Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Looking into the Soul of a Mormon Apostle

SAN DIEGO — This week has been LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG! Great, but long.
I hope you all had a great Pioneer day:) My week has been full of many, many lessons from Heavenly Father. 
There have been moments on my mission that I completely and absolutely lose perspective. I wish I could see through Heaven's eyes every single moment for the rest of my life, but unfortunately, sometimes I get blinded. 

This week I felt so heavy, my heart was weighed down, I was overwhelmed with the task that Heavenly Father had given me, and I needed to learn a great lesson about the Atonement. It is amazing at how fast perspective can change, and it all depends on who you allow to take care of your heart.

This week I experienced both: 

First, I experienced giving Satan my heart.  As Alma said:

"And behold I say unto you all that this was a snare of the adversary, which he has laid to catch this people, that he might bring you into subjection unto him, that he might encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction, according to the power of his captivity" Alma 12:6

Anything that is against the will of God causes us to give way to Satan. We have to be pure, (or without blemish). I realized that any sin such as thinking badly of others, doubt, impatience, anger, frustration, jealousy — any tiny little thing — we are giving Satan our hearts and allowing him to chain us down. Sometimes it is not something we have even done, we are completely innocent, but still we have to let go, to forgive, to completely turn away from Satan and give Heavenly Father charge of our hearts.

 I think that is why Alma asks us in the Book of Mormon:
"Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? Alma 5:14 

This week, I have also experienced the peace and comfort that comes from giving in; giving everything to Christ and letting him take care of it. What an amazing experience that has been for me. 

Heavenly Father just added a "cherry on top" of my week of learning because yesterday we were able to learn from (Mormon Apostle) Elder M. Russell Ballard. He talked a lot about missionary work, explaining how important it is for us to be us. He told us that who we are is what God needs us to be in order to do his work. 

Even more important than what I learned was how I felt.

I looked into the face of an Apostle of God. A man who has trials and troubles, heartaches and fears just as any one of us. As I looked into his eyes, you could easily see his soul. He was hiding nothing, he was pure, he was light, he was radiating the light of Christ. I felt the peace enter my heart. There was no denying it. God's Restored Church is on the earth again, headed by a prophet of God and twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. The Spirit taught me more this week, than any words could teach me in a lifetime. 

The hard thing in this world is that it is full of noise. It is loud and offensive to the Holy Ghost. When was the last time you turned off the radio in the car, just to listen? When was the last time you spent a few moments in the morning to listen, ponder and pray? When was the last time you opened your Book of Mormon?

I promise you from experience just this week, that the peace that comes from using the Atonement — from trying every day to change and become better, to be pure in heart — is worth more than anything in this world. 

No wonder Moroni says, "Except ye have charity, ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God.'

Let's change our hearts!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Brothers can never be burdens": A Pioneer Day story

SAN DIEGO —You all have been asking what happened last week with transfers. I was transferred to the Helix Singles Ward, and we are whitewashing. What an experience that is definitely testing my patience and faith. 

My companion is Sister Miller, a sweetheart from Lindon, Utah. She is so great, a hard worker and already an amazing missionary. She will do great things. We are working hard, and building up the ward. We are excited for the challenge it will be, it will be amazing to see Heavenly Father work miracles.

All of you were also wishing me a happy Pioneer Day. As a tribute to the pioneers, I'm sharing a story with you. It’s called Brothers by Sheila Kindred. It is about Orin and Meltiar Hatch. two brothers who enlisted in the Mormon Battalion. 

