Reports from missionaries who have returned home after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints telling their experiences and faith-building stories.

Gazano Branch: Dec 1995 to Apr 1996

In an effort to better tell the story of my mission and the wonderful experiences I had, for the benefit of my children and the audience of this website, I  thought it would be good to put together a one-pager on each one of my mission areas. This is the first such article, about the Gazano Branch in the city of Paraná Argentina, where I was serving from Dec. 27, 1995 to Apr. 2, 1996 in the Rosario Argentina Mission.

On a side note, I’m lucky to have any pictures from my first month in Argentina. My first roll of film on my mission, which consisted of probably a dozen photos from the MTC and a dozen from my first few weeks in Argentina, did not turn out. It was the first time in my life that I had my own camera and I must not have loaded the film correctly because all the pictures turned out blank. The pictures I do have from those first weeks in Argentina were donated by my first companion there, Elder Loesener. Thank you!

The Two-Day Trio: Elder Loesener, Ballou, and Smith

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This picture was taken on or around my first day in the mission field. When I arrived in my first assigned area, I was part of a trio instead of the normal two person companionship. This is a picture of the trio: Elder Loesener, Elder Ballou, and myself, Elder Smith.  It was taken in the kitchen of our apartment. Right behind us is the sink and stove. To our left is a cabinet we kept dishes and food in. To our right was a refrigerator. This was one of the few apartments I had during the mission that had a fridge. I didn’t realize at the time what a luxury it was. The photographer, most likely the owner of the home, was standing in the living room of the, obviously, small house. Off to the right of the house were three room, one bedroom from the owner, one bedroom for the missionaries, and a study room with a desk for the missionaries. The trio only lasted a day or two. Soon we got word from the zone leaders that Elder Ballou had been transferred and the next day he was gone.

Laundry Day on the Mission

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This was the back yard of the home where we had our apartment in Gazano. Every Monday, we washed our clothes in the sink, in the right of the photo, and then we hung them out to dry. In at least half of my areas in Argentina, there was a woman in the ward who would wash our clothes. Usually we would pay her about $20 each, which was decent income for them, and well worth it for us. Click here to see a video I made about doing laundry on my mission.

Outside View of Our Apartment in Paraná

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Here’s the outside front of the home where we had our apartment in the Gazano Branch in the city of Paraná. For our weekly service one week, we started building that fence off to the right. In the picture, behind our home, is another home of the Almada family. This family moved in about the same time Elder Loesener and I arrived in the city. We struck up a friendship with them and they were baptized a couple months later.

Our Neighborhood in Paraná

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This is a picture of the neighborhood where our apartment was located. Our home is there in the middle. The house was located on a bumpy dirt road, though you can see a paved road crossing on the right side of the photo. We were near the outskirts of the city Paraná. If you walked a few blocks toward the city, all the roads were paved. If you started walking away from the city, more and more of the roads were dirt. I’ve always remembered this bumpy dirt road by our apartment because in one of my first weeks there, I severely twisted my ankle, yet my body went unharmed. In the year previous to my mission I had had two severe ankle sprained that required me to use crutches. I feared that I would sprain my ankle on my mission and that would limit my mobility and the amount of work that I’d be able to do.

A Discussion with the Almada Family

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This is the Almada family: Fabian, the father, Silvina, the mother, and their four children. They were great. They were so friendly to us, and they embraced the restored gospel when we taught it to them. You can see the Books of Mormon on the table. We would sit around that table for all of the discussions. Elder Loesener did most of the teaching since I was new and my Spanish was horrible. Their home was so small for their family, though it was a very typical home. As I recall, they had this room where this picture was taken, which was the kitchen, dining room and living room combined. Then they had two bedrooms and a bathroom, and I think that’s it. Compared to US standards they were very poor, but they were happy and always generous in sharing what they had with us missionaries. Click here to read more about the Almadas and their conversion to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Baptism of Hugo Correa

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This is the Correa family. The picture was taken at the baptism of Brother Hugo Correa. I believe Sister Correa had been baptized months, perhaps years, earlier. This family was very poor, even relative to Argentine norms. As I recall, they had a one room brick home with a dirt floor. The home was literally four walls and a ceiling, but at least they were brick walls. Later in my mission I was get to know people who had four walls made of sheet metal. Again, though poor, the Correa’s seemed happy. They had four little girls who were so cute. I remember being jealous of the speaking abilities of their two year old. I felt like this two-year spoke Spanish much better than I, so it motivated me to study and practice even harder. I believe this was my first time baptizing someone on my mission.

