Still My Brethren
And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.
Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. Alma 17:1-2
In 1998 I was called to serve in the Philippines San Fernando mission. When I arrived at the MTC I was a little worried that all my MTC gear said “Philippines Olongapo”, a word that made much less sense than “San Fernando” but it didn't really matter. It was still the Philippines, still Tagalog speaking.
My MTC district was ten elders, five of us going to Olongapo, five to another mission. (sorry elders, I've forgotten where you went.)
The five of us who went to Olongapo, our “batch” as the mission parlance at the time went, bumped into one another from time to time. One elder and I were trained on the Bataan Peninsula, where the infamous Bataan Death March began. (note: it's not pronounced “baton”, it's “bata-an”. Say each vowel, and they're all the same, no diphthongs in Tagalog. Thank you. You're making me crazy when you say it wrong.)
I spent a little time in a district with one of my other “batch mates”, and, somehow, took over areas from batch mates three times. So even if I saw my MTC brethren but rarely I heard stories about them from their previous companions or wards.
Near the end of our missions we saw each other once a month at Zone Leaders Conference, and got to learn from one another as our mission president called on us to share with the other zone leaders.
And then, in 2000, we returned home. We all flew together from Manila to Hong Kong, from Hong Kong to California, where one elder lived, and then the rest of us got on different planes to our various homes and then...
I lived with one of my batch mates for a few months in 2001, before I got married.
And then it's been twenty years. I found one of our batch on Facebook, my roommate from my pre-marriage days, but neither of us have been all that active on the Big Blue Menace, so that wasn't a strong connection. For the most part I've just sort of wondered where everyone went and what they were up to.
So imagine my joy when, in the midst of the pandemic, one of my friends told me that we were trying to get the entire batch together for a Zoom call, and in that call I discovered that they were my brethren still. A loneliness I didn't know I was feeling has been assuaged.
Since then we've had a surprisingly active group text thread going. A lot of it is talking about the mission, all those years ago. But we're also all dads, we've had lives full of all the commonplace but remarkable adventures that make up the human experience. We aren't Alma and the sons of Mosiah, it's true. And we've spent the past twenty years having jobs instead of converting entire cities.
But we are still brethren in the gospel.