I didn’t think I would ever be able to have a chance to serve a mission, with my disabilities and challenges, but my patriarchal blessing tells me that I would serve as a missionary, so I prayed for guidance from my Heavenly Father to answer my prayers and fulfil my righteous desires to serve the Lord.
Because my ward Relief Society President heard about service missions, spoke with my mother, and helped me to complete my mission papers, I started my service mission on the 4th of January 2021. Now serving a mission, I find some days are hard, but Heavenly Father strengthens me in so many ways when I need it. I have grown so much, and I know I am in His hands.
Heavenly Father always makes a way to achieve His work. One of these ways is making available to all His sons and daughters the privilege to serve Him, by providing the opportunity to be a service missionary. One of my favourite scriptures is Ether 12 :27. I have a supportive family who help me with some of my assignments. I volunteer at a foodbank two days a week. I also volunteer with the Church’s ROC (Records Operation Centre) on a few projects. One of these is Billion Graves—I have spent a lot of time transcribing headstones on its website and going to my local graveyard and taking photos of headstones.
Some people I have met at the graveyard can be unhelpful, but then there are those who ask questions, and to whom it’s a joy to speak. It does not deter me from doing this work; I find it calms me and brings me happiness knowing I am serving those on both sides of the veil, as the Prophet has asked us to do.
I have met some people who have been interested and puzzled why a young man would do what I do. I spend most of my time cleaning the headstones, so that I can read them and take photos, or hacking my way through overgrown grass and weeds. One time I found a small headstone beside a big tree near a footpath, that had been lost in the undergrowth, and completely hidden from view. I cleaned it up and removed the holly bush, other weeds and grass that were hiding it. It was a grave of a five-week-old baby boy Tony Hamilton, lost from view and forgotten. Now, since I cleared it, someone has mowed around the tree and the grave, so hopefully he will not be lost again.
It is usually only the people who come to see family graves that keep them tidy—it would not get done otherwise. I have a lot of conversations about Billion Graves and the work I am doing, and online resources and websites for family history. There is one man who wants to know more about it, so I may have started something.
These are peoples’ last resting places, and we need to have respect for them. I have transcribed over 40,000 names from photos of headstones on the website, including over 3,000 names from over 2,000 headstones for which I have taken the photos and put on the website. A few ward members have family buried in this graveyard, as well of some of my ancestors from the 1700s and 1800s. As I find names related to members in the ward, I take and print photos of them. collect them in a file and give them to the members. I hadn’t come across any names I knew for the first few weeks I started doing it, then at the end of one day when at home as I was going through the photos on my laptop, some names came up on my screen (about 6 or 7) that I was sure I didn’t take that day, but they were there. All I can say is the people whose names were on the headstones wanted to be found, hopefully to have their temple work done and belong to eternal families.
I am so happy that I can be part of this great work building family chains. I liked the message on one headstone, “Precious memories always in our hearts”. Yes, we should always keep them in our hearts so that they are not lost, not forgotten.