Excerpt from Chapter 11: Coming Home

Elder Nelson’s mission was coming to an end. He had two weeks left until he was flying home. It had been two years, filled with interesting meetings, new acquaintances, spiritual growth and wisdom. The Popov family had organized a special dinner to celebrate the end of his mission. The Spirit was there, and the evening, spent with brothers and sisters, was unforgettable. Pictures, laughter, addresses, “Shopska” salad, tears, music, dancing…

Maria didn’t come to Sofia to see him off. He had asked her in a letter for that. She knew the missionary rules and respected them. She didn’t want one thoughtless, emotional action to ruin their future. More than anything in the world she wanted to embrace her beloved, to hold him close to her and tell him about all the lonely nights, about all the letters she didn’t write to him. She had to wait! They can’t, he’s still a missionary! They need to wait a bit longer! A week, a month…

There is the Sofia airport! The same airport at which two years ago in the spring elder Nelson arrived. How different it looked! The building was the same but the people looked different, their faces and their eyes seemed different. They were not foreign anymore, they didn’t speak an unknown language. Elder Nelson felt as if they were family, he could recognize them by the smell and the characteristic hovering and pushing in public places. Even elder Nelson was different, a changed man! He didn’t even realize how much! His suit, a bit worn out in places, was ironed and ready for its last performance. The next day, a bit later, it would end up in a dumpster in Vernal.

Elder Nelson left his heavy suitcases at the check-in and went towards the entrance to the gates. This is it! So much, so far! The President of the mission and his wife were among the people who saw him off and were kindly smiling and hugging him. There was someone to whom the elder can report, “The mission is accomplished!”

He was going towards the gates when he felt someone’s gaze on his back. He sharply turned and saw a girl’s silhouette disappear behind a pillar at the end of the departures lounge. Maria? It can’t be! Elder Nelson spent a long time stubbornly looking with his eyes for her behind every pillar, trying to recognize the familiar face and exquisite figure but unsuccessfully! Maybe he thought he saw something! The eyes of love are all-seeing! “Goodbye, Bulgaria!” was saying in his mind elder Nelson. “I ate your bread and drank your water. Thank you! I am now your child, whether you want me or not! Mothers do not choose their children! There is no supermarket; whatever God gives them is what they get! I am already carrying you in my heart! I will love you until the end of my time! Goodbye, Bulgaria!” A small plane was going to take elder Nelson to Vienna, where a bigger plane would take him over the ocean. He had a long way back west, back to Vernal. It was raining in Sofia. It was as if nature was weeping and didn’t want to say goodbye to its dear American friend. The tower said: “Take-off granted!”

Having crossed half the globe, flown by tired pilots and flight attendants, the big Jumbo Jet lightly, but soundly touched the track at the airport in Salt Lake City. Shortly afterwards the small yellow car with a sign “Follow me” appeared to lead the plane safely. No pilot had ever broken that rule – even the Bulgarian ones! The April sun had lit the golden angel Moroni atop the Salt Lake City temple. His horn both welcomed and said goodbye to thousands of missionaries with a pioneer cry for over 100 years. Mom and dad Nelson were waiting outside. A big bouquet of white tulips was hiding their happy, smiling faces. His sisters couldn’t miss school; they would meet him at home. Embraces, tears, kisses, happy words! A bit later everyone was sitting in the family van and solemnly left for the long trip home. The distance between Salt Lake City and Vernal was 173 miles! The time zone difference spoke its word. Mathew quietly fell asleep on the back seat, hugging his bouquet. It wasn’t clear why he was smiling.