My Daughter And The Mafia: 10 Reasons I Love My Church’s Missionary Program

Ragusa, Sicily.  Find it on a map, and you see it’s not even part of Italy’s proverbial boot.  Not even the boot’s toe. It’s more like the southernmost point on the underside of some clot kicked westward by the toe of that boot.  As far south as you can possibly go without hitting ocean and swimming as fast as you can to Malta.

Like any fleeing Mafioso.

Solreela Bradford and her group fo missionaries, learning Italian in the Missionary Training Center

Sorella Bradford and her group of fellow missionaries, learning Italian in the Missionary Training Center

Little, quiet hilltop Ragusa is reputedly Italian Mafia headquarters, where the narrow streets seem eerily tame.  That is, except when the ticked-off fruit vendor and irritated barber yell at each other in Sicilian (the region’s spicy dialect), and their insults ricochet off walls like bundles of barbed wire tumbling and scratching away at the dusty limestone.

This is where our daughter Claire (aka Sorella Bradford) earned her Sicilian stripes by beginning her full-time voluntary service as a Mormon missionary. It’s from here that she sent weekly letters that describe missionary life as it is: challenging, educational, humbling, exhilarating, hilarious, rough, purifying. Work.

Sorella Bradford and her first companion, Sorella Dall

Sorella Bradford and her first companion, Sorella Dall

Today I’m particularly grateful for the work of people like Claire.  For the past two months, we’ve had missionaries (who’ve served here in Switzerland, who’ve served in Italy, Finland, Japan, the U.S.) and their families visiting in our home.  Our conversations have revolved often around lessons learned, lives changed and reservoirs of gratitude filled for the life-altering work missionary service can be.

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So before Wednesday comes – the day when we exchange our weekly emails with our missionary – I’m listing 10 (of the 100) reasons why I love that Claire, recently transferred to Rome, has taken 18 moths off of university studies to serve her God and His good Italian people.

10 REASONS I LOVE MISSIONS

1- Missionaries are expected to live within the world (“Mom, we worked the Ragusa ghetto today, and taught English to 41 refugees tonight,”), but to hold themselves outside of what can be vulgar, trendy and materially distracting.

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2- Missionary work is about focusing on the wellbeing of others. The ego is reduced, the heart enlarged. 

3-Prolonged immersion in another culture can forever alter one’s world view. These kids learn a new language to the level of functional, fluent, and in some cases, near-native mastery. Cultural immersion can be rough, and such roughness can smooth corners of xenophobia, bigotry, lop-sided patriotism, and cultural smugness.

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4-Missionaries get to penetrate and observe the heart of any culture: the home.  Visiting homes lets young people learn at close range what works and what doesn’t in family relationships.  Some homes are models. Some are real-life cautionary tales.

5-This kind of work is rigorous training toward independence and self-motivation. Missionaries don’t simply opt out of a day of work because they’re tired or crampy or have swollen ankles.   Or if they have a bad companionship…

6-Because missionaries are always assigned to a companion (you don’t choose where or with whom you serve; these are considered sacred assignments and you learn to make the best of everything),  they learn to compromise, communicate, work as a team, and plan in tandem.  They might also learn why someone else finds them obnoxious. Great prep for any future relationship.

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7-Ever met more ridiculously optimistic young people? Missionaries, with their focus directed outside of themselves, wanting to bring joy to others, are brought on a daily basis to the sometimes painful interior of others’ lives.  And they are happy. Claire’s letters have more exclamation points than any other punctuation.  I’ve never known her so “up”, so fulfilled.

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8- Unpaid and sometimes ridiculed (“So today this lady on the bus screamed at us and tried to rip off my nametag! No one takes my TAG”), or even stoned (“They were just bored gypsy boys, Mom, but when that rock hit my companion, my tiger side kicked in”), missionaries are liberated from the natural tendency toward selfishness. At 18-22 years old, that’s a sheer miracle.

