From my Missionary Journals

I was recently rereading my missionary journals. It was not a particularly flattering experience. Fully a quarter of my journals deal with the MTC, where I apparently had lots of time to write self-indulgent theological meanderings and petty complaints about my companions. Lots of petty complaints. Once I get to Korea, the journals are depressingly self-centered. There is a great deal of self-reflection and taking of my own emotional and spiritual temperature. I also write in embarrassing detail about food.

On the other hand, there were a couple of redeeming passages. For example, starting on October 19, 1994 I began giving a title in my journal to each day, and some of them are still amusing. For example, I entitled my first visit to a Korean hospital “like M*A*S*H sort of” or one exhausting day’s work recorded as “There are times when I don’t feel like complete sentences”. Others are funnier if you know Korean and missionary culture, such as “San, Shin, Sool” (punning on a Korean elder’s name), “Gwalija Dodging” (Gwalijas are the caretakers of large apartment buildings”), and “Knee deep in English spases.” Others are just pretentious, like the day all our investigators “faked” which earned the title “Waiting for Gidot.” One day, written after I had been in a struggling area for a while, is entitled “Adjusting to life in the bombsite.” I was grateful for this, written November 14, 1994:

I’ve decided the church is true. I love the Gospel, the Atonement — Christ, resurrection, repentance — the Restoration, the saga of the opening of the dispensation, the covenants and the saints. I love to read the scriptures, pray, and sing the hymns of Zion. I love the church.

Now I bet you’re wondering why I am saying this. Well I had a vision today. I saw myself a few years down the road. I was tired, doubting, and confused. And I remembered my mission. The rejection and boredom and suffering and (I hope) successes. I remembered my testimony. So I went to my old missionary journal, and it gave me strength. So if I am reading this, of if someone else is, I want you to know that this afternoon, I read the Book of Mormon, and the Gospel of John. I listend to “Pachabel’s Canon” on a somewhat sickly tape recorder, and I read in the Ensign about the Book of Mormon in family home evenings and the Tabernacle Choir’s tour through the Midwest. I did this in Young-Do, Hanguk, thousands of miles from Salt Lake and I expect thousands of miles from where this book is now. And as I sat there in my dirty P-day sweats, it felt very, very good to be a Mormon. I felt love, commitment, conviction, and peace, and it was very real. Hang on! Endure to the end! Sing “Come, Come Ye Saints” and think about it. The Church and the Gospel are true. I know that right now and you can take strength from that.

And I did.

14 comments for “From my Missionary Journals

  1. CJ
    June 27, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Such a wonderful post, Nate. I can relate to many of the things you regret about your early mission entries, but also echo your point that sweet reaffirmations of testimony can come from using them as a vehicle to read back in time. It all ties in quite well with the BoM’s repeated directives to remember the Lord’s dealings with us, Elder Eyring’s recent General Conference talk on noting the Lord’s hand in our lives, and with a few times over the last year when I’ve had similar spiritual experiences that came by virtue of my own imperfect spiritual travelogue. Thank you.

  2. June 27, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    “Pachabel’s Canon,” eh? Cool. The piece of classical music that is most centrally connected with any particular missionary memory of mine is Handel’s “The Harmonious Blacksmith.” I obtained a tape with a recording of it on harpsichord, sometime soon after I arrived in Suwon I believe, and I smuggled it around with me, listening to it often. I can remember one long bus ride to follow up on a posible investigator who lived in an outlying village (nothing came up of it), listening to that recording, watching the rice paddies flash past my window. I had a vision of a young man running through them, his hands sweeping across the stalks and bending them, leaping over the irrigation ditches, the sun setting on the horizon behind him, most of his face in shadow, but being able to see a childlike smile just the same. I can still see that image in my mind today. Don’t know if it meant anything or if I’ll ever do anything with it, but it makes me happy all the same.

    Thanks for sharing the memory, Nate; I’m glad that you saved this record of your testimony. It’s like the Book of Mormon, a witness from out of the past, a recovering of a voice from the dust.

  3. June 27, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    It’s like the Book of Mormon, a witness from out of the past, a recovering of a voice from the dust.

