Dear President Boswell,
I can hardly grasp the fact that the time has come for me to write this letter. I heard many times before my mission that a mission was like a “mini life”. I never quite understood that phrase until now. You experience everything from infancy to adolescence, to teenage, to adulthood, and now, dare I say it… “old age” although, you’ve still got some years on me. 🙂
I had always wanted to serve a mission. I wanted to go so badly I even found a way to go early. So when I finally got the “ok” to go early I said “no” to the boy who proposed and told him I am going to serve the Lord. It wasn’t as easy as I make it seem, there were many tears that fell and prayers that were offered in order to make such a life changing decision, but I have never once regretted the decision to put my life on hold and to give my all to the Lord. I have never looked back and wondered “what would my life be like if I hadn’t served a mission?” because I have never had the desire to know. This year and a half has been the most life changing, faith finding, testimony building, and trust forming experience of my life. I am converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am eternally converted. I was before, I am even more now, and I always will be. I can honestly and faithfully say about myself as it is written about the Lamanites, in Alma 23:5, “that as surely as the Lord liveth, …I am converted and I will never fall away.”
I thought long and hard about the “mission statement” I wanted to set for myself while in the MTC during my first few days there. Heavenly Father eventually gave it to me. He told me that he wanted me to become a Trustworthy Servant of the Lord. I have strived my entire mission to become such a servant and I feel that I am on the path to be this trustworthy servant for the rest of my life. I have seen miracles come from the small whisperings of the spirit that I followed. I have seen my faith grow and I have seen other’s faith grow as I tried to follow what the spirit told me to do. Faith, charity, obedience, courage, and hard work: that is what it took to be what the Lord expected from me.
The life of a missionary
I am not quite sure where to start in this overwhelming task to write about my mission, the miracles I have seen, the love I have felt, the lessons I have learned, and the person I have become. I guess the best place to start is at the very beginning, or what I would call my ‘infancy’ as a missionary and throughout my missionary life. I will try to express moments experienced of gratitude, change, and miracles.
Well, that is exactly what it was: infancy. I felt as though I couldn’t do anything when I first arrived in Latvia and it got worse when I arrived in Liepāja, my first area. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I was the most confident, bravest missionary of them all upon first arriving in Latvia. I was so scared. I remember Sister Kerr and Sister Wilson taking me out for my first time contacting. I thought, “Heavenly Father, please help me! Please help me!” over and over in my head. One thing that never failed me, though, was my faith. I KNEW that, although I was scared, I could do it because God would help me. I learned in my first transfer that I had faith. Faith and trust in my Heavenly Father. I knew that I was not good at speaking Latvian, but I held strong to the promise that God would give me the gift of tongues if I did everything in my power to obtain it, and so that is exactly what I did. I struggled and studied, practiced and prayed like I never had before. I prayed for that gift with all of the energy of my heart. The moments when someone told me I spoke Latvian well are very sweet, tender moments. Not because I want to be the “best at things” and not because that satisfied my pride, but because I knew that God had answered my prayers and in turn it strengthened my faith. Every time I received a compliment I would smile and offer a prayer of gratitude in my heart to God for answering my fervent prayers.
My gratitude for my Heavenly Father grew immensely my first 2 transfers as I went from ‘infancy’ to ‘adolescence’. My current companion asked me the other day when I knew that God was my Father. I thought about it and then replied that I have always known. It has never been just me. It has always been Him and me together. I have spent all of my life with Him included in my thoughts, decisions and actions. I came to this knowledge that He has always been involved in my life and throughout my first transfer because I needed Him so desperately. And He was always there. I learned so many lessons my first 2 transfers. Heavenly Father wanted me to change a lot and He gave me the perfect companion to show me my weaknesses and to help me to grow. I am eternally grateful to God for giving me my first companion, Sister Lindstrom, to teach me so many lessons about the person I want to be. Some of my weaknesses came out and I had the opportunity to really work on my character.
