As a Mormon family, we raised our sons with the expectation that when they were 19 years old, they would take a break from their regular life -- college and other activities -- and serve God and the church for 2 years as a missionary. They weren't forced into this choice, but we were pleased when they decided to serve a mission. We knew that they would learn many important lessons through this service, about sacrifice, perserverance, and putting God first in their lives. Young Mormon missionaries don't have any choice where they serve, but both our sons were happy when they received their mission calls -- our older son served in the Czech and Slovak republics, and our younger son served in Portugal. They gained fluency in the languages of these countries and learned to love the people there. They gained a lot of maturity through their mission experiences and we feel that their mission years were well spent. The past couple of years we've had the opportunity to play a small part in helping another young man prepare for his missionary service, and we've felt very rewarded, because we know that Ben will also benefit from this time of service.
We got to know Ben a couple of years ago after he moved into our church congregation's area. As a young teenager, Ben had left his village in southern Nigeria after the death of a parent, when he came to Lagos to try to get a job to help support himself and send some money home to his family. He had converted to Mormonism in his village, and when he came to Lagos, some church members helped him find jobs and housing. His other parent died shortly after he moved away, so he felt more strongly about the need to help support his siblings back home. When we first met Ben, we felt there was something special about him. Though his life was very difficult, he was a hard worker, always optimistic, always on the lookout for an opportunity to help someone out and always had a nice smile. Ben had left school very early and we knew that before he could serve a mission, he would need to reach a level where he could pass a high school equivalency test, so we helped him by getting him into a tutoring program he could attend after work. He had long days with work and school, but the staff of the school always praised Ben and said he was their top student. Ben loved to learn about new things and enjoyed talking with Brent about government and economics. When Brent was helping Ben prepare for his equivalency test, we were amazed and worried when we realized how poor his vocabulary was. He just hadn't had exposure to many things that would expand his vocabulary -- though he is a very intelligent person, his life experience was very limited and, therefore, so was his vocabulary. Ben was very happy when he completed the preparatory work for his mission and he received his call to serve in the Calabar Nigeria mission. This is the area that covers his village, so he was excited to possibly return to see some of his relatives again. Most missionaries from West Africa also serve in West Africa, as it's difficult for missionaries from Western countries to serve in many of these countries. Ben left in late November for the Missionary Training Center in Ghana. He was very excited when he received his passport. His flight to Ghana would be his first time on an airplane.