Our Mission District of Gazano

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Our missionary district, as most in Argentina at that time, consisted of two companionships, me and Elder Loesener, plus Sister Matsen and Sister Gomez. We had district meeting once a week with them, plus we saw them at church on Sundays. Other than that, we didn’t see the sisters a whole lot. My companion was the district leader, so he called them every once in a while, at least weekly to get the stats on their work.

An Average Suburban Argentine Neighborhood

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This is a neighborhood not far from the one where we lived, maybe four or five blocks away as I recall. Notice the water tank on the top of each house. Water pressure was always an issue. At best water pressure was weak, at worse it was barely a trickle. To compensate, each home had a water tank on top that was constantly being filled. The house then drew its water from the tank, which gave the home consistently higher water pressure through the pipes. I can remember standing on one of these streets one night early in my mission. We were talking to someone in their front yard, trying to convince them to invite us over for a complete first discussion. The sun was setting as soon as the sun went down, the mosquitos came out in force. I couldn’t believe how bad the mosquitos got in an instant. But I digress. Anyway, this was a typical Argentina sub-development. The homes here are duplexes; two units per building. Each home was simple, likely with one of those rooms that combine the kitchen, dining room, and living room, a bathroom, and two or three bedrooms.

The Almada Family Baptism

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This is the baptism of the Almada Family. It was a wonderful event. This first photo right before the baptism, and the second photo was taken outside the church building just afterwards. Click here to read more about the Almadas and their conversion to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our Land Lord, Brother Cabrera, and Elder Loesener

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This is a picture of the home owner, landlord, and roommate of ours, Brother Cabrera, with my companion Elder Loesener. This picture was taken in the same room as picture 1, except it is looking in the opposite direction. You can see the cabinet in the left of this picture is the same as the one on the right side of photo 1. Brother Cabrera was always very nice to us and patient and had a good demeanor. I can remember him on the front row of church my first Sunday in Argentina. I was asked to give a five minute talk and he was coaching me through it and encouraging me. I felt sad for him that he lived in the home alone, except for the missionaries. I don’t recall the details of his family situation.

My Companion for a Day, Mario

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This is a young man in the Gazano branch named Mario. One day my companion had to go do something with the zone leaders. Instead of having me sit around the apartment all by my lonesome self all day, we arranged for Mario to go with me for part of the day. This was only a couple weeks into my mission, and my Spanish was still pretty bad so I was glad to have a native with me. But, as it turns out, Mario hardly said a word all day in speaking with people. We knocked doors, and talked to people on the street, and fulfilled other appointments and all the while I did most of the talking. Miraculously, I was able to get a couple of appointments for us to return for a full first discussion, which shows the blessings the God pours out upon missionaries if they will simply open their mouths. Click here to read more about my day with Mario.

Transfer Day

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This was the morning I was transferred out of Gazano. After three months together with my trainer, Elder Loesener and I parted ways. I know I didn’t fully appreciate him as a companion and trainer during the time I was with him, but since then I have grown to appreciate all he taught me. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for my trainer and first companion in Argentina, Elder Maximiliano Loesener. I didn’t see him again until almost two years later when I was on my way home and he met me at the Buenos Aires temple for an endowment session. I was so nervous about this transfer because I would have to travel by myself, first taking a taxi to the bus station, then buying a bus ticket and going to a different city. I got to the bus station, bought my ticket, and then waited, watching the bus like a hawk, because I was afraid I would miss the announcement to load when the time came. Miraculously, I made it to my new assignment in the city of Santa Fe without incident.