Liepāja stole my heart. I remember praying so hard to be filled with love and then walking into church about a week later and being so overcome with love that I almost couldn’t breathe. I loved the people so much. It was somewhat of a foreign feeling. I had loved them before, but this was new. This was a love that I knew I couldn’t produce on my own. I feel that I experienced a small measure of God’s love for His children that day and from then on it stayed with me. We experienced the miracles of Zane Jansone and Kristine Atala. Two sisters with more faith in Christ than anyone I had before met. They were my angels those first 2 transfers and it has been a tender mercy to have the chance to work with them both again at different times on my mission. We worked hard to help Kristine get married and then baptized. God sent her answers through dreams and she is still to this day one of the most faithful woman I have ever met.
You could say that I entered my ‘teenage stage’ when I left and went to Imanta with Sister Hanks. That transfer was so special. I really learned to talk with everyone. I somehow lost my fear. Sister Hanks was a wonderful example of talking to everyone and I was so grateful to learn that from her. We laughed and worked with huge smiles on our faces all day long. I am SO grateful for sister Hanks. For her courage and her faith. She always tried hard and she was just a rock. I remember thinking, “how can I do this? I have been here for 3 months and now I am with a Russian speaking missionary and I have to teach the Latvians on my own! Can I really do this?” Well, God showed me that I could teach and teach in Latvian for that matter, but only because the spirit was helping me along with the wonderful members in Imanta. My miracle that transfer was Liga. She was a wonderful, kind, young mother who had a real desire to learn. I remember contacting her while walking across the crosswalk and saying, ” Hi! We have a message about a message” and then I started giggling when she stopped and looked at me confused. I explained that I was trying to learn Latvian, but that I make mistakes and what I meant to say was, “we have a wonderful message about God’s plans for families.” We chatted and we became great friends over the next couple of meetings. She accepted a baptismal date and I was on the moon! Finding Liga was such a tender mercy. Teaching her gave me the confidence that I could really do this. I really could be a missionary and I really could help people. Liga had some family opposition and after I had left Imanta she eventually chose to keep her family together and to stop meeting with the missionaries. I know that one day the missionaries will find her again and she along with her husband will accept the gospel. I really have no doubt about that. God has kindly confirmed that truth to me.
Now for Rīga. In this great city I spent so much of my mission life. I spent transfers 4 through 10 and went through the ‘teenage’ to ‘adulthood’ stages of the life of a missionary. I saw so many small miracles in those transfers. I met some of my very best friends, and had some of the most life changing experiences of my mission. There are people in center who have truly changed my life forever. Rīga really became my home. It’s hard to explain the difference between missionary work being something you do and missionary work being your “life”, but that change is what I experienced there. Before that I did missionary work, and worked hard, but it wasn’t quite my life. My “Life” was before and missionary life was still new. But I experienced the change of this and it came to the point that I was no longer “maddie”… I was sister Gallacher I was a missionary. Missionary work went from being “missionary work” to “my wonderful life”. I loved that change. I loved experiencing that moment when I realized how “normal” missionary work was to me. It was no longer foreign, but familiar and well, normal. It was normal to talk to strangers and to feel such strong love for someone I didn’t even know.
One of the biggest blessings of serving in Rīga was being around so many missionaries. I met and associated with, and learned from, so many amazing missionaries I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for them all. Especially my companions. Which includes Sister Kerr, Sister Nelson, Sister Clark, and Sister Peterson. Sister Kerr taught me so much about faith in my goals and working hard until the last second. She never gave up and she gave it her all. I have tried to emulate her desire to work hard my whole mission and I am so thankful for the example she set for me. She taught me about really believing in my goals and we saw miracles for it. I had lost some of my faith in goals before her because I was never reaching them. They had become just numbers and she set a wonderful example of hard work and motivated me to do better.
