Every mission has its challenges, and every missionary has their challenges. One of my challenges was street contacting. In Poland, a staunch Catholic, post-Soviet nation, we didn’t have a lot of investigators, or members to visit, so we spent the majority of our time on the street trying to find people to teach.
This entailed walking up to strangers, trying to start a conversation, and bringing up things like their relationship with God, their hopes for their family, and what role religion played in their life, an intimidating task without a language barrier.
This turned out to be significantly more difficult for me than I’d anticipated. Every time I saw another person, an internal battle would rage inside of me about whether or not I was going to contact them. I knew it was the right thing to do, that I had flown half-way across the world to do just that, but every muscle in my body told me it was too scary, too awkward, and I wasn’t very good at speaking Polish anyway.
Then, after I would walk past them, I was filled with guilt for not following through. I mean, I even had a companion right next to me to help me out if I stumbled.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy at first, but what became even more difficult was the fact that it didn’t get better with time. Months went by, and it was still a terrifying battle just to walk on the streets or sit next to someone on a bus. I didn’t understand why God’s response to my struggle to serve Him wasn’t to help me out.
I arrived in Poland at the beginning of Fall, and during one of my first weeks there my companion and I were going for a walk with a member named Ania. On our walk, Ania bent down and picked up one of the buckeyes that were all over the ground in the park. She explained that they were lucky, and that many Polish people would take them home and keep them on shelves, in drawers, and in their pockets. So, of course, I picked a few up and put them in my pockets.
What this meant was that every time I was having one of my internal battles about whether or not I was going to contact a person, I was clenching the buckeyes in my pockets. In order to talk to a person, I needed to let go, take my hands out of my pockets, and open my mouth.
Every time I let go of the buckeyes, it was an act of faith. Of letting go of my fears and trusting God and trusting myself. Of allowing myself to make mistakes. If I could just let go of the buckeye, I would have the courage to take my hands out of my pockets and talk to the person passing by.
I have some good news and some bad news about how this story ends. The good news is that I survived my mission and met some of the most amazing people, several of them by street contacting.
You see, over months and months of missionary work, I trained myself to let go of the buckeye as soon as I saw a person. But that didn’t mean that it was any easier or that it didn’t take just as much faith. I remember contacting on the very last day of my mission and consciously realizing that I had just as much fear and anxiety about contacting as I did at the beginning of my mission, and yet it was my automatic response. Why?
For starters, my desire to do it had increased because I had seen the impact of the gospel in several people’s lives. And once I got passed the initial contacting phase of the conversation, meeting new people and learning about their lives was one of my absolute favorite things about my mission, even when they decided they didn’t want to learn more about Mormonism. Although the fear never really went away, I was still able to move forward and have good experiences.
A few months ago I was taking a walk during my lunch break and when I looked down I saw a whole bunch of buckeyes on the ground. It made me smile. Being from Las Vegas, I’d never seen them in the United States before, so naturally I knelt down and picked one up.
It’s funny how it somehow made its way into my pocket on days when I had to teach a lesson, a big meeting, or the day I started graduate school. Every time I put my hands in my pocket, it reminds me that I can do scary things, that I can trust the Lord even when I’m afraid, and that I can’t let the fear of making mistakes stop me from moving forward with my life.
So here’s one of my stories of fear and faith. What are the buckeyes that have given you strength to succeed in your life?