Category: mission

Saying Goodbye

I drove Tomas up to Bangor yesterday morning. I had originally planned on just dropping him off at the curb at the airport, but then I realized he was checking bags, and that wasn’t something we’ve really done when flying before, so I parked and went in with him to give him one last bit of support before he headed off on his own. I went up with him to security (it was his first time in Bangor’s small airport, though I’m sure he could have figured it out himself), gave him a hug, told him I was proud of him and that I’d miss him, and then told him there was no way I was going to stand there waiving to him the whole time while he went through security. We said goodbye, and that was that.

I’ve been through a lot the last two or three years. Global pandemics. Job insecurity. The loss of a parent. But somehow simply saying goodbye to my son at the airport proved to be the hardest of all of those on me, emotionally. There are many, many ways I’m chiding myself over that fact. Many other parents deal with much more difficult goodbyes. He hasn’t passed away. He hasn’t stormed off in a rage. He’s leaving to go do something I’m fully in support of, and he’s growing into an amazing man.

And yet I’m still upset about it, and I’m having a hard time keeping it together, to be honest.

I know dads are supposed to be the emotional bedrock of a family. The ones who stoically keep it together at all times, because crying is weak. But honestly, I have come to realize over the course of the past 2.5 years that all that suppressing of emotion over the years is taking a real toll on me. I’ve actually been trying to cry more recently, knowing that it’s an excellent way of getting stress out of the body. Strangely, it’s required real effort for me to do it. I have had to really focus on allowing myself to feel that much sadness.

But seeing Tomas say goodbye to MC and Denisa and Ferris? (He’d said goodbye to Daniela the night before, as she had to leave early yesterday morning.) That about pushed me over the edge. I had to leave the room for a bit, as crying is one thing, but crying in front of people is still a bridge too far for me. Going up to his empty room last night, seeing it all dismantled and put away in preparation for MC to move in there, I just sat on his bed and bawled for fifteen minutes.

Some of this might stem from experiences I went through growing up. I lived with my mom in Pennsylvania. My dad lived in Utah. My brother, sister, and I would go out to Utah for a month each summer, and for Christmas every other winter. That always involved a car ride to the airport when we left, knowing that I’d be away from one parent for a month, and knowing that parent was sad. Then it involved another car ride to the airport on the way back, with the situation reversed. I hated (hated) those car rides. The sick feeling that would settle into my stomach as those goodbyes approached.

Taking Tomas to the airport yesterday, I had that same feeling again, and it set off some deep-seated memories in me.

Again, everything that’s going on for him is a good thing. He’s on his own, learning to do his own thing, but he’s got a lot of structure and support around him to help him as he makes that transition. He’s going home to Slovakia, which will give him a chance to connect with that side of his heritage. From the day he was born, Denisa has worked on teaching him Slovak. This has been something we’ve tried to be preparing for for a long, long time. He was excited to be off, and I can relate to that. I remember being in his shoes, nervous about what might come, but still really wanting to finally see how I did on my own. To set up my life the way I wanted it to be. (Though when I watched him head off for security, I had a very hard time not seeing the little boy I’ve known for years, going off to do something that I can’t help him with.)

I know none of this is unique to just me. I know literally billions of people have dealt with this over the years. But for Denisa and me, this was a first. A significant first in the same way it was a significant first for him. There aren’t a whole lot of those in your life. Leaving home. Getting married. Having a baby. Sending your child off to school. Having your child leave home. And just like all those other firsts, I’ve found it isn’t really something you can understand until you do it yourself. I’ve been dreading yesterday for the last half year at least. It was worse than I thought it would be.

The good news is that we got to talk to him yesterday evening. My father picked him up from the airport and will take him to the MTC today. Tomas had a great trip. I was surprised to hear he talked to a stranger all the way from Bangor to JFK, then he went to dinner with another stranger in JFK, and he met several other people who he had good interactions with. Having a missionary name tag can sometimes be a liability. People judge you without even knowing who you are. But it can also be an asset. The man on the flight from Bangor knew many members of our church and knew all about missionaries. Some members saw him in JFK and took him to dinner, knowing what he’s going through. And to have Tomas not just talk with those strangers, but to sound like he even enjoyed it?

