I just flew home from Utah, completely exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. Yesterday was one of the highlights of my life – I put my first of four sons in the Missionary Training Center, heretoafter known as the MTC. I knew it was going to be both brutal and fantastic. I came prepared with a purse full of tissue and a prayer in my heart that I would be strong and not collapse in a heap of pitiful tears in front of my son and the entire MTC. When my husband, son and I drove up to the MTC we were excited to see scores of soon-to-be-missionaries and their families pouring onto the grounds. We later learned that 256 missionaries were to enter that day. We followed the signs to the special parking area which was reserved for new missionary families. There was a palpable air of excitement. My son said, “This seems so unreal!” His big day had finally arrived. We had talked about it, prayed about, saved for it, and even sung about it his entire life and now it was finally happening. We stopped at the cross-walk with a few other families and I couldn’t help but ask, “Elders! Where are you going?” We quickly met one young man going to Washington DC, another going to Switzerland, and another going to Bulgaria. At the other side of the cross-walk we played cameraman for each other next to the famous Missionary Training Center sign. Every time another missionary walked by I’d shout out the same question and get an excited “Hong Kong! Brazil! New York!” It was so exciting to watch the ranks of God’s newest army file in. It has been 23 years since I entered the MTC myself, headed for the Spain, Madrid mission. So many wonderful feelings came flooding back into my mind and I wished I could join these new missionaries and do it all over again. What a privilege it was to be a full-time missionary for the Lord. The instant we stepped foot on MTC soil we were greeted by at least a dozen smiling volunteers, directing the way we should go. We first dropped off my son’s luggage in the designated spot and took more pictures next to each landmark we deemed important and/or entertaining, such as the famous “Missionaries on Bikes” statue. We then walked to the front doors of the MTC where signs directed the parents to enter one door and the missionaries to enter a different one. I stopped dead in my tracks, saying, “Wait! We have to say goodbye already?” Another volunteer kindly explained the separation was only for 30 seconds so the missionaries could register and get their name tags. I was relieved and grateful I didn’t have to use my year’s supply of tissue hidden in my purse yet. Once inside, my son was given his first official name tag with a big red dot on it, indicating to all within a square mile that he was a “Greenie,” in other words, he was a brand new missionary! We were told that it was tradition for a loved one to put his name tag on. The thought of that significant deed was too emotional for me to handle so I let my husband do the honors while I caught the historical moment on video. We wandered around the lobby taking pictures for a while and then finally went to the chapel just down the hall where some of those touching “Mormonad” commercials were playing…as if we weren’t teary-eyed enough already! Between commercials short slides were shown that shared interesting statistics about the MTC and missions around the world. The chattering crowd quickly quieted down as the MTC 1st Counselor greeted us and began the meeting. I was doing great until he invited us to sing the traditional missionary hymn “Called To Serve.” That’s when the tissues first made their appearance. I remember singing that song in Spanish in the MTC so many years ago, surrounded by a sea of enthusiastic and humble missionaries who were preparing to go forth unto every nation. Everyone always sang in their mission language, resulting in an awesome “Day of Pentecost” sensation. My heart couldn’t handle the immense joy I felt to be able to bring my own son to this sacred place and have the same spiritual, life-changing experiences. What an honor it was to be there again in the midst of these fishers of men. The MTC President, his wife, his counselor and his wife all spoke loving words of advice and comfort and then they showed us a sweet video of missionaries going all over the world to serve. The moment of separation finally arrived as the 1st Counselor suggested the wisdom of what he called “the Bandaid Technique” for saying goodbye: it’s less painful to do it quickly. Many tears were shed and loving words spoken as we hugged our wonderful missionary good-bye. A true bitter-sweet moment. I’ve never been so proud of him as I was that moment. He was well-prepared and anxious to serve. Thoughts raced through my mind of when my son was first placed in my arms and I fell in love with his sweet little face. What a privilege it has been to be his mother and watch his life unfold to this very moment. The MTC President shared a scripture with us that I will keep in my heart during the next two years. It is found in Doctrine and Covenants 6:20 which says
“Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love.”
He assured us parents that as our missionary was leaving our arms, he was entering the arms of the Savior. There is no better place to be.