The Death of Elder Gardner
I must immediately explain that Elder Gardner did not actually die as you and I think of death. It is a mission expression, a way of talking about coming into the mission, your life here, and then your leaving; your death in the mission. When you enter the mission you are born, your first senior companion is your father, those in the district are your cousins, when you are released you die.
Elder Garner is one of those people that is easy to like and hard to forget. He has a highly developed sense of self-worth that is, for the most part, well founded. He can walk into a room of strangers and make a dozen friends and a couple of enemies before he leaves.
He spent a lot of time in Tomsk with the Bowdens and we saw him often in Zone Conferences and finally he was one of our Zone Leaders for several transfers. He came to our home often for dinner and here is wondering if Elder Petersen was going to plant his dessert on his Zone Leader's talkative face.
When he began to think about going home, he talked about playing some kind of joke on his parents, like coming a day early and just walking into the house like he'd been there every day for the last two years. He thought up numerous schemes to get one up on them, but never seemed to make them happen. His mother wrote to us to thank us for feeding her son and she remarked that he never talked about the time he'd come home and was never "trunky". I believe that. He was a driving missionary right to the last day.
When he came into the office to give up his ATM card and get checked out of the mission office, I took some pictures of his shoes and suit which he wore to make a point to his family. This pair of shoes attests to the time he spent on his feet in the streets of the Novosibirsk Mission. His suit shows the wear that all of us who wear them share. The sand and ice just eat the hems of the pant legs and you start looking pretty ragged after a short time during the winter.
The other part that shows a lot of wear in the arm-holes and inside pockets of the suit coat where missionaries store their planners, English Club invitation cards, tri-fold literature of various kinds, pens, passports, and anything else they don't want to carry in their hands or book bags. He said that he was going to have the shoes bronzed and the suit put in a shadow box for display. That remains to be seen.
Finally, here he is with Sister Nichuniyeva who was being transferred to Omsk on the same day. There is more than one way to leave a district and she is leaving by transfer while he is dying. We expect to see her again before she dies as well. She spent two transfers with us and we love her.
We wish them both well in their new lives; she in Omsk and he in Utah somewhere.
The flight home was with the Bowdens and this seems to be "the rest of the story". When they landed in New York, they had to go through customs, recheck their bags and make it to their domestic departure gate in record time. As I might have expected, Elder Gardner, being in a bit of a hurry, did not show something required at the new security gate and was delayed, or more correctly, delayed all three of them so that they had to make a dash for the departure gate some distance away.
The story is told by the Bowdens that as they were literally running down the corridor to their gate, rounding a corner, they ran into his parents who were the ones who played the trick in this case by meeting him in the New York airport and flying home with him to Utah. It seems that must have been a fun and noisy ride.
We will miss Elder Gardner as we will miss all of those missionaries who will return home. We wish him, and them all, God's speed and happy lives as they are born again in the world they left behind.
What a missionary. What a country.