And it came to pass when they had arrived in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, that they separated themselves and departed one from another, trusting in the Lord that they should meet again at the close of their harvest; for they supposed that great was the work which they had undertaken. --Alma 17:13
This is an exciting time for me. Friends are getting off their missions, and many of the acquaintanceships of high school are being restored. Only a few guys are still gone, and that won't even be for very much longer yet. There is much to be happy about. But there is no reunion of friends I look forward to more than with the missionaries who have left from my own ward.
I have my friends who I met in school or on the mission, and then there are also the guys from my ward. It's not that I love one group more than the other; wherever their origin, my best friends are my best friends. There aren't necessarily favorites in such dealings. It's more like apples and oranges: I love apples, but they're not oranges. I love oranges, but they're not apples. If I've gone a while without tasting one, I'll be excited when it comes back into season and incorporate both into my regular diet.
Yet even without merely playing favorites, what makes the guys from my ward so different that I am so eager for their reunion is that these are the people I grew up with. An old saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child, and this was the village that raised me. I was with this same group of guys in every Sunday School class until my mission. We went to preschool together. We played baseball and jumped on the trampoline and built a clubhouse. In Boy Scouts, they were my troop. It was they with whom I spent my summers around a campfire. And it was around a campfire, gazing from the flame to the stars and back again, that I had the deepest philosophical discussions and made the most important decisions of my young life. Those were more than just "good times"--they were my defining moments.
That's one thing about the Church organization that makes it mean so much to me: a ward is a bond more like "family" than "friend." We've never been the group of guys that calls each other up on Friday night and says "Let's go do something" (though it would be a lie to say we haven't done that at least a few times in the past). Yet there's a closeness such that we don't have to hit the town in order to keep it going, and we're always there when we need each other.
I said before that this is an exciting time for me. Another one of these young men returned to my ward from a mission last week. Only one remains away, and there are only a few months left until he joins us, too. The old crew is coming together again, and with it, a piece of my identity that has been scattered these past few years.
And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.
Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. --Alma 17:1-2