Other Memories of My Time in Gazano

  • “Vamos por la sombra” (Let’s walk in the shade) is something Elder Loesener would say often indicating that we should walk on the sidewalk on the side of the street where there was shade, rather than direct sunlight. I was in this area during the heat of summer, as you can tell by the extra tan skin on my face, so seeking shade whenever we could was a necessity.
  • Getting home at about 10:25PM, with just enough time to get in bed by our 10:30 curfew. We found that one of the best times to go contacting was after 8pm when people would sit out in front of their homes and sip mate. This provided a great opportunity for us missionaries to walk through the neighborhood and strike up conversations with people. If we happened to find someone interested in our gospel message then we could easily get caught up in a discussion that would go past 10PM and we’d have to hustle back to our apartment to keep our missionary schedule.
  • Making pizza in our apartment. We would buy a pizza crust, tomato puree, and queso cremoso (literally “cream cheese” but different than cream cheese in the U.S. It was more like mozarella). Add some spices and after a few minutes in the oven, we had a delicious pizza.
  • Pancakes and french toast for breakfast. Bread was inexpensive and we would often have plenty of it. So I’d crack a few eggs in the morning, dip the bread in it, and fry up some french toast. I would also often make pancakes and put Dulce de Leche (kind of like caramel, but a little different) on it. They didn’t have maple syrup, but the dulce de leche was so good, I didn’t even miss it.

The Colors of Christmas in Fiji

[colored_box color=”blue”]Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Elayne Reece who served a mission in Fiji from November 2004 to May 2006. We welcome this and any future contributions from Elayne.[/colored_box]
Colors of Christmas the Talebula Family of Fiji

The Talebula Family of Fiji. Image courtesy of Elayne Reece.

If you had been looking for me on Christmas Eve 2004, you would have found me in Fiji…sitting down “on the mat” with the Talebula Family.

The Talebula family consisted of Malakai (the father), Merei, (the mother) and their five children: Toga (13), Malakai Jr (12), Losalina (9), Merei (7), and Saini (4).

Their home was a one-room wooden house (with a tin roof) located in the small community of Lami on the eastern side of the largest of the islands of Figi called Viti Levu. That side of the island is a rain forest…lots of jungle with mango, banana and papaya trees and thick undergrowth everywhere (and don’t get me started on the BIG BUGS that go with it!).

Malakai went out each day, looking for work, working wherever he could for whatever wage he could get. Regular jobs were almost impossible to come by. They had a small patch of land that they grew a few things on, but not enough to feed growing children. So Merei did her part by making treats to sell at the bus stand. If she couldn’t sell enough for that day…she would fast. It was very common for her to fast 3-4 days a week, every week, so that her children would have enough to eat.

There was no running water in their house, only the little stream that ran down the hill nearby, not far from the outhouse. The house was built on 3-foot pilings to protect it during the flood season. There was only one light bulb hanging from the ceiling and no other electrical outlets. Merei either sat on the floor to cook with a kerosene burner, or stood over a wood-fire in a small tin lean-to next to the house. The only furniture was one small bed. Everyone “sat down” on the mat to eat, study, visit and sleep. Washing clothes was done by hand. Baths were taken by standing out in the rain. There were none of the “necessities” that we feel we need in order to live…

My companion, Sister Koroi, and I were teaching Malakai (the father). Merei and the two older children had been baptized a couple of months earlier. But Malakai, a former Methodist minister, was taking a little more time.

On that Christmas Eve they had invited us for dinner. Malakai had gone out earlier in the day looking for work and had not yet returned…we sat outside on the mat and waited for him. Sister Koroi was playing a game with the children a few feet away from where Merei and I sat, quietly talking.

The night was warm and humid (90 degrees w/ 85% humidity), typical Fijian weather. Looking out through the jungle, we could see dim lights from other houses situated here and there. And the stars…they were something to behold!! There is nothing quite like the Fijian night sky…you feel like you could easily reach right up and pluck your favorite star and put it in your pocket. It was the perfect setting for the story that Merei shared with me that night….

The day before, the children had come from school so excited. They had heard stories about a special person…Santa Claus…who brought gifts and put them under brightly decorated trees. They wanted to know if he would be coming to their house too…would there be gifts under their tree?

