Ammon didn’t go to Montana

For anyone who has ever felt a twinge of disappointment or despair over their mission call, this one’s for you.

I was sitting in the San Francisco airport when my phone buzzed.

“Your mission call came,” the text message said.

Elation. After seven weeks of waiting, all that stood between me and Sister Buchanan was a connecting flight to Salt Lake and a shuttle to Rexburg.

The next 17 hours were filled with every emotion imaginable.

One moment I was drowning in my inadequacies, the next I was a pillar of faith. I contemplated all the incredible places I could be called to serve. I even prepared myself for the worst:

“I’m sure I would be happy if I got called to a place like … Wyoming, or Montana.”

While this thought  left me worried with a big “what if,” I was positive I would be soon preaching the gospel on the cobble stone streets of Europe or the jungles of Brazil.

I got to my apartment at 2 a.m. on November 28, 2009. I was freezing, starving and exhausted. The trifecta. And anticipation was slowly starting to kill me.

Per my mother’s request, I woke her up so she could be on the phone with me when I opened my call.

I stood in my living room with my  faithful roommate who waited up for me. Phone in one hand, mission call in the other, my freezing and trembling fingers ripped open the immortal white envelope.

You know that moment that everyone talks about when they open their mission call? You know, the one where they read “Dear Sister Buchanan, you are hereby called to serve…” and the spirit overcomes you and you start to cry because, oh-my-gosh you are a missionary!

That didn’t happen.

My eyes searched until they found what I really wanted to know.

Montana Billings Mission.

“What?!” I exclaimed on the phone to my mom.

“What? What’s the matter?” she asked in a groggy panic.

My heart sunk. They had a mission in Montana? I was sure this was a mistake. I couldn’t have been called there.

Where was that feeling of rightness everyone had told me about? It was not coming.

Not really knowing what to say, my Mom and I hung up.

I was suddenly furious. Montana? I got on my knees. I yelled at God. He was sending me here? I couldn’t believe it.

I took a shower. Cried. Went to bed.

Morning. Guilt. More prayer.

I got off my knees after thoroughly apologizing to the Lord for my reaction. But I still didn’t want to go to Montana. I was a city-loving-kind-of-gal and open fields, cattle and hunting season was not what I had in mind. How in the world was I supposed to connect with those people? We had nothing in common.

God kindly reminded me that “those people” were his children.

Filled with shame, I resigned myself to the inevitable fate of cowboys and meat and potatoes.

I went forward. It was the only thing I could do. I began to tell people I had received my call and tried not to mind when there was an obvious unimpressed inflection in their voice when they congratulated me on my call to Billings.

The weeks went by. I prepared. I prayed. February 10, 2010 came and I entered the MTC. I still didn’t want to go to Montana.

The MTC was incredible. It changed and prepared me for the greatest experience of my life. But I couldn’t ignore the feeling of impending doom when I thought of proselyting in Billings in a few short weeks.

Tuesday. Devotional. A member of the 70. Inspired.

He spoke about loving our mission. My district turned and looked at me. They knew my little secret.

He spoke of Ammon. Ammon was an incredible missionary because he became one of the people.

“Well, Ammon didn’t go to Montana,” I thought.

I studied Alma 17. I studied Ammon’s service as a missionary. I wanted to be just like him. I left the MTC. I sat on a plane flying to Billings on March 3.

I looked out the window. On our descent into Billings a sweet woman named DeLaine Ellis sitting next to me said this:

“I know it doesn’t look like much dear, but you’ll love it.”

She was right.

The dead, bare trees. The dirty snow. The overall brown look. It didn’t look like much at all.

“But think of its potential,” a still, small voice whispered to my heart.

Everything changed. I imagined it green, lush and thriving. I imagined spring. I imagined the faces of good people walking those dirty snow covered roads. I thought of the love God had for them. This place could be incredibly beautiful. Suddenly, it WAS incredibly beautiful.

My thoughts turned to myself and everything I was about to embark on. I wasn’t much of a missionary coming out of the MTC. I knew a few scriptures, I knew many truths. But I was as green as they came.

“But think of your potential,” that same voice whispered to me.

Chills. A lump formed in my throat. I promised myself I would love everything about my mission. I promised I would love everything about Montana.

And sweet DeLaine Ellis was right in every way. I did love Montana. I loved my mission more than I’ve ever loved anything. I would give anything to be sitting on a plane starting its decent into that dead, wintry town right now.

Spring came. The brown transformed into the most beautiful, lush green I have ever seen.

And just as winter transformed into spring, my pride transformed into gratitude. And not a day has gone by that I haven’t felt that same love for that sacred place: Montana.