(Based on an oral history passed down in the Hatch family)

He that loveth his brother abideth in the light (1 Jn. 2:10).
Meltiar Hatch leaped to his feet and saluted the man on horseback. The Mormon Battalion had been on the march since dawn. Meltiar had taken advantage of a break to bring his sixteen-year-old brother, Orin, to rest in the shade of a tree. He hadn’t heard the officer’s horse until it was right next to him. 
Lieutenant Smith returned Meltiar’s salute. “At ease, soldier.” He looked down at Orin, who lay unmoving, his eyes closed. “Your companion looks to be very ill.” 
“Yes, sir,” Meltiar said sadly. “He contracted the fever at Fort Leavenworth, but I know that in time—” 
“Time? Time?” Lieutenant Smith loudly interrupted. “This troop has no time. The untimely death of our former commanding officer has set us back two weeks. We cannot defer to the sick and the weary. Leave him.” 
Meltiar’s protests were ignored as Lieutenant Smith turned and gave the order to assemble. As the drums sounded, men began to scramble to collect their provisions and line up. Meltiar sat down heavily and put his head in his hands. 
“Meltiar,” Orin’s voice was barely audible. “Forgive me. I joined up only because I wanted to finally be useful, like you were in Nauvoo. I never imagined it would end like this.” 
“Well, none of us imagined we’d ever be led by Lieutenant Smith, either. Few of the Gentile leaders have been unkind; he’s just the worst of the lot. Let’s not forget the promises given by Brigham Young and the Twelve,” Meltiar said with conviction. “If we conduct ourselves properly on this march, our lives will be spared.” He put his pack and canteen in Orin’s hands. “Here are some extra food and water to keep you for a while. I must go now, but I’ll be back, I promise.” He got to his feet. 
“I never meant to be a burden.” 
“Brothers can never be burdens.” 
Later that night Meltiar awoke with a start. He wondered why he was alone in the woods in the middle of the night. Then he remembered that he was on an urgent mission, that someone’s life depended on him. His first thought was that he was still a messenger in the Nauvoo Legion. 
Meltiar shook his head to clear his jumbled thoughts. He spoke aloud to himself. “The Prophet Joseph is dead. I couldn’t have prevented his assassination. However, I should’ve gotten help when my horse went lame, instead of trying to walk to Carthage. Then I might’ve delivered the last message from his loved ones before he died.” He shook his head sadly. “But I was young and full of pride, just as Orin is now.” 
At the thought of his brother, Meltiar stumbled to his feet. That’s whose life depended on him now! Weary as he was, he had to keep walking. The two previous nights, Meltiar had another soldier help him bring Orin back to camp on horseback. Each morning, when Lieutenant Smith discovered what had happened, he angrily ordered that Orin be left behind again. Last night Commander Smith had informed Meltiar that if he wanted to keep up his “foolhardy venture,” he could no longer disturb the sleep of other men or beasts. That was why he was now alone and on foot. And he knew that he must be only about a third of the way back to where he’d left his brother. 
Meltiar had prayed fervently for help when he’d set out. He knew he had an impossible task. Even if he had not been exhausted from lack of sleep, it would take him most of the night just to reach Orin on foot. Although Orin was much improved and could probably walk, he couldn’t travel very fast in his weakened condition. Meltiar knew that if he didn’t reach the Battalion before it pulled out at dawn, it would leave them both behind. But he also knew that he could never leave Orin. 
Several times on these night trips, Meltiar had had the uneasy feeling that he was being watched. Now he was certain he saw movement by a large rock up ahead. He stopped walking and slowly reached for his pistol. But the pistol was gone! He must’ve dropped it back where he’d fallen asleep. He started to reach for his knife but froze when an Indian stepped out of the shadows. In the light of the moon something glinted in the Indian’s hand. It was Meltiar’s pistol! 
As Meltiar stood wondering what to do, he heard the sound of a horse approaching. Could someone from the Battalion be following me? he wondered. Or could it be another Indian? The Indian appeared not to have heard the sound, but stood unmoving, the gun down at his side. 
When the horse came into the clearing, Meltiar’s heart sank when he saw that it was an Indian pony with two riders. Meltiar closed his eyes and prayed for help. 
“Meltiar?” a familiar voice said. 
Startled, Meltiar opened his eyes to see that one of the riders had dismounted and was approaching him cautiously. 
“Meltiar?” the voice repeated, “Is that you?” 
The two brothers rushed together in a brief, fierce hug, then turned to face the waiting Indians. The Indians had both mounted the pony, leaving the brothers’ guns and packs on the ground. One Indian slowly raised his hand in a salute. “Brothers,” he said before they turned and rode off into the shadows. 
“That’s what he said when he came and got me,” Orin said. “I thought he meant that something had happened to you, so I went with him, even though I was scared. How did they know we were brothers?” 
“They’ve been watching us these past few nights,” Meltiar said with sudden realization. 
“And maybe they could see how much we cared for each other. They could also see how much we needed their aid, so they helped us! Or—” he smiled at Orin—“maybe he meant that we are all brothers.” 
“I’m grateful for their help,” Orin said softly, “but sometimes it isn’t easy to accept help from others.” 
“I know what you mean.” Meltiar leaned on Orin. “But if you are as strong as you look, now it’s time for you to be useful. I need your help to walk back to camp. I hate to be a burden, but I am very tired!” 
“I am much stronger now, Meltiar. Don’t worry,” Orin told him with a smile. “Brothers can never be burdens.” 

