Special to the Recorder
When Debi Mortensen had three sons in a row, barely a year apart, she knew that one day she wanted them to serve two-year missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She never dreamed how daunting it would be to have all three of them so far from home for such a long time.
That long separation came to an end recently, when the three Mortensen boys – Steven, Michael and Alex – were reunited after returning from missionary assignments in Brazil, England and Idaho.
“Having all the boys gone at once definitely left a hole in our home,” Debi Mortensen said. “The house is filled with sound again.”
Little sister Jennifer also missed her big brothers.
“Michael was Jenny’s basketball coach,” Mortensen said. “He taught her to shoot, to jump, and play with someone really good.” Alex, meanwhile, often served as his little sister’s chauffeur.
The only thing that took away the sting of the boys’ absence, Mortensen said, was having local missionaries in their Marsh Landing home.
“Because we had missionaries serving in our own town, we were able to feel connected with our kids,” she said. “While the boys were away, lots of people were taught the gospel in our home.” Several people were also baptized here while her sons were baptizing people around the world, she added.
Mortensen was eager to hear about her son’s experiences during their missionary assignments. Not all of the experiences were positive, however.
During his two-year stint in Brazil, Steven was robbed at gunpoint while walking with some companions. Knowing it would terrify his mother, he didn’t tell her about the incident until he returned home.
Mortensen noted, however, that while the robber stole the belongings of one of Steven’s companions, he left the missionaries alone.
Both Michael and Alex suffered bicycle accidents while serving their missions. Michael’s companion was actually hit by a car, but was able to walk away from the accident. Alex was riding his bicycle in the rain when his brakes locked, causing him to hit a curb, fly over the handlebars and miraculously land on his feet.
“Personally I think every, single one of our boys was watched over by the Lord through all of this,” Mortensen said. “The boys all faced plenty of challenges, but they were always protected.”
The three Mortensen boys also served in vastly different cultures.
“In Brazil, the people 35 and older are really Catholic,” Steven Mortensen said. “The young people are mostly Protestant and forward thinking. Atheists are extremely rare.”
In contrast, Michael felt that England is a country that is losing its faith.
“Everybody is either agnostic or atheist,” he said. “And they are very set in their beliefs.”
Alex served in an environment vastly different from either of his two brothers.
“In Pocatello, Idaho, almost everybody is already a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he explained. “They are valiant Christians, as set in their ways as the atheists my brother met.”
The topography was also vastly different in each of the boys’ missions. In Brazil, Steven walked everywhere, while in England Michael rode his bicycle. In Idaho, Alex usually drove a car.
“Brazil is an extremely social place,” Steven said. “Only rich people can afford cars, or even motorcycles, so the people walk everywhere. They are super friendly. They don’t always accept our message, but they loved to talk to us.”
The people were equally accessible in England, where every town had a town square where people gathered and shopped.
“We talked to 30 people an hour,” Michael said.
In rural Idaho, Alex’s mission boundaries included Bear Lake, West Yellowstone, and the picturesque tourist destination of Jackson Hole.
“It was totally impractical to go door to door in Idaho,” Alex said, “so we just became part of people’s social circles.”
While the Mortensen boys served in vastly different cultures, their mother says that they all grew in similar ways.
“My boys came back from their missions so focused,” she said. “They are no longer teenagers. They are grounded and independent.”