Merei felt she needed to be honest with them. She told me it was the hardest thing she’d ever done…to tell them what it really meant to live a life of poverty and what the limitations were to that kind of life. Until now they hadn’t really understood the word “poverty.” They had a roof over their heads, food to eat, and loving parents.

But now they needed to understand…that whatever money she or their father could bring home would be used for food only…not for gifts and decorations.

She told them that other children at school might make fun of them because there would be no decorations, no tree and no gifts. She wanted them to know that these were just “things” that people see…but our Heavenly Father sees things very differently. To Him all people were on the same “level,” as Merei put it.

So this year they would decorate themselves…inside their hearts…with three colors. She took them to the door of their house and had them look out and tell her what color they saw. They answered “green”. She told them, “Green is all around us. It is the color of the land we live in, the land you play in, and the land that gives us food. It represents God’s blessings of life to us.”

Next, she had them look at the sky and tell her what color they saw. They looked up, saw puffy clouds gathering, and answered “white.” She told them, “White is for the light that comes from above. It is the light from our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ …the light that guides us each day.”

Merei then told them that the last color they would decorate themselves with was “dark blue”. She explained, “Dark blue is the color we see when we go the beach to fish, when we look out at the ocean. We only see a little bit of the water…it is very deep. We can’t see into that deep part or know all that is in it. It represents the blessings that God has yet to give us, the ones we have no idea of…that we can receive if we will do what is right every day and pray to our Heavenly Father every day.”

These would be their “Colors of Christmas”…green, white, and dark blue. The only gifts they would receive were the ones they already had…of being together as a family, and being members of the true Church. These gifts were from a loving Heavenly Father. And they would give Him the gift of being thankful every day for His many blessings to them.

Merei was crying as she finished sharing this experience with me. I put my arms around that sweet, humble woman and cried with her. I will never forget what she taught me on that Christmas Eve…simple beautiful truths. There was, however, one thing she was wrong about…when she said that all people were on the same “level”. Merei Talebula rises far above many because she truly understands the meaning of Christmas.

May our hearts be decorated with our own “Colors of Christmas”….

The Colors of Christmas in Fiji

Rasmina Samuelson in the New England Mission, 1937

Rasmina SamuelsonRasmina Samuelson Price Beck is my wife’s grandmother. She served a mission in her youth to the Eastern States Mission and New England Mission. As I read her account in her written personal history, I was struck by how similar some things are to missions today, but also how different many other things are. The training, both spiritual training and with language and teaching techniques, has vastly improved. But the sacrifice and impact a mission has on the life of a missionary was just as powerful then as it is now.

The Mission Home (Yester-Year’s MTC)

Rasmina received her mission call to the Eastern States Mission in 1937 and was assigned to report to the Mission Home in Salt Lake City four weeks later. She arrived at the Mission Home in April 1937, and spent only ten days there with about 30 other missionaries. They ate all their meals at the nearby Lion House, the former residence of Brigham Young and his family. The Mission Home no longer stands on temple square, but the Lion House is still there and is available for tours and events.

She went to the Salt Lake temple, with all the other new missionaries, soon after arriving to receive her endowment. While in the temple, they were able to tour many of its room and even climbed the spiral staircase to the roof for a view of the city.

At this time in the history of the Church, there weren’t any formal lessons taught to the missionaries. One day though, the new missionaries spent an entire morning with the prophet, President Heber J. Grant. During her short time in the mission home, Rasmina and the other new missionaries were asked to memorize some scriptures.  They heard many inspiring talks and testimonies to help them understand the importance of their calling.

First Area in Hartford, Connecticut

Rasmina and First Companion Carol ReedRasmina says that the time spent in the mission home was just enought to make her realize how much she didn’t know. Before she knew it, the ten days were up and she was on a train headed for New York. The first area she was assigned to work in was East Hartford, Connecticut, where there were no members, so she went tracting every day. Rasmina says that when they had knocked on every door in the town, they started over and tracted the entire area again.

