My cousin Mark is on a mission in Paraguay. (Yep, in case you didn't know by now, I'm one of those Mormons. And young men in our church serve 2 year missions at age 19.) I am immensely proud of him, and because of the wonders of the internet, I get to read his letters home every single Monday. He has good weeks and bad weeks. Even some out-of-this-world terrific weeks, but more importantly, I can read between the lines and see that this experience is changing him. He is sobered, matured, humbled, and spiritually sensitive. He already was an incredible kid, and now? Well, now, I can only imagine how proud his mother is of her boy.
And of course I want the same thing for my own boys.
My sons are growing up knowing that a mission is what is expected of them, but that it is their individual responsibility to get ready and to want to go. Most Latter-day Saint boys grow up saying that they'll serve a mission when they're 19, but to actually be prepared when the time comes, and to actually put an active life on hold to dedicate two years to the Lord is no small sacrifice. It's not a decision that can be made spontaneously, and mission readiness requires careful planning years before the actual call to serve comes.
Missionaries and their families pay for their own missions. A delightful concept, really, as we value that which we have had to sweat and toil for. Currently, a mission costs approximately $12,000, which includes the monthly cost and some extra for clothing and supplies before leaving. In order to prepare several boys for missions and even more children for college, careful planning has to happen. (It's called the penny here and penny there approach, multiplied by faith.) Even if I were wealthy, I would want my boys to earn at least half of their mission money themselves. Last year, each of the boys set up a savings account and a savings goal for the year which will bring them to their target savings goal by the time he is 19 years of age.
Dylan set his goal when he was 12. So he had 7 years to put aside at least $6000 towards his mission. His plan is as follows:
age 12 $200
age 13 $400
age 14 $600
age 15 $750
age 16 $1000
age 17 $2000
age 18 $2400
He plans to go on his mission in the year 2015, and if he can meet his savings goal, he will have personally saved $7350, plus interest. (This will cover any increase in the cost of a mission by the time he serves.) He is currently ahead of schedule, and I love that he has made saving for his mission a priority. Every time he chooses to deposit money instead of spend it, he is reaffirming his commitment to serve.
Obviously, at age 13 his earning potential is not as great as it will be when he is 16 or 17. But even now, there are opportunities for the taking, if he looks.
For instance, he secured lawn care work with our neighbor. He cleans cars for a family friend, he even washes windows to earn money, and gets hired to babysit! (He's very popular with kids.) Also, I pay the kids $5 for each A on their report card, and $5 for each book they finish. They pay tithing on all money that they earn first, then they might keep a few dollars for spending, and they put the rest in the bank. It all adds up, little by little, as they work toward their goal.
Money isn't the only concern in preparing for a mission. Spiritual preparation is of the utmost importance, of course, and the boys have set goals in that area too, like reading The Book of Mormon and Bible many times, attending Church, praying daily, and being worthy to receive the priesthood when the time comes.
I have my own list of things to teach the boys too, for mission, college, and life success. This list includes things like ironing, basic hand sewing, cooking, and how to properly clean a bathroom. (Their wives will thank me, their missionary companions will just be relieved.) Obviously, there is much to do.
I have watched other families of sons send out and receive home their missionaries. I have tried to watch carefully how they prepared their boys, and what factors helped make the difference in mission success. Mostly, I get all choked up every time a boy leaves, or returns. No matter whose son it is, I'm just so darn proud of him! I see the spiritual strength and confidence that is earned through service to the Lord. I see a boy leave and a man return. Recently I was in an airport waiting for a friend's flight to arrive and a crowd was gathered at one of the gates with signs and balloons. I could tell it was a missionary welcoming party. I had to eavesdrop on their happy day. I stood off to the side filled with excitement and goosebumps, and just started to cry when that missionary walked down the ramp and through the gate to his family. It was so joyous! I sometimes can't bear the thought of saying farewell to my boys and not seeing their faces for two whole years, but then again, I know there is nothing else I'd rather see them do. Helping them to prepare and sending them off is my offering to the Lord.
From Elder Rebilas' letter home this week:
There is no greater thing that a young man can do between 19 and 21 years of age then serve a mission, none. It brings the most benefits spiritually and also temporally. To all those that are still thinking, stop, and prepare. Trust me, I have felt things that I've never felt before in my life. I now KNOW that the Holy Spirit exists, I feel it every day, and sometimes I feel it leave. I KNOW that Jesus Christ lives, for I have received a witness that I cannot deny. Follow Him, preach his gospel. The rest of your lives will be blessed. I now have a plan for my life, and I have a guide that will never fail me. So, PREPARE, read your scriptures daily, learn to rely on prayer, take advantage of the sacrament, learn of it and what it means, and REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE! My mother would never let me leave without me hearing that, and she doesn't even know how much that made an effect in my life, I'm here because of her. If I hadn't had her voice echoing in my head every time I had to make a decision, I don't know where I'd be. Remember who you are, and be the example. Make our Father in Heaven proud. I love this work, I love my Savior, I love my family. I bear my testimony that I know this church is true, in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ , Amen.
Sounds like an investment that is paying huge dividends! We've all been blessed by his service. And I thank him for his example for my own sons. Someday I hope they will pay it forward as their cousin is now. In the meantime, there is much to do!