I was in college, had a good part-time job, and was engaged to be married within a few months. My life was exciting, and the future looked bright.
I was surprised when my stake president approached me one Sunday morning. He said, “The Lord wants you to serve a mission.” I felt powerfully impressed that this was a call from God. I acted upon that impression and immediately committed myself to serve.
I was called to serve in the Southern States Mission, and I began my preparation with difficult tasks. I quit my job, left the university, postponed my wedding two years, and said good-bye to my loved ones. It seemed that I was leaving everyone and everything that mattered to me.
I traveled by train many hours with missionary companions to Atlanta, Georgia. Two missionaries picked us up and drove us to meet the mission president. He greeted me for a few moments and then told me that I must leave immediately by bus to Montgomery, Alabama, where I would be given instructions about my field of labor. The same elders who had picked me up took me to the bus station and handed me a piece of paper with an address on it. They told me that the missionaries in Montgomery would tell me what to do.
I walked tentatively into the bus station, bought a ticket, and boarded the bus. It was getting dark, and I began to feel very alone. I found an empty seat next to a window and tried to ignore the growing discouragement from not knowing where I was going, whom I would be with, or what I would do.
When the bus driver took his seat, he stared at me in the rearview mirror. He walked to where I was sitting and shouted, “What are you trying to do, boy?” I was shocked that he would shout at me with all the people on the bus watching. I had no idea why he was angry. I barely whispered, “I’m just riding the bus.”
He yelled, “Are you trying to start something here?” He pointed to a white line on the floor of the bus that I hadn’t noticed before. He told me to sit in front of that line or he would put me off the bus. I was terrified and moved immediately. I did not know, until much later, that in those days white lines divided the areas where white and black people could sit. There had been a lot of dissension in the southern United States over segregation of whites and blacks, and the bus driver thought I was trying to start a protest.
I rode for several hours, huddled in the bus, trying to fight off fear, loneliness, and embarrassment. By the time I reached Montgomery, my trembling hands could hardly lift my suitcases. The bus arrived late at night, so the bus station was almost empty, and no one was there to meet me. The only information I had was the address the missionaries had given me in Atlanta. I had no idea how to find the address.
I awakened a taxi driver sleeping in his taxi and asked if he could take me to the address on the paper. He was irritated. He told me how much it would cost, and I promised to pay the fee, even though it seemed very expensive. He drove me fewer than 100 yards (90 m) and announced, “This is it!” The driver demanded his fee and left me and my suitcases in front of a small white house.
The house was dark. I carried my suitcases to the porch and knocked on the door. Nobody came. I knocked more loudly. After a few minutes, a sleepy-eyed missionary opened the door.
“Who are you?” he asked.
When I told him who I was and why I was there, he said that he didn’t know I was coming, and he didn’t invite me in. I apologized and told him I was doing only what I was told to do.
“We don’t have any room for you,” he said, still leaving me on the porch.
“What do you want me to do, Elder?” I cried. “I have been sent here, and I have nowhere else to go.”
He finally invited me into the house and told me I would have to sleep on the kitchen floor. Then he disappeared into his bedroom. Never had I felt so alone, unwanted, and discouraged.
I put my suitcases on the filthy floor and turned out the light. I was too discouraged to sleep, so I stood at the door and peered out the window. I could see the bus station that I had left only a few minutes before. I could easily walk there and buy a ticket for home. I had just enough money left. All of my joys, hopes, and dreams were at home. People there loved me. I could have my old job back, go back to school, see my family, and get married. Over and over again I thought, “Go home. Nobody here cares about you. Nobody here wants you.”
Then I asked myself, “Why did I come here in the first place?” My stake president’s words came back to me: “The Lord wants you to serve a mission.” I had felt a powerful impression when he said that to me. That feeling had been so strong that I postponed my wedding, quit my job, and left the university so I could serve a mission. I had known that the Lord wanted me to serve.
However, being in the mission field was not at all like I thought it would be. I had been sure once, but now, when I needed divine reassurance the most, those powerful feelings seemed a distant memory.
My introduction to the full-time mission field had been an unexpectedly difficult struggle for me. Yet I knew I was on the Lord’s errand. I had once known without doubt that it was His will that I serve a mission. The absence of a profound witness at that darkened window in the missionary apartment didn’t change that knowledge.
I was in the process of making a very important choice. It was a choice between what I wanted to do and what the Lord wanted me to do. It was the first time in my memory that I had ever recognized so clear a choice.
I spoke to myself: “I will never, never quit the calling I have accepted. No matter what happens, I will stay on this mission.” As I said the words, peace came to my heart for the first time since arriving in the mission field.
Now, many years later, I recognize that the Lord was guiding me through this experience. I learned that the Lord blesses us with confirming peace only after we demonstrate a willingness to obey. I shall always be grateful for the blessings of that choice. It changed my life forever.
“The real success of a mission is not measured on a chart—it is etched in your heart and in the hearts of those whose lives are eternally changed because of you. Share your testimony often. I have seen nothing in a missionary that exerts more power and positive influence than the bearing of pure and simple testimony. Your testimony is the first step in the conversion of those whom you teach. Have courage to invite others to change their lives and come to Christ through obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel.”
—Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Presidency of the Seventy, “To a Missionary Son,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 43.