For those who don’t know, I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon. Don’t turn away. This post won’t be preachy, super-religious or political, so don’t worry. Today, I want to share a few reasons why I’m grateful for my time as a missionary in Hungary from April 2003 to May 2005.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s fine. Here’s a brief run down of what a missionary is and does. A Mormon missionary is a representative of the LDS church responsible for teaching people about Jesus Christ and his restored gospel. Missionaries also do a lot of service in the places they serve. For example, most missionaries in New Jersey and New York and probably surrounding areas have been helping with Hurricane Sandy clean-up for the last week and a half.
Anyway, I served a mission in Hungary. I lived in five different cities all around the country over the course of two years. I served as a missionary and for a short time as a local congregation’s pastor. I learned Hungarian and their culture and made amazing friends. While serving, I learned and reinforced several things. Here are a few of them.
People are people no matter how small – Yeah, that’s the moral to Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who.” I had traveled a bit before going to Hungary. So, I wasn’t new to experiencing other cultures and peoples. However, except when I was an exchange student in Australia I was a visitor, and people treat visitors differently from locals. So, you don’t really see the true side of a culture, country and people until you’ve lived and worked among them. My experience in Hungary helped me understand that people are the same all over the world. There are nice people, mean people, indifferent people, shy people and outgoing people all over the world. This was reinforced while living in New York City, Utah, and most recently China.
“Optimista Vagyok” – In the city of Vac, I became friends with a guy who would always bring a briefcase to church with his books and such. On the inside he had a message to himself written out of tape – “I am optimistic.” What a good reminder. When I left the city he gave me a tie with little forklifts all over it (he worked at a forklift factory), and every time I see the tie I’m reminded of his tape message to be optimistic. I’ve tried to apply this as a personal philosophy.
How to be a good listener – One of the best skills I developed as a missionary was how to be a better listener. I listened to concerns, questions, complaints, testimonies, protestations, the Holy Spirit and more. Sometimes there is no answer or response or at least you can’t give an answer until you’ve listened to everything. Even then the wise course may be to just listen more and say nothing. Listening is also a fantastic way to gain trust and learn to love a culture and people. If you just take a minute to listen, you can learn a lot.
People who believe differently than you can also be amazing people – I already knew this. I had been to several churches throughout my life while performing with The Texas Boys Choir and while living in Australia. I had participated in many different worship services, so I’ve seen that people can be good from all faiths. Even though I already knew this, while a missionary I learned to appreciate and respect this. Some people I met and taught were amazing people and extreme believers in their faith. In fact, some of them were more true to their faith than some members of my church. It kind of goes back to my first point that a person’s a person no matter how small.
Hungarian food is delicious and Budapest is a dang beautiful city – If you’ve never had true Hungarian Gulyas or Goulash as we call it, then you should. It is delicious! If you have a chance, get it cooked in a large cauldron over an open fire. I had it this way a few times and it makes it even more of a delicious experience. Before I left for Hungary I heard from many people that Budapest is the most beautiful city they had ever visited. And these were well-traveled people. They were right. It is a beautiful city. The Danube runs through the middle. On one side is a castle and on the other the most amazing parliament building ever. The Buda side rises up to high hills (they call them mountains, but they aren’t) and the Pest side is riddled with amazing 19th century architecture. You should go sometime. It would be worth the trip.
So, those are a few reasons I’m grateful I served a mission. Maybe next time you see a young man or woman with a name tag serving a mission say hi and spend a second talking with them. Teach them a bit about where you live or recommend a good, cheap restaurant (you could even take them). You never know what they’ll learn from you and what you can learn from them. Is there any experience that changed your life with lessons learned?