MESA, Ariz. (AP) A moms tender heart is tested any time her child goes away, no matter the age.
But when youre sending your son or daughter to another part of this country or another part of the world strength requires reinforcements.
Each week, Mormon moms of 19-year-old men and 21-year-old women say goodbye to their children for months on end as they go out to serve the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on their mission.
Its a time that the women cherish, but also a time of worry.
So a group of them from the Cooley Park Ward in northeast Mesa have joined together, a sisterhood of women who gather about once a month to share the stories of their children and offer each other an arm to lean on.
We come together once a month to get connected with moms, said Debbie Forrest, whose son, Aaron, is serving in Spain right now. Its inspirational for us. Sometimes, a missionary is having a tough time. Were supporting each other. Its tough as a mom when you hear your son is struggling and you cant even call him. You get an email, but thats not enough.
As they approach missionary age, Mormon youths turn in their papers after discussing the matter with their parents and church leaders. Then, they wait to see if they will receive an invitation, or mission call, to go to the Missionary Training Center in Utah. After training there for several weeks to up to three months, the men go off for a 24-month commitment; the women go for 18 months.
The missionaries are required to come up with their own funding. They spend their weeks at the training center learning the skills needed and sometimes, the languages required for their time in service.
Some are sent stateside with assignments in places such as Indiana, Minnesota or Ohio. Others are sent around the globe to Russia, Spain, Mexico, El Salvador and Taiwan.
Thats where Kim Riches son, Quentin, has served for the last two years. Riches helped found the current group of moms in the Cooley Park Ward about 26 months ago, she said, right before her son left on his mission.
Nobody told me how really hard it is on the mom, she said. You know its hard, but its really hard. You wouldnt have him anywhere else, but its really hard.
Once a week, the moms of the Cooley Park Ward receive emails from their 28 missionaries now serving. In the Mormon church, a ward is an area set up by the church within a certain boundary of a community. A persons home address establishes which ward they live in.
The moms then take those emails and send them on to each other, so they can all know whats going on with their sons and daughters. The emails are also printed and in many cases mailed to the missionaries - many who have grown up together.
With the moms group, whenever someone has a question someone once needed to figure out how to send a package one of the other moms has had experience with that. Whatever question you have or whatever issue youre facing, its such a support because there is someone who understands and can figure out what to do, Kim said.
Nicole Barneys son, Taylor, left five months ago to serve in the Philippines.
I hear the first six months is the hardest, she said, sitting with her sons photo on her lap. I had a hard time going into his room. I still do. I didnt know what to expect, she said.
It didnt help that her sons letters told of pythons that live next to his home.
But she found answers and comfort through the other women going through the same experience.
They are growing into men. They are so much wiser and more compassionate, she said.
Two women in the group have two sons each out on a mission. Dawn Smiths twins, Hayden and Hunter, are both serving in South America. Pam Agrens sons, Clayton and Austin - brothers by adoption, but just one day apart by birth - are serving missions in Minnesota and Mexico, respectively.
We went from a household of kids to empty nesters, she said of the boys departures coming just days after their older sister got married.
Pam said the moms group is the best because she and her sons are learning about how all their friends are doing around the world.
I know its a strength for them, as well, she said.
One of her sons recently wrote to her a line that many of the missionaries have shared with their parents: Ive never been so happy and felt such joy.
Now those are words a moms heart can grasp onto.