In 1978, 15,860 Latter-day Saints received a prophet’s call to serve a mission. Of that number, thousands were young people—talented young people—who set aside college, sports, music, and numerous other activities. Some left without a backward glance confident that after the mission they would be able to continue where they had stopped; others left with mixed feelings—anxious to serve the Lord and spread the gospel, yet wondering if that two years away would be the end to a very important part of their lives.
Lance Reynolds can understand that feeling. Football had become an important part of his life at an early age, beginning with children’s football teams. He played for the team at Granite High School in Salt Lake City and was chosen to be on the team of top players of the region when he was 16 years old. He was selected to the top team in the state and again to the top team of the region.
The year Lance entered Brigham Young University was the first year that first year students were allowed to play on the first (top) team representing a university, and he played with the varsity football team enough to win a school letter. His second year he was on the starting team, and his third year promised to be a great one—he would have been the only player in his position on the team returning. But it was time for Lance to go on his mission, and although he had always planned to go, the final decision was a difficult one to make.
“At the time,” he remembers, “leaving on a mission seemed like the end of all hopes for a football career.” It seemed like a choice between football and a mission. He chose the mission.
Five years and a professional contract later, Lance no longer feels that you have to make a choice. “Why not do both?” he asks. “Young students and athletes don’t have to ‘give up’ things to go on a mission—only postpone them for two years.”
And he should know. Having kept himself in good physical condition during his mission by exercising during personal time (before 6:30 A.M.) and watching his weight, Lance was able on his return to slip back into his uniform and the game with ease. Within two weeks he felt at home on the field. The following season he was on the starting team at BYU. His fourth year he was honored by the Western Athletic Conference, received All-American honorable mention, and was chosen by the Pittsburgh Steelers, a top professional football team. He is now playing with the Philadelphia Eagles football team.
Swimming, like football, is not a mission activity, yet Mark McGregor knew he must stop swimming for the entire two years of his mission. A freestyle swimmer on the BYU swim team, Mark had every intention of returning to the team, and he kept in good physical condition by following the exercises outlined in the missionary physical fitness program, along with an arm exercise especially for swimmers.
In high school Mark had been selected high school All-American. The year prior to his mission he set the BYU school record and won the Western Athletic Conference championship in the 200- and the 500-meter freestyle. While he was gone, his record for the 200 meter was broken.
“The hard part about being away from swimming,” says Coach Tim Powers, “is that the records get faster while you’re away.” Mark couldn’t just come back and regain his old speed—he had to do better. And he is, doing better much to the inspiration of fellow teammates who are considering going on missions. Since returning, he has rewon the school record for the 200 meter freestyle and broken his old record in the 500 meter (although that school record is now held by teammate John Sorwich). Mark has another year at BYU, and he and his coach are looking forward to what it will bring.
Another athlete, Ed Maisey, a returned missionary from the Korea Seoul Mission, had a rather unique experience—he wrestled his way into discussions! At one time Ed was assigned to work on a military base. The missionaries were not allowed to actively proselyte on the base, although they could teach the gospel if approached. Ed became the assistant coach to the high school wrestling team, and through this contact met many people who later received the discussions.
While in Seoul he was introduced to Olympic medalist Yong Jung Mo. They became friends, and Ed worked out with Mr. Yong and the national team. As thrilling as that must have been, though, Ed contends that his most rewarding experiences were in proselyting. Wrestling was simply another tool for opening doors.
Ed earned many championships following his mission: Unfortunately, he suffered a dislocated shoulder during the National Collegiate Athletic Association finals. He still did exceptionally well, according to Ben Ohai, his assistant coach. During the round in which he was injured while wrestling the defending champion, the score was 11-14. He took sixth in the nation.
Ed was selected BYU student athlete of the year for 1978–79 and entered Nebraska’s dental school this fall as a National Collegiate Athletic Association post-graduate scholar.
Do these athletes feel that they are better for having served a mission? The answer is unanimous—yes! As Mark McGregor put it, “There are many similarities between the mission field and athletics, especially regarding the mental attitude. A positive mental attitude is imperative in both. I learned a lot about what it takes to gain this positive mental attitude in the mission field, and it has had a beneficial effect on my swimming.”
Lance feels he gained in intensity, concentration, and self-control. And all three felt an increased confidence upon returning to their sport.
Although some missionaries do return and do not continue in sports, it is usually due to a change in interests rather than inability. Ed, Mark, and Lance are convinced that any athlete who serves a mission will be able to regain his previous ability upon diligently applying himself.
And even if that were not the case, Lance wouldn’t have missed his mission for anything. “I would trade all of my athletic experiences for the opportunity of going on a mission,” he insists.
