Conyers resident Samuel Buck, 21, just returned home from a two-year mission trip in Japan for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Yukiko Buck chuckled when she remembered how her young son Samuel refused to follow his older brother and sisters as they spent Saturdays going to school and learning to speak Japanese. They had to work hard and she said Samuel showed no interest in spending his weekends studying the language.
But becoming familiar with Japanese would prove essential in his future. Samuel Buck just returned from a two-year stint as a missionary in his mother's native country, Japan.
Now 21, Buck spent two years in Tokyo as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was there to teach the Japanese people about his faith in Jesus Christ and to talk to and minister to a population where many people are Buddhist or practice no religion at all.
Buck didn't let language become a barrier. When Buck was called to the mission field, he traveled to Provo, Utah, and enrolled in an intensive 12-week language school to study Japanese.
"It's amazing," his mother said. "Because he was called, he obtained the new language so quickly. He experienced the power of God."
Buck, who is a graduate of Salem High School and the fourth of eight children born to Richard and Yukiko Buck of Conyers, said learning Japanese was "extremely hard."
Because his mother speaks Japanese, he said he was able to understand a little bit of the language, but was unable to speak it. During his training and two years in Japan, Buck said while he is not completely fluent, he has learned to speak the language and have conversations with others without struggling.
"It means a lot to be able to speak the language of my family, especially since my grandmother on my mom's side does not speak English," he said. "The opportunity to finally speak with her has been a great blessing in my life."
Born in Misawa, Japan, Buck moved to the U.S. when he was just a little boy. Buck said reaching the Japanese people for Christ proved challenging.
"The people of Japan are very nice to foreigners; however, they have an extremely bad image of religion in general, as there are many religions that have caused massive issues in the past," Buck said.
"Thus, many people were kind because we were foreigners, but this kindness rarely went further. However, I love the Japanese people very much, even through the tough times."
Buck said the mission work opened his eyes to how many people simply do not seek God.
"I was surprised about how much people don't even take the opportunity to find out if God is truly there or not," he said.
"The Book of Mormon testifies of His existence and, as you read it, you will become closer to God and know for sure that He is there and loves every single one of us. How can people turn down such a simple, yet wonderful, wonderful promise from God?"
His two years on the mission field were not without drama. Buck said April 11, 2011, is a day he will never forget. He was in Tokyo that day when Japan experienced a devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Buck said he was somewhat nervous about being a missionary in Japan, but said he knew that "God will protect and take care of me." He said the past two years have been a time of growing in his faith, in maturity and in living a different lifestyle.
Each person called to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serves on a volunteer basis and receives no monetary assistance from the church.
Also, each missionary agrees to adhere to a lifestyle dramatically different from most young people their age. They refrain from dating, watching tv and attending movies. As representatives of the church, they are expected to keep their minds completely focused on their mission, according to a statement issued by the church.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently has around 50,000 missionaries from six continents serving in more than 350 missions. Most of these missionaries are young, single adults. However, many retired couples also serve. Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are easily recognized by their name tags, white shirts, suits and ties, according to church officials.
Buck, who recently enrolled in summer school at Brigham Young University in Utah in preparation for a busy fall semester, is planning to study information systems management at the Marriott School of Business at BYU.
"In the future, I plan on being married and raising a family of my own," Buck said. "I would like to work in the corporate world until I retire then possibly create my own business. Later in life, I plan on going on another mission with my wife."
Buck said while it was a challenge to learn the language and live in Japan, he said it did not compare to his love of God.
"I know that Jesus Christ is our savior and the redeemer of our lives," Buck said.
"God is our Heavenly Father. Both Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us individually and have a major role in our lives. I know it. I've felt it. And I went to testify of it to the people of Japan.
"I saw people change their lives to come to Christ because they found out that this was my joy and it made these last two years worth it."
Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, email Karen Rohr, features editor, at email@example.com.