Kasey Hancock set out to help people by teaching them the gospel of Jesus Christ. What she did not know was how the experience would change her.
Kasey is a beautiful young woman who is always smiling, usually chatting, and generally bubbling over about life. Before her mission, Kasey admits to being “a little egotistical.”
She had a basic plan. “I just wanted to work in medicine. I loved working with special needs and also with athletes. That’s what I had done before. And I wanted to be a mom. My mom was married very young and I always thought I would be just like her.”
But there was one other thing she wanted to do, and when the ages for missionary service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were lowered to 18 for men and 19 for women, she was one of the first wave to answer the call. After two months of training, she spent 16 months in the Russia Samara Mission, then signed on to stay an extra two months.
Serving as a sister training leader for 11 months, she visited almost every city in the mission. Her travel could take her as far as eight hours north by bus, or ten hours southeast or due west by train. She learned much about the people she served, and about herself.
“[When] you’re so focused on other people for 18 months, you don’t have time to think about yourself. “When you’re so focused on other people for 18 months, you don’t have time to think about yourself.” The way you dress changes how comfortable people are around you. The way they you talk. Everything. It’s all about making others feel okay to open up and to share their problems so that you can help them, so that you can give them a chance to hear this message. …that’s something that always intrigued me. I was kind of experimenting, you could say. Like, when I wear this certain kind of dress people are going to be more inclined to talk to me. If you look more presentable, they’re going to react in kind to it.
“When it was the middle of winter and our coats were muddy, people would look at us and they would say, ‘You are covered in dirt, and you’re out here representing what?’ We’d get out the rag and scrub it off [thinking] ‘you should not have noticed that.’ But they do.”
She has also learned a lot about the power of language. “The little words that we get so used to saying. Little exclamations when something happens. We say it’s not a swear word, and it’s not even a bad word, but it’s not attractive.”
She finds that these experiences have changed her behavior.
On dress standards she says: “I’m an athlete. I love nothing more than my basketball shorts and T-shirts. But since I’ve come home, to wear that to the grocery store, I feel very uncomfortable. …it’s self-presentation. I see more now what is appropriate to the occasion.”
On language and deportment she says: “[Since; being home,] I’ve noticed…. that some of the things [people] talk about, some of the ways they talk, even just the volume of their voice[s] … in public, it just shocks me sometimes. In Europe, something is wrong when somebody is yelling. At home it’s okay to be boisterous, to be fun, to be loud and joke and laugh. But out on the street [or on a bus or anywhere in public] that’s not so acceptable. [I find myself telling people that] there are other people around us that we need to respect. “
But these are not the deep changes. Hancock’s experiences with people reached to a core level. She said that perhaps the part of her testimony that has grown the most is “the simple fact that we’re children of God.Perhaps the part of her testimony that has grown the most is “the simple fact that we’re children of God.”
“There were quite a few people, quite a few instances on my mission, when that was the big question at stake. It was kind of the make-or-break question. People could hear about our message of a prophet having restored the gospel, and they’d hear about the Book of Mormon and read it cover to cover and have every other question answered, but the last question they would always come back to—[the question] that you think is so simple, that we covered from point 1. They would always ask again, “Am I a child of God or not?”
Dasha, was a young woman who had heard all the lessons.” She’d come to church for almost a year with her mom and brother who had been baptized earlier. The day she agreed to be baptized was a just a simple discussion as we talked about something she already knew, but that was our topic of the night. We talked about how she was a daughter of God. And she had one of her best friends there who was a member. It was so inspiring to see how just the simple principles are so important.
“It was a little bit shocking in some aspects sometimes [that people did not know this truth, but at the same time I realized that] of course they don’t know that, or the world wouldn’t be the way it is.”
Dimitri is another person who struggled with the concept of being a child of God. He is only a few years older than Hancock, but has already attained a fairly high rank in the Russian Navy. “He [is] a very religious young man…. So when he goes out to sea, it’s always hard for him because he’s in a bad environment and it really shakes his faith …. He just clings to the Bible.
“We were always so impressed with him, with all of his questions. He’d always ask, ‘How can we be children of God? I’m not really a child of God.’ He believed that through the Atonement of Christ we could be adopted into the presence of God… but [thought] that he wasn’t born [to] or directly inherited that privilege himself.
