My Sister, a Mission, and Me

by Tory C. Anderson

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    First-Place Fiction

    “Missions are fine for some people, bishop, but not for me. I’ve been out with the missionaries, and all the good we did was to relieve some people’s frustrations by letting them slam a door in our face, and someone else threw a beer can at us. Now what good is that? If you ask me, bishop, I’ll do the world a lot more good by getting through school and becoming a doctor. Besides, if I went on a mission I would lose my scholarship.”

    The bishop sat calmly through my whole speech. I don’t know how he could be so calm, because he had heard this speech twice before. He just leaned back in his chair, sighed softly, and said good naturedly, “You are stubborn, aren’t you? Well, I’ve done everything I can to help you understand how important a mission is, but the final decision is yours and I guess you have made it. If anything changes your mind,” he added with a smile, “be sure to tell me.”

    “If anything can change my mind, you will be the first to know.”

    I saw my friend Ted sitting underneath a tree in the middle of the church lawn as I walked outside. I walked over to where he was and sat down beside him. Neither one of us spoke for a moment, but then Ted said, “So, what happened?”

    “It was just the same old speech by both of us. He told me to let him know if I changed my mind,” I said with a chuckle.

    “Maybe you will.”

    “Now come on, Ted. You know me better than that. Nothing could make me change my mind.”

    “All I know is that the bishop is pretty inspired sometimes.”

    “We’ll see,” I said confidently. “Come on, let’s go home.”

    The early spring air was still a bit cool, but it felt good blowing through my hair. The budding maple trees on the side of the street disappeared behind us one by one as we passed by.

    Ted and I had grown up together. We lived just a few houses apart on the same street. He had just recently decided that he was going to go on a mission. He would be leaving soon after graduation, which was in a few months. It really made me feel bad that we wouldn’t be rooming together at college like we had originally planned.

    When we reached Ted’s house, we both sat down on his porch steps for a minute.

    “Hey, Ted,” I said, “after you eat dinner do you want to go to the creek and see if any water snakes are out yet, just for old times’ sake?”

    “I’d like to, but I’m going home teaching after dinner.”

    “Well, then, I guess I’ll see you at school in the morning.”

    I jogged on up to my house and ran into the kitchen just in time to hear the “amen” of the blessing on the food. My mom and dad and little sister greeted me as I sat down. I knew they were all wondering how my talk with the bishop had turned out. Of course, I had discussed it with my parents before. They had encouraged me strongly to go on a mission but had always let me know that it was my decision. Just so they wouldn’t ask me any uncomfortable questions now at dinner, I hinted at what happened by remarking how I would miss Mom’s cooking while I was at college. I knew they were hurt and disappointed, but the bishop was right when he said I was stubborn.

    After dinner I helped Mom with the dishes. Through the kitchen window I could see the hay fields behind the house and the creek which lay beyond. It looked so nice outside that I thought I would walk down by the creek even if Ted couldn’t go. After the dishes were done, I changed my clothes and started walking across the empty hay fields. The sun was warm on my back, and the air was cool and clean. It really made me feel good. When I got to the creek I lay down on my belly in a patch of tall grass. The bank where I was lying was about three feet higher than the creek and was eroded quite badly. I just lay there soaking in the sun and listening to the forlorn call of the mourning doves. The sound of the moving water lulled the thoughts of a mission and the bishop out of my mind. I had almost forgotten about my original idea of walking along the creek to look for water snakes and was almost asleep when I felt something wet and slippery slide up my pant leg. Now I know it isn’t manly to scream, but I’m no John Wayne, and I let out a yelp and leaped forward. The eroded bank gave way, and I tumbled into the creek. That water was really cold. Not wanting to impose on the snake’s territory, I quickly waded ashore and climbed back up the bank to level ground. I was surprised to see a girl my age with a concerned look on her face standing there watching me.

    “Are you all right? Here, take my jacket. You must be freezing.”

    Hesitantly I took her jacket, wrapped it around me, and then sat down in the sun to rest and dry off.

    “I hope you will forgive me. I didn’t mean to scare you that bad.”

    From the confused look on my face she must have gathered that I didn’t understand what she was talking about, so she went on to explain.

