On Christmas Day, Zachary Wetzel walked 20 miles through the mountains and jungles of Paraguay to a hotel that could receive phone calls from the United States. He made the journey to receive a call from his parents in La Cañada.
Wetzel is one of 28 Mormon missionaries from La Cañada serving around the world, the most ever at one time, according to Jay Johnson, a father of another student serving as a Mormon missionary. The missionaries only have two chances each year to take calls from their families — on Christmas and on Mother's Day.
"When you only get two chances a year to speak with your family, it's worth it," Mick Wetzel, Zachary's father, said of his son's trek.
Nineteen-year-old Christian Frandsen, a 2009 La Cañada High School graduate, became one of the 28 La Cañada missionaries when he left for his mission in Paris, France on Tuesday. Christian said being a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been the best part of his life.
"It's taught me everything I hold dear and how I wanted to live my life. A mission seems like a natural extension of my faith," Frandsen said. "It seems like it's what God wants me to do and it's what I want to do for myself and my church."
His trip to France won't be a vacation. Like all Mormon missionaries, all of his days are scheduled out for him from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. He'll be spending his time doing community-service work and telling people about his faith in Jesus Christ and the Latter-day Saints church.
He said he's expecting his mission to be a "tremendous growing experience," he said. His goal for the two-year mission is to tell as many people as possible about the most valuable thing he has — his faith.
"I want to come away from my mission with a love for the French people and all people in general," Frandsen said. "I want to come away with greater personal strength and experiences that will help me as I live my life. I want to come away from it with a deeper relationship with God."
Men go on two-year missions, while women's missions last for 18 months. They can correspond weekly with their families through mail or e-mail, although they can only speak on the phone twice a year.
The limited communication is all worth it, said Jay Johnson, whose son Steven Johnson still has seven months left on his mission in Houston.
"They leave and life is about them and they come back and see a world out there that needs something more and they can help give it to them if they're willing," Jay Johnson said.
Christie Frandsen, Christian's mother, said she loves that her children go on missions. Christian is her seventh child to do so.
"It comes at exactly the right time of their life. It gives them a world vision and teaches them exactly what they want to do with their life," she said. "To see the tremendous growth in our children is absolutely worth any sacrifice we make."
Sidebar: Where they are now:
1.Laura Kelley, Daejeon, Korea
2.Michael Weston, Concepcion, Chile
3.Jeralee Johnson, Helsinki, Finland
4.Davis Hansen, Busan, Korea
5.Zach Ward, Auckland, New Zealand