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17 thoughts on “Ammon didn’t go to Montana

  1. Even months into my mission I seriously wondered if I had been sent to the right mission. I testify that there will come a time in every missionary’s life when they will know EXACTLY why they were called to their mission.

  2. How interesting! In the Evangelical church, we do things a bit differently and instead of the church telling you where to go, you wait to hear God put a specific place on your heart. I LOVE the emphasis the LDS church puts on missions! I think it is something evangelicals need to work on 🙂 Your testimony is a great example of God using discouraging moments to deepen our relationship with Him!

  3. thanks for this. I’m still trying to be okay with going to Dallas, Texas (The one place i told people I didn’t want to go!) Can’t wait to get there and understand the love i’m going to have for it!

  4. Thank you so much for this. I’m waiting for my mission call to come this week *hopefully*. This is exactly what I’ve been having a bit of a problem with. Not even just the concerning chance that I’ll be sent to somewhere I see as lame. But also the fact that even the people in those places are God’s children. No matter whether they’re in Paris, France or Paris, Texas. I love your blog and it makes me cry every time. 🙂

  5. I went to Boise Idaho…I had joked about going to Boise Idaho! There was a sister that I was acquainted with who grew up in UT and went to Boise (before I had decided to serve) and I thought that was the lamest thing. Fast forward several months and I opened my call with my mom on the phone, she didn’t believe it because I had joked so much about it! When I got to the mission field, that sweet sister was my trainer…Heavenly Father has a great sense of humor! I, too, kept waiting for my “real” mission call to come, but I wouldn’t trade mine for the world! He sure taught me to “go where He wants me to go!”

  6. wow this really helped me..i opened my call last night and i feel like you did…disappointment..im trying to change but its hard not to feel disappointed and know everyone is just congratulating me to be nice, but your story really helped thank you so much.

  7. I’m so glad to hear that we aren’t the only ones who have felt this way. My oldest son and first missionary opened his call yesterday. He was called to the Montana Billings mission (we live in Utah so he doesn’t even change time zones). The whole experience of opening the call was so anti-climactic it was just sad. He worked so hard not to look disappointed as his entire extended family looked on and we tried so hard not to show our disappointment and to be excited for him. But the miracle of the whole experience came as we knelt to pray and thank the Lord for my son’s opportunity to serve. As we prayed and gave thanks we received the confirmation from the spirit that Montana is exactly where he should be. It was a very touching experience. The more we learn about the area the more excited we all get. Our testimony of the entire missionary calling process has been strengthened and his excitement keeps growing. Montana will be a wonderful experience for him.

  8. I had a similar experience…
    I stood in my living room, surrounded by friends and family who had told me a million times, “You’re the PERFECT international missionary,” and “Stateside missions are great and all, but there’s just no way YOU’RE going stateside.” As a Geography major who’d traveled Europe by myself at the age of 18, everyone was confident in my ability to adapt to a foreign land and thrive in a different culture. I had a map where people could post their guesses and Denmark was filled with sticky notes. I had taken some Danish language classes, had been to Denmark, and had Danish heritage… Everyone was sure that I was supposed to go there, and I had started to believe them.

    When I opened my call, the only words I saw were “Michigan Lansing Mission.” I was silent for a bit then realized that everyone was waiting for me to read the letter! Trying hard to avoid the appearance of disappointment, I read the call. Everyone cheered, but there was still an awkward feeling in the air. No one had anything to say. I didn’t know what to say, either. I didn’t get that automatic feeling of “This is where I’m supposed to go.” I just felt empty. I texted a friend back home where I was going and she replied “Are you serious…?” One of my friends on the phone said, “Wow, it’s like God doesn’t know you at all.” I turned to the computer and smiled at my nonmember father on Skype who had said, “If there’s a God, you’ll go to Denmark.” I felt like I had let him down, or taken away his opportunity to gain some faith. I felt like I WAS supposed to go to Denmark, but because I didn’t read my scriptures enough or wasn’t righteous enough, I got called to Lansing instead. I felt like I was being punished.

    However, I then had a similar experience to Toni and her son.

    My guests and I all knelt in a circle and I began to say a prayer. I immediately felt the Spirit so strong that I started crying. I felt the truthfulness of the gospel and Go’s love and that’s all that mattered to me. That’s when it hit me that it’s not a sacrifice if it’s easy. I’m not serving a mission so that I can travel – I’m serving a mission so that I can show the Lord that I love Him by sacrificing 18 months of my life to feed His sheep.

    Can I say that again? It’s not a sacrifice if it’s easy.

    Serving a mission is hard, but that’s what makes it worth it.

    Accepting my call was not magically easy after that, but remembering that tearful prayer at least helped me focus on faith in God. He knows why I’m supposed to be there – I just don’t yet.

