Well...I hope I can get all I want to say into this email. I'd like to start by answering the questions my parents sent me and then add some personal thoughts at the end. As you all know, the past 2 years I have been serving as a missionary in the BRAZIL MANAUS MISSION, which includes the states: Amazonas, Rondonia, Acre, and Roraima. When I started the mission, I was not mentally dedicated to the work but serving simply because I thought I had to. Sadly, I wasn't serving to help others but merely to say that I had served a mission and did my time. As if to smack me in the side of the head, a ton of challenges were thrown at me: mentally, physically, and spiritually. My testimony got rocked and I found myself questioning what I was doing. I left the comfort of my life back home, which in reality had no rules or limits, to be confined by many rules and talking to people I didn't even know. Just like a little kid with Legos, I thought…well, I'm here and there's no going back…I might as well build a testimony…or at least try. I continued to work to the limit with my companions (who also helped me a ton). At times, we had success and there were other times we didn't. Each was a step forward, though…one step closer to finding out who I am and what I am made of. Rather than walking with my head down in the streets lost in my purpose, I started to lift my head and think positively. Initially, I forced myself, but over time it became natural…one more big step toward reaching my goal. A Chinese proverb says, "A journey of 1000 miles starts with a first step." These were my first steps. With time and counseling from a wise President and friend, my testimony started to re-build, stronger than ever before. My purpose as a missionary was no longer just a phrase I recited every morning but a feeling inside my heart and mind that could be seen through my actions. I will never have the capacity in my mortal life to express my love and gratitude for President and Sister Jayme, my family, and my friends (Brazilian and American). Like many say, time passes faster with certain companions, but I was blessed to have great companions. With each one, I learned something different, something I could improve upon, something I wasn't doing, as well as that which I was doing just right.
Upon my return home, I will have saudades (longing) for several things. First off, I'm going to miss the people. I will also miss the language, the culture, and the food. The list goes on and on, but the friends I made on the mission sit at the very top of the list.
Years from now, what I'm going to remember are the sacrifices the faithful saints made here and their smiles upon changing their lives for the better. I will remember how many were rejected by family and friends to do what they knew was right. I will remember the love and courage of the people of the Amazon.
As for miracles I have witnessed, there are many. Several were experienced while I was in the Mission Office. At times, there were complicated circumstances with regards to money because of the huge increase in the mission territory and numbers, but somehow when it came down to the wire, it always worked out. Another miracle I witnessed was the area served by the office staff. It was known as the black hole of the mission and was dreaded by many missionaries, BUT with hope and force, we were able to turn it around. Within a few months, we were able to bring dozens of people to the gospel and plant several seeds.
With regards to accomplishments, well…I must say of all the people that learned something while I was on the mission, I was the one who learned the most, changed the most, and grew the most. My greatest accomplishment was my personal conversion. I had my share of challenges on the mission, but they were all necessary. At the time, I couldn't see that to be the case, but looking back with open eyes and better understanding, each roadblock, bad day, door slammed in my face, and drunk asking for money was part of the puzzle.
I hope those we taught really take to heart what they learned. I pray our converts stay firm in the gospel and those that have lost their way might be able to find their way back. Furthermore, I wish that each and every person that refused our visit might be able to open their hearts and one day accept the missionaries and the message that they carry. Lastly, I desire that their memories of Elder Mackay are equally as fond as I have of them and they will never grow tired of keeping in contact.
After 2 years of walking, talking, studying, etc., I know the work is true and it has no end. Like the prophet of the Restoration said, "Our greatest responsibility is to preach the gospel." I have done my part and will continue to do so. I know if it wasn't for Jesus Christ and the great Plan of Salvation, we would be a lost people without the slightest chance of making it back to the presence of God. I know we have a modern-day prophet and that the authority and power of God (the priesthood) is once again on the earth.
All this aside, in a few days I will once again be Taylor Mackay, the famous American poet, biochemist, and photographer, but please feel free to ask me about how my mission was down there in the Amazon...I'll be happy to answer. See you in a few!!!
Elder Taylor Mackay
P.S. Last night was awesome...the members threw me a going away party. It made me feel loved...I love them!