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On a Mission

A Ludlowe Student Takes on Brazil



Nathan Nelson is a member in good standing of Fairfield Ludlowe High School’s class of 2015. An impressive 94 percent of that year’s 379 graduates entered college, but Nelson was among those who put higher education on hold—in his case, for two years.

Instead, Nelson, a devout Mormon, embarked that September on a mission trip to Brazil, where he is spreading the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in villages and towns throughout this vast South American nation. There are no trips home at Thanksgiving or during the holidays to interrupt the routine; there is no spring break. Two years of mission service means just that.

“The separation from family was hard for the first three months, but then you get used to it,” says Nelson, 19, who is well into his second year abroad. “As of now, I don’t feel homesick. Some of the Mormon members here are just like family.”

Nathan’s mother, Lissette Nelson, agrees with her son’s assessment, although she believes the adjustment period to the Portuguese language, unfamiliar food, and lifestyle required about six months. “His letters now are more like ‘I love these people. They are really open and friendly,’” she states.

“I’ve made a lot of friendships here, especially with my Brazilian companions and the people we baptized while serving in Jandaia Ribeirão Preto,” Nelson explains. “It was hard when I was transferred to Cajuru, a small city, most of it farmland where they grow sugar cane. But there I met another family that is just as cool as the others. During the time I was there, we baptized four people.”

In the Mormon Church, typically 88 percent of male college students and 33 percent of women either delay enrollment or take a hiatus from their studies to serve as Mormon missionaries. 

“In church, they always talk about mission trips, but it has to be your own decision to go,” Nelson explains, pointing out that he was inspired by three friends who returned home enriched by their missionary experience abroad. “They came back more humble, happier. They have more heart.”

Missionary life requires discipline and long hours. A typical day begins at 6:30 a.m.—breakfast, exercise, shower, “press or iron one of our white shirts,” and dress. The next hour is dedicated to personal study followed by an hour of companion study.

Generally, the visiting missionaries eat lunch at local members’ homes. “Their lunch is like our dinner; it’s the biggest meal of the day,” he says—and then they’re off to appointments or begin knocking on doors.

“There’s a 50-50 chance they’ll let us in,” says Nelson. “Many say nos temos nosso religião (we have our religion).” Work winds down in the early evening, and bedtime arrives at 9 p.m., or so.

“We do this every day except Monday. That’s our p-day, personal day, when we clean the house, talk to our families via email, buy groceries, and rest.”

At Ludlowe, Nathan Nelson was a solid student and a two-year member of the varsity wrestling team. He gives considerable credit to his coach, Nick Garoffolo, and the Learning Center teacher, Signe Wennberg-Merritt, for their guidance and support. “They were great examples, always pushing me to do my best,” he says. “Mrs. Merritt taught me patience and to keep going. Coach Garoffolo taught me never to give up, and not just in wrestling. The life lessons he taught during practices are something I’ll never forget.”

When Nelson returns home next September, he’ll regroup with his parents, Steve and Lissette Nelson, and his sister Natalie, now a junior at Ludlowe. Then he plans to enter Brigham Young University at a satellite campus in Idaho. At this juncture, he’s considering medical care or criminal justice as majors.

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