2 years ago, on April 7, 2010, I flew from Orlando International Airport to Denver International Airport via Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. That evening, I removed my nametag identifying me as Elder Kendall of La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Ùltimos Dìas. I can’t explain the emotions, but those that have been through it know the feeling.
Today, I am feeling nostalgic.
I am always asked the question, “Do you miss it?” That’s the worst question to ask me. Of course I miss it. Every day was an adventure.
But it’s a weird type of “miss it.” If someone called and said, “Hey, I have a plane ticket for you to go back to Florida to be a missionary again,” would I take it? Absolutely not. I am convinced that if my mission lasted 5 years, I would not care for it in the same way that I do now, but then again there have been 14 year missionaries in history, and they loved it all. All that I know, regardless of hypothetical situation, I loved those 2 years, and I am glad I was there and nowhere else.
The iconic stories of my mission, the top 3, you could coin them:
One Friday night in June 2008, Elder Farr and I were riding our bikes down Semoran Blvd at 9:00 PM on our way back to our apartment. I was riding in front, sweating like a banshee, and Elder Farr cruised on his beach cruiser, the most comfortable looking missionary in the world. There was a man stumbling down the wide sidewalk and as I pulled up to him, I pulled a pass-along card out of my pocket. He was on the phone, cursing up a storm at whoever was on the other side of the call. I went to give him the card and he hung up the phone and yelled at me, “Get out of here, or give me your bike.” I rode away, that was easy. Well as I went down the way, I looked over my shoulder and he had stepped in front of Elder Farr and grabbed the handlebars. I stopped, turned around and approached them. The guy was insistent that Elder Farr give him his bike. Elder Farr was insistent to keep his bike. That was quite the conundrum. I tried to get closer and the guy threatened to kick me in the head. The guy told us that day he had, “Put his dad in the ground, and you don’t see me f------ cryin, do ya. I’m straight hood. You don’t know where I come from, cracker (he was as white as us). I live in Crime Hills, b----. You don’t know me” (This quote is not very accurate, there was a lot more profanity used, I just don’t remember where and when he used his immense vocabulary). After five minutes of bickering, Elder Farr conceded. I think what got him off his bike was, “If you don’t give me the bike, the next time I see you there will be a mother f------ 9 mil to your head.” Later he told me, his bike was less expensive than his life. I agree. Elder Farr had a rack over the rear tire where he would put his shoulder bag and hold it on with bungee cords. He took that off and handed over his bike. The guy rode off. That was the first time I ever heard an Elder swear. Two guys pulled up. The first in a white SUV asked, “Did that guy just steal your bike?” We answered and he said, “I’m gonna go beat him,” and he sped off. Fair enough. The next guy parked and started asking us questions. He was a firefighter on a date with his wife, so he called his buddies at the police department to lend us a hand (we didn’t have a cell phone). The cop showed up and said, “So, he stole your bike.” “Yep.” The guy in the SUV pulled up and said, "Hey your bike’s down the road and the guy’s in the gas station with a gash in his head, it looks like he crashed.” So Elder Farr hopped in the police cruiser and they took off down the road to get his bike. Two minutes later he came cruising back down the road. Elder Farr said he saw his bike lying on the sidewalk and said, “Hey that’s my bike!” The cop stopped in the middle of the busy road and flipped on his lights and threw the car in reverse and they got out to inspect the damage. The bungee cords had wrapped up in the wheel, and we suppose the guy took a nice digger. We went home in peace.
Elder Romney and I did a lot of area book work together. We condensed 3 giant area books into one compact binder. It took a lot of time, and I figured something could come from it. And something great did. It never came to fruition with Elder Romney, but our work together accomplished what the Lord needed. Elder Romney and I went through a list of potentials we had created, crossing them off when they didn’t live there anymore nor had any interest. When Elder Silva was transferred into the area, we kept on doing that. The third day he was there, we went to this cluster of potential investigators in one complex. We walked from one door to the next, crossing off the names quickly. We went from one door to the last door, and we walked by the center plaza of the complex. In that moment, I felt a prompting from the Spirit in a way I never had before. I saw a man. I knew I needed to talk to him. We knocked on the door and the person didn’t live there. So we went to our car through the plaza, and I said, “Let’s talk to him.” Elder Silva later admitted he didn’t even see him when he was looking right at him. We talked to the man. His name was Ignacio Barrera and he was from Mexico, of Aztec descent. He was headed to eat with his sister’s family, so we left a Book of Mormon and a challenge to read 3 Nefì 11. He said he would and that we could return a few days later. We returned at the scheduled time and he had not read. And in a moment that changed my whole life and view on the sacredness of the Book of Mormon. Elder Silva said, “Let’s read it then.” After we finished reading, the Spirit was palpable in the room. We paused and Ignacio, a very very intelligent man, looked at us and said, “I know this is true because my grandmother told me this story when I was a kid.” It is true, not because of that fact, which is evidence that it could have happened. The reason it is true is that witness the Spirit bore to us that day. If you haven’t had that experience, search it out. Ignacio later admitted that he did not believe in Jesus Christ. He only invited us back because we were to be, “the first 2 out of 12 sacrifices” he needed to make to the Aztec gods in his life. The Book of Mormon fueled his conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to my last knowledge, he remained true and faithful to the Church.