“My last day [there], he made a joke about me applying for schools, and [said] something about needing to go into school and show my birth certificate to get in. He said, ‘Just walk in there with your birth certificate and they can’t tell you no.’ And I said, ‘Why? Because Mike and Felisa Hancock are my parents?’ He said, ‘No. When I say your birth certificate I mean the Bible, because this tells you you’re a daughter of God!’ That was the coolest thing.”
The perspective that she feel is the most changed is her attitude toward life: “[remembering] why we do the things we do, and that reason is because we love the Lord. The perspective that she feel is the most changed is her attitude toward life: “remembering why we do the things we do, and that reason is because we love the Lord. Once you put that out on your sleeve, you’re as close and knee-deep with a person as you can get.”
“I think as people we have a tendency to have the real reason in our heads, and we know it, but we have minor reasons for the things we do, too. We have a second and a third. Kind of a benefit or objective or something, when the real reason is so simple. We tell ourselves as missionaries that we’re going to see baptisms, we’re going to help people, we’re going to change the world one person at a time., we’re just going to share this great happiness that we have. And sometimes we forget to tell people I’m doing this because I love my Savior.’
“That’s something my mission president stressed a lot.” [A mission president is the person who presides over missionaries in a particular area. He and his wife see to their temporal and spiritual needs.] “That was just really life-changing …. At the beginning [when people would ask] I would tell them all these great reasons I was there. And they’re good reasons. But after my mission president … said, ‘you’re here because you love the Lord,’ I started to answer people like that. And that just [gets to the] core of everything. Once you put that out on your sleeve, you’re as close and knee-deep with a person as you can get…..
“It definitely shocked people. And at that point they knew I was holding nothing back. I wasn’t covering anything up. It’s actually a pretty bold statement to make. They don’t understand it. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t understand it. But that’s what it was.”
Now she sees her life a little differently. Her dream of the future is basically the same, but “I think that how I’m going to attain it and the values and standards and reasons behind it may have changed.
“If I hadn’t known these things it would have been so much easier to settle for less than what I can have, and what every person deserves, in all reality. Because of these things, I know now that I can say ‘no’ to the things I don’t want and don’t need. And I will fight for the things I expect in my family. What I expect from a husband, especially. Because before my mission I can’t say that I would have, honestly. Now it’s very much more set in stone, the standards for the guys I date, or even just go on a [single] date with. I want them to have that same love, to keep the commandments, to do all the little things to show their love to the Lord. Just like I do.”
So she has changed. Those she taught have changed. But there is one more group Kasey Hancock would like to influence: the people who read this article or hear her speak. You see, the Russian people sent her home with a message.“They would come up to me so often and grab me by the hand—perfect strangers—and say, ‘go home and tell everybody what we really want here. What we really do…. Tell them how we look out for each other. We don’t want to hurt our brothers and sisters.'”“They would come up to me so often and grab me by the hand—perfect strangers—and say, ‘go home and tell everybody what we really want here. What we really do.’ It would break my heart every time to meet people [whose names I didn’t even know] yet, and they trusted me to say that. ‘Tell them what it’s like. Tell them how we look out for each other. We don’t want to hurt our brothers and sisters.’
‘The stereotype that they think we have is that they’re kind of grisly people, with bears walking up and down the street. That all we know about them is snow and borsht and vodka. But really, they’re so humble, because they don’t have anything. But whenever you walk into a home, they give you everything they have. I don’t know that ever once I walked into somebody’s home without being offered even their last bit of greens or whatever they had to feed us. Their last apple. And you could walk the streets and talk to people, and they’d be coming home with their groceries, and they’d unload their bags that they hadn’t even gotten home yet, to give you some fruit or some candy or something, because they knew that you were far from home yourself. They were just so generous.”
They were also very inclusive of outsiders. “Everyone there, you call them ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ and ‘grandma,’ depending on their age, whether you know them or not. …when you referred to them in those terms of endearment, they treated you in that way. It was really incredible. [People do that] in many other countries—I don’t know why we don’t have that here more.”