This small miracle is an example of this. It didn’t amount to much, but it will always remain close to my heart. We worked really hard at reaching our goals every single day and we prayed and worked so hard and the Lord really blessed us. One Friday night we were contacting. We had planned to get a new investigator that day and although we had taught 3 other lessons we hadn’t reached the goal of a new investigator. So we had about 40 min to contact before we had to go home. I remember how determined we were to get this new investigator. We had been praying all day to reach our goals. Then we stopped and Sister Kerr said, “OK we have only about 10 minutes left to find an investigator. Who should we talk to?” I looked around and saw a young man standing at a bus stop among other people. I saw him and it was clear. We needed to talk to HIM. So I pointed and said, “him” and we set off knowing that he really was the last chance we had to reach our goal, or rather to reach Heavenly Father’s goal. So we talked, and he only spoke Russian. Our spirits almost dropped until we tried English with him. He understood enough English for us to teach a short lesson about the Book of Mormon and Prophets and he said that he had time to meet on Tuesday if we did. God really blessed us to make all of our goals that day and I was thankful for that experience and for the faith in my goals that it gave me.
I really feel that Sister Nelson was one of God’s greatest tender mercies to me on my mission. She truly became one of my greatest friends and missionary work was so much fun with her. We spent a lot of time knocking in Domes and contacting in snowstorms. I remember one cold, stormy night in December when the snow was swirling around so fast that you couldn’t see 3 feet in front of you. This night will always remain so vividly in my memory. I will never forget it. We were freezing. We were walking down a street on our way home from knocking and were contacting along the way. Well at least, trying to talk to some people that passed by. The snow hurt my face so badly, I couldn’t feel my hands, and I felt somewhat helpless. I remember the thought, “this is sacrifice” coming to my mind. But then I smiled. I thought about how proud I was that I could even be counted worthy to do this. That I had the privilege to testify of Christ in the hardest weather I had ever experienced. I had a burst of energy and after that I didn’t feel the snow hitting my face. God’s love warmed my heart and I felt that He was grateful for my diligence. For what I thought was “sacrifice” I realized later that it was a small sacrifice compared to what others have given, but it was everything that I could give. I gave everything I possibly could, and I was satisfied, because I knew that I hadn’t held anything back.
Sister Clark and I experienced many miracles together including Dzintars baptism. I don’t even know how to really explain the story of Dzintars, but it has had a very big influence on me and I want to express my gratitude for Dzintars. As you know in the beginning, Dzintars was a bit slower. He wasn’t able to understand things quite like a normal person. He had a very strong stutter and he smelt so bad it was hard to be in the same room with him. I am embarrassed and sorry to admit that in the beginning I didn’t really take teaching him seriously. We didn’t call him after our first meeting and we only met again because HE called US and showed up at church. Then we decided that we should probably meet with him again. So we did, and throughout the teaching process I have never seen someone change more than that man. Not only did the gospel change him spiritually, but it also changed him physically and mentally. His stutter started to fade away, his understanding increased, and he cleaned himself up with new clothes and he smelled better. He completely changed. He was so shy at first to share his testimony in front of the branch, but he was determined to get over his fear and so he testifies as often as occasion permits and he is overcoming his shyness. I learned the power the gospel has to help one live a better life, not just spiritually, but in all aspects of life. It reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures, Mosiah 2:41:
“…I would desire that you would consider on the happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold our faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never ending happiness.”
Dzintars has become an amazing member and I have learned so much from him. He has the strongest desire to serve that I have ever seen and felt. He wants to help everyone he can. He is so willing to help the missionaries whenever he is asked. He has changed in so many ways. I can’t even begin to describe my gratitude to him and my Heavenly Father for not giving up on ME when I gave up on Dzintars so easily in the beginning.
Sister Peterson taught me to always keep a smile on my face. As you know that girl is adorable and can make even the angriest of persons happy with her cute little laugh and sweet face. I love that girl! She is such a wonderful example of working with a smile even when it’s hard. You wouldn’t think that Sister Peterson has had a hard mission by the way she acts. But in some of our moments of conversation she has expressed how hard her mission really has been. But she has had a huge smile all the way through it and I want to emulate that throughout my whole life. She is a great example of strength.
There have been several moments on my mission where I have been so overwhelmed with love and gratitude for the people that I have gotten choked up. Many of them were actually while I was singing. Two of these experiences stand out so very clear and I would like to share them.