Elder Rydalch and I were tired of our approach. I had been in Kissimmee for 6 months and I had nowhere that I could think of finding new investigators. We decided to change things up and start off bold and asking everyone if they would like to be baptized. Unfortunately for him, that day we were going on exchanges, and I got to stay in the area with Elder Merrill. Elder Merrill was excited to try it out. We went to an apartment complex and our appointment fell through. There was a man walking in the parking lot and we informed him that we were representatives of Jesus Christ and we asked if he’d like to be baptized. He didn’t really take, and heck, I couldn’t commit to that so quickly either. It’s a big step. But it got us in the door. He said he was busy and we could return in a few days. We did that. He turned out to be Torrebio Blacido from Perù, and his son Marcos was also there. Marcos had been taught by the missionaries before in New Jersey. It turns out he was married to a member of the church and was two days away from baptism and he decided to turn it down. Since then, he had moved to Florida and was separated from his wife. Back-tracking 9 months, I worked a little bit with his wife to come back to church. More or less we asked her if she would and she said yes, and she did. It was easy. They had a very cute daughter that was 3 years old. So we asked him if he was ready to be baptized again, a bold move I admit, and he said, “I’ll pray about it.” So he did, and we came back the next day, and he said, “You know, before I doubted it and I wasn’t sure about baptism, but I prayed about it last night and I want to be baptized.” A month and a half later, that happened. Last I heard, he and his wife and daughter were happily back together.
So today, I raise a toast (of water in my Colorado Rockies cup).
First, to the Elders and Sisters of the Florida Orlando Mission, and to our leader President John C. Darrington and his wife Susan T. Darrington. Even after all this time, I still remember their initials.
Next, to Elders Squires, Bernhisel, and Serra. We were never companions, but we shared the most bittersweet, nerve racking, sleepless night of all time together.
Next, to the Elders and Sisters I served around the most. To Elders Bills, Kennett, Peterson, Smith, Larmore, Wood, Henz, Lindley, Burdick, Law, Bellamy, Nelson, Rangel, Peters, Nelson, Miller, Lahaderne, Christensen, Merrill, Stears, Dahle, Hansen, Doxey, Feula, Stepp, Crowder, Langarica, Gee, Steinman. There are others that for some reason I cannot remember, to you too. Unfortunately, because of that one miserable transfer Elder Rydalch and I had to car share with you, to Sisters Jepson and Pereira.
Next, to La Zona Hispana, where I served from June 2008 until December 2009. It was a brotherhood within a brotherhood. There are many memorable moments tied to it, such as watching Elder Feula move a trash dumpster across the parking lot. "Si fueramos memos valiente en la preexistencia, estaríamos en la obra de Ingles." or "As goes La Zona, so goes the mission."
Next, to Elder Matthew Farr, my “father,” so to speak, who trained me well. To Elder Chase Romney, you were always sweating and shaking, but you never backed down. To Elder Mark Silva, we did good work together. To Elder Chris Hoopes, we caught Zach together, who was the best lizard pet of all time. To Elder Alex Daniels, my “son,” in some weird way, you were too much like me. I have some of my best memories with you. To Elder Andrew Rydalch, my other “son,” who was as they say, a five tool prospect. To Elder Scott Hadley, we defied a lot of the thinking in Deltona II. To Elder Nick Brown, I can’t think of anyone better to “kill me off.”
Next, to the members that took care of me, the Sotos, the Cruzes, the Quispes, the Valladares, the Castillos, the Borjas, the Gomezes, the Escobars, the Dos, the Castillos, the Ortizes, and the countless others.
Last, to the Filion family, the Marin family, the Luna family, Carlos Cañas, the Almazan family, the Lopez family, Marvin Perez, Luis Rodriguez, Guillermo Martinez, the Mendez family, Marisel Diaz, Ignacio Barrera, the Agosto family, Maria Pilar Rivera, Pilar Ochoa, Jacklyn “Dimples” Aleman, the Perez Figueroa family, the Blacido family, Anacelia Soto, Ariel Hernandez, and the Gomez family. You are all very dear to my heart.