I still remember the moment our beloved Prophet Thomas S. Monson under the direction of the Lord announced to the world that an age change for missionaries would take place. "Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21." I still remember to this day the excitement that I felt as a 16 year old, picking up my phone, calling my dad and mom and my friends to let them know that I wanted to serve and couldn't wait. Who knew that one small decision could change the entire way you look at life. I know that the lessons that I learned from my mission are lessons I could have never learned anywhere else. It's pretty hard to not just list out the many endless lessons and miracles that I experienced but as I reflected over the course of my mission, I realized there were some key principles that I needed to learn and that stood out to me.
I believe that the people we meet at the time that we meet them is no coincidence at all. God has a plan in store for all of us. Little did I know of this plan when I said goodbye to my dear family 18 months ago and awaited the plane ride that would take me to an unknown country. After four flights and little sleep, I wondered to myself, "What am I getting myself into?" I was blessed throughout the course of my mission to have been with 7 different companions. I was suprised to realize at the beginning of my last transfer that none of them were from Utah. It's quite rare to say that you didn't have a companion from Utah or even the states itself. Sister Schmidt (my trainer) from Germany. Sister Hamann from Australia. Sister Nguyen from Vietnam. Sister Fromgren from Norway. Sister Wang from China. Sister Chand from Fiji. And Sister Manage from Sri Lanka/Manchester. How blessed I was to be with each one of them. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for putting up with a crazy, silly companion like me. I can't count the many moments where we'd be treking through rain storms, crying because our friends no longer wanted to meet with us or were facing opposition, cooking and laughing about the silliest of things, and simply loving each other despite having been 24/7 with each other. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I must have had the first pick in Heaven to choose my companions. All of them each radiated the light of Christ and had a lesson for me to learn. Each area I was placed in- Redruth, Clapham, Brighton, and Staines carried different cultures, people, friends that we taught, wards, and lessons for us to learn. I loved each moment of each area. Though some days were harder than others, I know that the mapped out plan that God had for me of my mission was made perfectly and made right.
As much as it was hard, I've learned that Agency plays a big role in the work whether it's with us or other people. It was so hard sometimes to not get frustrated at the moments when many people would say no to us or reject us. Many moments that I'm sure my companions can agree to, we found ourselves asking quite a few times, "Why must they have their agency?" I understand though that, without Agency, even we missionaries cannot progress. We cannot make our own choices and govern ourselves. The rewards and blessings for living the Gospel wouldn't be as sweet to us if we were given no choice. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf says it perfectly in Fourth Floor, Last Door (Oct. 2016, General Conference), "God will invite, persuade. God will reach out tirelessly with love and inspiration and encouragement. But God will never compel- that would undermine His great plan for our eternal growth."
I learned not only the importance of Agency but I also came to understand the importance of obedience. Around the halfway mark of my mission, my mom emailed me a quote which makes a lot of sense. "Obedience brings blessings. Exact Obedience brings miracles." I testify that this quote is true. I was definitely not perfect on my mission but I strived to be. It wasn't easy but as my companions and I set goals to overcome our weaknesses, we felt the hand of the Lord helping us and more importantly, we witnessed so many miracles. I always thought of miracles to be consisting of someone who was in a major car accident and walked away with only a scratch or bruise. I thought a miracle consisted of someone battling cancer and overcoming it or perhaps someone willing to first pay tithing and sacrifice in that sense and then receive more funds back than they had planned. I never really thought that even the littlest of moments of someone answering their door to us, or saying yes to a return appointment, could be counted as a miracle. It was though. God promised our mission a season of miracles. A harvest. And oh what joy fills my heart to know that I got to be a part of it! I will never forget those moments when at the end of an evening, I got down on my knees, said a prayer, and felt the spirit confirm to me of the many miracles I got to witness. I know that my life will continue to bring so many miracles and I know that as we all reflect on what the Lord has done for us, we will be overcome with such gratitude and joy! "Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel." (Alma 26:16).
I will never forget the things that this mission has done for me. Who knew the opportunities of walking, running, stressing, praying, weeping, laughing, teaching, declaring repentance, smiling, hoping, repenting, forgiving, and loving could bring you to being so much closer to God than you could have ever imagined. If anyone was to ask me if they should go on a mission whether when they are older or younger, I would have to simply say, "Yes. You definitely should. You wouldn't regret it either." I understand there are different circumstances in life that might make us question if we should go or not but if ever the Lord gives you an inkling to go on a mission, don't hesitate. I promise that the blessings of a mission are great! I love this work. I couldn't imagine my life without it. I know that this Church is the true church and I cannot deny that. As I drew closer to the Saviour throughout my mission, I realized that no man cannot be without him. He is our light, our friend, our brother, our Saviour. The atonement became so much greater to me than it ever has been before. I know that Christ is aware of every little pain, suffering, or trial that we go through. Though some may not recognize it, He will always be at our side, weeping with us, carrying us, and comforting us. I was grateful to be able to go on a mission because it helped me to realize the pathway that the Saviour walked. I cannot fully comprehend the suffering He had to go through but I know from the fraction of His pathway that I walked, I learned so much and rejoice in the knowledge of my Saviour. The Book of Mormon is a true testament of Him. It gave me a great lighter and conversion to find out that this Gospel is true. It's what got me started on this path of discipleship and I will do everything to continue to stay on this path. I love you all and thank you for the support and love that you showed to me throughout my mission! I could not have done it without you and your great love!
Sister Anya Michelle Burtis