    “I saw you lying there and I wanted to talk to you, but I didn’t know if you were asleep, so I touched your leg with this stick I pulled out of the creek. You were awake all right,” she said with a giggle.

    My face went kind of red. “I thought it was a snake. There’s a lot of them around here, you know. Anyway, who are you?”

    “I’m Susan Ward. My dad and I moved into that red brick house about a half mile up the road yesterday.”

    “Just you and your dad?”

    “My mom died a few months ago in a car accident. There were too many memories of her in the old house, so we moved.”

    “I’m sorry,” I said. We both sat quietly for a moment. I threw a couple of rocks into the creek. Then I changed the subject.

    “Are you in high school?”

    “Yes, I’m a junior this year. I’m kind of nervous about going to school tomorrow. I don’t know anybody there.”

    “I can understand that.” I thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t want to sound forward, but I would be happy to pick you up and take you to school tomorrow and show you around to your classes.” Then I added, “Just don’t tell anyone how we met.”

    She smiled. “That would be nice, and I won’t say a word.”

    “I’ll pick you up at eight.”

    We talked a little longer, and then because of my shivering I decided I’d better go home and change clothes, so we said good-bye and went our separate ways.

    My family had a hard time finding out how I got all wet and muddy. When they finally pried the truth out of me they had a good laugh.

    Later that night I was in bed reading when my little sister tiptoed into my room.

    “Hi, Chad.”

    “Hi, Sara. What are you still doing up?”

    Sara is eight years old. She has sandy hair and blue eyes. And she and I are good buddies.

    “I couldn’t sleep. Besides, I wanted to talk to you.”

    “So, what’s on your mind?”

    “Did you catch a cold or anything from falling in the creek?”

    “Nope. I’m fine.”

    Sara sat there playing with her toes for a moment. Then she looked up at me and asked, “What does Susan look like?”

    I leaned back and thought for a minute, trying to picture her in my mind.

    “Oh, Susan is a lot shorter than me. She has short, brown hair with threads of red in it. She has big brown eyes and a cute little nose.”

    “She sounds pretty.”

    “She is. Kind of spunky, too,” I added thoughtfully.

    “Is Susan a Mormon?”

    “I don’t think so.”

    “Then are you going to convert her?”

    Sara was looking me right in the eye when she asked that question. I don’t think I would have felt any more uncomfortable if it had been a General Authority who had asked me.

    “Uh, well, maybe. What makes you think that Susan would be interested in the Church?” I was trying to put Sara on the spot just like she had done to me, but she answered quickly and sincerely.

    “Don’t you think that she would like to be able to live with her family and Heavenly Father forever if she could, just like you and me?”

    Now my bishop had given me all kinds of reasons for being a missionary and I had always been able to come up with excuses, but it was different coming from my little sister. All I could say to her statement was, “Yeah, I guess she would.”

    “Well, I’m tired now. I better go to bed.” With that she reached over and gave me a hug and then disappeared out my bedroom door.

    Leave it to my little sister to find my conscience. In her simple way she had made missionary work sound important. I didn’t sleep very well that night.

    I picked up Susan a little early the next morning so I would have time to show her where her classes would be. It ended up that she was in my chemistry class. I have seminary last period in the seminary building across the street from the high school. Susan must have seen me come out of it after class, because when I was taking her home she asked me what class I had in that building. I told her that it was seminary, which is a religion class for my church. When I told her that, I remembered my talk with Sara last night and thought, “Here’s my chance to see if Susan wants to know about the Church.” It took a minute to build up nerve, but finally I asked, “Are you interested at all in religion?”

    Susan stiffened up a little when I asked that question. She answered curtly, “No, I’m not. I used to believe in God until he took my mother away. But not anymore.”

    I was embarrassed and scared to say anything else. Every time I do something to try to spread the gospel people get mad. It’s good I’m not going on a mission, I thought.

    I continued to pick Susan up and take her to school for a week. By then she had made some girl friends and they took over. After that I didn’t see Susan much except in chemistry. We were lab partners, and we had a lot of fun working together. She never let me forget about the snake and the creek. I never forgot about the religion discussion we had in the car, but I never brought it up again.

