Probably one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking parts of waiting for your mission call to arrive is wondering where you are going to serve. Are you going to have to learn a new language? Will you have to adapt to eating weird foods every day? Will it be too hot? Will it be too cold? And, of course, is your mother going to be worried about how safe you are the whole time?
Chances are you have some kind of preference about places where you would or would not like to go on your mission. Maybe you really don’t want to learn a foreign language, or maybe the thought of serving in the United States sounds really boring compared to the exotic places where you’ve seen other friends or family members serve.
It can be hard when we have certain expectations or desires that are not fulfilled the way we would want. The hymn “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go” comes to mind, meaning the Lord already knows where you will serve, so, before receiving your call, focus on what you can do to prepare no matter where you go. Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy once shared an experience about the inspired process of issuing mission calls in General Conference. He said:
“I joined Elder Eyring early one morning in a room where several large computer screens had been prepared for the session. There was also a staff member from the Missionary Department who had been assigned to assist us that day.
“First, we knelt together in prayer. I remember Elder Eyring using very sincere words, asking the Lord to bless him to know ‘perfectly’ where the missionaries should be assigned. The word ‘perfectly’ said much about the faith that Elder Eyring exhibited that day.
“As the process began, a picture of the missionary to be assigned would come up on one of the computer screens. As each picture appeared, to me it was as if the missionary were in the room with us. Elder Eyring would then greet the missionary with his kind and endearing voice: ‘Good morning, Elder Reier or Sister Yang. How are you today?’
“He told me that in his own mind he liked to think of where the missionaries would conclude their mission. This would aid him to know where they were to be assigned. Elder Eyring would then study the comments from the bishops and stake presidents, medical notes, and other issues relating to each missionary.
“He then referred to another screen which displayed areas and missions across the world. Finally, as he was prompted by the Spirit, he would assign the missionary to his or her field of labor.[…]
“After assigning a few missionaries, Elder Eyring turned to me as he pondered one particular missionary and said, ‘So, Brother Rasband, where do you think this missionary should go?’ I was startled! I quietly suggested to Elder Eyring that I did not know and that I did not know I could know! He looked at me directly and simply said, ‘Brother Rasband, pay closer attention and you too can know!’ With that, I pulled my chair a little closer to Elder Eyring and the computer screen, and I did pay much closer attention!
“A couple of other times as the process moved along, Elder Eyring would turn to me and say, ‘Well, Brother Rasband, where do you feel this missionary should go?’ I would name a particular mission, and Elder Eyring would look at me thoughtfully and say, ‘No, that’s not it!’ He would then continue to assign the missionaries where he had felt prompted.
“As we were nearing the completion of that assignment meeting, a picture of a certain missionary appeared on the screen. I had the strongest prompting, the strongest of the morning, that the missionary we had before us was to be assigned to Japan. I did not know that Elder Eyring was going to ask me on this one, but amazingly he did. I rather tentatively and humbly said to him, ‘Japan?’ Elder Eyring responded immediately, ‘Yes, let’s go there.’ And up on the computer screen the missions of Japan appeared. I instantly knew that the missionary was to go to the Japan Sapporo Mission.
“Elder Eyring did not ask me the exact name of the mission, but he did assign that missionary to the Japan Sapporo Mission.
“Privately in my heart I was deeply touched and sincerely grateful to the Lord for allowing me to experience the prompting to know where that missionary should go.
“At the end of the meeting Elder Eyring bore his witness to me of the love of the Savior, which He has for each missionary assigned to go out into the world and preach the restored gospel. He said that it is by the great love of the Savior that His servants know where these wonderful young men and women, senior missionaries, and senior couple missionaries are to serve. I had a further witness that morning that every missionary called in this Church, and assigned or reassigned to a particular mission, is called by revelation from the Lord God Almighty through one of these, His servants.” (To read Elder Rasband’s full address, click here)
This story has a great lesson for every preparing missionary. The Lord is the one who makes the call. He knows what is best for us and what we need for our own personal growth. But even with this knowledge, you could still be initially disappointed or nervous about where you are called to serve after receiving your call.
A few things that helped me feel more at peace with my mission call were going to teaching appointments with the elders in our ward to get a better idea of how missionary work was done. Listening to language tapes helped me learn a few simple phrases in my mission language and feel more confident that I would learn it well enough to be able to teach the gospel. Studying Preach My Gospel can also be helpful. Another thing I found to be extremely beneficial was to learn a lot about the place I would serve by researching it online. Even if you think you have been called to the most boring place on the planet, you will find something interesting or exciting about your mission area if you look it up. If you can, talk to someone who has already served in your mission area. Chances are they will have great experiences they are willing to share that will help you feel more excited about where you are going to serve.
Not every missionary has a preference about where they are called to serve, but many do. I’ve seen experiences where missionaries received an unanticipated call but still loved their mission. Before my father got his mission call, the one place he definitely did not want to serve was Japan. Naturally, that is where he was called to serve. As he served among the Japanese people and devoted himself to the work, he grew to love the people, the language, and the food. He loved his mission experience, and when I was a young child, we lived in Tokyo for two years when my father returned to Japan to work for the government. The skills he learned on his mission gave him great opportunities he would not have had otherwise.
If you are called to serve someplace close to home or even to an area that you think has a lot of members already, remember that the Lord is sending you there for a reason. There are people in your mission that the Lord has prepared for you to share the gospel with. One of my close friends was called to serve in Salt Lake City even though he attended BYU in Provo. He had a happy and successful mission, and two years later, he is extremely grateful for having served there and is full of stories about how much he loved his mission experience.
When all is said and done, where you are going to serve is not as important as how you are going to serve. Every missionary who serves with all their heart, might, mind, and strength will have powerful, life-changing experiences no matter where they go. As Elder Rasband related in his story, the Lord and His chosen servants know where each individual missionary should serve. Wherever you are called to go, know that your mission call came from the Lord. The things you will experience during your mission will forever bless and change your life and the lives of others, no matter where your call sends you.