“Service is one of the pillars of our faith,” Arn’s father said, the words made heavy by his deep bass voice. “A mission trip is an initiation into a life of service, an opportunity to help those less fortunate than yourself.”
“I know,” Arn said, staring at his toes. “I want to help. I just thought maybe in another year, when I’m older, I’d be able to help…more.”
The excuse left an unpleasant taste in the young man’s mouth, like he’d just spit out a bite of something spoiled.
“Your brother was only fourteen when he went on his mission,” his father continued, “and you’re almost sixteen. You have strength that you don’t know about yet, and this trip will help you find it. Trust me. You’re ready.”
At fourteen, his brother had already been nearly their father’s height, Arn thought, and his trip had only been half a day’s travel from home, and he’d gone with two other kids. Although they seemed like legitimate points, Arn clenched his teeth to keep from speaking them aloud, suspicious that they, too, would make sour words, and certain they would do nothing to sway his father’s mind.
Finally lifting his eyes, Arn asked, “What would it be like? What would…they be like? From what I’ve read, they live like savages.”
“The people there are very different from us, but they’re not savages,” the older man said, resting one hand on his son’s shoulder, perhaps hoping to lend some of his own considerable strength. “They’re behind us in a lot of ways, but you shouldn’t be too quick to pass judgement. Many of them are criminals, but many of them also live in poverty, struggling to find enough to eat and to feed their families. Do you know what I would do to put food on your plate if you were hungry? Anything, legal or not.”
It was difficult for Arn to imagine his father ever breaking the law, but if he’d said it, then he’d meant it. He never said anything he didn’t mean.
“There’s a lot of fighting,” his father added. “People are killing each other over conflicting religious and political views, and over their limited natural resources, which they’ve been pitifully poor stewards of. The two of us are fortunate to have lived our lives beyond the reach of war, but some of the bloodiest battles in history were fought right here in our homeland, and it wasn’t as long ago as you think.”
“But what am I supposed to do about a war between thousands?” Arn asked, dropping his eyes again and shaking his head in doubt. “Or about millions who are starving? Or about…any of it?”
Arn’s father sighed and answered, “Only what you’re able. That’s all you can do, all any of us can do. Son, you’re thinking of this in terms of success or failure, but the reality of it, I promise, will be a measure of both. You have compassion, wisdom, and strength. Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, teach the ignorant, protect the weak, and if it’s necessary, fight the truly wicked. Most importantly, set a good example. Show them what a good man looks like.”
Those last words echoed in Arn’s ears. A good man. Had his father ever called him that? Hadn’t he only ever been a good boy before? It felt like an important distinction.
“Of course, none of this is mandatory, Arn. The time, the place, going on a mission trip at all—it’s entirely up to you. If you want, think on it for a couple days, and then let me know what you decide.”
After the briefest hesitation, Arn said, “I don’t need to think on it. I already know. I’ll go. I’ll do whatever I can to help those people, and I’ll do my best to make you proud.”
“You’ve already made me proud,” his father assured him, “just by making that choice. Good man.”
One week later, Arn sat staring out the window of a one-man cruiser, watching the faint light of distant stars streaking past and thinking about Earth. Despite his father’s assurance that the humans weren’t savages, he knew they weren’t exactly civilized, either. He remained dubious as to how helpful he could be with the myriad problems they faced, but he felt equally confident that he’d been right in choosing to try. For the next three days, he decided, he’d do his best not to worry about it, to let his anticipation dissolve into the vacuum of space. He’d spend the remainder of his journey enjoying the peacefulness of solitude and the beauty of the stars, and then, on that strange blue and green planet, his mission would begin.