He’s making big strides already. 🙂

Anyway. That’s about all I’ve got to say about that for now. We’ll get to talk to him once a week, which is so much more than I got to do as a missionary. That helps with this transition, but I’m sure it will continue to be difficult as I learn to adjust. Our family at home is now down to 4, and that will require some retooling for everyone. Tomas and I did a lot together. Playing Magic. Playing video games. Watching sports. I’ll likely end up switching up what I do week to week as well, tweaking things to spend time with Daniela and MC more. We’ll see where things all settle in a few months.

Thanks for all your well wishes. They’re very much appreciated.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything

Home MTC: A Parent’s Perspective

Tomas has been doing home MTC (Missionary Training Center) for a week and a half now. He’s heading out to Provo on Tuesday. When we were heading into the home MTC experience, I really wasn’t sure what to expect from it. When I went on my mission, my parents dropped me off at the MTC in Provo, and that was that. I’d never met my teachers, my companion, or anyone I’d be rooming with. I had no idea where I’d stay or what my schedule would be like. They dumped all of that on me the day I arrived, in the space of an hour or two. But it was the only reality I knew, so I never really questioned it.

What do you do when you’re at home for the first two weeks, instead?

It turns out, quite a bit.

Tomas has been in classes most days for the bulk of the day, starting around 9 in the morning and finishing around 9 or 10 at night. He’s in a district with just two other missionaries, both of whom are going to his same mission (Czech-Slovak), though one is Slovak speaking and one Czech. They take classes on how to teach and communicate effectively, as well as some classes on how to speak the language. (Tomas’s companion speaks no Slovak at all, so there’s quite a bit gap between the two of them. From what I gather, that hasn’t been an issue.) There are also devotionals and time for personal study, exercise, and companionship study.

He does get breaks. He’s had Sunday completely free, and Wednesday he doesn’t really do anything until around 6pm. Then there are breaks here and there throughout the week where we can see him. However, he’s already supposed to follow mission rules, which means no television or movies or popular reading. Since a lot of our family time together used to be spent watching something, we made a switch over to activities he could participate in. (We’ve been doing a cool Star Wars 1,000 piece puzzle.) We also talk to him about how things are going and what he’s learning.

The big difference from all of this is that when he leaves Maine on Tuesday, he knows where he’s going. He knows his teacher. He knows his companion. He knows what his schedule will be like. There’s really not that much that will be a surprise to him, and I think that will make for an infinitely smoother transition. It can be a real shock, going from normal to missionary in the space of a few hours. I think it can feel overwhelming, and this goes a long way toward fixing that.

I’d say it was a good transition period for the parents as well, but Tomas was already quite busy before this. Seniors in high school have cars, have friends, and have things to do, so they’re already out and about a lot of the time. Of course, there’s a big difference between “out and about” and “gone for two years.”

I’ll deal with that Tuesday.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Starší Cundick

It’s official. Last night Tomas came up with me to Bangor to be set apart as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Denisa and the girls couldn’t make it up, since MC has been sick for the past while, and we’re trying to get her feeling better as soon as possible.

So now we have a missionary living in our house for the next two weeks. I’m still not entirely sure how that will work. I know he’s got classes each day but Sunday, but I’m not sure when they run. There’s only one other missionary learning Slovak in his group, so that should be . . . interesting? I’m not sure how they’ll handle someone who has no Slovak experience at all and someone who’s really just lacking the vocabulary. But his companion is in Arizona, so I think they’re trying to split the difference in terms of timing the classes.

When he’s at home, he doesn’t need a companion, but when he leaves our home, he has to be with Denisa or me the whole time. He gets a P-Day, which I believe is Wednesday. I’m not sure what exactly he’ll do on P-Day, since I’m at work all day, and Denisa has class as well. Then again, this really only goes until October 4th, when I’ll drive him to the airport and he’ll head off to the MTC in Provo.

I know many missionaries write weekly letters and send them out to people who gave email addresses for that. Tomas and I talked it over, and the way we’ll handle it is I’ll have him write a guest post each week that will keep people informed about what he’s up to. I believe his P-days are on Wednesdays, but we’ll see when he actually is able to send those letters.

Either which way, I’ll be interested to come home today and find out how the online training is going. Thanks to all of you for your kind words of support and encouragement for him. I know he appreciates them.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On Calling Home as a Missionary

I served a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1997 to 1999. I was in former Eastern Germany for those two years, and they remain some of the most impactful years of my life, continuing to influence who I am and how I think to this day. I was just exposed to so many different people, who each viewed the world differently, and because almost all of my conversations focused on religion, it was a chance to have some very deep discussions with all those different people.