This obviously isn't the only story that happened along the journey. Hundreds of stories dot our ancestry and our heritage about the brave men and women that weren’t afraid to do hard things — that weren’t afraid to stand up for their God, that dug down deep and trusted that God would provide.

There is a scripture in Helaman 5: 6 that I love.
"Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good."
Let us live up to our name. No matter whether you have pioneer heritage or not, all of us are sons and daughters of God. We have a divine heritage to live up to. We can live up to the potential God has for us.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Plan of Salvation: more than some cutouts

SAN DIEGO — Heavenly Father has a way of bringing me to my knees. Today, Sister Kennington left (I'll write about that later) and I just received a call: after only one transfer in Avocado, I am leaving.

I am training and white washing (Which means you open up a new area).

The experiences I have had this week have all drawn my mind back to the Plan of Salvation. As I tell you about these few experiences, I want to share with what I have learned about that plan.

Getting transferred out of Avocado:

Leaving an area is kind of like leaving earth, I suppose. When the time starts running short before an end of the transfer, I always think to myself, "Did I do my best? Did I work my hardest? Did I accomplish what God expected me to?" It is the very best feeling knowing that you have done what God has sent you there to do. 

I know that I have done what God expected me to do in the Avocado Ward. It is back up on its feet, miracles are happening, two families are being baptized by the beginning of August! Heavenly Father truly is a God of miracles. No one can tell me otherwise. 

I love being an instrument in his hands. I think the same expectation God has for His full time missionaries, He has for His member missionaries. I would suggest you ask yourself these questions now, as you don’t know when your time will be. "Did you do your best? Did you work your hardest? Did you accomplish what God expected you to?" There is still time, but get to work!

Sister Kennington leaving:

You all know how much Sister Kennington means to me. 

Well, that’s probably not true.

Me with Sister Kennington, of Layton, Utah
I don’t think anyone can truly understand what Sister Kennington means to me. I wish you all could meet her. She is my best friend (Besides of course you Sara. You’re an automatic best friend)! I’ve been hovering around her for the past week, knowing that each day she was getting closer and closer to leaving. This morning, we had to say our last good bye. All the sisters had their luggage out on the front step, we all cried, took pictures, laughed, and hugged. I imagined this was what it was like for Sister Kennington and I in the pre-earth life. Heavenly Father both needed us to have our own sisters, Sara and Paige, but he promised us we could serve missions together. I am sure there were lots of tears shed as we hugged and wished each other well as she went to earth. 

I had a Déjà vu moment this morning as we both cried and hugged, and didn’t want to let go. I sat staring at the white van taking her to the airport. I was full of happiness for her to be able to start her new adventure and of course, really sad that I had to let her go. Oh how great the reunion in heaven will be when we can all see each other again!