Kendall Bean is a concert pianist who has been playing since the age of four. During high school he frequently performed with the high school orchestra and appeared as soloist in performances of Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto and Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin. He appeared in the Northern California Junior Bach Festival two years in a row, and in 1971 played a solo in the Tabernacle with the Mormon Youth Symphony as the winner in the MIA Young Artists Festival. During 1974 he held a solo recital at BYU, won the Wakefield Award for piano performance and appeared in the Stellar Student Temple Hill Organ Recital Series.
Kendall was doing very well, and it is understandable that he had second thoughts about leaving it behind. While he was at the Mission Training Center, he found himself worrying that the Lord wouldn’t want him to pursue music after his mission. He wondered if he would have to live a completely different life-style, and if so, what his friends would think.
Kendall was fortunate to be writing to a friend who was very encouraging and supportive. “She told me that now wasn’t the time to worry about such things, and in essence, that it was only a tool of the adversary to keep me from the work I was supposed to do. She wrote that if I would serve the Lord with all my might, mind, and strength at this time in my life, when the time came to make these important decisions, I would be entitled to his help and assistance.”
As it happened, Kendall’s worries were unfounded. The Lord didn’t want him to give up music; to the contrary, Kendall and other missionaries with musical ability were able to use their talents as a missionary tool. Proselyting activities in his mission included open houses and recitals to which many nonmembers came.
Kendall and others were amazed to find that they could practice adequately for these recitals in only an hour or two during free time while the others were playing basketball. “I found that the Lord preserved this talent for me throughout those two years, and it was there when I needed it. Usually, no one would even have considered doing a recital with such little preparation, but when we dedicate ourselves to the Lord, we can do marvelous things.”
The year after Kendall returned home, he played a solo with the Utah Symphony Orchestra and took second place in the Utah State Fair piano competition and in the state of Utah at the Utah Music Teachers Association competitions. (Incidentally, the person who took first place in both instances was Mack Wilberg, another returned missionary.) Kendall is presently director of the Young Adult Stake Choir in El Cerrito, California. He has received a scholarship for graduate study in music at the University of Texas at Austin.
Occasionally students (or their parents) worry about the effect a mission will have on their studies. To some it may seem contradictory that a church which places so much emphasis on education sends young people on missions at the ages of 19 or 21—ages at which they are deeply involved in preparing for their futures.
Encouragingly enough, college transcripts indicate that returned missionaries are almost inevitably better students than they were before. Gerrit Gong, a Rhodes scholar who was an excellent student before his mission, feels that this is true of himself as well, and he suggests several reasons why it is so.
In a direct way he feels that missions can improve study habits, concentration in academic work, and motivation to study. Indirectly, but perhaps more importantly, missions provide opportunities to deal with a wide range of human experiences, to broaden one’s perspective and understanding of the world around him, and to increase one’s desire to learn about that world.
“Studying with a purpose to bless others,” he adds, “is one reason so many returned missionaries find their schooling after their missions so much more meaningful.”
Gerrit sees no dichotomy between a mission and education, or a mission and future opportunities. In fact, he feels it is a mistake to “separate education and missions in our lives rather than integrating the spirit of learning for eternity and the spirit of missionary service which are as inseparable in our lives as faith and works.”
For him a mission was no hindrance, either to his education or other future opportunities. He considers it the first practical step in discovering what those opportunities might become.
When James R. Heap accepted his mission call, he was well aware of the years of college, medical school, and residency lying ahead. Still, he wasn’t worried that a mission break would hinder him professionally. Upon returning home he quickly made up for “lost” time. After three years of college he was accepted to medical school—the first year of medical school was applied to his graduation requirements—and he became a doctor of medicine at the age of 26, the same age as many others who had gone straight through. (Incidentally, he was serving in the branch presidency of a student branch at the time.) He then took a three-year residency at Scott Air Force Base Medical Center in Illinois and is presently established as a family practice specialist in Phoenix, Arizona.
During those years of internship and residency, he continued his Church service, fulfilling many responsible callings, among them executive secretary, Sunday School teacher, and high councilor.
Dr. Heap feels that his mission contributed in a large way to his success as a physician. When he returned to college, he found that his capacity for learning, and the speed with which he did it, were increased. More importantly, devoting his time and talents to full-time missionary work brought about an increased love and concern for others. “Intelligence alone is not enough,” he maintains. “Intelligence plus a Christlike love for mankind is the perfect combination for a successful and respected physician.”
In addition to his present responsibilities as husband, father of five, and physician, Dr. Heap still finds time to serve as the ward music chairman, ward organist and choir accompanist, family relations teacher, and temple preparation seminar teacher. He has done more, at the relatively young age of 30, than many do in a lifetime.
How does he manage it, one might wonder.
“The more I give, the more I’m blessed and the more I’m able to do effectively,” he answers. “Happiness has come into my life through service to my God, my family, and my fellowmen.”
Dr. Heap, Kendall, and many like them have discovered the principle set forth in Matthew 19:29:
“And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” [Matt. 19:29]
Are you thinking of going on a mission? Do it. You have nothing to lose … and lots to gain.