    Russell beat me to it. Great post, Nate. No matter what happens today, that day won’t change. Thanks.

  4. June 27, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    I am grateful for such entries in my missionary journal, where faith flowed like a river and doubt quickly washed away with a flood of truth.

    Thank you for sharing your journal entry with me.

    I will tuck this away for a future day.

  5. Latter-day Guy
    June 27, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks for writing this (both then and now). Interestingly, one of my favorite mission memories is tied to music too, The Well Tempered Clavier played by Glenn Gould. It’s the second recording, from when he was older. The first ones are brilliant but a bit too occluded by romanticism; the later set, otoh, is clear and sharp edged, like a musical seer stone. They always helped me to refocus when I felt like I was just bumbling around annoying people with my (very) imperfect efforts.

  6. deb
    June 27, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    Hey, no fair…I want warning if I’m reading along and suddenly my mascara is in danger of dripping off my cheeks! A Mush Alert or something..

    This is very touching. My son will be home from his mission in 20 days (why, yes, I AM counting!). It has been a tougher than expected mission, with beatings, robberies, an arrest, and broken bones, and racism in a degree I’ve never seen, and mission politicking on a high degree, and a mission president who —well, he ranges from not-making-things-any-easier to why-hasn’t-he-been-recalled?! I have missed my boy very very much! I know he has had tough experiences. I also have seen astonishing growth in his tolerance and testimony, shrugging off turmoil with “stupid humans, they’re everywhere!” I have seen him have your experience, of knowing that right here right now, it’s all true. I so much want him to retain that…not slip back into his old life, old ways, as some of his newly-RM friends have done, as if it never happened. Also, last night, our daughter’s The Boyfriend received his endowments, leaves for a mission in Korea soon. Your post hit me on a couple of fronts. So much gunk around…to read a tender bit of upliftedness was sweet.

  7. Ray
    June 27, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Thanks, Nate. God knows us and our needs far better than we realize – and long in advance of when we recognize those needs.

  8. Ronan
    June 28, 2008 at 4:42 am

    Brilliant. Having just read some of my missionary journal, it was all I could do not to burn it. Utterly neurotic stuff. I’m glad you found comfort in yours!

  9. June 28, 2008 at 9:54 am

    What a great entry. It made me cry.

  10. June 28, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Beautiful, Nate. I love missionaries. Flawed, selfish, starving, insecure, arrogant, sometimes desperate–and all magnificent. It is such a joy to sing “Called to Serve” with these beautiful elders and sisters at the MTC, and to sing the authorized revision of “We Have Been Called”: “And we are now the Lord’s missionaries, to bring the world His truth…”

    I hope that every one of the missionaries I work with has at least a few entries like yours in his/her journal as the time of service ends, and can look back on these entries in moments of doubt or difficulty, and remember how hard and how precious it all was–and is.

  11. June 28, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Having just read some of my missionary journal, it was all I could do not to burn it.

    I contemplated that, Ronan, before I ended up just throwing them out one day. To tell the truth, I believe I actually had some grand plan in mind, involving hiking up Provo Canyon, climbing Squaw Peak, and ritually burning them all as an act of purification. I was such an idiot.

  12. June 28, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Your vision and your journal entry written to your future self are evidence that we all are entitled to the spirit of prophecy and revelation, not just to bless others, but ourselves as well. The spiritual gift that Paul said we all should covet or seek after is indeed the gift of prophecy.

    I keep two sets of journals: a set of “Large Plates” that I write in each day, and a set of “Small Plates”. Our journals, or rather our Small Plates, or those parts of our journals that contain “Small Plates” stuff, may be considered our personal scriptures, or scriptures just for us. That entry belongs in, or is actually a part of “The Book of Nate.”

  13. June 28, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    I read through my journal and was mortified to read some quite ridiculously self-absorbed passages about one of the sister missionaries I had developed a minor crush on. Distinct lack of any signs of intelligent life in that one. But plenty of melodrama, oh yes.

  14. Adam Greenwood
    June 30, 2008 at 9:49 am


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