My wife, Ariel, always wanted to serve a mission.
She learned to speak Spanish fluently with the hopes of serving a full-time mission in South or Central America. Then I came along and ruined everything.
During our engagement, people started telling her that I was her mission whatever that means. Well, it wasn't good enough for her, and two months after we got married, we put in our papers.
We were called to serve as inner-city service missionaries in a Spanish-speaking ward in Rose Park from October 2006 until May 2008.
So Ariel got her wish an 18-month, Spanish-speaking mission.
Approximately 600 welfare service missionaries serve part time in 101 wards and 28 stakes in the Salt Lake area, putting in around 14,500 hours per month. Missionaries can be single or married, old or young. When we began our mission, Ariel was 21, and I was 22. We followed in the footsteps of Ariel's parents, Craig and Lark Galli, who served with their family (Ariel was then 12) from 1998 to 1999, and her grandparents, Wayne and Vella Evans, who served from 1999 to 2000.
Since the Inner City Project began in 1996, the missionaries' primary purpose has been to assist the bishop or branch president in providing temporal welfare to the members. In our first welfare meeting with our inspired bishop, he requested that we look into the inner-city resources to provide help for Javier, a man with serious impediments to his hearing.
While pregnant with Javier, his mother was in a car accident that damaged his hearing. We were anxious to engage in our first assignment.
At the innercityproject.org Web site, missionaries can visit the "Storehouse of Specialists," a group that "consists of experts in various fields who have been called to organize and provide liaison with their professional colleagues to make services available to needy people." We were able to find affordable resources to help Javier. Before too long, he had hearing aids and could hear for the first time. Javier and his wife are now working toward their sealing in the temple.
We gained from him far more than anything he received from us. Seeing him at church each week with no understanding of what was being said was an inspiration. He would smile and feel the Spirit, as manifest by his bright countenance. He never learned sign language, but that didn't stop him from communicating.
Javier is a brilliant artist, who sells his art professionally. Without the ability to speak or hear, he was able to marry, join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and have children and grandchildren. He showed me that what we commonly term as a "disability" may really be a way for abilities to shine.
For one year of the mission, my wife and I worked in the leadership of the Young Men and Young Women. We learned to love those wonderful Hispanic youths. We strove to have edifying, enjoyable activities (though I don't claim that I was successful in this attempt) and worked toward Scouting, Duty to God and Personal Progress. We took the youths to the Uinta Mountains; many of them had never been into the great Utah wilderness.
Through all of this, I learned to love and trust the youths. I am happy to know that they will be the community and church leaders for my newborn son. I have confidence in them, despite the multitude of temptations they face.
During the final months of our mission, we spent a great deal of time and effort assisting a pregnant teen, whom I will call Maria. Ariel visited her many times to aid her in her studies, since she dropped out of school temporarily to have the baby. I took her each week for counseling sessions at LDS Family Services. As I sat in those sessions with Maria, her mother and the counselor, I felt Heavenly Father's forgiving love for his daughter, Maria. My testimony of humanity's need to repent and God's desire to forgive was refreshed and elevated while working with Maria.
I could recite numerous experiences working to help people find jobs, housing, dental or medical help, or simply fellowship. Each instance strengthened my testimony of the Savior and his mission to transform us, temporally and spiritually. I saw his power transform those in our ward, and in an even more intimate way, I saw his power shape our marriage beautifully in its budding stages as we served together.
During my full-time mission, I came to know God in a new way. By the end of my two years in Portugal, I felt I understood the first great commandment, at least on a surface level, to love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my mind. It was this second mission, the welfare service mission, that taught me the second great commandment, to love my neighbor as myself.
The Savior spent a great deal of his three-year ministry providing for people temporally. He healed the blind, the deaf, the dumb and even the dead. He is concerned with our temporal welfare, not only because he loves us and yearns for our happiness, but because it leads us to see, hear, speak, and live more spiritually. Javier can receive the Melchizideck Priesthood and enter the temple with his wife thanks to a physical healing. Maria can return to full activity in the church and receive spiritual blessings due to the temporal support available to her in her difficult situation.
The inner-city mission changed me. My career path has gone from pursuing another degree in journalism to pursuing a master's in public administration. I want to help others receive the temporal blessings I was born with.
Our service came to an end recently with the birth of our first child. Serving an inner-city mission is an opportunity to make lifelong friends and have temporal experiences that bring the eternities into perspective.For more information on the Inner City Project, visit innercityproject.org, or talk to your bishop or branch president if you would like to work as a service missionary.
Andrew Marshall is a summer intern for the Deseret News. E-mail: email@example.com