As has been the custom for as long as I can remember, missionaries were only allowed to call home two times a year: on Christmas and Mothers Day. (Though my mission president allowed us to call home on Fathers Day as well, because fathers are also important.) Other than that, we were restricted to writing letters home once a week, and at the end of my mission, I was allowed to write emails, since I was in the office, and we had a computer and internet. The reasoning behind this was always that it allowed missionaries to focus on where they were, as opposed to where they had been. I never really questioned that reasoning. I know being away from my family and friends was difficult, but I also know it seemed to make sense at the time, and I got through it all without any traumatic experiences.

A few days ago, that communications ban was lifted. Missionaries are now allowed to call or teleconference with their families once a week. (Still just families, not friends.) I am 100% behind the change, for a variety of reasons:

  • I believe today’s youth are much more accustomed to being “plugged in” to their family and friends than they were in the past. The addition of the internet, social media, and smart phones has fundamentally changed how people think and behave. I’m not one who rails against those changes. I accept that they will happen, and that some of that change will be good and some of it will be bad. For missionaries going away for two years, I’ve wondered if yanking that support structure out from under them has been doing more harm than good. When you’re on a mission, you have a lot of contact with your companion, some contact with a few other missionaries in your district, limited contact with missionaries in your zone, and rare contact with your mission president. If your companion is a bonehead, it can be a rough time. Also, you’re sometimes told things that just aren’t true. Mission presidents can be boneheads as well, after all. Being able to turn to your parents for advice and support would be invaluable. (Though of course I can also see the potential for helicopter parenting stepping in, but that was true already. This just increases the immediacy of the contact.)
  • It’s not a requirement. We had the sister missionaries over for dinner last night. They’re a trio at the moment, and we asked them what they thought of the change. One wasn’t sure, one was very much in favor of it (she’s been out for a week), and one had called her parents once but didn’t think she’d call again (she goes home in two months). And that’s fine. If the missionaries want the support, they can have it. Parents still aren’t supposed to be initiating the phone calls.
  • It costs almost nothing. When I was on my mission, an international phone call home was very expensive. These days you can Skype whenever you want for free if you have a device and an internet connection. Missionaries are provided with tablet computers, and all churches have internet, so there you go. There may still be areas where it’s not possible, but that’s the exception, not the rule, and I see no reason to limit all communication just because it’s not universally available.
  • It further involves the family in the missionary effort, inspiring people to grow stronger in the faith. That’s a big plus, in my book.

But what about the infamous “lack of focus” these phone calls are supposed to threaten? If a missionary could lose focus when I was on my mission, can’t they do the same now?

Sure they can. But people forget one simple fact: missionaries break rules. Not all of them, but plenty of them. And these days, it’s so cheap to call home that missionaries who really want to would find a way. Then they’d feel guilty about it . . . Better to avoid the whole rigamarole.

I believe missionaries are called to serve in specific places for specific reasons, typically because of who they are. Their strengths and weaknesses make them able to fill roles in places where other missionaries with different strengths and weaknesses might fail. And part of who a missionary is is their family. I’ve never liked the idea that missionaries need to forget who they were in order to succeed. I think they need to do the opposite: be the best “them” they can be.

Anyway. My two cents on the matter. I’m looking forward to being able to talk to all of my kids when they’re out serving missions. Really, the only downside to all of this I can think of (as a whole, not counting exceptions like when you have overbearing parents or something) is that phone calls will mean no more letters to hold onto to be able to document your mission. I guess that will make journaling even more important. (Not that I ever read those letters or those journals these days, but it’s nice that I know I *could* read them, if I wanted to . . .)

What do you think of the change?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Best Book on Mormon Missionaries

As a former LDS missionary myself, I’ve read or perused a number of books on the subject. Before I went on my mission, there were some I read through to try and get a handle on what I was getting myself into. After the fact, I’ve read responses and reactions to missions online and in books. I’ve watched movies that try to depict missions, to varying degrees of success.

So when I first moved to Maine and started working at the University of Maine at Farmington, I was surprised to be approached by one of the professors and discover he was working on his own book on Mormon missionaries. He wasn’t Mormon, for one thing. Was this going to be some sort of smear campaign? (It wouldn’t be the first.) But Rob Lively seemed like a nice enough fellow, and I was willing to talk to just about anyone about the church, so I agreed when he asked to interview me for the book.

