Joseph Michael Willardson (who goes by Joey) was born to be a valiant missionary. He was also born with autism, which impacts his written and verbal communication skills. But those challenges didn’t affect his desire to serve a full-time mission for the Church or to follow in the footsteps of his two older brothers.
He prepared for his mission through prayer, gospel study, seminary, church attendance, and service as a bishop’s assistant. But as the time for a mission drew near, Joey’s parents and bishop began to worry about the difficulties of a proselytizing mission. So they prayerfully sought inspiration from the Lord about Joey’s options.
And the answer came: a young Church-service mission. This was not the type of mission Joey had anticipated, but with a resilience that has defined Joey’s whole life, he embraced the inspired counsel. His father, Marcus, recalls, “He was initially surprised and disappointed. But to our amazement, those feelings did not last long. We feel that because of his continual desire to both choose the right and serve the Lord, he recognized that this recommendation from his bishop was inspired from his Heavenly Father.”
Now Joey is serving the Lord on a mission designed specifically for him. When Joey graduated from high school in May 2017, he began serving his two-year young Church-service mission at the Pioneer Heritage Gardens, a beautiful, landscaped property near the Manti Utah Temple, performing duties previously accomplished by local Church and community volunteers.
Because Joey and his parents don’t live in Manti, this mission is an adventure for the three of them. While Joey is serving his mission, the family lives at home in Koosharem, Utah (about an hour’s drive from Manti), from Saturday through Monday. Then on the other four days of the week, Joey and his parents live in a travel trailer in Manti. Joey works eight hours a day, Tuesday through Friday, with his parents either assisting him or serving in the temple. During the summer months, Joey helps maintain the gardens, assists with the Mormon Miracle Pageant, and meets other needs in the community. During the winter months, Joey assists with the Christmas displays and other maintenance projects as needed.
Joey and his family see his mission as a part of their family heritage. Joey’s great-great-great-grandfather helped build the Manti Utah Temple after emigrating from Denmark. Joey’s oldest brother served his mission in Denmark, and they view Joey’s assignment as another link in a family story of disciples who work to build God’s kingdom.
When asked about his mission, Joey responds, “I’m very happy to be doing the will of the Lord. I know this is a great opportunity for me.” Even though this wasn’t the mission Joey had planned, he knows it’s where the Lord wants him to serve. And with that conviction, he is grateful to work, testify through his service, and be the valiant missionary he’s always wanted to be.
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