One day, in the spring of 1974, I was sitting on the front steps of the headquarters of the Switzerland Zürich Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I watched as a man walked up the street. He turned in at the Mission Home, and introduced himself to me as someone who had served in the Swiss Mission five years before.
“Five years!” I remember thinking to myself. “How would it be to be so old!“
I never pictured myself as antique as I am now, and I find it somewhat depressing that I’m still continually drawing upon my mission experiences to illustrate points about faith, the Gospel, human nature, and the like.
But I am a geezer, there’s nothing that can be done about it, and I do constantly hear myself citing missionary stories.
But, really, why not? A mission is an extraordinarily concentrated time of learning about people, about oneself, and about the life of faith (and of unfaith), so it really shouldn’t be all that surprising that, even decades after his or her return, a former missionary uses it as a virtually inexhaustible repository of morally and spiritually significant experiences.
I was privileged to serve a mission in the very place that I wanted to serve.
During the summer of 1970, after I graduated from San Gabriel High School, my parents allowed me — it was actually their idea — to spend six weeks touring Europe with a supervised and chaperoned group of fellow recent-graduates. (Traveling to Europe wasn’t quite so common then as it is now, and this was a really big and formative deal for me.) Our final stay was in Paris, but, just prior to that, we spent a couple of nights in Saas-Fee, not far from Zermatt (where the Matterhorn is located).
Having now spent a great deal more time in Switzerland, I no longer regard this region as even remotely the most beautiful part of the country, but I fell deeply in love with Switzerland then and there, and decided that I wanted to serve my mission in the Swiss Alps.
Of course, Latter-day Saint missionaries don’t get to choose their fields of labor, so, when the letter arrived calling me to serve in the Switzerland Zürich Mission, I was both delighted and astonished.
My missionary service was an absolutely pivotal experience for me. I can’t say that it always felt like the best two years of my life — I was often cold, and often rejected — but it certainly represents two of the richest.
Several of my best and longest-lasting friendships come from my time in Switzerland. (I have the slightly unusual good fortune of still working with a small handful of my fellow Swiss missionaries at Brigham Young University.) I love the German language that I learned there. I love the country of Switzerland itself, with its unbelievable natural beauty.
So I conclude on a note of sadness: Owing to certain legal difficulties with the European Union, American missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will no longer be welcome in Switzerland. (We’re not the primary or even secondary focus of the new rules, as I understand them, but we’re definitely collateral damage.) I very much regret the fact that future generations of American Mormons won’t have the experience with this wonderful country that I did.