The first was at a baptism in Imanta. The missionaries stood up for the musical number and as we were singing “How Great Thou Art” I looked out at the members and investigators that I loved so much and God filled me with charity. The feeling was so powerful that tears filled my eyes. The people in that room were so special. They were so beautiful and I could see the child of God in each one of their faces. I could feel how much God loved them and I was so eternally grateful for the chance to be among them. The other moment I want to share is similar, but in a larger setting. We were at District Conference and I was able to sing in the musical number where we sang “All Creatures of Our God and King”. I was once again filled with that same gratitude and love that I had experienced before in the Imanta chapel. It was overwhelming and the spirit spoke to my heart testifying of God’s love for each of His children. I will always treasure those two memories.
Another moment I want to share happened last Fall. One day I was waiting for a bus and there was a homeless man in a wheel chair with only one leg. He was obviously drunk and was passed out. But when I looked at him, I didn’t see any of that. I truly saw a child of God. Tears filled my eyes as he really transformed into what he really could be one day: a celestial being. I have felt things like that before, but that experience was very real and larger than any I have had before. I was grateful that God let me see in that small glimpse into that man’s divine potential. Since that moment I have realized that EVERYONE I see has that same potential and my love for everyone has grown.
Some of the greatest experiences of my life have been with my dear friend Vasis. The experiences I have shared with him are so dear to my heart that I can hardly think of them without choking up just a bit. I met Vasis on a bus. He was such an interesting man. So closed, but yet he had such a light about him. While others gave up on him, I never could. There is something about that man, and I know that one day he will accept the gospel, even though I didn’t see that happen. I gave everything I could possibly give and then some more to teaching and helping that man accept the gospel. His main problem was that he couldn’t accept Christ as his savior. I will be forever indebted to him because of the testimony of Christ that I gained through studying and preparing to teach and help him. I came to know my Savior on a level that I didn’t know I could reach through the teaching process of Vasis. My testimony of Christ and the need for Him and His atonement has wedged it’s way deep into my soul. I have never wanted something more in my entire life than for Vasis to accept the gospel and to experience the blessings that come from it. We became great friends and I will always cherish his friendship. I remember having to what we call “drop” him because he wasn’t progressing. It was one of the hardest days of my mission because I loved him so much. But a miracle happened when he showed up at church a couple weeks later in nice clothes and a shaven face. He looked 100% different. I double looked and sure enough it was Vasis. No more wispy white hair all over his face and head. I looked at him and then I smiled and he started laughing. haha. I was so happy to see him! After Sacrament meeting we went to Sunday school and after that ended I said, “Vasis! What made you want to come to church today?” He said, ” Something told me last night that this is where I needed to be today. I had to come. That is what YOU would call the Holy Ghost I know. I see a light in you both, and in the people here. It is in your eyes! I have looked for it ever since our last meeting in other places and other people. I can’t find it anywhere but here. There is a place inside of each person that needs to be filled. If you don’t fill it with good things it will be filled with bad things. I wanted to fill it with good things so I came to church today because I knew I needed too.”
Moments like these have convinced me that Vasis will make the decision to accept the gospel one day. He just wasn’t ready. Another reason why I am so grateful for Vasis is because of an experience we had praying about the Book of Mormon with him. We had Elder Senkans in the lesson and the whole room was practically floating because the spirit was so strong the entire time. We all knelt down together and Vasis offered the most simplest, beautiful prayer I have ever heard. I have never, ever, felt the spirit more strongly in my entire life and because of THAT experience I will never and can never deny that the Book of Mormon is true. I know it. And I know that Vasis knew it at that moment. I think back to that lesson often and thank my Heavenly Father for answering mine and Vasis’ prayer that day. I knew after that without a doubt that God will ALWAYS send people a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Whether they accept it or not, He will give it. Vasis problem is accepting universal truth. He doesn’t believe that there is one truth, but a truth for every person. He doesn’t deny that this is truth, because it’s our truth, but it’s not his truth. One day he will figure it out. I know it. I will never loose faith in him and he is the FIRST person I am going to find in the spirit world if he doesn’t accept it in this life. I gave everything I had to helping that man come unto Christ and I don’t regret a single thing about the experiences I had with him.