9-Right when many are sowing wild oats, testing (bucking) boundaries, deceiving parents and institutions and perfecting the popular sardonic posturing of the rising generation, missionaries are committing themselves to a life based on deep principles, high values, moral discipline, volunteer service and a world view that extends far beyond YOLO.

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10-At the heart of this all is love.  To learn to love – differences, others, God, self, truth, life, prayer, work, sacrifice, eating raw octopus, being stoned by gypsies, seeing a human heart and a whole life change – is, for me, the essence of the miracle of a mission.

In the words that ended Sorella Bradford’s last letter: I LOVE THE MISSION!!!!!…!!…!!!…!

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**

What pluses would you add to this list?

What experiences, missionary or non-missionary, have you had that have resulted in similar pluses?

What questions do you have about this whole missionary program that Sorella might answer herself?

(I’ll share this post and all your comments with Sorella Bradford. Go ahead. Write in Italian, if you wish.)

23 thoughts on “My Daughter And The Mafia: 10 Reasons I Love My Church’s Missionary Program

  1. I suppose that the other “plus” I would add is what it does for others. I mean, missionaries are truly doing the work of God. It is through missionaries that my ancestors joined the church. Missionaries bless people, families, for generations to come. It is amazing to me how the Lord is so effective in blessing His children. Both the servant and those being served are blessed!

    On another note, how exciting for you all. My husband served his mission in Italy (Milan), and I happen to be of Italian descent. (My father is from Sicily). I have yet to go to Italy, but I’m slowly learning the language. For now, I can only say neat things like: Io taglio il pane. (I cut the bread)…Anyways. 🙂

    thanks for posting this. And buona fortuna to your daughter!

  2. In exactly the ways you describe, it rounds off so many edges. Previously quite judgmental, I remember the moment I realized my companion was funny. Truly hilarious, clever, and enjoyable. With that came the realization that I was wrong, and that was wonderful. When I finally got that it was always about everyone else. I LOVED learning that.

  3. Love your thoughts. . My mission challenge was more about the people I served with within the zone. rules being broken and other issues. I had 2 companions who over 50., divorced , their husbands ,were bishops.. I had another who was sick until the elders came around.. my first and last companions were my saving grace.. To this day my first comp is my best friend. Her son served in our area., recently.. I did not go my mission until I was 25. I served mostly within one stake issues there too. I served around Gettysburg with in our mission is the restoration priesthood site. we had a sisters conference. there, Served under 2 prophets . witnessed the mantel falling to president Benson before we knew President Kimball would die. It was at a regional conference with Benson was monsoon and Hinkley(sp) and their wives. yes we shook all their hands The new hymnals and missionary discussions came about. Also we were experimental with how the money is handled the one flat fee per month. I guess you can say I had a rich experience and stories to tell..

  4. Oh, missionary work is one of my favorite LDS topics! I know that missionaries have a special power. God helps them so much. I’ve experienced that and many more true miracles.
    I will remember my first 2 missionaries forever. I remember how happy they were and how excited I was. I didn’t know what to expect. But we started talking, they showed me their family photos and I just thought what a great sacrifice it was from them to leave their loved ones behind to serve.
    And my life changed. I learnt so much! I found myself with their help.
    I know I can count on them in every situation and vice versa. Now I consider them as my true friends. After a few months one of them baptized, the other confirmed me.
    I’m grateful for every missionary who have served or is serving. Thank you, Sorella Bradford, your work is priceless!

    • Noémi-
      What a bright message! Thank you for taking time to formulate it and share on the page. The sacrifice is substantial to do what these kids do. And I’m convinced the vast majority of missionaries would say, as I do and Sorella does, that it is an experience that unlocks perpetually regenerating blessings, and in all directions. I’m aware of those personal blessings every day, and it’s been over 25 years since I served in Austria.

      Wonderful to find you here, Noémi, and to “hear” your voice. Beautiful.

      -M.

