I don’t live in Utah and so I am not as closely familiar with Governor Huntsman as others are, although from a distance I have appreciated his moderateness and his support for civil unions in the state.
When I first read about his imminent appointment as ambassador to China (see the BCC sidebar to the left for a link), the article made mention of his fluent skills in Mandarin. Without knowing his background, it was obvious to me he gained those skills from an LDS mission, which was confirmed when I then read the Deseret News article.
The first thing I thought of was Chad Lewis. A BYU football player who played professionally for the Philadelphia Eagles, he had served a mission to Taiwan and had similar language skills. The NFL made him a sort of ambassador to China for the league, and he has travelled frequently to mainland China, sometimes in the company of the NFL Commissioner.
But for an LDS mission, how many Americans would have fluent Mandarin skills? And while a Lewis or a Huntsman could do his respective job as ambassador without actually personally knowing the language, it seems to me that their effectiveness in such a role will be greatly enhanced by their greater capacity to communicate directly with their contacts in China.
As someone who served a domestic mission and didn’t learn a language, this is one aspect of the mission experience for which I feel a twinge of envy, and I take a certain pride in the great number of Mormons with these kinds of language skills as a result of their missions, something that is quite unusual in the American context.