Mitt Romney is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often known as the Mormon Church. The church is a lay church. This means that all church leadership is made up of volunteers who are not compensated monetarily. Members of the Church become accustomed to finding themselves in positions for which they had no real prior training or experience and simply jumping in. They consult more knowledgeable people, they study, they practice, and most importantly, they pray. In time, they become skilled at the task they’ve been assigned. Mormons learn to do whatever needs doing.
This has been the background of Mitt Romney’s life. He learned throughout the years to do whatever needed doing. In 1968, when he was a young man, he accepted a call to go to France for two and a half years to teach the people there about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Missionaries are sent away from their homes and families and are expected to learn to thrive in and understand the new cultures where they’re placed.
France was a troubled place when Romney arrived there and provided some unnerving experiences for a young American man. There were riots, disrupted communication, and a government near collapse. Romney, who faced the hardship of trying to teach religion in a country filled with chaos, prepared later in his mission for a new challenge as assistant to his mission president. Even then he was consistently a leader. He worked hard and got results. He was ready for leadership.
Things were not perfect on his mission, however. As Romney was driving the mission president, the mission president’s wife, and Romney’s missionary companion to an appointment, another car came speeding around a curve, missed a turn and swerved into their lane, hitting them. Romney was pronounced dead by police. Though he did survive, Romney had to overcome some injuries, not the least of which were pyschological and emotional: the mission president’s wife did die. Romney’s grief was intense.
However, despite grief and the physical pains of the accident, Romney was not allowed much time to recover. His mission president left for a time to take his wife’s body home. Romney, who was only 21 years old, and his companion found themselves in charge of an entire mission, a task normally assigned only to much older men. They were responsible for overseeing 200 missionaries and assist in serving 3,000 church members. Another mission president, assigned to Geneva, was sent in to provide emergency training and support, but he quickly found the young men knew what to do, so he returned to his own mission. He said they were quite capable. Romney pushed aside his grief and pain and focused on the task in front of him. He was excited by the opportunity to learn to do something extremely difficult under difficult circumstances.
The expectation was that Romney and his companion would do the minimum required to keep things functioning, a tremendous task in itself. However, Romney was not then—as he is not now content with doing the minimum. He decided that although they’d only baptized 70 people the first half of the year, they’d baptize a total of 200 for the entire year. He went around the mission, speaking to the young missionaries and getting them excited about this new goal. He learned to speak to large audiences, a skill which has benefited him greatly in his secular life.
Mitt Romney’s mission introduced him to a life of unselfish service, of putting the needs of others before your own, even in the midst of great trials. This is one of the blessings that can come from a well-served mission.