Monday, March 30, 2015

"The Things They Carried" -- Hna Gisseman's final e-mail from the field...a personal essay

(Note:  Alyssa read a book titled "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien during her senior year of high school.  She used the book as the basis for her high school graduation speech, and she has used it here as the basis for her final e-mail from the mission field)

The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near necessities were black missionary name tags, blue or black pens, pencils, hymn books, scriptures,  pictures of home, flashlights, house keys, and one or two Books of Mormon. Together these items weighed between 10 and 15 pounds, depending on the day's work load. Of course they carried backpacks. These had been replaced by large fanny packs that a brother in the mission had made and sold to the missionaries. These bags weighed almost next to nothing on their own but became quite full and quite heavy when someone had to carry them either up and down the mountains or on and off of buses. But necessity dictated. Some carried scriptures in their native language, hand sanitizer, full water bottles, umbrellas, notes, the area book, and pass along cards, which seemed to weigh another solid 10 pounds. All carried their agendas, though not always full of appointments, and to be honest, some didn’t carry any appointments at all.
On a normal proselyting day, when they carried themselves out into the work at 10 in the morning, some carried bus money, or money to stop at the nearest pulperia, or money from home to buy whatever they saw during the day from the array of in-home businesses. Some carried a cheerful smile on their face. Some carried a sterner look. Some carried the fear of sleeping in an appointment because they carried so many work-filled days and sleepless nights. They carried a sense of lethargy, bagginess, on some days because it was just too long to be away from home.

They carried their bodies from appointment to appointment but not always their focus. They carried a longing for changes, new areas, new companions, that they didn’t always voice. They carried home in their hearts, and some carried almost all their possessions from home, despite the two suitcase and one carry-on limit. They carried worn-out suits and skirts, shoes, towels, language study materials, tennis shoes, memory cards ranging from 8 to 64 GB capacity. Once every one or two changes they carried a new companion home.
Because the mission schedule was strict and days numbered, they each carried time in the back of their minds. On some days it seemed like the hours were so long and on others there weren’t enough to finish all of the work. Because agendas were set up by hour, most carried an eye on their watches. Because Honduras was hot and humid, most carried a sweat rag and bug spray. The extra items took up too much space, but it was worth it.

Throughout the weeks and throughout the changes, they carried all of the drama that accompanied missions. They carried new companions and old memories. They carried old mistakes and new beginnings. They carried the pressures and the stress of helping struggling investigators. Some carried the pressure of not having baptisms and many the stress of problems at home. The whole mission carried the weight of their sacred calling. They were to be instruments of the Lord to bring His children unto salvation, some of the few called with this authority to preach the gospel and among those of these latter-days who are participating first-hand in the hastening of His work. They carried pride in the Lord and in their mission, knowing that not just anyone is called to Honduras (especially when they thought of the state-side missionaries with cars and air conditioning).
The things they carried were determined to some extent by the mission. They carried passport copies, residencies, and health and eating guidelines in their bags. They carried gallon bottles of filtered water into their homes. They carried emergency backpacks from area to area in case of a natural disaster.

They had carried different ties, different hair styles, different companions and different personalities as they all grew up and discovered who they truly were.

They carried a very structured weekly schedule. On Tuesdays, they carried themselves to district meetings, so they carried Preach My Gospel and notebooks and their investigators in mind. On Thursdays, they carried themselves through two hours of weekly planning-- usually carrying snacks to help them through the process. And every Sunday, of course, they carried themselves to church and could barely listen to the speakers because they carried anxiety, waiting for new investigators to carry themselves through the door. But on Mondays they carried a sense of relief as they could email home. They carried the responsibility to teach, to help and to address the needs of the ward, all the while maintaining the image that missionaries are perfect and can do anything. And sometimes that meant carrying a smile when they felt like they just couldn’t do it anymore.
They carried the emotional baggage of young adults facing the future. Apprehension, excitement, sorrow, fear- these were the intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had a tangible weight. They carried all of the sweet memories. They had carried the anxiety and concern that awaited them entering the MTC to become missionaries. They carried the “greenie” stereotype, but learned from grace to grace. They carried themselves with more dignity as they matured. And they carried themselves full circle when they were called upon to train another missionary. They became “mom” or “dad.” They carried various titles and responsibilities, of District Leader, of Zone Leader, or Senior Companion.

Now they carry themselves onward to earn a new title, returned missionary. They carried the common secret of not really wanting to leave, the desire to keep working in the field, to keep contacting, to keep teaching, to keep baptizing. And in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it was inevitable that they would have to part. And as they leave the mission field, they carry hopes and dreams for the future and the knowledge that they will forever be servants of the Lord.

-Hna Alyssa Gisseman

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