Tuesday evening a little girl ran away from home in our Stake. It was like 15 degrees out and she was last seen in a pink hoodie. She was ten. A gazillion people searched for her until 2:00am. She was found the next morning after hiding at a friends house all night. Here is what I learned from that: little girls can make big mistakes, and one little daughter of God disappearing in your neighborhood--who you don't even know--can cause you to be so unable to sleep that a week later you still remember the fear gripping your heart as you listen to the helicopters swinging back and forth over the neighborhood for hours.
Here is how a search like that works on the ground. You decide you are going to help. You go to the house where the people have mobilized and they have you sign in and give you a map. You don't meet many other people. You just see a few people at the sign in table and a few people coming back for a new map. Otherwise--you have your area. It's very cold and it's very lonely and it's emotionally exhausting. But somewhere back in that house are parents so unimaginably grateful that you are doing that work for them. Because with you helping search for the missing daughter, there is that much greater a possbilitity that the child will come home.
This little girl has some emotional issues. When she was found she was not grateful, not remorseful--she was defiant and angry. But she is still a child (or perhaps, because she is still a child--it's not like she has anything like adult executive thought functioning yet) and she still has her agency and there may be a time when she does realize some small portion of the love that was expended on her behalf and she may repent and if she does it will cause a mighty change in her. (That's what repentance is--a mighty change of heart.)
And that is being a missionary, to me. You go get your papers. You hunt for someone you have never met out of a love you don't really understand and you meet people who are unrepentant and defiant and rejecting of your love.
But then sometimes you meet people like the fellow Elder Hults baptized last week or the one who just committed to a date in February--or the person I was at 19--who is repentant and searching for his/her Heavenly Father's love and if someone hadn't been there to guide and direct--might not have found his/her way back.
If you are a missionary or returned missionary or just a person who sometimes opens their mouth and answers awkward and difficult questions about their Faith in the hopes that it will benefit the person who is asking--I want you to know how very proud we are of you and your work. It's pretty freaking hard and cold at times, I imagine, but there are Heavenly Parents desperate for us to find more of their children and return them unto them. And I am so crazily grateful that you chose to be part of the search.
And that is all I have to say about that.
P.S. This is adapted from a letter I wrote on the spot for Max just an hour ago when we learned that he DID have access to a computer today (Family History Center) when we thought he wouldn't because we thought he would be at the library which would be closed today. On the upside, this led to the closest thing we have ever had to an email conversation :) Chris was on his laptop and I on mine (which is totally crazy, because I almost never bring it home from work in order to avoid doing work at home) and the three of us tossing letters and pieces of letters back and forth at each other for a little bit. It was actually awesome.
P.P.S. If you want to hear some missionary stories, go to http://sc1calledtoserve.tumblr.com where more than 18 months of weekly letters from State College (PA) Ward missionaries are collected from young women in Ukraine, Russia, and Germany. And also our very own Elder Hults in Nevada (Spanish speaking). They include the range of emotions, including funny, sweet, sad, and mundane. There are plenty of photos (especially from Germany and Nevada) and they make me love humanity even more. We have one Sister and our own Elder still in the mission field and posting weekly letters.