Another very influential person was a girl named Agenta Liepajniece. You know her well. 🙂 That girl has caused me more grief than anyone on my mission, besides Vasis. haha but I love her so much and I always will. I prayed and still pray for her so much. I studied for her so much. I loved her SO much. And I gave her everything I possibly had. And of course when you work so hard you learn so much. My faith and testimony were strengthened and I will always be grateful for that. Through Agneta’s retention process I feel that I was endowed with Charity. By learning to love her, and by seeing her example of love for other people, I was changed. I remember going to visit her one night when we found her in her stairwell talking with a homeless woman. The woman had just gotten out of jail and was hopeless. She was hiding from the cold in the apartment building. Agneta had run to herhad given this women her loaf of bread and expressed God’s love for her and the ability that this woman had to change her life through Christ. We all knelt in prayer and Agenta offered a beautiful prayer with tears falling down her face. I was so touched by Agenta’s love for this homeless stranger. Tears filled my eyes as I started to feel what Agenta was feeling. That moment of kneeling in a dirty, cold stairwell is a very sacred moment to me as well.
I have learned so much about the power of prayer these past 18 months. I have never prayed so much in my life. My relationship with my Heavenly Father has been strengthened to a level I didn’t think I could reach. I have experienced such powerful moments during prayers on my mission. I don’t know if I ever really realized how EVERY prayer you say can be a spiritual experience. In EVERY prayer you can feel the spirit burn in your heart. As I have been focusing more on that I have really realized how strong the spirit can be if you just pay attention. I have realized that it is always when I am kneeling that it is the strongest. I have had such sacred moments on my knees while pouring out my heart pleading with God to help me help other people. To make me strong in my weaknesses so that I could be an instrument in the hands of the Lord. I am so thankful for prayer and for the love we can feel from our Heavenly Father while we pray. It is so apparent; we just have to pay attention. Prayer really allowed me to be able to give my all to the Lord. Prayer is real. It is literally a way to communicate with God, with our Father and He speaks back to us in return. I know that God listens intently to our prayers. I know that He wants so badly to communicate with each one of His children. I know that He speaks back to us, we just have to stop and listen. I know that we have to really have faith in what we are praying for and really believe that God will do His part and answer our prayers. I am so grateful for prayer and I cherish the quiet moments I have alone to talk to my Father in Heaven.
Now I want to express my gratitude for the Holy Ghost. It is because of him that I was able to become what I wanted to become, a trustworthy servant of the Lord. It was only through him that I did anything while serving in Latvia. He guided me. He gave me answers to my own questions, gave me answers to others, gave me questions to ask others, gave me inspiration on what people needed to learn, helped me know who to talk to, and what to say. He helped me to know what scriptures to share, how to overcome weaknesses, and how to express my love. He helped me in every aspect of missionary work and I know without a doubt that he was the teacher and I was just what he used in order to teach God’s children. I feel that I have developed a greater ability to hear and recognize and follow the spirit on my mission. There are so many sweet memories of the spirit saying “will you be baptized” to Inara (one of my investigators) before I actually knew what I was saying. Moments of confusion with Peteris and Rudis where I had no idea where to take the lesson and then all the sudden I would know what to do as an answer to my prayer. He told me when I needed to be out contacting. He warned me so many times of danger. He helped me set goals and achieve goals. I have developed a close friendship with the Holy Ghost. He is the greatest gift God could give me and I could not have served this mission without the help he gave me.
My experience with one of my last investigators is a perfect summary of how the Holy Ghost has guided me to serve and help others come unto Christ.
Her name is Meldra and she was such a tender mercy from the Lord towards the end of my mission. The Holy Ghost inspired us every single day to know what to teach her, how to help her understand, and how to best help her progress. I remember planning a lesson for her and while we were studying both of us just felt like it was wrong. We discussed it and as we talked about what she needed, the Spirit unfolded the lesson to us. It was because the Spirit knew, and we were ready to listen. He prepared us and when no member could help the spirit sent one we hadn’t thought of. We were sitting in a lesson teaching baptism, when Santa, a member knocked on the door. She had come to church early to clean and I asked if she wanted to join the lesson. She gladly accepted. She told me later that the Spirit had prompted her to come to the church 2 hours early that day. I really learned how involved the Lord is in this work through teaching Meldra. We were guided every step of the way.
