John K. Williams gives an unvarnished account of his two-year Mormon mission to Bolivia, chronicling a journey from teenage naivete to a deeper understanding of the world and his place in it. Heaven Up Here presents the highs and lows of missionary life from the perspective of the young man who experienced it, without glorifying or deriding the experience.

When John got his mission call to Bolivia, it was like a joke come true. Before the letter came, he and his friends had a running gag that he’d be sent there — because it’s the clich worst-possible foreign mission. Then he really got sent there. And, as a faithful kid from a troubled family, he was determined to fix things by devoting himself entirely to the Lord’s work.

Heaven Up Here is the complete story of Elder Williams’s mission, full of colorful (and often graphic) descriptions of what life was like for Mormon missionaries in Bolivia. But (unlike some complete missionary memoirs) it’s not a laundry-list of companions’ names and culture notes. His fellow missionaries and Bolivian friends are fully-fleshed out characters, and the local culture is presented in the context of interesting, often poignant stories about what he experienced and how it affected him.

One amusing example of the clash between Mormon missionary culture and Bolivian culture was the tale of a Bolivian member who was constantly giving suggestions for ways the LDS church could be improved. To the missionaries, it was almost laughably absurd that some random Bolivian would think that the church might change its policies based on his suggestions. Meanwhile, the missionaries themselves recognized that the church policies could use some major improvements, and joked that they’d have more success if the meetings were less boring — and were more like the Pentecostals’.

The brilliance of the narrative, though, is the lack of retrospective editorializing. Read more