Rasmina tells one funny story of knocking on a door and a woman inside started yelling, “Get away from my door. We don’t want you Mormons here. You are coming to take our women back to Utah for your old men to take as another wife.” Rasmina continues, “I was embarrassed, and knew the whole neighborhood could hear her, but my companion spoke up and told her we were not here for that purpose. Sister Reed (Rasmina’s companion) told her she was having a hard enough time finding a husband for herself and she wouldn’t think of taking any more women back to Utah.”

At this time, missionaries had no set lessons plans, instead they left “tracts” (pamphlets) with people on topics such as the plan of salvation and the Joseph Smith story. When they did sit down to teach people, they were instructed to spend most of their time teaching from the Bible and carrying a message that “we Mormons are your friends.” The message was one of love and service, and says Rasmina, “we tried to carry out this love for all of God’s children with all we met.”

The First Hill Cumorah Pageant 

Hill Cumorah PageantNot long after arriving in her mission, Rasmina was involved in staging “the first Palmyra Pageant, A New Witness for Christ, at the Hill Cumorah.” In the weeks before the pageant, Rasmina and the other missionaries tracted all throughout the nearby communities handing out invitations. The missionaries also spent a lot of time building sets, painting, and rehearsing for the parts they would play in the pageant. Rasmina says, on the night of the first performance, “I was the only blonde Lamanite in King Lamoni’s court.”

Another thing that happened during the first Hill Cumorah Pageant was nothing short of miraculous. Though it had not been raining, “right on cue as the Savior was crucified, the thunder rolled and the lightning struck. We didn’t need to use our sound effects because the skies really put on a show. The trumpets blared, all became quiet, no thunder, no lightning, then the spotlight shown on the top of the hill, the Savior appeared. We all cried it was so dramatic and we were showing the world that the Savior did appear on this continent to His people after he appeared as the resurrected Christ to His people in Jerusalem.”

Testimony of the Book of Mormon

After the pageant, Rasmina had three days where she was waiting for her new companion to arrive. She decided then that she would read the Book of Mormon, cover to cover, for the first time. Says Rasmina, “I loved what I read. I was so grateful for time alone and felt better prepared to serve. I have read the Book of Mormon many, many times since then and thrill with the story and the love our Savior has for all of His children making sure they have His words as a guide to more righteous living.”

New England Mission and the Mission Office

Some time after the pageant, the Eastern States Mission was divided, and a New England Mission was formed. Rasmina was called to go to the new mission. She was sent to Springfield Massachusetts and became a senior companion for the first time and was asked to mostly work on strengthening the members there.

DictaphoneRasmina was next transferred to the mission office where she served as a secretary for two months while she awaited the arrival of a new companion. One of her main jobs was to type up letters that the mission president would record on a Dictaphone. While in the office, Rasmina put her piano skills to use. There were four Elders in the office who formed a quartet. Once a week they would perform music and the spoken word on a half hour radio program in Boston, and Rasmina would accompany them on the piano.

Grandmother’s Love and Support

It was about this time that Rasmina felt that something was wrong with her family at home. She wrote her parents to ask what was wrong and the answer came back that her father had lost his job and that her mother was pregnant. Due to the circumstances, Rasmina’s grandmother had been paying for her mission expenses. Rasmina volunteered to come home immediately to help out the family but her grandmother wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted that Rasmina stay and do what the Lord had called her to do. Rasmina was ever grateful for her grandmother’s love and support.

Towards the end of her mission, Rasmina was looking forward to another pagaent at the Hill Cumorah, but because she had been transferred to the New England mission, it was out of her area and she could not attend. She was able though, to attend a special mission conference at the birth place of Joseph Smith in Sharon, Vermont, which was within her mission boundaries, and this was another meaningful experience to her.

A Stormy Conclusion to Her Mission

1938 New England hurricaneIn September of 1938, just one week before she was scheduled to go home, Rasmina lived through a major hurricane that hit the New England area. This was one of the most powerful and deadliest hurricane to hit New England in in the past century. The eye of this Category 3 hurricane made landfall at Long Island, some distance from Rasmina, though the whole New England area was affected. While the power was out, Rasmina and her companion joined the missionaries at the mission office. They lit candles and sang hymns and prayed. Once the water levels had dropped, she got on a train and headed back to the Salt Lake City. Members from her San Diego, California branch, who were attending General Conference, met her in Utah and drove her back to San Diego where she “had a grand reunion with my family.”

