CRESTVIEW — It's understandable that Andrew Linares has garnered a Spanish accent and struggles not to lapse into the language.
The Crestview High School alumnus returned home this week after two years as a missionary in Chile with the Crestview Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Linares, 21, served in nine sectors in the Santiago area, including two rural communities outside the country's capital city.
Missionaries, referred to as elders, don't get to choose where they will be assigned, but Linares said he requested to serve outside the United States.
"It's really amazing the way we can serve people when we talk about God," he said. "You don't go there as a tourist. You create a brotherhood with them."
He and his partners made most of their rounds and appointments on foot, and experienced Santiago's humid weather.
"It was the hottest place in Chile to be in," he said. "It was like an oven."
Though he's now fluent in Spanish, Linares said when he departed two years ago, he could barely speak the language.
"I spoke just a few phrases," he said, laughing. "I had all the animals memorized."
For his mother, Amy, a clinical home health liaison, Andrew's missionary trip was a mixed blessing of pride and maternal concern.
"The hardest thing was in two years I spoke to him only six times," she said.
Missionary rules allowed Andrew to call his mother twice a year, on Mother's Day and Christmas, though he was also allowed to call on two emergency occasions: when he lost his credit card and when a death occurred in the family.
Andrew was allowed to email his mother on Mondays, elders' weekly planning day, when in addition to grocery shopping, housekeeping and doing laundry, they must write to their mothers and the local bishop.
"If anything, (the mission) teaches them vigorous scheduling and time management," Amy Linares said. "He turned 21 over there. He came back acting like a 50-year-old man in terms of life experience."
In addition, Andrew returned 2 inches taller, she said.
Swapping experiences with fellow CHS alumnus Justin Mozina, who returned in October from his missionary trip to Zimbabwe, Andrew said he was warmly welcomed by his Chilean hosts.
"They accepted us from day one," Andrew said. "They love our presence even if some of them don't want to hear our message."
Now that he's returned home, Linares wants to find a job and head to college.
"My next mission in life is to have a family, and I want to study medicine," he said.
He also offered advice for his church's next missionaries.
"Be really humble about what the people say to you and tell you," he said. "They really pour their heart out to you."