I loved my mission, don’t get me wrong. Some people may feel disappointment when called to a states mission instead of a foreign one, but I was elated. I didn’t see the benefit in slogging through difficult language learning for 18 months only to feel truly effective for a measly 6. When I received my mission call to Oklahoma City, I laughed partly because God has a great sense of humor, but also with happiness at never having to learn a difficult language to teach the Gospel.
But there was one aspect about foreign missions that I grew extremely jealous about. Many missionaries who went to foreign missions came back with stories of how they taught English classes to open up teaching opportunities with others. My two loves – the English language and teaching – combined into one brilliant missionary practice seemed like the coolest idea ever. I often wished that I could have run English classes myself in Oklahoma, since it seemed to me more effective than knocking on random doors.
Naively, I felt like I would never experience the joy of teaching an English class while sharing the Gospel until one day I sat in bed staring at the ceiling thinking about how I could get engaged with the wonderful work going on in Seattle’s Korean branch. Suddenly, inspiration struck. Why not teach an English class? I’m proficient at English, I love teaching, and I love the Gospel. Certainly, one does not have to be a missionary in order to teach an English class in tandem with the local Church branch.
As I contemplated the greatness of this new idea, I began to think of other ideas. As the son of immigrants myself, I have always felt great passion when it comes to the hot topic of immigration. I often see the plight of immigrants and feel pained – at the exploitation, at the fear in immigrants’ lives as they adjust to a strange, loud, and sometimes hostile world. Education and knowledge, I feel, dispels that fear and steels against exploitation. The Church has numerous times advocated humility and charity when dealing with immigration in the United States – shouldn’t individual members take up such a worthy charge?
Shouldn’t we have Mormon social workers who offer up advice for free? Or Mormon lawyers educating immigrants in the community about basic laws and rights so that they do not have to feel afraid every time they see a police officer in their neighborhood? Couldn’t we have Mormon teachers and professors donating a night every week or two to teach basic subjects such as reading, history, social studies, math, and science? Why aren’t more Mormons donating time to teach various subjects such as basketball, yoga, resume writing, job hunting, personal finance, home loans, and where to pursue further education and social services available to immigrants but of which they are ignorant of? We have an army of returned missionaries armed with language skills learned on their mission – I know many of them read the Liahona in that language to keep their skills sharp. But instead of just reading the Liahona in Romanian or Spanish or Chinese, just as effective in honing your language skills would be teaching smart consumer skills in Romanian or Spanish or Chinese.
In the past, the local church building often served as a hub for the community. Why shouldn’t we now? Our churches are actually built as giant community centers – we have kitchens and basketball courts and more classrooms than we sometimes know what to do with. Isn’t it about time to utilize our churches to the fullest and transform them into local community centers for the poor and minorities, to not only better their lives temporally, but perhaps also show them a more excellent way? If we fail to do so, can we honestly claim that we follow Christ’s command to do the least unto these, our fellow brothers and sisters?