Twenty Years

In preparing for day’s Primary lesson on missionary work, I did a quick search to see if I could find anything out Seymour Brunson’s mission.

The short answer is, not a lot of detail on an iPhone during sacrament meeting. I mean, access to the D&C tells me he was called on a mission in 1832. And, thanks to the Joseph Smith Papers Project, I know that his mission was in Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia. And, per Ferron Olson’s Seymour Brunson: Defender of the Faith, he went through those states, baptizing hundreds (as missionaries did in the 1830s) and organizing branches along the way.

Me, more than 20 years ago. The back of the picture tells me a truck had just passed and splashed a line of mud on my pants, shirt, and face.

The lesson was actually fortuitously-time for me. Just the other day I realized, I returned home from my mission 20 years ago this week.[fn1] I was in the São Paulo East mission from August of 1995 until August 1997.

Twenty years is a nice round number, and it means that my life after my mission has been longer than my life before my mission. I’m actually (believe it or not) not entirely sure what I want to say here, but I feel like 20 years is something worth commemorating, and my mission was worth commemorating.

There are legitimate criticisms of the way our missionary program works in our 21st-century world. (John F. has offered a compelling recommendation for how we could make it better.) I agree with many of the critiques and recommendations.

And yet, my mission was an important and a defining part of my life. It wasn’t a life plan for me—I decided at 12 that I wasn’t going on a mission, and didn’t change my mind until I was 18. Those two years were a spiritual cementing for me, and a chance to engage with a world I’m not a part of. Before my mission, I was a music major at BYU, and those two years gave me some distance and time to rethink my future. Perhaps most importantly, when I met my now-wife, our initial common ground for conversation was our missions.

I’m a different person today than I was in 1995 when I left on my mission, and than I was in 1997 when I got home. I don’t want to be the person I was 20 years ago. But without my mission experience, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And that’s something worth commemorating.

[fn1] I don’t remember exactly when I got home—it was 20 years ago, after all—but I’m pretty sure it was the first week of August. I know I had not more than three weeks at home before I left again for BYU. The exact date may well be in my mission journal, but my mission journal was destroyed in a house fire a number of years ago.


  1. Thank you for this, Sam!

    Here’s a bit more info on your Seymour via the CHD’s Early Mormon Missionaries project:

  2. Thanks, Tod!

  3. Hey, you and I were music majors at the Y at the same time! I went a different way after my mission but really enjoyed the program while I was in it. What instrument did you play?

  4. mjb, cool! I was a saxophone performance major for my freshman year (which meant music theory, keyboard, dictation, sax lessons, saxophone quartet, jazz combo, jazz band, and concert band, as well as one other music class, I think—I spent a lot of time in the HFAC).

    Which reminds me: that major was significant in helping me get exciting about going on a mission. As a teenager, I didn’t have the highest opinion of missionaries and returned missionaries, for whatever reason. But the sax major was small (roughly 15 kids, iirc); three or four had just gotten off their missions. And they were cool, and they were honest. I remember one sax section practice turning into them talking about their missions. One hadn’t had a good experience on his, and they were honest and frank as they discussed it. At one point, someone said something like, “We’d better be careful around Sam,” but they were joking.

    It’s amazing to me that that conversation has stuck with me (in broad strokes, at least) for 22 or 23 years. But that was the conversation that solidified my desire to go on a mission, because it was something they’d clearly taken seriously, something that they had to grapple with and understand, but something they could be honest about and not regret.

  5. Nice article Sam!

  6. I will never forget the day/date I returned home from my mission, but, then, the fact that it was a holiday and, therefore, was significant for other reasons, as well, might have something to do with it: Thanksgiving Day, 1990. ;-D One of the first people I hugged after getting off the plane is a girl I’d never even met before, but I didn’t break any mission rules. ;-D (My brother had gotten married: RIP, Rita. :’-(.)

    When people mention 20-year anniversaries, for whatever reason, I almost always think of Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock” and the lines, “Twenty years, where’d they go? Twenty years, I don’t know. I sit and I wonder sometimes where they’ve gone.” (Great song.) And in the spirit of Shameless Self-Promotion, your reminiscence gives me a perfect excuse to post this (for whatever little it may be worth):

  7. I didn’t go on a mission, and I don’t think I would have thrived on one, but I do think a mission is a valuable learning experience and growth opportunity for a lot of people. I have mixed feelings about my sons going. Part of me worries about them having a bad experience (as some people do), but I don’t want them to be without on the experience, whatever it turns out to be.

  8. Apropos for a Brunson to write about a Brunson. I only learned recently that Seymour Brunson was my Great x4 grandfather. Small world.

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