The spirit didn’t only help us in lessons but also in contacting. One day we had just finished planning and I had the thought that something wasn’t right. I looked at my planner and the Spirit told me that we needed to contact until 12:30 and not just until 12. So we changed our plans. That next day we saw countless amounts of miracles including a girl who walked back to the church with us to be taught. Miracles like this happened every single day of my mission when I listened to the spirit. He knows best where to find the miracles. 🙂
I guess the end of full time missionary service you would call “old age”. But that is not what it is for me. I have the ability to speak Latvian, to teach Preach my Gospel, I have learned how the spirit works with me, my testimony is as strong as it has ever been, and I have experienced so much, but I am not tired. I am not “slowing down”. I know I owe a lot of the energy I have felt to my wonderful companion Sister Woodland. She has really helped me to continue to give everything I have with her spirit of determination and her attitude of happiness and energy. It was an honor to train her and to experience missionary work from the start all over again in my beloved Liapaja. I have learned SO much these last 2 transfers. God has been showing me my weaknesses and helping me to change them. I still have so many and I am still weak, but He is helping me to be strong. He is helping me to continue on the path of progression.
The last thing I want to share is of LIGHT: the light of the gospel and the light of Jesus Christ that I have seen so much on my mission. It’s what Vasis saw, and it’s what I saw enter into others. There is a scripture in Alma from the Book of Mormon that has become one of my favorites. It is Alma 19:6 It describes so perfectly so many familiar moments when I have seen this light enter into my investigators. It reads, “Now, this is what Ammon desired, for he knew that the king was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light and the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness–yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God…” I remember teaching my English class this last transfer about the Plan of Salvation and when I started talking about what happens after we die I could literally see this light enter into their eyes. As I was testifying of the Resurrection, I saw the dark veil of unbelief being cast away and this joy was being infused in their souls. It was such a sacred experience and I will always remember it when I hear the sacred word, “light”.
My mission has changed my life, my personality, and my relationships with my Heavenly Father, my Savior, the Holy Ghost, and my family. It has been my honor to serve with all of my heart, might, mind, and strength to Him to whom I owe my all. I know that this is the restored Church of Jesus Christ. I know that Joseph Smith was called to be the prophet of the Restoration and I have such a respect and reverence for him. I know the Book of Mormon is the word of the almighty God. I can never express the gratitude and love that I have for that book. It has changed my life and it teaches me how to follow the Savior more and more every time I read it. I love it with all of my heart. I know that Christ is my Savior, friend, and brother. I have experienced His atonement work in my life and I have seen it work in other’s lives. I have seen His light enter into other’s and I have felt it enter into mine. I know that God is my loving Heavenly Father. He loves me. Prayer is real. I know God is there and that He listens and answers our prayers. He has a perfect plan for me and has guided me my whole life. He guided me to my beloved Latvia and I will always be eternally grateful for that. Latvia will always be my holy place. I have fallen in love with the people, the language, and the culture. I will always look upon this country and the people here with a reverence that brings me to tears. I love these people. I have given them everything I possibly could. I love these people so much and I can’t wait to be reunited with all of them one day whether in this life or the next. They are my family, my brothers and sisters. I will never be able to express my gratitude for the opportunity to serve in the Baltic mission. To serve these people alongside of the other faithful missionaries has been my privilege and my honor. I have truly learned that service is happiness and I hope to serve the Lord for the rest of my life. I am ready and willing to do it.
Thank you for guiding me and for being my Mission President. I have learned so much from your example of courage, love, and wisdom. You will always be a hero of mine. Thank you for your patience with me when I fell short and for your love when I felt pain. You have truly been a wonderful influence in my life and I am so grateful you promised me to be my Mission President and that I promised you that I would be a missionary in Latvia. I am eternally indebted to you for everything you have taught me.
“And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you to bear you up.” -Doctrine and covenants 84:88
He has kept his promise.
Love, Sister Gallacher