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The Start of A Very Long Journey

May 8, 2019

The journey of a thousand miles begins wtih one step.
– Lao Tzu

Today I watched a journey begin. Is it a long journey? Probably. At least three months, possibly as many two years. I also said goodbye to my oldest son as he started on his journey.

We don’t have as many rights of passage in our society as we once had. Young men don’t go off to war. We don’t have an initiation or feats of strength to mark the time with a boy becomes a man. High school graduation is close, I suppose. But, graduation is more an ending than a beginning.

The Mormon church, or as it prefers to be known by it’s full name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has a very specific coming of age event. Each young man of 18 years old is expected to serve a mission for the church. The missions can be either a teaching mission or a service mission.

You’ve seen church missionaries on teaching missions. They are the ones with white shirts and ties and black name tags. You’ll often see them on bicycles.

A teaching missionary’s days are spent mostly visiting and teaching people about Jesus Christ. There are plenty of other topics, but everything comes back to a testimony of the Savior.

Teaching missionaries devote 100% of their time to missionary work. No jobs, no movies, no music (except Tabernacle Choir hymns.) They get one day per week to do shopping, washing clothes and generally playing basketball. The rest of the time, typically 60-70 hours per week is spent doing missionary work.

My son will be a teaching missionary for at least the next three months.

Missionaries can also be called to a service mission. Service missionaries do a wide range of tasks. Some work in the church canneries and farms. Some work in the temples helping do much of the day to day tasks needed to keep the church’s 175 temples running.

My nephew is serving a service mission on a cattle ranch in Arizona. He’ll be there for another 18 months.

It might seem strange to you if you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. After all, why would a young man, just starting out in life want to take two years and spend it either working for free or teaching people about Jesus Christ?

It’s a noble endeavor, of course, but two years of exclusive attention service means a two year delay on education. A two year delay on college sports. A two year delay on starting a profession. Why willingly set yourself back like that?

Each young man has to make his own decision on why to go. Or even if he wants to go. And not all young men decide to go. Steve Young is a fairly well known member of the church. He played quarterback for BYU. The “B-Y” in BYU stands for Brigham Young, the second leader of the church and Steve Young’s ancestor. And yet, he decided to skip going on a mission and start his football career.

Jeremy Guthrie, on the other hand, suspended a promising baseball career to serve a mission. He later went on to pitch in game 7 of the World Series. Guthrie said that even if it meant he’d never pitch in the majors, he still would have gone on a mission.

I’ve never regretted the two years I spent teaching deaf people in Chicago and Anaheim in the early 1980’s.

My son will be laboring in the Layton Utah area for the next three months. After that, he may end up somewhere else for the rest of his mission. It won’t take a mission for him to become a man. He’s already done that on his own. But, two years devoted to service will teach him things that he couldn’t learn any other way.

Elder Bliss took his first step today. He’ll pedal more than a thousand before he’s done.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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