A memorable day in Idaho Falls with the old Chile Santiago West Mission

Almost 20 years ago, I served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Santiago, Chile. It was one of the greatest challenges and adventures in my young life.

In the process of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, I came to love the culture, the Chilean people, and my fellow missionaries, who truly became brothers and sisters for life.

Many from the Chile Santiago West Mission came together in a special way this last week after we learned our mission president’s son had been killed in a tragic automobile accident (see this KSL.com article). Not only were there tributes via social media and other means, but more than 100 West missionaries traveled from as far away as Wisconsin, Arizona and California to meet in Idaho Falls to support the Walker family at the funeral services. I was able to take the day off and ride up with a couple of old mission buddies coming from the Salt Lake and Provo areas.

The funeral was packed all the way to he back of the cultural hall with family, friends and loved ones.

The funeral was packed all the way to he back of the cultural hall with family, friends and loved ones. You can see the missionaries greeting one another while others waited for the family to be ushered in for the funeral.

A display at McNeil Walker's funeral.

A display at McNeil Walker’s viewing and funeral.

It had been a long time. I’ve attended a few mission reunions over the years but not recently. And while we all shared the family’s sorrow for their son’s death, a feeling of happiness prevailed as we exchanged big hugs and smiles at this sweet reunion.

I had the privilege of riding to and from Idaho with old mission buddies Josh Bigelow and Dale Barbee.

I had the privilege of riding to and from Idaho with old mission buddies Josh Bigelow and Dale Barbee.

One of the highlights came at the end of the funeral when the family invited all the missionaries to come up and sing the Spanish version of “Called to Serve,” an honored tradition from our days in the mission field. Singing that hymn with gusto gave me goose bumps. I felt a powerful spirit wash over me as we sang. It was an unforgettable moment, especially at the end when I looked down and saw tears streaming from the faces of the Walker family members. Later that night, I caught myself whistling the tune or singing the song to my kids.

Members of the Chile Santiago West Mission sing "Llamados a Servir," or "Called to Serve," at the funeral. It was a powerful moment for me.

Members of the Chile Santiago West Mission prepare to sing “Llamados a Servir,” or “Called to Serve,” at the funeral.

The Walker family adopted a Navajo Indian tradition of digging the hole for the deceased family member. Once the deceased member is lowered inside, they also fill in the hole.

The Walker family adopted a Navajo Indian tradition of digging the hole for the deceased family member. Once the deceased member is lowered inside, they also fill in the hole.

Afterward the burial, most of us made our way to the Walker family home for something to eat and socializing. This provided a great chance to renew old friendship and interact a little more with the family. I even met some of the early mission legends I had only ever stories about.

After the funeral, President Walker spent a few minutes visiting with us.

After the funeral, President Walker spent a few minutes visiting with us.

Another view of President Walker talking to us.

Another view of President Walker talking to us.

Another group shot.

A group shot.

A group of us at President Walker's house after the funeral.

A group of us at President Walker’s house after the funeral.

I came away from this sweet experience with three realizations.

First, while McNeil’s death is tragic and the family will miss him dearly, what an inspirational and wonderful life he lived in just over two decades. He was our “mission baby,” and all who knew him loved him. Based on the talks and tributes at his funeral, he lived a remarkable, ambitious life that impacted many lives. Two days before his death, McNeil typed an impressive list of goals he wanted to accomplish in the coming years. His motto was to “Hate sin, love others and enjoy life.” We can learn a lot from his example.

Seeing all that reminded me of this gospel principle: Given time, the Lord can extract the most good out of the most unfortunate of circumstances. God can turn any negative of life into a positive. Despite pain and suffering, God can make all things good. Something positive will emerge from this.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,” (Romans 8:28).

Second, while coming to give love and support to the family, I came away feeling strengthened and uplifted.

Third, I felt blessed to be part of the Chile Santiago West Mission. Several people noted this thought: How many missions in the history of the church would come together like this 20 years later? Probably not many. No disrespect to other missions out there, but to me, what we share in the West mission brotherhood is something special. I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to be part of it, back then, this week and for the rest of my life.

 

 

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Trent Toone

My name is Trent Toone and I’m a journalist for the Deseret News, where I write for a variety of feature sections. I was raised in Northern Utah and graduated from the University of Utah in 2003. Since then I have worked for several newspapers and received various awards over my journalism career. I am the author of “No Excuses, No Regrets: The Eric Weddle Story,” the sports biography of San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle. I served an LDS mission to Santiago, Chile, and spent a year teaching seminary. Like my father before me, I am a proud Eagle Scout. My wife Lisa and I have four children and live in Northern Utah. Feel free to contact me by emailing to trent.b.toone (at) gmail (dot) com.

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