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SENDAI, Japan — When the sea overruns the earth and washes away all semblance of normal life, as Japan's tsunami did in March, everything changes — even Mormon missionaries' routines.
Yuri Bennett, of Pleasant Grove, wanted to be a missionary in the land of her ancestors. But did she think mission service would look anything like this?
"No. I was ready to proselyte, but I'm very happy to do this because that's what they need — to be helped," she told KSL News during our recent trip to Japan.
All the disruption in Japan has given Latter-day Saint missionaries a different way to serve.
Journey into Japan:
On June 13, some 50 missionaries based in Sendai, Japan, ditched their more formal attire for blue jeans and yellow T-shirts with the emblem of Helping Hands. They signed up for a government-directed service project: scraping smelly, dry, tsunami muck from beneath the floors of a government subsidized housing project.
Far inland, the water was still about 7 feet deep; its stain was visible on the windows and walls. Japan's disaster underscored changes in values held by some 19-year-old kids.
"It' s one of those experiences that changes your life. It makes you grow up really quick, which isn't a bad thing," said Elder Patrick Hildebrand, of Pocatello, Idaho.
"A lot of things that we think in this life are really important — like our cars, and our toys, and our music, and all that stuff — really isn't that important," said Elder Ryan Lundell, of Spanish Fork. "What it comes down to is our families, and our loved ones, and the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Craig and Anne Thomas, of Tifton, Ga., arrived as missionaries in Sendai two days before the tsunami hit. "It was amazing the response we got from home," Craig Thomas said.
Reid Tateoka, of Salt Lake City, completed his term as Sendai mission president just two weeks ago. He said this non-traditional service blessed his crew.
"It's a tremendous experience for them to show forth their love to the people that they've seen incur such tremendous devastation," Tateoka said. "It's a very healing process that purifies them from the center of the earth."