A couple of the ward members offered to shuttle me back to Friendswood, the mission headquarters. At the transfer meeting, new missionaries were arriving; others were there to meet new companions and move to their next area. Old ones, like me, were exiting. It was a day I had both longed for and dreaded for twenty-four months. One last testimony meeting. One last opportunity to address a crowd as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Elder Flake and Elder Kerns, friends from the MTC a lifetime before, were on their way out as well. Kerns’ parents had flown in to meet his converts and take their son home in glory.
I was a bundle of emotions. Of course, it was a relief to be done. It had been wrenching, soul-busting work. I had served my heart out. I had honestly done my best. But I was also filled with dismay, knowing that my best hadn’t been enough.
How can it be over? How can this be it? How can I still be the same, filthy wretch I was two years ago?
I stood at the pulpit and looked over the crowd. I could have sworn my mission president gave me a smirky smile that said, “I know you’re a fake, Elder Dallin. I know your secrets,” as if the all-seeing eye had clued him in.
Gathering my strength, I began: “I want to bear my final testimony as a missionary for the Lord’s True Church.” I had done this countless times, yet my throat strained to get the words out. “I know this is the work of the Lord. I want to welcome the new missionaries to the best mission in the world. I testify to you that you will touch the hearts of the elect of God. You’ll bring souls back home to the Lord.” I started to cry. “Please remember, elders and sisters, that the time flies. Whatever you do, don’t waste a single moment of this precious service. You’ll remember it for the rest of eternity.” As I looked into their nervous, willing faces, I envied the new missionaries. They had so much potential. So many blessings to reap. Please, please do a better job than me, I felt like pleading. Please, don’t fail your Heavenly Father like I did. “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
The crowd rumbled a response, “Amen.”
That was it. My time as a missionary was over.
My brain felt fried. In a blur, I watched the scenes of passing neighborhoods and traffic out the van window, bidding goodbye to Texas as the assistants to the president drove us to the airport. We checked our luggage and made our way to the terminal.
My heart sat like lead. Maybe this is how all missionaries feel when their sacred service is over, I wanted to believe.
I’m a failure. All that work I did, no matter how much I tried… God hasn’t accepted my service. I’m still cursed. I’m such a disappointment. How can I face my family?
Just then, Elder Flake nudged me with a giggle and pointed to the right. I later recorded in my journal the shocking sight:
At the Hobby airport, June 19, 1996, were two of them. Without a care in the world at the crowd surrounding them, they kissed and effeminately embraced. They sat with legs crossed, and spoke with loud, raspy voices laced thickly with the “queer lisp.” They probably still stand in my mind as the two foulest people I’ve ever seen.
I was only too happy to board the plane and leave that confronting scene behind.
I took my seat by the window. Ever a representative of the kingdom, Elder Stuart spoke to the guy next to him about the church. I couldn’t bear another second of it. I put my headphones on and stared at the clouds, listening to music I had forbidden myself for the last two years, wondering what it was going to be like to walk through the breezeway into the airport with my family and Emily there waiting for me.
The plane landed and began taxiing. My heart pumped lava through my body. I looked at Elder Stuart. He was glowing. Excited. Content. I coveted his levity. I pretended I felt the same way.
We shuffled up the ramp and out the gate. I scanned the crowd for my family. Suddenly, eyes flashing, my mom dashed for me.
“Joseph!” she hollered, grabbing me in her arms. I held her tight. My sweet mom. My wonderful mother, who for the last two years had supported me, prayed for me, written me, sent packages, who would have done anything for me… now I could thank her in person. I could tell her, to her face, how much I loved and appreciated her. But first, we just embraced.
For a good sixty seconds, passengers waited for us to get out of the way. “Sorry, but I’m a mother!” she shouted to the crowd scooting by.
I took my turn with each of the other family members waiting to welcome me back from my holy quest. My dad beamed with pride in his son. My sisters smiled in admiration. I couldn’t believe how my little brothers had grown.
They were all so excited, so happy. They each looked at me intently, as though searching for some newly gained glimmer of enlightenment in my eyes.
I was a hero. I was home. I was loved.
I was a fraud.
There too, grinning from ear-to-ear, was the sweet girl who had also waited two years for this moment. Emily had dieted, gotten her hair done, bought new clothes; all in preparation to see me again.
As she embraced me, I tried to ignore the voice in my head: You’re nothing but a worthless homosexual. You’re not good enough for this daughter of Zion.
I forced a smile, but began to cry. The tension was at boiling point.
I’m sure they all thought they were tears of joy.