When Cole Bilodeau went on a two-year Mormon missionary trip to Albania and Kosovo, his mother Melanie couldn’t send letters or call him. To check in with her son she had to make do with a weekly email, and Skype sessions on Christmas and Mother’s Day.

Cole began his mission when he was 19 and he returned to the Vineyard two weeks ago.

“You talk through Skype calls and then afterwards you feel homesick,” Cole said. “It’s a complete separation so that you won’t be distracted.” The missionary trip required a singular commitment to serving, he said.

The Bilodeaus live in Oak Bluffs, and Cole and his older brother Ty graduated from the regional high school. There are two younger boys following in their footsteps.

Mrs. Bilodeau said that her family has been involved in the Mormon Church on the Vineyard since the early 1990s, when sister missionaries came to their door. A component of the Mormon faith is that members have the option of making a missionary trip, either as a young person or during their retirement years. Ty spent two years in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

When Cole found out he was assigned to Albania, he did what anyone these days would do; he looked up the country on Wikipedia.

“My brother had gone to Brazil before me and he came back alive,” Cole joked. “I think the excitement outweighed my nervousness. I was excited to learn a new language.”

He first traveled to Provo, Utah, where one of the 15 Mormon missionary training centers is located, and began a heavy schedule of classes to prepare him for the work. When his studies were completed, he was off to Albania.

The missionaries work in twos, like the buddy system, Cole said. He always had a roommate while in Albania and Kosovo. The missionaries change companions every few months, though, so that they never get too used to any one living arrangement. Each location has a team leader, overseeing the younger missionaries and helping them adjust to their new surroundings.

Cole and his companion missionaries spent time teaching free English classes and they helped with service projects and with organizing soccer games for young people in the community. They also worked on farms and helped with agriculture projects. He said European “cafe culture” was evident in Albania, with the outdoor cafes full every night and lots of strolling and talking. Cole had met some Albanians while working summers on the Vineyard and was glad to get a chance to learn their language.

“I came to love the people I met,” Cole said. “Their culture is based on hospitality. If you set foot in someone’s home, they have to serve you something because you are their guest. There was lots of poverty, people didn’t have the means and they still, even in difficult circumstances, they sacrifice to be welcoming.”

The Bilodeaus are aware that their religion comes with a certain set of preconceived notions. But the clean-cut young Mormon women and men who walk door to door, willing to share their faith with complete strangers, is just one aspect of being Mormon. The church emphasizes family, and its members of all ages volunteer in some capacity to help expand the church. According to the church’s website, there are 15,082,028 members worldwide and 88,000 currently serving as missionaries.

The Mormon congregation on the Island is made up of about 75 members, with approximately 40 attending regularly. They meet at a storefront off State Road in Vineyard Haven, near the Black Dog Bakery. They also own land near the regional high school, but building a chapel there will have to wait until the membership numbers grow, Mrs. Bilodeau said.

Members must be in good standing and must be adhering to tenets of the faith such as no coffee, tea, alcohol or promiscuity to enter a temple. Life as a typical teenager at the regional high school was sometimes difficult for Cole, he admitted.

“High school was very hard. I didn’t always adhere to them [tenets of his faith]. In the end, it was my own decision to follow these standards. I know the difference. I’ve been on the other side and for me, I’m happiest living this way.”

In January, Cole will join his brother Ty in Utah at Brigham Young University. He’s looking forward to marriage and a family, but he said he’d tell young people today that they should not rush through these early years, in a hurry to get to the next phase of their lives.

“Make every decision with an open mind,” he said. “You don’t have to feel like there’s one set course. There may be a different plan for you.”