For John Junca and Anderson Malaikal, being home will take some getting used to.
“It feels weird,” says Malaikal, about seeing his family.
Malaikal, 21, and Junca, 22, came home last Wednesday and Thursday after two full years away from home on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Livonia.
Malaikal and Junca both attended , and were teammates on the wrestling team. Though the Mormon population is not as large in Michigan as in Utah, Malaikal says “it’s still there,” and “it’s growing.” Members of his church, from Northville, Novi, and South Lyon, have gone on missions across the country, including Arizona, Colorado, California, and even outside the country.
Both men served their missions in different parts of the world; Malaikal was in Tucson, Arizona while Junca was in Viña del Mar, in central Chile. However, they ran into many of the same problems.
“We had to contact as many people as we could,” said Malaikal. “You get doors slammed in your face, you get people who just completely blow you off,” he said.
Winning over religious converts is difficult enough, and both had to be able to do it in Spanish.
“Two years is a long time, obviously; there’s no visiting your family,” said Malaikal. “It’s crazy the kind of stuff that happens, but you learn to get over it and keep moving.”
Junca faced these same challenges in Spanish-speaking Chile. “The adjustment was in the language for me and the lifestyle, but not necessarily the people,” he said.
For 24 months, he lived on a rigorous schedule that consisted of studying the scriptures in the morning, meeting with people that he had either scheduled ahead of time or just talking to people out on the street. It was all work until around 9 o'clock at night, when he would go to bed, only to wake up the next day and do it all over again.
“You do the same thing for 2 years, and it’s a very, very packed schedule. There’s no time to go visit sites,” said Junca. “There’s just very little time for that because you’re so focused on the mission.”
Another challenge was trying to teach people a message that most were unfamiliar with. “Everyone knows us as Mormons, but no one had any idea what Mormon was,” he said. “95% of the time, they had no idea what we shared.”
Malaikal said “sometimes people thought we were Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Two years of uninterrupted religious devotion can be a difficult and sometimes lonely feeling. For Malaikal, the first week away from home was the toughest. “This is never going to end,” he thought, with the whole mission ahead of him. He felt like he was “never going home,” and he could not find people willing to listen. In his struggle, he turned to prayer and reading the scriptures. “That’s when I got the motivation to want to go out and keep doing it.”
“You get everything on the mission,” Junca explained. “Most people aren’t interested, most people make up excuses… but there is a small percentage [that is willing to listen] that makes the whole mission worth it.”
Before the mission, Junca was studying at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Malaikal spent as much time working as he could, saving up, and he funded his mission with his own money, as well as his step-mom’s. Not only is he glad he was able to help others and make a difference, he and his family can see a definite change in his character. He says he has gained self-discipline, self-motivation, and has become more goal-oriented.
“That’s one of the things that the mission does, it teaches you to prioritize everything and put everything into focus,” he says.
Last weekend, both men enjoyed a welcome home party at the Malaikal house with friends and family.
Though Junca feels he has grown and changed as well, he is still adjusting to being home.
“It’s different,” he said. “But you go through stages in your life, and it’s good to be back.”