POV: Does the Church provide you with a guide to help you to prepare for your mission?
Tony Smith: For missionaries that are preparing to go, we are encouraged to study and prepare on our own. However, there are opportunities to take missionary prep classes through the church's educational program. There are two programs for young people; seminary, for high school age teenagers, and institute for college aged young people. Missionary prep classes are available in both.
POV: What is it like being a religious young person? Are most of your friends also religious?
TS: Being a religious teenager is just like being a normal teenager, I really don`t see any difference. I consider myself just like any other person, I`m not weird...or different than other young people of my age. I feel that the only thing that sets me apart from most young people is the importance I give to spiritual things. I basically try to live a normal Christ-like life, that's all! As for my friends, I have a wide spectrum of friends and acquaintances. Some are religious; some are not. I don`t judge my friends by their religion in any way. I firmly believe that we all have the great opportunity to worship in whatever way we like. I also believe that having a wide array of friends from different backgrounds helps me have a broader perspective on life and the beliefs of others.
POV: What is a typical day like for you?
TS: A typical day starts at 6:00 a.m.! From 6:30 to 9:30 a.m., we dedicate time to study the scriptures and to prepare ourselves spiritually for the day. We also find time to make breakfast! From 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. we dedicate time to proselytizing. This includes visiting appointments, teaching people, contacting in the street, providing acts of service, and a variety of other things of the same type. We only stop to eat lunch at about 2:00p.m! There is always lots to do (we always walk FAST!). When we return to the house we dedicate a few minutes to plan the activities of the next day, eat dinner and after a good shower we head to bed at 10:30p.m. Then, it starts all over again...
POV: How many missionaries are there with you on your mission? Where do you live/with whom?
TS: In this mission we have approximately 200 missionaries scattered throughout the surrounding area. I live with three other missionaries in a house that we rent and that is close to our assigned areas.
POV: How long has there been an LDS presence in the area you are working in?
TS: The church has more than forty years in the city that I am in right now.
POV: What (if anything) has been established there?
TS: In this particular city we have two meeting-house facilities and five wards or congregations of people that are divided by geographic areas. We also have two other branches (smaller congregations) in two small communities that are on the outskirts of this city. All the wards have an average assistance of 50-100 or more every Sunday and the branches vary from 15-40 people in assistance. The closest temple is about three hours away in the city of Tampico.
POV: What do you miss most about home?
TS: The family, food/candy, modern appliances, American culture, Dr. Pepper, etc...my house and my mountains!
POV: What is one big misconception people in Mexico have about Mormons?
TS: That we have seven wives and worship Joseph Smith. I have even heard people say that we sacrifice children in our reunions. (...all of which are NOT true!)
POV: Did you have any misconceptions about Mexico/Mexicans?
TS: Like everyone [in the US] I did have many misconceptions and stereotypes that I believed before I got the chance to live among these great people. I too was sorely mistaken. Mexicans are some of the most humble and loving people on the planet. Like all of us they have their few exceptions but for the most part they are incredibly honest, hospitable, respectful people. Willing to give you the shirt off their backs if it will help you... That is something that we don't have in the States!
POV: What restrictions are there on your behavior/activities, if any?
TS: During our missionary service we leave our homes and we are assigned to different parts of the world, or missions, as we call them. In every mission there is a president that is in charge of overseeing the work and the well-being of the missionaries that are assigned to that area. We have certain rules that we abide by for many reasons. We are given the rules and then we are asked to obey. Nobody stands over our shoulders to enforce these rules, we simply know them and we obey them. The rules bring protection and help us to maintain our focus on the things that we are doing. For example, we are to always remain with our companions and never be alone. This provides protection from physical dangers and protects us against false accusations.
We don't watch T.V. or listen to music that is not from the church. We don't date or have any personal relationships with people of the opposite sex, etc. People might think that these things are insignificant or unimportant but, these things do have a tendency to distract us from the work. I don't see the rules like restrictions. They help me stay free from outside distractions so that I can serve with all my heart, mind, and strength.
POV: Have you experienced challenges to your faith?
TS: Of course. Serving a mission is not easy at all, there are difficulties and challenges every day. Many times I have had to really dig down deep and search my own soul to discover what I am really made of. It has been hard, but I have learned life-lessons here in the mission that couldn't be learned in any other situation.
POV: What is the most rewarding aspect about being on a mission?
TS: The most rewarding part of my mission has been the opportunity to see the changes in people and in myself. I love to see the happiness that our message brings to the people. I personally have gained a greater perspective on life and people, as well as a greater respect and appreciation for the many blessings that we take for granted as "Americans." I am a better person thanks to missionary service.
POV: What is the hardest thing about being on a mission?
TS: The hardest thing about being on a mission is dealing with people that have no interest in learning or progressing due to ignorance, laziness, or prejudice. There is also lots of stress and worry attached to this work, both physically, mentally, and spiritually. When you work so close to the people, it hurts when they have no desire to accept the truths that you are offering them.
POV: What do you think you will take home with you after your mission?
TS: Many memories of a wonderful country and people that have taught me more about myself in two years that I have learned on my own in twenty! The joy of knowing that I have completed my service honorably.
POV: What do you feel you have learned during this time?
TS: I have learned so many things that it is hard to explain just a few. I have gained a love for the Lord and for the people that I cannot adequately describe with words. I now have a greater appreciation for all of the many blessings that I have, things that I always took for granted. I have come to know who I am and who I can become in the future. The mission has been the greatest blessing of my life.