Eliza Riley returns from her Belgium/Netherlands mission

Libby McSheehy, Special to The Log
Eliza Riley dedicated 18 months to missionary work in Belgium and Netherlands mission.

Eliza Riley, currently a Niceville resident, was born in St. Louis, Mo., but moved many times as the daughter of a military family. She has always been a little missionary in her service to others and talking to others about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but it wasn’t until her freshman year of college that she decided a full time mission was for her.

Her brother was just transferring back to the states early from his mission in the Ukraine because of unrest there and her twin was about to get her call to the Kosovo/Albania Mission. At home she has a younger sister Rachel, 17, and a brother Josh, 14. After making this decision she put school, work and social life on hold to dedicate the next 18 months to serving in the Belgium/Netherlands Mission.

To earn money for her mission while in high school and college, she worked as a violin teacher, for Bubba Gump Shrimp Company and as a Candymaker. At BYU she worked part time as well.

One of her most memorable experiences while on her mission was while living in the small village of Turnhout, Belgium. One day she received an email from a young Belgian mother via her mom’s email. The young mother explained that she was happily married with three children, had grown up in a non-religious home but was open to the idea of God and asked for a Book of Mormon. At first Sister Riley was skeptical of the situation. For instance, she wondered how this lady had gotten her mom’s email address. But soon they met and Eliza’s many questions were answered. It turns out this lady had seen them in the supermarket and recognized their name tags from the You Tube series about a Latter-day Saint family in Idaho and after googling “Turnhout” and “Boek van Mormon" found Eliza’s blog and her mother’s email address.

Eliza remembers going to Mevrouw Van Houten’s cozy condo house where children’s crafts and photos plastered the walls, sharing her beliefs about a loving Heavenly Father with a plan for families and listening to her open up about overcoming struggles with the help of a Higher Power. When we knock, it shall be opened unto us ( Matt. 7:7) Or in this case, if we email, it will be answered. To this day they remain dear friends and communicate on Facebook almost daily and even Skype occasionally.

Eliza shares these words: Living overseas as a child instilled in me an appreciation for other cultures and returning 10 years later to Western Europe for volunteer work in Belgium and the Netherlands opened my eyes and mind yet wider and my heart was filled with a genuine love for new people and each of their unique stories. Despite being a young Christian American in majority atheist countries, I embraced the culture, mastered the Dutch language and forged incredible friendships with people from all walks of life.

Some of my new friends include the Muslim Somalian refugee and the intellectual atheist Dutch philosophy student who remain my friends to this day. When I meet someone new, I try to build on common ground, emphasizing the similarities we share. I am convinced that I can find common ground with anyone, bonding over a dedication to family, drive for personal success, or the longing for a more peaceful world. My experiences have taught me to keep my mind open and my feet in others’ shoes and to humbly embrace being a guest in new cultures.

Most importantly, I have seen that underneath our stereotypes and facades and labels and differing holiday traditions and languages and “silverware” methods we’re not so different. As children of Heavenly Father we are brothers and sisters who seek acceptance, thrive on love and validation and long to feel understood. Since the recent terrorist attacks and the involvement of “my” Belgium I have been very worried about my friends back there. Having walked and biked the streets of Gent and Turnhout (so near to Brussels) for nearly eight months my heart and prayers go out to this beloved country on a very personal level.

These events are of such importance and interest to me for they affect the people in Belgium that I have befriended and grown to know and love. In conclusion I would like to share that a mission in which you serve others full time is the best, most worthwhile and satisfying adventure you can have in your life.