Chapter 34: The Last Supper

            

My path over the subsequent year took me from Bonners Ferry to Orofino, Idaho, to Pasco, Washington, and finally to Wenatchee, Washington—the town where I was promoted to zone leader, and where I would eventually die.

My release was scheduled for August 19, 1988, and I impatiently counted the days. Early in May of that year, I quietly became a double-digit midget—an important milestone in every missionary's career.

Now, most missionaries fly home when their missions are complete, and they are greeted by a veritable flotilla of friends and relatives at the airport, often bearing banners saying things like "Welcome Home, Daniel!" or "It's All Over, Elder!" or "Welcome Back to the Real World!" This is almost a stereotype of the typical missionary's homecoming, in fact—but it didn't happen for me. No, my family wanted to drive to Spokane to pick me up, then tour some of the areas where I'd served on the way back to Utah.

Now, I wasn't exactly keen on this idea—after all, I'd been a missionary for a good long time, and I was rather eager to be getting on home—but I went along with it. They were my family, after all. Family can push you around.

The days kept ticking away, and before you know it I was a single-digit midget. I turned twenty-one on Sunday, August 14, five days before my release, and the Lueders family of East Wenatchee—a very cool crew—threw me a spiff party. In a slow-motion replay of my last days in Calgary, I spent the next few days bidding farewell to investigators and members alike—and gathering a lot of illicit hugs along the way. The most memorable were one from a rather zaftig young foreign-exchange student from South Africa whom my companion Elder Gregerson and I were teaching, one from the enchanting young waitress who worked at the pizza parlor we frequented, and a doubly illicit and chummy one from Sister Barkdull, who was by then serving in the nearby town of Leavenworth.

On Thursday, August 18, I bid farewell to Elder Gregerson and boarded the mission van. With one of the apes at the wheel, we picked up other dying elders along the way to Spokane—including the hapless Elder Berenstein. There were eight or nine of us leaving the next day. When we reached Spokane, We each had an exit interview with President Aames (who advised us to go home and start seeking out that choice "eternal companion"), and then we gathered at the Aamess' scenic home for what was known in mission parlance as the "Last Supper"—a huge homecooked dinner that would be our final evening meal as missionaries.

My parents arrived at the mission home just before the Last Supper was to begin. My four youngest brothers and sisters had come with them to Spokane (I'm the oldest of eight), but my parents had left them back at their motel for the evening. Mom and Dad joined us for dinner, a boisterous and gleeful affair over which our favorite mission stories were swapped. Inevitably, mentions were made of my experience in Canada, and I bore the razzing with an easy smile.

After dinner we all gathered in the living room for a final testimony meeting, at which we would all be expected to stand and express our feelings about Jesus Christ, the Church, our missions, our families, and so on. (There was no graceful way out of this for any of us—but least of all for me, since my parents were in attendance, and they would be expecting to hear my testimony.) When it was my turn to bear my testimony, I took advantage of the opportunity to razz Elder Berenstein one final time about the way he had trashed me nearly a year and a half earlier. Berenstein turned red and muttered something about how he wished I'd stop bringing that up.

Finally, I started to feel badly about the way I kept doing that to him.

When we all had borne our testimonies, including my parents, President Aames stood to say a few words. He turned to me with a somewhat bewildered smile and said, "Elder Shunn, it would appear that more people than just you and me know about your experience in Canada."

I nodded, not feeling the least bit abashed. "It sort of got out, President."

President Aames looked around the room at the gathered elders. "You mean you all know about it?"

My friends all nodded. There wasn't a one of them who hadn't known for at least a year.

"Well," said the president, "that's news to me. And I thought it was supposed to stay a secret."

It was a pointed, if mild, rebuke—but it was rather too late for President Aames to punish me for my honesty. I mean, what was he going to do—send me home?

The next morning, my fellow elders set off for the airport and their short hops home. Me—I clambered into the family van and began the long and winding trip back to Utah.

The, well . . . the most interesting two years of my life were over, and all I had to take home with me was a box of snapshots, a head full of memories, and an international criminal record.

What a long, strange trip it was.

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

About This Story

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

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