My nephew is serving his mission in Arizona where several of my wife’s siblings (and therefore his aunts and uncles) live. He is presenting living and working close to all of them, and they see him on the street pretty often. He is, by all accounts, an outstanding missionary, and there’s no evidence that his occasional brushes with his extended family are distracting in any way. Reading recently of their sightings of said missionary made me think of the very few times I bumped into people I knew from home while I was on my mission.
I served in Germany over three decades ago. When I went, I assumed I would be in a completely different world from friends and family I left behind. (My brother had served in Kentucky, and was never more than a day’s drive from our home his whole mission.)
To my surprise I did see people I knew from before my mission a few times. The first was most startling. My companion and I were changing trains in Mainz, trying to make a quick connection to get back to our city of Bad Kreuznach. We were running for our next train when I heard someone call my first and last name. A female someone.
I’d been out more than a year and no one had used my first name except in letters, so just the hearing of it startled me. I did not recognize the voice, but stopped and began to look around. A few feet away on the platform was a girl I’d gone to high school with. We had been good friends and had many friends in common. She was not a member of the church, but she knew I was, and probably knew that I was a missionary. As we chatted briefly (we missed our connecting train, of course), she introduced my companion and me to her male friend who was with her. The two of them were distributing Bibles for their Christian group, and had been in Europe for a while.
After a few minutes, we shook hands (I was a missionary, after all, and in Germany everyone shook hands) and went our separate ways. The chance meeting was no big deal to my companion, except for the great coincidence; nor was it a big deal for me. I think my reaction was helped by the fact that I was well into my second year; I don’t know if I would have been more distracted by such a meeting earlier in my mission.
Within weeks of that experience, I had another chance meeting. I had just put my companion on a train to go on an exchange, and I was waiting for my temporary companion to arrive. Since I had an hour to wait, I decided to walk home. As I was leaving the station, a young man showed up at my side and called me by my first name. Turns out he was a kid I’d gone to church with in my youth. He was the only member in his family and had slipped into inactivity, and was in Bad Kreuznach to visit his brother who was in the US Army. We chatted until I got to my apartment.
The last one came a few weeks later, when my stake president and his wife dropped by my apartment on a P-Day. They were in Germany visiting their daughter whose husband was stationed at a base not too far from where I was assigned. When the bell rang, and we let them up, I was surprised to see them, and even more surprised when she gave me a big hug, saying, “I probably shouldn’t do this, but I promised your mother I would!” I didn’t mind. And I’m sure my mother wouldn’t have minded, either. They stayed just a few minutes.
These chance meetings, each quite brief, were actually blessings to me. They helped me to see even more clearly how much I was on my mission. They were little blips, pleasant moments, but not distractions. I knew what I was there to do, and I was happy to be about the work I was doing.