A Desire to Serve

Marley Mittleman, Writer

Marley Mittleman

It has become increasingly common for people to decide to take a gap year or two in between high school and college. Matt Dunn, a 21 year old just starting his first year at MSJC, found himself spending his years in between school in a strange place. Matt, 18 at the time and freshly graduated from high school, decided to put off his education and leave the comfort of his home, family, and friends to spend 2 years living in Brazil with people he had never met, a language he had never spoken, and a lifestyle he was not familiar with. He spent his time serving others and helping them build relationships with Jesus Christ, but he also encountered what life is really like in a third-world country. A foreign place he once never knew has now become more of a home to him than the place he grew up. 

Matt, a devout member of his church, knew that he wanted to put off college for a few years in order to be a part of something bigger than himself. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he, and other young men and women, had the opportunity to devote 18-24 months of his life to serving others and teaching them about Jesus Christ. Matt stated, “I decided to serve a mission because I felt so much joy and peace in my life from having a relationship with Christ, I wanted others to feel that same joy and peace.” Matt then filled out his application and sent it in. 

Marley Mittleman

Those who desire to serve missions do not get to pick where they are assigned, in fact they have no idea where they are going before they send in their paperwork. The application is reviewed by Prophets and Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and through revelation each individual is called where the leaders feel the individual is needed. It is typically an exciting, yet nerve-racking process, Matt explains. However, once he found out he was going to Brazil, Natal he recalled, “I was so stoked! When I looked up Natal and saw I was going to be around the beach, I was so excited! I was a little nervous to learn Portuguese because I was terrible at Spanish in High School, but overall I was so excited.”

A few months later Matt packed his bags preparing for 2 years in a foreign place. He had a suitcase and a desire to serve. Once he got there, he struggled with missing his family and friends, but after he lost himself in the service of others, he was able to overcome his own challenges and focus on helping those who were in more desperate need. He remembers the language being difficult to learn at first and was frustrated that he couldn’t express himself exactly how he wanted. He practiced daily, rarely used English, and in just 6 short weeks he could have full and complete understanding in conversations and was able to say everything he needed. He recalls, “being immersed in the language really helped. It was hard at first when no one knew what I was saying or trying to say, but it was really the best way for me to learn”. 

Matt met many individuals and families that he became close to and is still in contact with. He had opportunities to serve people in their homes and communities and was able to help others discover and or rekindle their faith in a loving Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ. He expressed with love how much each person he met means to him and how everything he learned will stick with him throughout the rest of his life. 

Not everyday was easy, he and his other missionary friends didn’t have a lot of money for food, would get yelled at often, and he was even held at gunpoint and robbed a few times. However, each day was worth it and he knew he was busy doing the most important thing he could possibly be doing: loving, serving, and teaching. 

Marley Mittleman

Matt’s time in Brazil was unfortunately cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He was evacuated home and finished his mission in the States after spending 17 months in Brazil. However, the memories and lessons he learned will be with him forever. He learned so much from the Brazilian people about sacrifice and selfless love. He learned how to be patient in hard times. He learned that looking outward is the best antidote for any problems you are facing and that in the process of serving others you learn to love them.

When Matt got to Brazil he struggled with missing home, but as he returned home he missed the places and people that became more of a home and family than he could’ve imagined. He states, “looking back on my mission I am so grateful for it because it shaped me into who I am today. It helped me overcome my fears, grow as a person, and grow my relationship and faith in God. I also have so much love for the Brazilian people and how loving and selfless they are”. 

Matt reminds us that you can make a home wherever you are, and the best way to do that is through serving and loving others. This is what creates a community of trust and peace. In a world so focused on individual gain, let us remember that we are all in this together and when we lose ourselves in the service of others, we truly find ourselves.