Through the course of the interview, I discovered just how serious he was about this. He’d sat down with over 200 missionaries. He’d interviewed President Hinckley twice. He’d gone to multiple MTCs and gotten permission to sit in on classes. He’d spoken to Elders, Sisters, Mission Presidents, Senior Missionaries, General Authorities. He was really doing his homework on this one.

Why was he doing it? I asked him. He said it was because he felt like so many people casually dismiss the Mormon missionary experience, unable or unwilling to look at missionaries as actual people with desires and dreams, instead content to classify they as nuisances to get rid of when they show up at your door. He wanted to write an unbiased, outsider’s view book on the subject so that people who aren’t Mormon can find out more about them in a non-threatening way.

Eight years later, the book is out at last.

I was quite surprised to see the final version. It’s much thicker than I expected. Most of the Mormon missionary books you see at Deseret Book or the like are brief affairs. Maybe two hundred pages, filled with quotes from church leaders and some basic advice for how to succeed on a mission. Rob’s book, The Mormon Missionary: Who Is That Knocking at My Door?, is 576 pages. It’s a tome, people. I hefted it in my hand and thought he’d really gone overboard. How in the world could anyone write that much about Mormon missionaries and keep it interesting for the whole of the book?

It’s a good thing I didn’t say that out loud, because Rob proved me very, very wrong.

I started the book Friday night. I was mostly finished by the end of Sunday. And I wasn’t reading anything I didn’t already know. I’d been on a mission, after all. Why would 576 pages on the experience be so captivating to me?

Because it’s accurate. More accurate than any book or movie on missionaries that I’ve come across. It covers every single aspect of the experience you can think of, from preparing for a mission, getting the call, going to the MTC, learning a language, getting companions, transfers, teaching, baptizing, service, coming home. You name it. Even more surprising, he easily and fluently uses mission lingo. Accurately. You can tell he’s been talking to missionaries for decades. He’s also attended church services here in Maine many a time. I’ve since gotten to know Rob and respect his approach. He really did set out to depict a mormon mission without any other agenda. There’s no anti-Mormon undercurrent, but neither is there a “you all better go on a mission because they’re doing God’s work and this is all true!” overtone either.

He doesn’t paint things too rosy or too bleak, but he also doesn’t shy away from the good times or the bad times of a mission, and almost all of it is rooted in actual missionary experiences and quotes.

Who would I recommend this book to? Just about anybody. Mormon, non-Mormon, missionary or ex-missionary or pre-missionary. If you want to understand what it is those guys in white shirts, ties, and name tags are going through, or the girls in dresses and name tags, then this is the book for you. If you’d like to think back on your own mission experience, this will touch on it in many ways, even while recognizing that each mission is unique and different.

I’m definitely giving the book to my kids to read once they’re old enough. I think it’s the best mission prep book that can be written, and I don’t say that lightly.

Before I left on my mission, the best piece of advice anyone gave me was this: “If you can think of it, a missionary has done it, and is probably doing it right now.” For good or bad, I found that to be true. This book encapsulates that in a way only a 576 page book could. Is it too long? Not at all. It covers the whole of the missionary experience, and it does so accurately and completely. It turns out that missionary experience is a whole lot more complex than I initially thought it was.

(*Full disclosure: as I mentioned above, I was interviewed for the book, as was Denisa. Both of our experiences ended up in various places in the book, though we’re not mentioned by name. (Rob keeps things fairly anonymous.) Still, if you’re looking through it and know Denisa and me well, you can usually pick out what we said. Denisa’s the only person from Slovakia interviewed for the book, and while there were a couple of missionaries interviewed who served in Germany, my pieces were easy for me to recognize. In each case, he treated my interview fairly and accurately. Did I like the book more because I liked seeing what I had said? Maybe. But I don’t think that really made a huge difference in my opinion of the book in the end.)

Well, now I’ve prattled on about this book for over 1,000 words. Have I gushed enough? Bottom line is that I encourage you all to go and read this book. If you have any questions after you’ve read it, I’m happy to answer any I can. Rob’s also going to be speaking locally about the book on May 14th, I believe. Should be good.

After you’ve read it, let me know what you thought.

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