Malia Johnson and her missionary companion walked up a hill in Molino, Paraguay, to a stake presidency counselor’s house. It was the same house the now-counselor lived in 30 years earlier when Johnson’s dad baptized him and his family.
When Johnson was there, the family showed her their baptism photos featuring Johnson’s dad; she also saw her dad’s engagement announcement he had mailed to them.
“My dad and I have a lot in common,” said Johnson, a Houston, Texas, native and BYU student. “We even share the same birthday.”
But their birthday wasn’t all they were destined to share. Johnson was shocked the day she opened her mission call: she would serve in the Paraguay Asuncion North Mission, the same place as her father.
“It was super emotional,” Johnson said. “Your eyes gravitate to where you’re going to go. As soon as I saw it I was just in shock. I couldn’t believe it. … My dad was shouting on Skype, ‘That’s where I served my mission!'”
Johnson left on her mission with a list of her dad’s areas, and “was just waiting to get called to a place.”
Her first Sunday in Molino — her dad’s favorite area and Johnson’s last — she met the Velasquez family. Her dad baptized the husband and wife; at the time they had two boys below the age of 8. They now have six children, and two of their daughters are returned missionaries.
“My dad baptized them 30 years ago and here they are now helping the church grow,” Johnson said. “(My dad) had lost contact with them over the years. … Just the fact that I was able to reunite them and help them get in touch again was incredible.”
Keep a family tradition
BYU student Lucia Montagnoli visited her sister’s mission in Milan, Italy, about a month before Lucia received her call. To her surprise, Lucia would be serving in the same mission.
“(My sister) freaked out,” Lucia said. “She screamed and dropped to the floor. She was so excited.”
Lucia’s parents both served in Southern Italy, Lucia and her sister Francesca both served in the Milan Italy Mission, Lucia’s grandfather is from Italy, and Lucia and her family even lived in Rome for a year when she was 14 years old. Italy has truly become part of their family’s culture, and the family’s connections helped her during her mission.
Lucia’s first area was Francesca’s second area. Lucia said “it was scary following in her footsteps,” but she didn’t let that stop her.
“It was a way to get my foot in the door,” she said.
Lucia and her companion were able to make contact with a less-active member only because she was one of Francesca’s converts and they made the connection.
“It was nice because the members instantly liked me,” Lucia said. “In every city I went to, someone knew someone in my family.”
When Francesca married during Lucia’s mission, Lucia heard all about it from church members. A relief society president in one ward was baptized at age 8 by Lucia’s father.
The Montagnolis plan to visit Italy again in April 2017, eight months after Lucia’s return to the states.
When Nicole Tapasa-Suapaia opened her mission call, she read ahead to see where she was going. She then looked straight at her brother and read it to him. She was called to the Nevada Las Vegas West Mission, speaking English. Almost 10 years earlier, her brother had been called to serve in the same mission, speaking Spanish.
She crossed over into many of his areas, she said, but because she wasn’t speaking Spanish she didn’t interact with any Spanish-speaking people. One Monday night, Tapasa-Suapaia and her companion received a referral from the Spanish sisters. The sisters didn’t have the referral’s address, but knew he was the neighbor of the Noriegas, some members in the Spanish ward.
Tapasa-Suapaia and her companion wanted to check with the Noriegas first to find the referral. In limited English, the Noriegas invited the sisters inside for a glass of water. As they talked, they discovered that Tapasa-Suapaia’s brother had baptized the entire family when he served in the area.
Tapasa-Suapaia had been transferred back into this area, an area she had previously served in, but was in different ward. She said she had been struggling with knowing why she was back in this area, and, with only four months left on her mission, she was feeling worn out and like she didn’t have anything left to offer.
“It was a humbling, tender mercy,” LDS Business College student Tapasa-Suapaia said. “It came with perfect timing.”
The Noriegas told her their conversion story and how much they love her brother. Her brother went to their sealing in the temple a year later. The family invited Tapasa-Suapaia and her companion to their daughter Flor’s sealing in the Las Vegas temple, which their mission president gave them permission to attend.
In that week’s email home, she wrote, “The Spirit impressed upon my heart how serving a mission has a chain reaction effect on the eternities for not only the missionary who serves, but the eternities of the families of those they serve. … Heavenly Father knew I needed to meet the Noriegas to remind me why this work is so important.”
BYU senior Zack Walton, from Casa Grande, Arizona, served in the Spain Málaga Mission, which was the Spain Sevilla Mission when his dad served there 1981-1983.
“Some of the boundaries changed,” Walton said. “I started in Sevilla, which he served in, where the mission office used to be. So we did have the same area.”
Walton didn’t meet anyone during his mission who knew his father, but he was able to strengthen their relationship and develop a deeper bond with his dad.
“We had the same cultural experience and trials with the people there and we could have that conversation through emails,” Walton said. “He had that much more empathy for me for what I was going through. I could empathize with his past self. Something will remind us of Spain and we can say that to each other. It strengthened our relationship a lot.”