David Chappuis

Where did you serve your mission?: taipei Taiwan

Years served?: 1991-1993

Mission Summary: Serving in Taiwan was one of the best experiences I have ever had. working with the people in Taiwan was incredible and seeing them grow and accept the gospel was an amazing feeling. Learning Mandarin Chinese was not as difficult as I thought and what a joy it was to finally get to the point where I was able to teach without help in Chinese.

What was a typical “day in the life” like in your mission?: Every morning it was early to rise for studies and daily preparation then off to the local breakfast shop for a huge glass of soy bean milk or peanut milk and a “dan bing” (tortilla and egg) or two. After breakfast we hit the road on our trusty bicycles to teach and find those ready, or not, to hear the gospel. We ate almost every meal in little food shops and street vendors because it was so cheap but it also kept us out on the road. Rain or shine we were out among the people and traffic on our bikes. After a long day it was back to the apartment for some needed R&R as well as more studying.

What is the most important lesson you learned on your mission?: Having never been outside the US it was a real wake up call for me. But one fact hit me and that was no matter where we are the gospel is true. It does not need to change to fit the culture or area. I taught the same undeniable truth to everyone and in the process cemented my own testimony.

What advice do you have to young people preparing to be a missionary?: You can never be too prepared to start as soon as possible. No matter where you go you were called by God to serve in that mission so embrace it and be happy. Serve with an open mind to the culture, area, people and FOOD. Rely on the Lord and you will accomplish everything you need to.

Your testimony and/or anything else you want to say about your mission.: My mission was a true converting experience for me. I know the gospel is true and that Jesus is the Christ. I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to serve a mission and teach the people the gospel.

Jimmy Smith

Website/Blog: MormonMissionPrep.com

Where did you serve your mission?: Rosario, Argentina

Years served?: 1995-1997

Mission Summary: My mission was a wonder experience. I grew in ways that otherwise would not have happened. My mission was not easy, in fact it was quite challenging at times. But during my mission, I grew closer to the Lord, I learned to rely on His Spirit to guide me, and my testimony of my Savior and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ became strengthened.

During my mission I was able to meet, teach, and baptize many individuals and families. Finding people who are eager to learn the gospel, and teaching them the truths of eternity brought me great joy. In fact there is no greater happiness that to see a family enter into the waters of baptism, then continue on the gospel path that will lead to eternal life.

What was a typical “day in the life” like in your mission?: It has been so many years now since my mission, so I don’t remember all the details of our schedule. Throughout my mission, I usually got up a half hour early, around 6am or so, to so some extra language studying. In the morning, of course, we had breakfast and got ready, and then we did some scripture study. We generally were out the door by 9am, for appointments or contacting (door knocking or street contacting). In Argentina, our meal appointments, if we had any, were for lunch. After lunch, the Argentine’s generally took a ciesta (nap), so we used that time for companionship study. Around 3 or so, we’d go back out for more appointments and contacting. We’d work generally until 9 or 9:30pm, have a little dinner and planning session, and then go to bed and start it all over again the next day.

What is the most important lesson you learned on your mission?: I learned so many lessons:
• to endure to the end (and endure well)
• to rely on the Lord in all things
• to be patient
• to be prayerful in all things
• to exercise faith

What advice do you have to young people preparing to be a missionary?: My website, MormonMissionPrep.com, is full of advice I have for future missionaries.

Your testimony and/or anything else you want to say about your mission.: I know that we are children of a Heavenly Father. God our Eternal Father loves us. He sent His son to show us the way. Jesus Christ is the Savior. He died for our sins, and he rose again on the third day. He lives today and guides our Church through a living prophet. Joseph Smith truly was a prophet, and the Book of Mormon is the word of God. The priesthood has been restored, and the keys of the priesthood are only found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I know these things are true, and I know the world needs to know these truths. The gospel of Jesus Christ blesses lives. If you believe these things to be true, the Lord needs you to be part of His missionary force. May the Lord bless you in your mission preparation and in your missionary service.

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