California, San Fernando Mission
In our Mormon culture, boys are strongly encouraged to serve a 2 year mission. They basically donate 2 years of their lives (they are not paid to do this, they save their money and their family helps), go where they are told, do what they are told, follow a bunch of very strict rules, and serve others. For 2 years. When they are 19. You know, the age when most teenagers think the universe revolves around them. (yep, I said it)
My son, Joseph, turned 19 a few months ago. He has wanted to serve in this way for a very long time. He has worked toward it and overcome many obstacles to do so - more than I would do. Many times, through a long and difficult process, I thought he would say "Forget it. This is too much." I know I would have. But through each obstacle and hoop he was asked to jump through, he just said, "I'll do whatever is asked of me. What's next. I just want to serve." He is a better person than I.
In May, he was asked to serve for 3 months in the New York, New York North mission. He started in Manhattan - with no training - as a full time missionary on May 22nd. In that time he lost his grandma (May 28th) and was not able to attend the funeral because of his commitment to service. He handled it in a very mature way. On Sunday, he learned that he would be coming home on Tuesday - after 5 weeks of service. On the same Tuesday (yesterday), he learned that he has been called to serve for 24 months in the California, San Fernando Mission. He will report on July 5th to the MTC (missionary training center). That's next week.
He is excited. All of the family is excited. All we have to do is get him different clothes, raincoat (although it is in the desert), plane tickets, books, and a bike. A mountain bike. By Thursday. July 5th. With a holiday thrown in there just to make it interesting.
So, if you see a Mormon missionary, smile. Don't run. Don't hide. You don't have to listen to them if you don't want to. But be nice. They are someone's son or daughter. They just want to serve in any way you need. They are figuring it out. They are missing home. They are growing up. They are learning that the universe doesn't revolve around them. Say hi. Offer them a glass of water. Think of their families who miss them.