I remember the first day when I entered the MTC. It was exhilarating when I got in line to receive the greatest, most valued token of a missionary: his name tag. It said everything I had imagined…that much I was prepared for. What surprised me was the weight of the light plastic. Something happens between the moment a missionary grabs his small name tag in his hand and when he slips it gently over the pocket covering the heart. It rests much heavier there. He realizes that He has left the world behind. One must “watch himself, his thoughts, words, his deeds” because he no longer represents himself. I remember walking down that long first hallway and hearing the greeters say, “Welcome Elder…Good Morning Elder…Thanks for coming Elder, right this way Elder.” I loved that word then and I have come to love it even more.
For two years I have tried to live up to the names on my little black tag. It is such a small name tag with such eternally important, huge names. Both names are sacred to me. I have come to appreciate “Russell” and “Jesucristo” more than my own name. I am not so important anymore. When I look in the mirror, I honestly know myself as a different person than he who walked through the front doors of the MTC so long ago.
How little I truly knew then! Surely, I had a strong testimony and a desire to serve the Lord. I will never deny the testimony I had before the mission. However, my testimony was like a flame that flickered and had to be rekindled at times. I now feel like a forest fire is within my heart and I can’t hold it in. Just like fire gets progressively stronger with proximity, I feel like I have been the one that has most benefited from my service. Surely, there are many that have caught fire as well from a distance, but I am the one with the third degree burns. There are marks in my heart that will never be erased or forgotten. The mission has set the course for my life.
What does the mission mean to me? What have I learned? How have I changed? Who have I touched? Who has touched me? Who am I now? What was the best experience? The most memorable experience?
I have tried to think about these things for the last few days and I can't hardly include nor can I adequately answers such questions in the short time of one day or letter. I could respond to those questions with any number of experiences, but I believe that the best message of my mission is the change that has come over me. For the first time in my life, I understand what it means to live the gospel. I feel now more converted to the Lord than ever.
I could make a reader marvel by describing the many miracles I have seen because the mission has been full of them. I could perhaps teach doctrine in a new way or show what characteristics I have acquired through much study, tribulation, and trials. I could list the people I have baptized or even share one singular experience as a type for my mission. I could list more names of people here in Nicaragua who have changed me than I have changed them. I don´t have a most memorable experience but so many that I will remember, cherish, share and study further as my service in the kingdom continues. Many people could share similar experiences like the ones I have acquired in my mission; however, my experience is completely unique to me.
One would have had to have walked down every dusty street, talked to everyone of the thousands of people I met and thought, ate, read, said, and did everything I did to fully understand what the mission has meant to me. While I have had companions for any variety of times, there has only been one person there in every moment to experience it all with me.
How appropriate it is that his name also appears on the name tag!
Of all the testimonies I have given during the best two years of my life up until this time, this is the testimony, last of all, which I give of Him: That he lives and that He is our Savior! He is the anointed one! The Son of the Father! This is His holy work. He directs it. What a marvelous work and a wonder! I am the weakest of all servants but despite my weaknesses I have been an instrument in His hands “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man!” I see his handiwork and I marvel not that he can do all things but that he does all these things through me. I know that in His power I can do all things. I may not comprehend the intricacies of the Atonement, but I know it works. I may not have seen the finger of the Lord like Jared, but in these two years I have seen his hand in all things. I may not be perfect but he is helping me be better today than yesterday.
Shortly the name tag I wear daily will be but a thing of pictures and memories and perhaps stored away in a box, but within my heart there will always reside a mark of what His holy name has done for me. Now, more than ever before, I take His name upon me. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ who has dedicated his life and everything else to his service. I will forever be in his debt.
In the Holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.
and the executive secretary