Elder Tayler Katoa and Elder Justin Jennings of the Virginia Richmond Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sat on my sofa, smartphones in hand, talking with my family about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, sharing scripture passages, and offering an occasional inspirational video. The Elders (a title indicating their Priesthood ordination and role in the Church) have been regular dinner-time visitors in our home for over two decades. Before Elder Katoa and Elder Jennings were Elder Salisbury, Elder Anderson, Elder White, Elder Brown, Sister Pugmire, Sister Thompson, Sister … the list goes on and on and on. Every few months a new missionary would pass through, as a familiar one would move on to another area or return to their home. Sometimes it would be us that moved on to a new location. Yet, on a regular basis, no matter where we were or who we were with, we would receive regular visits from these young men and young women with a Divine message.
Their backgrounds are varied. Some grew up with wealth and affluence. Others grew up in families that struggled from paycheck to paycheck. Their parents were married, or divorced. Some had the support of their families, others did not. No matter their background, no matter their experiences, they all chose to give 18 months to 2 years of their lives to teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ somewhere in the world - often away from home.
Elder Katoa, for instance, left his spot on the University of Southern California (USC) football team to come to the Richmond area and spend his days reaching out and serving people he had never known or met before and telling them what he knows of Jesus Christ and His Restored Gospel. When his two year mission is complete, Elder Katoa will return to USC to play football, if he chooses. The spot on the team is still awaiting him. But as he sits on my sofa, his football career is not discussed. That is a world he has left behind for the moment, because there is something more important for him to talk about right now … his testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
Likewise, Elder Jennings left his studies at Brigham Young University (BYU). As he teaches my family about keeping the Sabbath day holy or about taking care of the bodies that God has given us, he leaves no trace of his life as a Judoka and wrestler, Valedictorian, or Eagle Scout. In fact, to learn these facts about his life I had to do some research on my own, because those things are secondary to his mission. They are secondary to sharing what he knows and loves about the Gospel with people who need it, and even those who might reject it.
Elder Salisbury has a baseball scholarship on hold. Sister Weloth missed her sister. One Elder had a significant stutter, but he had words he wanted, he needed, to speak; so he served a mission. He served like they all serve, out of a love for God and for their fellow men.
We do not just have missionaries serving in this area. We have missionaries serving from this area, too. In the Midlothian area alone, there are 18 missionaries currently serving. That number shifts and changes through time as new missionaries leave and experienced missionaries return home. Their stories are varied, as well. One young man serving from our area lost his little brother a year before he left to serve his mission. One young sister learned that her mother was hospitalized with a serious health condition while she, herself, was serving across the world in Russia. One family I know of has a son on a mission who is struggling to learn two new languages, while back at home the father of the family lost his job and the whole family struggled to stay afloat. But at the core of each of these stories is a deep and abiding faith in Christ.
Elder Truman Murray currently serving in the Brazil Piracicaba Mission from RVA told me, “Everyone experiences many trials and tribulations, no matter if you´re a member or serving a mission or what. That´s life! But there is a lesson to be learned or a person to help through every challenge.”
Elder Kye Nuffer, serving in the California Rancho Cucamunga Mission from RVA, told me: “I know in life our Father in Heaven needs (us) to be a light for others, to lead out of darkness to witness of our Heavenly Father’s love.”
These sentiments are echoed in the voices of missionaries throughout the world. They feel a duty to serve the Lord and teach the doctrines that have shaped and blessed their lives. My own daughter, Catherine, served an eighteen month mission in Nebraska and she has three brothers preparing to serve missions in the future. They feel, as she felt, a call to act on and share their faith.
If you are interested in learning more about what these young men and young women are teaching, or if you are interested in talking to these Elders and Sisters to learn for yourself why nearly 66,000 of them are serving throughout the world right now, visit www.comeuntochrist.org .
-Elizabeth S. Stiles
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
In the Richmond area there are 29 congregations of Latter-day Saints. We strive to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and spread His light in our community.
This is not an official site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.