When we think of a person as being a soldier, we generally picture someone who dons a military uniform, puts his or her life on the line each day defending the freedoms that we at home so dearly cherish, and stands a vigilant watch by land, air, or sea. These are valiant men and women who consider it a great honor to serve, some giving their last full measure of devotion, to protect the country that they love. Their life is not necessarily a glamorous one. They face day-to-day challenges as they fight to stay alive, and not everyone, including some of their own countrymen, is appreciative of the service that they provide. The service that they provide is strictly voluntary, and in most cases they spend days, weeks, months, or even years separated from their families.
Missionaries are Also Soldiers
Contrast that to the life of a missionary. He or she willingly leaves their family for a period of 18 months to two years to also provide a service. The service that they provide is going throughout the world teaching and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like the military soldier, they too don a uniform; however, their uniform consists of a nice suit for the males, and nice skirts and dresses for the females. They also wear a name tag as part of their “uniform” to identify them as missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a sense, they are also soldiers – soldiers who march to the orders of their Commander-in-Chief, the Lord Jesus Christ. Their life is not necessarily glamorous either, as they are often called to serve in many parts of the world that do not quite have all the comforts of home that they may be accustomed to. Like the military soldier, not everyone is appreciative of the service that they render, and so they also face day-to-day challenges as they are rejected and criticized by some of the people they try to present the gospel message to, not only in faraway lands, but at home in their own country as well. In some areas of the world, their lives could also be placed in danger at a moment of social up rise or political upheaval. However, like the military soldier, they consider it an honor to be serving. They are on the Lord’s errand, doing what He would have them to do.
Soldiers and missionaries both serve on battlefields, albeit the battlefields where they serve are somewhat different. Both have a goal and a purpose for their mission. As they go forth to fulfill their missions, the words that the Lord spoke to Joshua can provide great comfort, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9). In times of loneliness, discouragement, and despair, there are also the words of the Apostle Paul to help strengthen them, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). And the Psalmist gives this gentle reminder as recorded in Psalm 18:31-36:
For who is God save the Lord? Or who is a rock save our God? It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places. He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms. Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great. Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.
The Soldiers Return Home with Honor
When a military soldier returns home after his or her tour of duty, or a missionary returns home after his or her mission, both are returning home with honor. However, the world may seem a bit out of sorts, and it may almost seem to them that they have entered a new dimension, as life may not be quite the same as when they had left. In addition, there will be people who cannot begin to understand the impact that their tour of duty or missionary service has had on their life. They are definitely not the same people that they were when they left.
In a recent Meridian Magazine article dated 21 July 2014, Hermana Rachel Raynor, a returned missionary from Laie, Hawaii, recounted what it was like when she arrived at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in November 2012 after serving an 18 month mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She realized that for the first time in 18 months, she was in a public place alone without her companion. As she sought to gain her bearings, she recalled the words of her grandfather who had once told her that war changes men. In the article she commented,
It [war] makes the soldier either believe in God or it makes one question Him. He chose to believe. I used to think it was because it was the only way for him to stay sane in battle. Now, I know, it’s because grandpa knew that God was the only one who would ever understand what he had experienced and been through.
As I checked into my flight, I couldn’t help but feel confusion engulf my mind: what was I supposed to do now? How was I supposed to cope in a world that that knew nothing of what I had experienced, a world that knew not the journey I had just taken, the things I had learned, the people I had met, or who I had become. How was I to cope?
As she walked through the airport in route to the departure gate for the flight that was to take her to her final destination that day, these are some of the thoughts that flooded her mind. When she arrived at the gate she observed people standing up and cheering. Through the disillusionment that she was experiencing at the time, it appeared to her that people were standing and cheering for her – a missionary who had just returned home with honor, but in reality, the crowd that day were cheering as three older, uniformed men who were being pushed through the airport in wheelchairs. These men were wearing WWII and Korean War Veteran hats. She recalls that she also joined the crowd as she arose to her feet to applaud these brave soldiers who had valiantly fought for their country to protect the freedoms that she and everyone around her cherishes. As she stood to applaud, the thought occurred to her,
Those men had probably been shot at, beaten, abused, held in captivity, scared, seen their friends die and yet they had continued to fight. I am sure that they had served to the best of their ability; that they had given all that they had. They likely had experienced and endured many things that no man or woman should ever experience, things that no one would ever understand without being in combat. They had fought for their families, their friends, their country, their religions, and for me. I was grateful for their service.
When the final boarding call was made and she was about to board her plane, she started to reflect upon her own service as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ. Like the soldiers, she too had been in the thick of a war, a spiritual war. Her battlefield included the areas of Arlington, Alexandria, and Fredericksburg, Virginia. During the time of her mission she had seen people who were battle worn from the heavy burdens that they carried – people who prayed for help and relief. She had been one who had been called upon to rescue those souls from the heat of the battle. Although she gave of her service valiantly, there were those who cursed her, despised her, and rejected her help – her message of hope. She too bore battle scars – bloody and callused knuckles from knocking on thousands of doors, and blistered feet from walking countless miles through all of the streets in the areas where she served, in every type of weather imaginable.
However, through it all, Sister Raynor, like the many returned soldiers from war, is able to hold her head high, knowing that she had done what her Commander-in-Chief had asked her to do, and that she had served to the best of her ability. She, like the soldiers, had stood on the front lines battle – the soldiers as representatives of the country that they love, and she as a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. She further commented,
I had bags under my eyes from exhaustion. I had experienced physical and spiritual highs and lows that no one would ever understand. I had served the Lord to the best of my ability. And now, I had a permanent smile on my face from an indescribable joy that I felt from serving my brothers and sisters. I had done the best I could. I had been obedient. As I boarded the plane, I felt a wave of satisfaction sweep over me and a confirmation of God’s acceptance of my sacrifice. I knew that up in heaven, there were people, friends and relatives, standing and cheering for me, grateful for my individual efforts in fighting this spiritual war on earth.