Harsh memories fade amid missionaries’ work
I have always felt uncomfortable about Southeast Asia. I'm not sure if it's because I grew up during the Vietnam War era when we read negative things about Southeast Asia. Now, some 35 years later, I have children who have lived there and have a profound love for Southeast Asia and its people.
The Savior's mandate to his apostles prior to his ascension was for the apostles to "go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a missionary church as a result of the Savior's mandate. At present, there are 52,000 full-time missionaries who serve in various areas throughout the world.
My two oldest children who have served in church missions helped to ease my uncomfortable feelings about Southeast Asia. My son Matthew returned home three years ago from serving in the Thailand Bangkok Mission. He is now a senior at Brigham Young University in Utah.
Matthew developed a profound love for the Thai people. He learned their language and lived among them. In one of Matthew's last letters to us while in Thailand he wrote, "I feel like I've grown so much on my mission."
My daughter Mari is currently serving in the Singapore Mission. She has been out in the mission field for seven months. She spent her first six months in Malaysia, in the areas of Kuching and Miri, and was recently transferred to the island of Singapore. After leaving Malaysia, she wrote: "I am missing the Malay language so much. The other day, we rode in a taxi and the driver was Muslim, so I got to talk with him. He was so amazed that me ... a girl from Hawaii, could speak his language. We bonded, and by the time that I got out, he told me he loved me, and was touched. Muslims are so nice. It made my day. I love the Malay language."
On the day she had commemorated being six months in the mission field, she wrote home: "I have loved every minute of it and am so grateful for all of the many challenges that have strengthened my character and testimony. With each day, I learn so much more and grow so much more. The most important thing I've learned is to recognize the tender mercies of our heavenly Father. As I see him reach out to all of us in different ways, I know that he loves us individually and that he wants to help us succeed. I love it so much."
The church's missionary force is made up of single men ages 19 to 25 and single women ages 21 through 39. Single men serve for 24 months and single women for 18 months. If they have the desire and a willingness to serve and they qualify they are called to represent the church. Many of them put school aside for 18 or 24 months to serve on missions. Their missions are paid for by themselves or family members.
A mission becomes a spiritual foundation for their life. They come to know God and his son Jesus Christ. They come to develop faith and trust in them as they live in distant countries. They come to love the people they serve. They come to appreciate different cultures.
The bond that my children have made with Southeast Asian people extends to even those of us at home in Hawaii. The negative feelings I once felt in the 70s have all but disappeared and we now look forward to one day visiting those countries so special to our children.
Jonathan Serrao is president of the Honolulu West Stake, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.