January 1, 2020

For those who don’t know, Faye and I are serving another mission, this time in Auckland, New Zealand. Once again, we are overseeing the health and safety of about 1500 young missionaries in the Pacific Area. We started our mission December 9 and will serve 18 months. Here is my January 1, 2020 letter home. Based on comments from several readers, this letter touched them deeply, so I thought I would share it here. Some of these thoughts I had heard or read elsewhere; others I felt like were given to my through the Holy Ghost. To honor the privacy of the missionary involved, I will only include my thoughts and actions, not theirs. I will refer to the missionary with the pronouns he/she to make it gender-neutral.

I sometimes accompany missionaries home when he/she is either medically or emotionally unstable. I think this missionary had developed his/her first bipolar manic episode. In trying to help, I’d say things like, “Your brain right now is telling you things that are not accurate.” “You are not your thoughts.” “Sometimes people’s kidneys fail; sometimes their heart fails. For you right now, your brain has failed. The good news is, it’s very likely that the way you are feeling and thinking right now is probably not the way you are going to feel forever. I don’t know how long it will take, but there are medications, your family and Church leaders and good doctors that are going to help fix your broken brain. Just like broken bones can heal, your brain can heal, as well.” “The thoughts you are having are just ‘brain noise.’”
I would remind the missionary that they had a lot of people who loved them and were going to help them. He/she couldn’t trust what his/her brain was telling them right now, so they would need to trust others around them. “One of the ways you can show your trust for God is to trust the people He has put here to help you!”
I reminded the missionary of the story of Helaman’s stripling warriors. I said, “You are one of those warriors! You served valiantly on your mission. Do you remember how they were all wounded…and that some of them fainted because of the loss of blood? Well…you’re one of those with more severe wounds! You are a ‘wounded warrior’!”
I prayed for guidance and help during much of the flight. Heavenly Father is SO good to me…and ALL His children! We had several earthly “angelic” helpers during the trip.
After scanning our passports, the missionary and I got separated briefly. He/she was being questioned by a man agent who took him/her around a wall where I couldn’t see him/her. I panicked briefly until I saw where they were. A lady agent questioned me. I told her why I was there and she walked with me to where the man was questioning the missionary. I think those two agents talked to each other because we later went to the station where they scanned our luggage. Just when another lady agent there told us which machine to go to, those two agents who questioned the missionary and me came up and said, “Come over here with us.” They scanned our luggage and compassionately helped us navigate that last step in the journey. I think God sent those two agents to that station at that very moment!
After I “handed off” the missionary to their family, I walked up the escalator, sniffling, to get on my flight back to NZ. I sat down, texted the mission president that the missionary was with his/her family, then I quietly sobbed for a couple of minutes. There was someone sitting next to me, so I couldn’t cry aloud like I probably would have if I had been alone.
More angels: Before I left New Zealand the day prior, I tried to check-in for my return flight online, but the app wouldn’t let me. I meant to try later, but forgot because of all that was going on. When I got to the kiosk in the other airport where you scan your passport to go to the boarding area, it wouldn’t accept my passport. I told the agent that I didn’t have a boarding pass and why I was there and that I was returning to NZ. He walked me in person (quite a distance) to the gate agents, who had to call someone in NZ to make sure I was legit to return. They issued me a boarding pass. The agent who walked me up there stayed with me until I boarded. We chatted a little about Arizona; I invited him to come visit us! He was an angel!
When I got on the plane, the same flight attendants welcomed me as had been on my first leg and they recognized me. I told one that I was accompanying a sick missionary home, but now returning to where I lived in NZ. She was very sympathetic and said she would see if she could get me something special for a meal.
Another angel: Faye. She prays for me and encourages me. We cried together when I recounted my trip. She reminds me: How many other doctors are there who are Area Medical Advisers in the Church who have a son who came home from a mission early because of mental illness and then later took their own life? I’m guessing none; I didn’t ask for the compassion and empathy I have developed since Ashton’s death, but I feel like I’ve been blessed with a measure of that gift. I’m glad that Heavenly Father was able to bless this missionary through me. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God…” If this is the only missionary with mental illness I’m able to bless during this mission, it is already worth it!
At Pres. Nelson’s recommendation, I’m studying Doctrine & Covenants Section 84. On the trip, this verse jumped off the page for me: “…I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your [heart], and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” That promise was verily fulfilled today. I love my Heavenly Father and am grateful for His tender mercies for His missionaries!

THIS is why we are here. THIS is why we are serving missions.

Thank you all for your love and prayers,

Carter & Faye (written by Carter)