Like Sarah's daughter, who just left for France, my Lauren is preparing to take a gap year+ from her university studies and go on a volunteer mission for our church, too. In the weeks leading up to the assignment letter, we invited friends and family to weigh in with their guesses. (This map makes me so happy. And now I have the irrational travel itch to go to all of these places. A flag on our map is like a permission slip to go there, right?)
After a month of waiting, Lauren's mission assignment finally arrived here last week. Lauren didn't want a huge hoopla so we just gathered our family here. A few sleepy people who were still awake in the states (my parents and one of Lauren's friends) joined us via Skype and phone in the middle of their night.
She opened the envelope and read out the call, her voice brightening (always a good sign) as she scanned ahead to the mission location:
You are assigned to labor in the Macon, Georgia mission...[reporting on] Wednesday, August 21, 2013.
She's thrilled and delighted. We all are. It feels like just the right place for her. She was entirely willing to go anywhere but, when pressed over the last month or two, she always mentioned the southern US as an area where she would love to go (that, and the Hawaii Visitor's Center and several other islands. And who wouldn't want to go to Hawaii?)
When I was at Tufts I was asked by a professor to do a guest lecture on the cultural sociology/anthropology of Mormonism. The students in the course had been studying different cultures through the lenses of independence and interdependence so I (over)prepared at length to describe how Mormon families & congregations operate in a unique blend of both independence and interdependence.
It went well and the students were engaged in the topic. (I always found this true at Tufts--openness to and fascination with ideas in general translated to respect and genuine curiosity about my religion in particular.) When it got to question & answer time for this group of 70 undergraduates, however, what they really wanted to hear about was missions. They had seen them around the city, those hard-to-miss missionaries in pairs and nametags. They were fascinated that young adults their age volunteer to go somewhere they're assigned for 18 to 24 months, with a companion you may or may not get along with, phone contact home only twice a year, no dating, and a full-time schedule of teaching and service.
Are they perfect, these young volunteers? No, not by a long shot. Do they make mistakes? Yes, it's a given. One of the things I appreciate most about missions is that, just as late adolescence hits its most self-centered, we invite young people to give up two of their peak years to service and selflessness. In a similar but non-religious way, the Peace Corps and Americorps and Teach for America invite young adults to give service in the neediest of settings. Whatever the vehicle, I think it's a great bridge to adulthood.
But it still hurts my heart a little.
Let the devil-goes-down-to-Georgia + midnight-train-to-Georgia jokes commence!
p.s. Please send Southern food recipes, stat.