I’m a little bit different.
Most prospective missionaries hope to be called to an exotic foreign country—or at least to learn a new language.
As a teenager, both of those ideas terrified me.
I remember attending Mutual one day as a priest. A recently returned missionary from my home ward was there to share stirring stories and thrilling tales of his adventures in a distant land. We learned about the weird things he ate, the intimidating cultural barriers he’d had to overcome, and how the missionaries in his part of the world learned to cope without access to toilet paper, among other things.
Rather than feeling inspired and excited for my own future service, I went home scared stiff that I would one day be called to go similar places and do similar things. I was willing to go where the Lord wanted me to go and do what He wanted me to do—even if it meant being away from cars, air conditioning, plumbing, and soap—but inwardly I was scared.
Many soon-to-be-missionaries love throwing huge parties with family members and friends to celebrate the opening of their mission call. They often dramatically read their letter from the prophet while parents and high school friends stream live video for all the world to see. The announcement of the mission assignment is usually met with a chaotic blend of cheers, gasps, happy crying, and disbelief. I’d seen several of my peers go through the process.
I had no interest whatsoever in that kind of production. I was worried enough about my personal reaction to my mission call without wanting to worry about how everyone else would react at the same time. The thought of finding out where I’d be called to serve for the first time while in a crowded room of loved ones waiting with baited breath filled me with intense anxiety.
Like I said, I’m a little bit different.
I knew I’d serve. I believed that my call would be issued from a living prophet, and that God would know better where I needed to be than I myself would. But I was still incredibly anxious.
I was home by myself one afternoon when a large, white envelope arrived in our family mailbox.
Sitting alone in a quiet house, praying over the delivery at my kitchen table, I felt that the Lord had given me a kindness—an opportunity for me to learn (and privately come to terms with) whatever my assignment would be, without the pressure of a reveal party.
There, all alone and anxious, I opened the envelope…
Several minutes later, having read carefully over the enclosed letter, processed my thoughts, and conversed with my Father in Heaven, I called my mother at work.
“Do you want to know where your son will be spending the next two years?” I asked.
(Of course she said yes.)
“Iowa Des Moines.”
Let’s be perfectly open and honest: There are many prospective missionaries hoping to serve in Africa, or Chile, or Holland, or any other number of places, who would feel incredibly disappointed to be called to serve in Iowa. Or Idaho. Or Utah. Or Nebraska. We can deny it, but we know it’s the case, at least for some.
In the words “Iowa Des Moines,” I saw a message of compassion and personal understanding from the Lord.
I would be speaking my native language. I would have indoor plumbing, air conditioning, electricity, and soap. I would be serving in rural areas similar to where I’d grown up. These things wouldn’t mean as much to every missionary, but it meant a lot to me, and I believe God knew that.
I was so grateful to be called somewhere “unadventurous.”
But that’s not where the story ends.
My mission in Iowa was full—unbelievably full—of challenges, adventures, and weird circumstances—some that arguably made a foreign mission look tame and mundane by comparison. I came to feel that God had called me to Des Moines not just because I wanted to serve an “unadventurous” mission, but because he had a whole different set of unforeseen adventures in store for me. There were people in the Midwest—investigators, members, and companions—who I needed to meet. There were challenges there that I needed to face in order to grow and learn life lessons. I know for a fact that God’s children in Iowa, or in Montana, or in South Dakota, are just a valuable—and need the gospel message just as badly—as God’s children in Madagascar, or Cambodia, or Brazil.
And my mission was neither boring nor easy.
I am grateful that God gave me the privilege of serving Him.
You may think you know where and how you’d prefer to serve. And maybe your desires will be granted.
But maybe they won’t.
Whether they are, or whether they aren’t, don’t be afraid. Be faithful, keep your covenants, work hard, and give of yourself, and you will be richly rewarded with experiences, friendships, and lessons that will bless you for the rest of your life.
Be thankful to know that your mission call is inspired by God, your Father in Heaven, who knows you, and what you uniquely need, even more than you yourself understand those things.
The blessings of my mission have extended far beyond the two years I spent in Iowa. And I am grateful to look back and realize that, from that anxious night at Mutual many years ago, to that afternoon all alone with my mission call at the kitchen table, to the hardest times I had in Iowa, to right now as I type these words, the Lord has been with me all the way, shaping my journey and helping me learn—sometimes in ways I expected, and sometimes in ways totally unforeseen.
May God bless you as you prepare for the next step in your own life—whether it be receiving a mission call, sending a child on a mission, getting married, raising a family, starting a new job, moving to a new city, or any number of other defining moments. Trust in Him and give your best, and things will all work out.
Elder Cannon served in the Iowa Des Moines Mission