Missionary service was not on our minds in early 2013. I was anticipating working another five years as a video producer and website manager for a large Salt Lake City area school district. Sister Ripplinger had recently completed her bachelor degree in Special Education and was enjoying her second year of teaching children who suffered from behavior difficulties. She, too, was hoping to make use of her years of training and experience.
With those expectations, I felt perplexed by the sudden pressure I was receiving to retire from my employment early. Within a few months, it became apparent that I may be given no choice but to enter the next phase of life.
After completing the mission application process, we received a large, white envelope from the missionary department. “Elder and Sister Ripplinger,” the letter began, “you have been called to serve in the Canada Vancouver Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A few months later, we packed necessary belongings and drove to the mission office in Richmond, BC. We were made to feel that we were the most special people who had ever come to this mission. Within a few days, we were assigned to live in an apartment in Surrey, BC. Though the apartment was much smaller than the large home that we had left, here we have never wanted for anything. In fact, the simpler life has made life easier.
The first assignment we received engages us in finding faith-promoting stories of Saints across the country, then writing and publishing them on Canada.lds.org. We began by calling stake presidents to obtain lists of their bishops and Relief Society presidents. Then we started contacting those ward leaders, requesting that they identify people in their congregations who had faith-promoting stories to relate. We have found many willing to share their experiences of conversion, faith, trials and testimonies.
While our writing assignment has been rewarding, we are also thankful to be included in proselyting and teaching activities with younger full-time missionaries. Two short anecdotes will help describe the types of experiences that make a mission more valuable than any “sacrifice” that we might have left behind.
It seems that as soon as we had pinned on our missionary badges, every stop along the way provided opportunities to talk to others about the gospel and to provide a Book of Mormon or other information.
Following a night’s stop, we were eating breakfast at the hotel and noticed a man sitting nearby. He saw us dressed in business attire and asked, “Are you a CEO?” I answered that “no, I’m retired!” The conversation paused, and then it occurred to me to “open my mouth.” “The reason that I’m in a suit,” I explained, “is because we’re serving a mission for our Church.” He asked, “What church?” “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” I answered. Our new acquaintance then pumped his fist into the air in victory and said something to the effect, “Yahoo... me, too! I’m a Mormon! I was baptized nine years ago and I’m working on getting up in the priesthood.”
The next day, we stopped to have the oil changed in our vehicle. With an hour of down time, we walked to a nearby fast food restaurant for lunch. While I waited for our meal to be prepared, a mother and three young girls walked up to the counter. One of the girls walked within a few feet of me, looking at my missionary badge (upon which are the words “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”) When her mother called her back to leave the restaurant, I heard the girl say aloud, “Mom, we need to go to Church!” I was amazed at how the gospel was preached just by our being at that place at that time.
Full-time missionary service doesn’t go “off the clock” at meal time or any other time. One day, we stopped at a fast-food restaurant and I noticed a Hispanic man standing in line to my left. As I caught his eye, greetings, then conversation ensued and he sat with us to eat. We began to explain the restoration of the Church to him. We talked of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Though we had an English Book of Mormon at hand, I thought it might be best to let the full-time Spanish missionaries contact him. We offered to have a copy of the Book of Mormon delivered to his home. He readily agreed. Enrique could not give us an exact address, but he described his home as “in the third trailer court down the street, in number 20A. Later we drove to Enrique’s address, but no one lived at number “20 A.” Disappointed, we left and reported our contact the Spanish speaking missionaries. They, too, had no success locating Enrique.
Months passed by, and then we received a phone call. Do you remember Enrique who you met at KFC?” the elder asked us. “We do,” I replied. “We found him!” the missionary exclaimed. We were invited to the next teaching appointment where Enrique and his brother are being prepared for baptism. As it turned out, Enrique lives in trailer “28.” He remembered us and we were humbled that the Lord looked after him and guided missionaries to find him.
Indeed, missionary work is a work of seeking. We are enjoying being lost in the work of finding.