When I was transferred from Plains to Havre, I had a sneaking suspicion it would be my last mission area. I only had four and half months left. That’s only three transfers. Havre is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and our area covered a lot of miles. We served primarily in Havre and Chinook (shown on the map), but we also covered the Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap reservations and the area between Big Sandy in the west and Hays in the east. It would take more than 2 and half hours to drive from one end to the other.
I was excited about serving in Havre. I had actually been there before. Remember when I said that there was a hiccup with a transfer when I was in Great Falls and that I didn’t have a mission companion for a while? As a missionary, you always have a companion, so I was sent to serve with the sisters in Havre, about two hours north of Great Falls. We actually split our time between Havre and Great Falls. Here we are somewhere in the middle, near Fort Benton.
The sisters in Havre were working with a couple where the husband was a border control officer. We decided to go visit him one preparation day afternoon near the border of Montana and Canada. One of the mission rules is that you can’t leave your area and you also can’t really leave the country because we didn’t have any other documents to get back in. But we got as close as we could because we were rebels.
During my short few days in Havre, I met some of the awesome people that lived there. The awesomest of which was Nanny.
Another favorite family was the Johnsons. They lived in Chinook, and Brother Johnson was the branch mission leader. He used to take us out on visits to the far reaches of the area. One time, we saw the northern lights.
When I went back to Havre, my mission companion was Sister Khisghee from Mongolia. She had only been in the country for three months, I think, so she was still studying English. We had so much fun together, and she taught me how to make all sorts of delicious Mongolian food. Sometimes on our preparation day, we would drive out to the Bear Paw Mountains.
And one night, we actually went to the county fair. Here is probably the worst outfit I had on my mission.
I don’t know where I got that wretched denim shirt, but let’s just say that our shopping options were limited. I guess I felt like the red, white, and blue was appropriate. You know, I learned as a missionary that you can do a lot of things in a dress, but I discovered that night that there is one thing you probably should not do and that is go on carnival rides that spin you upside down. It’s really hard to hold onto the safety bar and make sure your skirt doesn’t ride up too high at the same time. Khisghee and I also went to the rodeo at the county fair.
I never thought I would find the plains of northcentral Montana as beautiful as I did, but I loved it! I loved looking out across the country as we would drive between Havre and Chinook and the surrounding area. The land surrounding Havre is surprisingly diverse, too. There is the green Bear Paw Mountain area and the farmlands with round bales of hay…
and then the badlands.
Khisghee and I served together for three months. For my last six weeks in Montana, I was assigned a new companion, Sister Stuart. One of my favorite memories with Sister Stuart was Halloween night. We couldn’t leave the apartment, so we spent the night making cookies and coming up with various costumes. One of which was a mummy using all of our toilet paper, but because we couldn’t afford to just throw out that toilet paper, we had to fold it all up again once we were done. I also remember making a snowman with her after the first snow. I wish I knew where those photos are. They must be downstairs in the storage area.
I left my mission on Thanksgiving Day 2001. During the last months of my mission, my mom was very sick and had to stay in the hospital. She’d had a few surgeries and no one really knew for sure what would happen. The last six weeks of my mission were the hardest. I was ready to go home. And for a few years after my mission, I had really mixed feelings about it. In fact, I told several people not to serve a mission because it was so hard. I’ve share the good times (and there were many) and the wonderful people (oh so many!), but there was also a lot of heartache and frustration. There was a lot of rejection, a lot of worrying that I wasn’t doing enough, a lot of struggles to communicate with my companion or with other people.
Now that it’s been 10 years, though, I mostly remember just the good things. And I even sometimes wish I could do it again. (Although, I probably wouldn’t follow any of the rules anymore. I guess that’s why you go when you’re 21 and not 33.) It really was wonderful to dedicate my time to studying the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to serving the people around me. I learned to truly love people (other than my family or close friends). I learned how to make small talk with a wide variety of people. I used to think small talk was a waste of time, but on my mission, I learned how important it is. It’s the first stage in learning about someone. It’s a way to put people at ease. It’s a way to let them know you care.
When I was trying to decide whether or not to serve a mission, a friend told me that I would never regret it if I did, even if I had a horrible experience and left after a few months, but I might always regret it if I didn’t go. He was right. I’m glad I have no regrets.