I first heard the captivating charge at a devotional at Provo’s Missionary Training Center (MTC). “Bloom where you are planted,” urged Sister Pat Pinegar, the MTC president’s wife, to a sea of attentive missionaries. I relished the counsel, grateful to have been called on a Spanish-speaking mission to San Jose, California—a fertile garden, I assumed, where anyone could bloom.
But the blooming I’d so eagerly expected didn’t come so easily. Shortly after our arrival in San Jose, my MTC companion, Sister Buttars, and I discovered that we were an experiment of sorts. We were the first Spanish-speaking sisters in our mission. After one month with different companions, Sister Buttars and I were transferred to a small Spanish branch at the southern end of the mission.
Salinas resembled a small bit of Mexico. In our first fumbling attempts to speak Spanish and to get acquainted with the people and culture, we felt helpless and conspicuous. But knowing we’d been sent to bloom, we worked hard to prepare the ground for an eventual harvest.
We ate cactus soup and pigs’ feet, gave driving lessons, planned branch activities, translated for the telephone company, and served those around us in various ways. In the process, we began to understand the language better and see the people in a true light. Their hearts were humble and pure, and we rejoiced when flickers of testimony led to glorious baptisms.
The little branch began to grow, and so did our testimonies. We were always exhausted after a day’s work, and yet we felt full and complete. The members finally stopped asking where the real missionaries were, and we stopped praying for new “gardens.”
But after six months in Salinas, I was transferred to Sunnyvale. A large branch with devoted members and loving leadership, stable jobs for the people, no cactus—it was the garden I’d once dreamed of. I bloomed there, too, but part of my heart was in Salinas, my refiner’s fire.
For the last two months of my mission, I was transferred back to Salinas to train a new sister missionary. Nothing could have felt more right. In my last zone meeting, I overheard two missionaries talking about how a change of companions or areas would help bring them the greater success they desired. At that moment I was grateful I hadn’t reserved my best efforts for a “perfect” garden.
Now my mission is over and Salinas is many miles away. But my favorite motto, “Bloom where you are planted,” still motivates me to bloom in any garden—fertile or not—to which life’s changing path leads me.