It was over two years ago when the packet came in the mail. I came home from school, and it was sitting on the living room table. My family gathered in a fervor of excitement. My heart was pounding as I sat down and picked up the letter. I tore it open. I silently read: "You are assigned to labor in the Taiwan Taipei mission."
I was elated. I didn’t know too much about Taiwan, except that it was an Asian country somewhere, and that one of the tallest buildings in the world was in Taipei. In fact, I didn’t even know that people in Taiwan spoke Mandarin (until I read to that part in the call letter, of course). Despite my geographic ignorance of Taiwan, I knew this was exactly where I should be going on my mission. Everything about it seemed fitting.
I remember getting more and more excited in the weeks preceding my departure date. I researched everything I could about Taiwan. I read the blogs of missionaries in the Taipei mission. My mom even started packing my bags for me.
Two years ago today, my parents drove me down to Provo on my reporting day. I ate at In-N-Out with Mom, Dad, and Daniel. We walked around the temple next to the MTC. They sang "God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again" in Chinese (my dad had painstakingly transcribed the Chinese pinyin into easily-pronounced Romanizations). I cried. Then, we drove to the training center’s entrance. I stepped out of the car, hugged my family, said goodbye, and walked off with my luggage.
Most missionaries say the time goes quickly. For me, I don’t think it went any faster than time normally goes. It seems brief in the moment. Looking backwards, it seems like an eternity.
Following visa issues, I awaited permission to come to Taiwan while proselyting in Tacoma, WA for three weeks. When my visa arrived, I was ecstatic. I boarded several planes, was reunited with my friends from the MTC, and touched down in Taiwan.
I was assigned to my first area in the bustling metropolis of 中和 [Zhonghe], where I was paired with the best-suited trainer I could imagine, Elder Gibson. Missionary work was much different than I’d expected, and much harder, but I kept on going. Elders Clark, Montierth, and I geeked out about science, Tolkien, and everything in between while juggling two areas in a tripanionship. Then, I spent another transfer with Elder Montierth in Zhonghe, learning dedication and discipline that would shape the rest of my mission.
President Day sent me down to 台東 [Taidong] with a mission: to prepare for the establishment of a stake on the East Coast. I had a blast working with Elder Illu, biking all over the jungle in this remote semi-tropical corner of the mission. I trained my son, Elder Stevens, and then witnessed the establishment of the 花蓮 [Hualian] stake in my last few days in the area.
When President Day left, I moved up to 土城 [Tucheng] to be zone leader with Elder Huntsman. It was the most ideal area and companion I could have imagined to help me take on this responsibility. Following Elder Huntsman’s becoming an assistant to President Jergensen, Elder Roe became my next companion. He helped me keep my faith and energy high, despite my stress and exhaustion, and we saw several great miracles, including the baptism of two of my favorite converts.
The last five transfers of my mission have been in the mission office, working as the mission Operations Assistant. I’ve had four companions, and I’ve seen four generations of assistants here. I programmed the reporting system and the referral system for our mission and compiled the three-column language study version of the Old Testament. I worked with my companion to create a new language study program for the mission, revamp and automate the way transfers are carried out, and rent over twenty new apartments. It’s been an amazingly productive time, and I’ve been privileged to work so closely with President Jergensen and to be paired with so many great companions.
Elder Richards poses with that one really tall building.
How do I feel? (Everyone asks me this question now). The answer is, I feel pretty much the same I did before I started my mission: stoked. Am I sad to leave? Of course, just like I was sad to leave home two years ago. After living in Taiwan for so long, I feel so attached to this country and the people here that leaving will be painful no matter what. However, I’m excited for the next period of life. I’m excited to see my family and my friends again. I look forward to using everything I’ve learned on my mission to keep on improving and helping other people.
What plans do I have? I’m going to be studying electrical engineering at Caltech (in Pasadena, CA) beginning in late September. In the meantime, I’ll spend time with my family, hang out with friends, and catch up academically by re-learning everything I’ve forgotten on my mission.
Elder Smith and I above Taipei.
This email is long enough as is, so I’ll just close by saying how glad I am I came on a mission. It’s been tough. Looking back, though, I’m already starting to forget the pain and only remember the good stuff. I’ve seen a lot of miracles, and I’ve learned to be happy at all times: even when it’s pouring rain, I’m exhausted from hours of being rejected, and I’m stuck with an unbearable companion 24/7 (just kidding; all my companions have been awesome). I know God had me come on a mission for a reason, and I’m thankful for everything I’ve done and experienced here. I’ll always remember that packet sitting on the living room table. It changed my entire life.
Taiwan Taipei Mission