From my seat in the choir, I was enjoying the reverence during the sacrament in our ward in Provo, Utah, one Sunday morning in 2001. Glancing down at my husband, Doug, in the congregation, I felt a wave of gratitude sweep over me, both for him and for our peaceful, fulfilling life. We had had our share of trials, but still we had been blessed with a wonderful family, all of whom lived nearby; we loved our work; we enjoyed our lovely home; and we were surrounded by loving friends. It was a comfortable life.
As I mentally counted my blessings, an impression of the Spirit interrupted my thoughts so suddenly it startled me. “You have a year to prepare, and then you need to go.” I hadn’t heard the word mission, but I was certain it was implied. We always knew we would serve a mission someday but hadn’t decided when. At 66, Doug was semiretired and enjoying his hobbies. At 62, I was still actively writing music and enjoying life with our children and grandchildren. A mission still seemed a few years away.
Later at home I asked Doug if he had had any particular spiritual prompting during sacrament meeting, but he said, “Nothing unusual.” When I related my experience, he smiled and said: “That is the answer to my prayer. I’ve just been waiting for you to feel the time is right.” I knew our lives were about to change.
Our bishop confirmed that “a year to prepare” seemed about right. We had concerns about leaving some family members, but after praying about it, we felt the Lord would facilitate some things for our children in our absence that might not happen in our presence. Our decision was now firm, and we began preparing to leave home for 18 months.
Doug is a linguist and fluent in several languages, including Russian, French, and Italian, so I realized we could be sent anywhere in the world. When our call came to serve in the Chile Santiago West Mission and preach the gospel in Spanish, we felt an instant confirmation that our call was right.
Saying good-bye to our family was difficult, but buoyed by the Spirit we boarded our plane for the long flight to Chile. There to greet us at the Santiago airport were our wonderful mission president and his wife, Ole and Dena Smith. We were their first senior couple, and President Smith said we were a test case and we’d learn together. The next day the Smiths drove us to our assigned area, the city of Talagante, Chile, 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Santiago. They took us to our new apartment, helped us get settled, gave us a hug and a prayer, then left us alone to ponder our new adventure. We held hands a little tighter that night as we prayed in a new and more heartfelt way.
It’s a humbling experience to leave behind your family, your friends, your home, your language, and the conveniences and comforts you’ve grown accustomed to. Almost no one we met spoke English, and I could not understand a word of Spanish, nor could I speak to the Chileans. Spanish hadn’t been one of Doug’s fluent languages, but he had been reading it on his own for many years. His facility with the language saved us. For the first three months we had no car, so we walked everywhere, often in cold rain, learning our way around the city and locating less-active members we wanted to visit.
In the first months of our mission I devoted long hours to language study, experiencing some discouraging moments as I came to the realization that it was not going to happen for me as fast as it did for the young missionaries. Gradually, encouraged by the warm-hearted Chilean Saints, the young elders and sisters, and a caring mission president and his wife, we began to find our niche and put our hearts into our missionary service.
At the stake president’s request we organized a stake choir and found the members eager to sing and learn more about music. The only music we had in Spanish was from the hymnbook, so I began making hymn arrangements for the choir, which Doug directed. The Chilean members had sung unaccompanied for so long it was difficult at first to get everyone singing together, but they progressed rapidly, and it was a sweet experience. My heart melted when, after our fifth or sixth rehearsal, one sister in the choir asked in all sincerity, “Hermana Perry, are we as good as the Tabernacle Choir yet?”
The members were also eager to learn to conduct and accompany the hymns correctly, so we began teaching the Church’s basic music course that is designed to enable students with no previous experience to play simplified hymns in a few weeks or months. We also found great joy in visiting less-active members and encouraging them to come back to church. As we prayed and sang hymns with them and bore testimony in their homes, we felt the warmth of the Spirit in a whole new way, and we desired to feel it often.
Doug received a call to serve as first counselor in a new district presidency and enjoyed his close association with these dedicated brethren who had a special commission to train new leaders in the branches. He was fluent in Spanish now, and I was at least making steady progress. At the beginning of our mission we often wondered, “How can we fill this day with worthwhile activities?” but after a few months we began to wonder, “How can we fit everything in?”
Some sacrifices definitely tugged at our heartstrings. We weren’t there when our oldest two grandsons were ordained deacons, but Doug was asked to ordain two handsome twins to the office of priest in the Aaronic Priesthood. We missed Thanksgiving with our family, but we cooked a Thanksgiving meal in our apartment for the 16 missionaries in our zone. We missed a grandchild’s baptism, but we gathered around the baptismal font often to witness the baptisms of humble new Chilean Latter-day Saints. For every melancholy moment we received a sweet compensation.
So many experiences from our mission will live in our minds and hearts forever: hearing a 50-year-old brother pray for the first time; seeing a little family of four return to full activity in the Church and serve in responsible positions; feeling the sincere love and friendship of the Chilean Saints; seeing Doug give and receive blessings that brought miraculous healings. We were happiest on days when we were bone tired from losing ourselves in service and finding ourselves in a whole new and meaningful way.
Missions aren’t for wimps, we learned, and I might have been one at first. But you grow through the experience. The thought often came to us that we needed a hundred more couples in our mission to make a dent in activation work alone, but we were the only ones.
We pledged to each other to finish well. And it was a joy to do it with my dear companion, whom I love and respect more deeply now because of our service, our trials, and our moments of pure joy as a missionary couple. We wouldn’t have missed this sanctifying experience “for the world.”