As nest shrinks, Mormon moms of missionaries require comfort

Tim Hacker/East Valley Tribune

A group of Mesa-area mothers of Mormon missionaries meet once a month to share the stories of their children and offer each other an arm to lean on. From top clockwise are Heidi Borgia, Nicole Barney, Deena Heap, Kim Riches, Debbie Forrest, Pam Agren and Dawn Smith.

By MICHELLE REESE
East Valley Tribune

MESA, Ariz. (AP) – A mom’s tender heart is tested any time her child goes away, no matter the age.

But when you’re sending your son or daughter to another part of this country – or another part of the world – strength requires reinforcements.

Each week, Mormon moms of 19-year-old men and 21-year-old women say goodbye to their children for months on end as they go out to serve the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on their mission.

It’s a time that the women cherish, but also a time of worry.

So a group of them from the Cooley Park Ward in northeast Mesa have joined together, a sisterhood of women who gather about once a month to share the stories of their children and offer each other an arm to lean on.

“We come together once a month to get connected with moms,” said Debbie Forrest, whose son, Aaron, is serving in Spain right now. “It’s inspirational for us. Sometimes, a missionary is having a tough time. We’re supporting each other. It’s tough as a mom when you hear your son is struggling and you can’t even call him. You get an email, but that’s not enough.”

As they approach missionary age, Mormon youths turn in their papers after discussing the matter with their parents and church leaders. Then, they wait to see if they will receive an invitation, or “mission call,” to go to the Missionary Training Center in Utah. After training there for several weeks to up to three months, the men go off for a 24-month commitment; the women go for 18 months.

The missionaries are required to come up with their own funding. They spend their weeks at the training center learning the skills needed – and sometimes, the languages required – for their time in service.

Some are sent “stateside” with assignments in places such as Indiana, Minnesota or Ohio. Others are sent around the globe to Russia, Spain, Mexico, El Salvador and Taiwan.

That’s where Kim Riches’ son, Quentin, has served for the last two years. Riches helped found the current group of moms in the Cooley Park Ward about 26 months ago, she said, right before her son left on his mission.

“Nobody told me how really hard it is on the mom,” she said. “You know it’s hard, but it’s really hard. You wouldn’t have him anywhere else, but it’s really hard.”

Once a week, the moms of the Cooley Park Ward receive emails from their 28 missionaries now serving. In the Mormon church, a “ward” is an area set up by the church within a certain boundary of a community. A person’s home address establishes which ward they live in.

The moms then take those emails and send them on to each other, so they can all know what’s going on with their sons and daughters. The emails are also printed and in many cases mailed to the missionaries - many who have grown up together.

“With the moms group, whenever someone has a question – someone once needed to figure out how to send a package – one of the other moms has had experience with that. Whatever question you have or whatever issue you’re facing, it’s such a support because there is someone who understands and can figure out what to do,” Kim said.

Nicole Barney’s son, Taylor, left five months ago to serve in the Philippines.

“I hear the first six months is the hardest,” she said, sitting with her son’s photo on her lap. “I had a hard time going into his room. I still do. I didn’t know what to expect,” she said.

It didn’t help that her son’s letters told of pythons that live next to his home.

But she found answers and comfort through the other women going through the same experience.

“They are growing into men. They are so much wiser and more compassionate,” she said.

Two women in the group have two sons each out on a mission. Dawn Smith’s twins, Hayden and Hunter, are both serving in South America. Pam Agren’s sons, Clayton and Austin - brothers by adoption, but just one day apart by birth - are serving missions in Minnesota and Mexico, respectively.

“We went from a household of kids to empty nesters,” she said of the boys’ departures coming just days after their older sister got married.

Pam said the moms’ group “is the best” because she and her sons are learning about how all their friends are doing around the world.

“I know it’s a strength for them, as well,” she said.

One of her sons recently wrote to her a line that many of the missionaries have shared with their parents: “I’ve never been so happy and felt such joy.”

Now those are words a mom’s heart can grasp onto.

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