Credit: Courtesy of Cole Gardner
Cole Gardner, left, arrives at a function with Elder Jose Cortez, a mission partner from El Salvador.
Cole Gardner of Sunnyside wanted to do a Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints mission from as far back as he can remember, probably at the age of 4 or 5.
Now 20, Gardner just returned from that mission.
It was everything he hoped for, and some.
He lived the past two years in or near coastal Costa Rica, and he could converse in English with kindergarten children.
Gardner said the tourism industry is big in Costa Rica, and English-speaking locals have a leg up competing for work.
Those kids and other Costa Ricans did Gardner a favor.
His Spanish was shaky when he arrived. He was A-1 fluent when he came back to the states.
Gardner dreamed of going on the mission because he “... wanted to make other people as happy as he’s been” in his relationship with Jesus.
Before graduation from Sunnyside High School, Gardner started saving for the mission, which is not funded by the church.
“I worked in construction,” he said.
“I put up bead board, worked with concrete and did a lot of digging,” Gardner said.
He performed odd jobs like mowing lawns.
Gardner knew he was going on a mission, but he didn’t know where until the church’s 12 apostles assigned the part of the world to which he was being called.
“I took three years of Spanish at YVC,” Gardner said.
He had been a Running Start student.
“I could kind of speak a little, but I couldn’t carry a conversation,” he said.
Gardner checked in at the Mission Training Center for his rescue. In six weeks, he was taught how to study Spanish. The learning would have to come on the job, and it came faster than Gardner imagined.
After the training center, Gardner headed for Costa Rica.
He served in the communities of Orotina, Huacas, Filadelfia, San Ramon and Alajuela. He met and spoke with a lot of people.
“I went there to invite people to hear what the church has to say about Jesus,” he said.
Gardner was happiest the numerous times he led people toward baptism. Sometimes that meant helping a co-habitating couple marry.
“Some of them wanted to do it. They’d been living as a couple for years,” Gardner said.
“The people are really nice,” he said.
“You’re walking down the street and say ‘buenos dias,’ and they say ‘buenos dias’ and start talking with you,” Gardner said.
Gardner had a mission partner everywhere he went. They changed about every six weeks.
The first one was a training partner. Before he came back to the U.S., he was a training partner for newcomers.
Besides the young kids speaking English, Gardner’s attention was drawn to some foods he’d never eaten before.
He had mundango, made of a cow’s stomach.
He had morcilla, which is pig’s blood, blended into other foods or spread like butter on a tortilla.
He ate cow heart and raw turtle eggs. The entire turtle egg was blended into a salsa, which you drink.