    It wasn’t long after that short discussion that Sara asked me if I had told Susan about the Church yet. I told her what happened in the car, thinking she would be satisfied with my attempt. All she said was, “You just approached her the wrong way.”

    I was a little irritated that Sara thought she knew more than me. “Then show me how you would approach her,” I said.

    “Okay,” she said, walking to the phone. “Tell me her number, and I will show you.”

    Her seriousness surprised me. “No way. You just tell me how you would do it.”

    “You are just a scaredy-cat,” she said accusingly. With that she stomped out of the room. I wanted to argue more with her, but I knew she was right. I was a scaredy-cat.

    About three weeks before graduation, Ted and I decided to have a party at my house. We invited ten friends of ours and told them to bring dates. I had a hard time finding a date. I called a couple of girls from my ward, but both of them were busy that night. I didn’t know it, but my little sister was sitting outside my bedroom listening to me trying to get a date. After my second strike she stuck her head through the doorway and said, “Ask Susan.”

    I usually get after Sara when she listens to me talking on the phone, but this time her suggestion caught my attention first. “Well, I guess I could.”

    “Do it. Then maybe you could talk to her about the Church again.”

    “Sara, this will be a party, not Sunday School.”

    “But you never know what might come up …”

    I cut her off. “Maybe, but I don’t want you saying anything about religion to her unless she asks. Okay?” I said that because I knew Susan wouldn’t ask.

    “Okay,” my sister said with a shrug.

    I didn’t trust her.

    I did call Susan and was excited when she said that she would like to come.

    The night of the party came, and so did all of my friends and their dates. We had a barbecue out back and then went down in the family room and played some games. After the games, Susan and some of the other girls went upstairs to the kitchen to fix some banana splits. Since I was the host, I went up after them to see if they could find all of the things they needed. When I got to the kitchen I found all of the girls working on the banana splits except Susan. “Where’s Susan?” I asked.

    “I think she is in the front room with your little sister,” answered one of the girls.

    “Oh no,” I thought as I walked to the front room. Sure enough, there was Susan sitting next to my little sister, who was in her nightgown. They had the big book on the temples in their laps. I was in the process of giving my sister a “You are in big trouble” look when Susan said in a serious voice, “I asked your little sister about that cross-stitch picture on the wall that says ‘Families are Forever,’ and she was just showing me these temples and telling me how families can get that way.”

    Sara just smiled at me.

    “Your sister was telling me that I could be with my mother again someday. Is that true?”

    “Yes, it is,” I managed to say.

    Susan sat there quietly thinking, and I stood there quietly wondering what to say next when Sara mouthed out the words, “The missionaries.”

    I don’t know how I did it, but I heard the words coming out of my mouth, “Would you like to come back tomorrow night and talk to a couple of young men who could tell you a lot more about how families can be forever?”

    I was getting ready for another rejection when Susan answered excitedly, “Yes, I would. Could my father come, too?”

    I was too shocked to answer, but my sister spoke up. “Yes, that would be great!” I couldn’t believe this was happening. I don’t remember what happened the rest of the night except that when I got back from taking Susan home I found Sara lying asleep on my bed. I picked her up gently and carried her to her room. As I tucked her into bed I thought of the scripture, “Except ye … become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).

    I wanted to wake Sara up and tell her I was sorry for being so afraid of being a missionary, but instead I kissed her on the cheek and went to my own room.

    Three weeks after Susan and her father had their first discussion, they were baptized. I had the honor and privilege of baptizing Susan, and my father baptized her father. My heart did a lot of changing during those three weeks. I guess while the Spirit was converting Susan and her father, it was also doing a little work on me. It wasn’t until I heard Susan’s father bear his testimony after his baptism that my heart was totally changed. This is part of what he said:

    “I could become a millionaire, or I could become famous, but nothing greater could happen to me than to have the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and know that I have the opportunity to live with my Heavenly Father and my family forever.”

    Then I understood fully how 18 months spent on a mission could do more good than 50 years as a doctor. After the closing prayer my little sister came up to me, gave me a big hug, and said, “Missionary work is worth it, isn’t it?” A tear rolled down my cheek as I nodded. Then I said, “Let’s find the bishop. I have something to tell him.”

    Photos by Grant Heaton