  5. (of course) you are deep, funny, somewhat outside the apparent, (did i mention “deep”) as usual.
    wish the missionaries who braved our dogs and the long slog uphill from the lake exemplified the characteristics you’ve nominated here. a sense of humor would go a long way, heh. (we remain, yeah, defiantly, jewish tinged with hindu)

  6. Small World! Elder Andrew & I are a senior couple currently serving in Roma 3 District/Ward with your daughter Sorella Bradford. An elder, Richard Weeks, from the Italy Milan Mission where I served 35 years ago posted your article on our Mission website! So fun to read your article and know your daughter! Missions are certainly life-changing for young and senior missionaries!

    • Sorella Andrew- This is wonderful to read. I had no idea this had been posted on another website, but am happy to hear it has been. Ah, wrap your arms around Sorella Bradford for me, especially on her upcoming birthday.–M.

  7. What a delight it was to read this article and the responses. I served in Italy Milan more than 30 years ago and Sister Andrews was my first companion. What an amazing experience it was to serve with the Italian people and I am so excited for the Temple which is now being built in Rome! I had the privilege of recently getting together with fellow companions and missionaries I served with on a recent trip to the USA. It was wonderful to reminisce about our missions and to reconnect after so many years. I mostly enjoyed the hugs from all those fellow missionaries who took the time to get together with me. These are just some of the blessings that continue to happen long after our missions because of the eternal friends we make while serving. Yes, missions changes lives not only with investigators and members but with missionaries themselves. I will be forever grateful for my mission experience!

    • Glenys- Very happy to read your message here. It’s strong evidence of the many positives of this exceptional kind of service. There’s no end to the hunger for selfless service in today’s increasingly troubled and self-oriented world. Thanks for coming by!–M.

  8. Melissa,

    Love your book! Love missionaries! Love the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ! Left a message with the BYU Bookstore today about carrying your title…and how about the BYU HBLL??? So much to do, so little time…

    Gabi

    • Gabi,

      Well, well, well. . .If I never believed in telepathy, I do now. I have been thinking of Gabi Kupitz just today, marking in crimson red pen on the wall of my brain that I wanted to send you a note to thank you for the generous spirit with which you wrote the Forum review of Global Mom: A Memoir. Truly, I’m thankful.

      Reviewers often skim. You know that as well as I. But you didn’t, which stuns, humbles and flatters me, and I know you didn’t skim because you caught incidentals I had not! In all modesty, I was pleased to recognize that you “got” not only incidentals, but “it”, meaning the book.

      I’d love to see the book in BYU bookstore as well as HBLL. And any other suggestions you can offer regarding contacting the right folks for interviews/reviews would be a gift to me.

      Thank you, Gabi. And yeah-oh-yeah: so much to do, so little time. . .

      Melissa

      P.S. Here is the link to your review, as I’m sure some readers here might be interested. Again, I’m sorry you were one of those who received a copy of that first small batch of misprinted unedited galley copies. Seems it didn’t bother you too terribly. Very gracious of you!

      http://forums.mormonletters.org/yaf_postsm2638_DaltonBradford-Global-Mom-A-Memoir-reviewed-by-Gabi-Kupitz.aspx#2638

    • Antonella-

      You are certainly right that Ragusa is a safer place, probably, than Salt Lake City. Besides the Mafia’s presence – or perhaps because of the Mafia’s presence – lovely little Ragusa is a very quiet, calm, peaceful town. My daughter absolutely loves it and misses its marvelous people every day.

      Grazie mille per essere venuto qui e lascia un commento. A la prossima–

      Melissa

  9. I absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for.
    Do you offer guest writers to write content to suit your needs?

    I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on a few of the subjects you write in relation to here.
    Again, awesome web log!

    • Hi, there- As of yet I haven’t invited guest posts, although I do reblog when I come across a truly compelling post elsewhere. (Richard’s Loving Languages and Ute’s ExpatSince Birth are examples.)

      I’ll keep aware of your blog, and if I the right intersection of topic and time frame comes, I’ll call on you!

  10. Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words
    in your article seem to be running off the screen in Firefox.
    I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with
    internet browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let
    you know. The layout look great though! Hope you get the issue fixed soon.

    Cheers

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