April 7, 2010 - The MTC

Tuesday (April 6) was a very busy day at the Sanford house. James was trying to fit in all his last-minute shopping and visiting friends. It took about two hours to pack his two suitcases and one book bag (it's amazing that anyone can live two years out of one medium-sized suitcase and one the size of a carry-on). We had to pack and repack several times because we kept finding something (usually something large) that we forgot to pack. If the zippers hold out, he should arrive in the Baltics without his clothes bursting out on the tarmac. Around 9:45 that evening, the Stake Presidency stopped by to set James apart and give him a blessing (it's the last official step to becoming a full-time missionary). The blessing was wonderful and James was told he would be able to learn the languages required in his mission and that he would be free of any serious injuries while serving so far from home. He was encouraged in the blessing to learn to love the people and to exercise his faith during difficult times.

Wednesday morning (April 7th) found us making one more trip to the store to get a few more things (hangers, batteries, little padlocks for the suitcases, gum, and pocket cash - what would we do without Walmart?). We loaded up the car, picked up Anna from middle school and headed for lunch at McGrath's Fish House - James' choice for his "last meal as a civilian." After a nice meal we headed south to Provo and the Missionary Training Center (MTC). James was to report there at 1:00 pm. The MTC is just north of the BYU campus and it is here that the missionaries live and attend class until reporting to their mission field. Those not learning a new language stay for 8 weeks. Those missionaries learning a foreign language can stay for up to 12 weeks. James will be there until June 9th. Once at the MTC, families and missionaries have contact only through letters and weekly email - no phone calls, visits, accidental sightings, etc.

We arrived about 30 minutes ahead of schedule (a minor miracle for our family) so we had time to hang out in the parking lot across the street and relax and prepare for the last good-byes. James was eager to get his mission started. It seemed like we had forever when his call came in November; April seemed so far off. Now that the day arrived I think we all wished we had a few more days just to be together. James' mom held up amazingly well. We distracted ourselves by trying to figure out how James could smuggle Parker into the MTC with him.

When it finally came time to say, "good-bye," we walked across the street and were greeted by an MTC worker, who was cuing the line of Elders and Sisters. One by one, the missionaries were greeted by a fellow missionary (who had already arrived at the MTC weeks earlier). Suitcases in hand, James left with his missionary escort, leaving us to watch from the sidewalk. He gave us a wave and then disappeared inside one of the buildings. That was the hardest part (for me, at least). What I would have given for one more hug, one more "I love you, James." I think I bit a hole in my tongue trying not to shed a tear.

I came away from the experience with mixed emotions. James was where he wanted to be since he was a small boy. We had planned for this day almost all of his life. It takes faith to serve a mission. It takes an equal amount of faith to send a child on one. It made me think of the day, some 25 years earlier, when I entered the MTC as a relatively new member of the church. And it made me admire my parents all the more for saying good-bye to their son, putting him on a plane in Oregon, not knowing what lie ahead. I am only now beginning to understand the love, confidence and sheer trust which they demonstrated all those years ago.

We made a quick stop to take a few pictures in front of the Jordan River Temple.

 James and Anna in the MTC parking lot. Anna inherited James' cell phone. Needless to say, she was quite excited.

 James turned around to smile as he was escorted to the MTC campus.

 Our last sight of James just before he entered the MTC to begin his missionary service.

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