In the early hours of the chill fall night, my family, the Parks, were already having dinner in our small dining area. The noise of plates being pushed around, and my youngest sister occasionally whining when she didn’t have her way made the place undoubtedly homely. The room was dimly lit, and we were having mashed potatoes with kale and boursin cheese. The house cat moved about in the background, purring when it settled down on a counter in the kitchenette across from the six-person dining table.
I was sitting on the edge, smiling as my father gave me an earful about the two-year mission I was about to embark on. I would be the first ever to go in my family since my parents had been converts and hadn’t had the opportunity to go when they were younger.
“Now, stop it. I’m sure he understands.” I heard my mother say as I felt her small hand place itself on my shoulder, I looked to my side, catching her small smile. Her hair was done in a bob-cut, and her other hand was preoccupied with holding a metal tray. My two other siblings were on the table too. Jessica who was twelve ate her food quietly, and Catherine who was five played with her food as she hummed one of the rhythms her teacher taught them in class off key.
We all had our signature black straight hair, and skin that was a little bit tanned. My siblings and I looked like a good mix of my father and mother, we all got our mothers height — which was not very good for me since I was a bit shot for my age — 5’4, and we all got my father’s face if that makes sense. Thin lips, small noses, and long well-defined faces.
“Honestly, I’m kind of sad to see you go,” my mother said as she let go of my shoulder and made to drop the tray of food at the center of the table before pulling out the seat beside my father and sitting down. “I’m worried as well. It’s not just your father.”
“You know you’re the first person doing this in our family, so we’re rightfully worried,” my father said, repeating what he had been telling me since the beginning of dinner. He was middle-aged, and his hair was already going white. He and mother had started having children a bit later than most couples around town.
I rolled my eyes, resting back on my seat. “I’m going to another town while some people are heading over to different countries. Come on, I’ll be fine,” I said, looking at both my parents before giving them a small smile. They had suggested I wait a little longer. I was currently eighteen. I had just graduated like most of my peers. Sure, some people did their missions later in life, but I didn’t think I wanted to be that random person in their twenties walking around with a majority of teenagers.
“And,” I started, watching my parents, “Olivia’s coming along with me. She’s at my station. I’ll be fine,” I said, and I watched my other sister’s eyes move to her plate as she sat down beside my father. Oliva and her family were long-term friends of ours. She was a red-haired nice girl. If I wanted to do anything I just mentioned Olivia and my parents let me. She was like my get out of jail card sometimes.
“I know you two are worried but trust me, things will be alright,” I said, and my parents didn’t say anything in reply, instead they returned their gaze to their food and continued eating. After dinner, I excused myself and headed upstairs to my room. I immediately went ahead to look through my boxes again, occasionally stopping to check my phone. Most of my mates were talking about it — talking about their missions and how excited they were to go.
I was excited to go too. I was very excited. During the last year of high school, I had fallen back on my relationship with God. I just sort of floating around and concentrated on school work until my church started asking last year students if they were going to take a part in a mission. That had given me something to look forward to, and now, after some light training, I was ready to go spread the word with some of my friends at my side.
Just as you learn more by teaching or tutoring someone I was bound to learn more by preaching to people, right?
I didn’t have much time to think about my theory since my phone went off in my pocket. I fished it out, unlocking the screen before tapping the notification I had gotten from Olivia.
Message from: Olivia.
Hey! How are you? Are you excited? We have three more days till we leave.
THURS, 8:07 PM.
Excited? I’m overwhelmed! I thought to myself but just smiled before typing up a reply to her.
Message to: Oliva.
I can’t wait to spread the word!
THRS, 8:08 PM.
Message to: Olivia.
How many people do you think we’ll reach?
THURS: 8:09 PM.
Message from: Oliva.
As many as possible!
I just hope people aren’t rude. Elder Daniel said they usually are, but that we should try not to take it too personally.
THURS: 8:10 PM.
Our station was a new one so there were plenty of ripe fruits ready to be preached to. Other stations barely had a net difference in the people they got to convert. Most stations around universities and colleges converted international students. but in the town Oliva and I were going to, our church — the Mormon church — was new. We had only established a station there last year.
Message from: Olivia.
Are you coming to the party tomorrow? Did you hear about it? It’s at school, but they’re not going to play music with swear words.
THURS, 8:12 PM.
I shook my head, sighing realizing that she obviously couldn’t see me. I used my fingers to push back strands of my dark hair before biting my bottom lip as I typed up a reply to her.
Message to: Oliva.
No, I’m going to stay back and look through my bags again. I’m just making sure I don’t leave anything important behind.
THURS, 8:13 PM.
Message from: Olivia.
You packed like a week ago.
I was there. I helped you. What are you still sorting out? Haha.
Do what you want though! : )
THURS, 8:14 PM.
I smiled at her text before putting my phone away and trying to carry on with what I was doing before she texted me. I worked silently, going through every inch of my box, and checking off a mental checklist. My head shot up and I looked over at my door when I heard a knock, and soon my sister, Jessica walked in her pajamas.
“When are you leaving?” Her voice was soft, and I wondered if she would miss me or if she was just worried.
“On Monday,” I said. I was leaving in the middle of the afternoon with Olivia and the rest via train. Our community was a little rural farming/hunting town with a population of about six thousand, and the closest town to grab a plain was three towns away.
“So, I won’t see you leave?” she asked, and I just nodded in reply. She took her weight off the wall she had been leaning on before walking over to me. Mum said there are a lot of bad people where you’re going. I frowned a bit, cocking my head to the side as I looked at my sister. Sure, many people there weren’t saved and didn’t know the gospel and the teachings of Joseph Smith, but that’s what I was going there to do — to help them learn.
“Well, when I talk to them they won’t be bad people anymore,” I said, and that for some reason made my little sister smile. “They’ll become good people.” I tried to explain to my sister. A lot of people left the church from time to time. Maybe she was worried I would leave too.
“I’ll pray for you, okay?” she said in an enthusiastic voice before walking away from me. I watched her leave my room, and only when the door closed quietly behind her did I look back at my luggage. Yes, everything was there and set. I guess checking just made me less anxious. I didn’t even have a specific thing I was afraid of leaving behind. I was just—
I couldn’t even pinpoint why. I ran a hand through my hair, trying to calm myself down. This will be good for me. Going will be good for me. I repeated in my mind closing my boxes before heading to sit on my queen-sized bed that was covered in a brown bedsheet. Our house was big. That was more attested to the fact that housing was cheap around here, and the house was built from scratch, than to the fact that we were rich — we weren’t. My mother didn’t work, and my father had a middle-class desk job. Most of the walls were done in paneling, and the floorboards were wooden too.
My parents had moved here a few years from Korea just before they had me. They hadn’t been to anywhere else, and I didn’t really know anywhere by this small Mormon majority town. I guess that’s why they were nervous.
I got up from my bed after a while of reading a bit of the novel I’d gotten a while back. There wasn’t much I could read, watch or listen to. A lot of stuff was secular today, and it took a combined effort from our church’s youth group and individual parents to make sure kids got entertainment that wasn’t ungodly. I got out of my clothes. I had been wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. I made my way to the bathroom to take a shower after that. I let my hands massage my scalp, then my face as I tried to unpack my stress and worry. I even said a little prayer as the water from the shower beat my skin.
It was going to be alright.
I will come back closer to God than ever before.