    I know more about Cambodia and Zimbabwe than I do about Michigan. What I’m trying to say is… every mission is a “foreign” mission. As a San Francisco native, rural Michigan with it’s own “Bible Belt” is definitely new territory for me. I know there’s something that Michigan is supposed to teach me. Seeing everyone so confident that I would go foreign also reassured me that I am the type of person who loves travel and the world. My friends and family had faith that I would go abroad, which reminded me to keep travel as a goal in my life always. I knew my mission would not be my only opportunity for an international experience.

    I leave for the MTC in a week and a half. It’s been a long road getting to this point, full of temptation of doubt coming straight from Satan. But like Emmilie always says on this blog – Satan does not love you. God loves me, and He knows what’s in store for me on my mission and why I’m supposed to be there. I try to always remember that you’re called to a PEOPLE, not a PLACE. I can’t wait to get to the “foreign land” of Lansing, Michigan and learn from those beautiful Michiganders and hopefully teach them the invaluable truths of the gospel in return.

  9. I was born and raised in Livingston, Montana, part of the Billings, Montana mission. When I was three years old Elders knocked on our door, and my mother listened and joined the church. There is just no words that can even begin to express my gratitude to those Elders who went to Montana to share the gospel with a poor little family on the East side of Livingston, Montana. I will be eternally grateful to those young men and the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are lots more people in Montana who need to here the message of the gospel in their lives. The blessings of the gospel in my life are beyond description. Thank you for serving the Lord wherever He sends you.

  10. I can’t believe that I googled “why did my son get called to the Montana, Billings mission”? I guess I was just wanting the question out there and secretly knew that I would not get an answer. Then I found this blog. Just like Toni, I felt a cringe of disappointment when the call was opened and it read Montana. I even recognized that there is an area where my son could be within a few short hours of home. I want to be supportive and excited and I know that he will do a fantastic job in Montana. I did hear recently that the elders spend more time doing service than proselyting and I am sure that a helping hand has led some to be interested in the gospel. I guess at this point I just want to know that he was called to Montana for a reason and even though it may not be as exciting as all of the places that his friends are serving, he will grow to love it and love the people there. I pray that his testimony will grow and his love of service and Christlike love will flourish. Thank you all for your words. I can’t wait to see where the next two years take him.

    • Oh Becky I can’t believe I ever felt that way about my son’s call to Montana! I look back and I’m disappointed in myself. Now with only 3 1/2 months left until Elder Black comes home from serving in the Montana Billings Mission I am so grateful that he served there. Yes, they do tons of service but it is also an extremely high baptizing mission for the United States. There are so many opportunities to share the gospel in word and deed. He as fallen in love with the people and the area and leaving will be so very difficult for him. When I emailed him on Monday and asked him if he had any thoughts as to what he wanted to do when he came home this summer, all he could say was that he wishes he could just be a missionary and stay in Montana forever. The experiences he has had there have changed him forever and his testimony is so strong. In his words, “I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter where you serve your mission. What matters is that you serve and how you serve. The Lord blesses you the same no matter where go.” Your son will meet so many different kinds of people and he will fall in love with them all. The Montana Billings Mission really IS the best mission in the world!

  11. We LOVE our missionaries here! I’m in Bozeman, part of the Billings mission and am grateful for all the missionaries called to serve here. It really is “the last best place!” 😃

  12. The Internet is a wild thing! Isn’t it? I stumbled upon this post completely by accident, it was shared by a friend on Facebook, a social network site that I very rarely visit. And on a day, When I was feeling really scared about my impending Mission call… I couldn’t be more grateful to have stumbled upon this post. I have been a nervous wreck worrying about where in the world I would get called to serve. But this post made me see, That it doesn’t matter. I’m not called to place, I’m called to a people, and so, while I sat in my bedroom and wept at the pure spirit I felt as I was comforted and assured that no matter where I go, it is the place I am meant to be.

    So Thank You,

    Not only to the original poster but to each comment, for building my ever growing testimony and being here in a virtual sense for me when I needed to hear the things you had to say.

    The Church is true!

  13. I just stumbled across this blog post. My son is currently serving in the MBM mission. He’s been there two whole weeks. He’s currently in Great Falls, and he’s loving it. He worried about where he would be sent, but fortunately his patriarchal blessing, it said “You will love your mission, and the people on your mission” which alleviated any concerns he might have, (but he still had about a half second’s thought- “Montana?!?!) He’s had a super positive attitude about it ever since then. But I am commenting just to let you know you made me cry because I know Montana will be just as sacred to my son as it is to you, and as much as I am missing him, I know it will be worth it.

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