I served a mission! A proselyting mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you’ve never met the missionaries face to face, you probably will. Or better yet, if you’d like to, click here. Missionaries are like human spiders. You know how everyone tells you that spiders are actually more scared of you than you are of them? Yeah, that’s how missionaries are. You know the only thing more uncomfortable than a stranger approaching you and talking to you about religion? Being the one to approach random people and initiate that conversation. You might be asking yourself, then why do it? Why not just leave everyone good enough alone? I thought about this a lot for the 18 months I spent in freezing weather knocking on countless doors and stopping strangers on the street who all seemed to be thinking “please don’t talk to me.” All in a foreign language in a new land with new customs, food, and places.
The reason may surprise you. It’s not because we think we are better than you. It’s not because we think your religion is horrible or you are horrible. It’s because we have found incredible peace, assurance, and joy through living the tenets of our faith and we sincerely believe they can bring those same blessings to others. Maybe you aren’t the one looking for those answers, but how do we know unless we ask? Most of us have a deep and abiding belief in the things we are teaching and only hope for the opportunity to share it. One of the best explanations I have read about what it feels like to be a missionary is this article: Why the Mormon Missionaries Keep Knocking. Please read it, you won’t regret it.
This post isn’t a synopsis of my mission though, It is about my trainer–Jeanette Hedberg.
Missionaries are put into pairs (called companions) to work together, live together, support each other, etc. The first companion is called a trainer–it is her responsibility to help a new missionary learn, adjust, and grow in every way possible. She is a new missionary’s first real example of what being a missionary means–something that obviously has a lot of impact on the rest of her mission. For this reason they are often referred to, lovingly, as a missionary’s “mother” or “father.”
Sister Hedberg (LDS missionaries are referred to as “sister” or “elder” during their missions) was the hardest working missionary I ever met.
When we first met, she struck me as a shy and reserved person. I think I spent the entire 5 hour bus ride to Aomori (my first area and her last) talking to her while she smiled politely and tried to answer my thousands of questions. (Elder Brown spent the entire 5 hours having to pee, which is why you shouldn’t drink an entire bottle of soda at the beginning of a long bus ride). In the coming days, I realized that we were very (almost drastically) different in personality traits, tastes, and hobbies.
I was having a hard time being so far away from home and the beginning of a mission is hard. I think I often took out my frustration on her (though she always seems to deny this). Mission Presidents typically spend significant time thinking and praying over who will be a missionary’s trainer (for obvious reasons) and so I believed that there was a real reason she was my trainer–that I had a lot to learn from her.
As is often the case, learning and changing can be difficult and because of that, we often resist it. Sister Hedberg’s methods and style were so different than what mine were or what I imagined mine would be when I became truly proficient in Japanese. At first, this irritated me. Why didn’t she do things the way that I would do them? Why was she so sensitive to people turning us down? Why were we almost always barely on time or late for appointments because we were caught listening to someone’s story?
It took me a few weeks to start to understand the answers to some of these questions. I am ashamed to say that it took me a few more months (after she had returned home) to fully realize what an incredible example she had been to me and what things she had taught me.
What I realized was this: I have always been a talker. I’m not very shy and I don’t always mind putting myself out there. I understood that there would be a lot of people who rejected us and I’d come to terms with this–I didn’t let it bog me down too much. This seemed, at the time, like the “right” attitude to have toward missionary work.
Sister Hedberg wasn’t like this. She was a listener and a thinker. She was deeply compassionate and empathetic. Why did she cry when someone on the street rejected our message? Because she genuinely cared about that person and she was sad. I also believe that putting herself out there was difficult for someone so reserved. She did it anyway. She also faced health problems–we went out anyway. We went out in feet upon feet of snow and ice every single day, all day long. We were late for appointments because she cared about someone enough to listen to his/her story, whereas I probably would have just shrugged it off because we had to be somewhere (italics added because this is what I would have been thinking at the time, but in actuality a part of my DNA code because my dad really, really likes being on time).
Sister Hedberg taught me to love the way Christ did–to care about someone really and truly. To love someone as a brother or sister and put their needs above my own. She taught me what hard work really means–working through any personal difficulties. What came easily for some, was more challenging for someone who was more introverted. Yet, she pushed through it because she believed she could spread happiness through her testimony of Christ–and she did.
I experienced some of the sweetest moments as a missionary with my trainer. I often felt impressed when I saw missionaries who energetically ran from person to person in the street, telling every person within earshot what we were doing as missionaries. Sister Hedberg’s approach was different. However, when I look back I am even more impressed as I remember her quiet and sweet way she spoke with those around us, asking them questions and caring so, so much about the answers.
Thanks for your example Hedberg Shimai. The world could use more missionaries and more people like you. Ai shite iru yo!