. He had extracted a promise from me before he left that I would not marry anyone else before he returned. It wasn't a promise that I had really wanted to make, but I had made it, and I meant to keep it.
So there you have it. That's why I left my family and my future DH and traveled to a different hemisphere to meet some of the most beautiful people and see some of the most beautiful places on earth . . . Colombia in South America.
Hillside between Ibague and Florencia, Colombia
Florencia, Colombia 1983
Florencia, Colombia, 1983