Taking the tour in Mandarin:
I have one last experience I want to share with you. Yesterday, I took a tour of 32 twelve-year-old Chinese students through the tour. I sat in the enlistment room, where they sit underneath the trees and watched them clapping their hands to the sound of Zamira's fiddle. 

I looked at these children sitting on the logs, and it hit me full force that only 12 years ago, Heavenly Father sat them down and told them that part of their plan was to live in a country that wouldn’t even teach them about His Son Jesus Christ. I imagined these precious little faces a little dismayed at the task that was given them, but because they loved Father, they accepted that calling. Heavenly Father gave me a glimpse of what His heart feels, watching His children not know who He or His Son is. It made me so grateful to be a missionary and to be able to be sharing this message with the world.

I guess the short version of what I am trying to say is that the Plan of Salvation is more than some cutouts you tape up in a Sunday School lesson. It is real. It can be seen in every aspect of our lives.

Please, please, please don’t take it for granted.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Different than any other book"

SAN DIEGO — I have a few things I want to share with you that happened this week. 

First was on Sunday, we had a mission president's fireside. Every other month, President Clayton has a fireside where recent converts share their testimonies. Musical numbers, Mormon Message videos are played and then president gives a short talk. I was truly touched. 

One recent convert, Satera from Iran, got up and shared her story. She went to the Mormon Battalion and was given a Book of Mormon, which she put on her shelf. A while later, she was looking for a book, and the Book of Mormon stood out to her on her shelf. She started opening it, and in her own words in broken English she said, 

"The Book of Mormon has something special. I felt a power when I read it. It is different than any other book". 

My heart pounded in my chest as the Holy Ghost reaffirmed my testimony of the Book of Mormon. Just by reading the words from its pages, Satara requested to learn from the missionaries, and was baptized. I have witnessed time after time, the power of the Book of Mormon testifying of the truth of the Restored Gospel. It is so true!

That night, there was also a musical number that was sung by our assistant, Elder Call. I wish you could meet our last three assistants. They are so different than what we have had in the past. I think if you knew of their character, you would understand how powerful it was to watch a humble, powerful, kind servant of the Lord get up and bear his testimony through his talent of music. He sang an EFY song, "One Voice". I can’t remember exactly how the words go, but just imagine one Elder standing up, with the choir seats full of missionaries and our mission president behind him as he sang these words.

"I am just one voice, but one voice can still be heard,
I have made the choice, to seal my witness with his word,
I've been changed by holy fire, that has burned into my soul....

.... One but not alone, a thousand voices sing
Praises to the Lord, to our master and our king
With one voice, one voice."

I wish the angels of heaven could have been his back up singers, even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would do!:) Those are the precious moments when I remember who I am and what I am doing as a servant of God. I have just one voice, but with God's help, my voice will be heard. You have only one voice, but you too can seal your own witness with God's word.

We were able to seal our witness of God's word yesterday. Miracles happened. It was so great because last week was the worst week I have ever had on my mission in regards to teaching lessons. We had every slot filled with scheduled appointments, and every single one fell through. That is what happens when miracles are close. Yesterday, we added four new investigators, and have two little 9-year-old girls with a baptismal date! The Taylors are so excited to be baptized on the 28th, and we are trying to get Sean to meet with us so he will be ready to be baptized too. When I started working in Avocado, I knew it would be hard work, I just never knew Heavenly Father would allow us to see the fruits of our labors so quickly!

I just want you all to know I love you. I have confidence in you. We all can continue to change and become better. There is no need to be hard on ourselves. God expects persistence, not perfection.

Keep sharing your light!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Laborers in the Vineyard, changing habits

SAN DIEGO — Happy Fourth of July tomorrow! I hope you have some fun:) You all saw the picture of Karen and me; it was so good to see her yesterday!

I have been pondering what I want to tell you about this week, and my thoughts are kind of scattered.

I guess I can start first with an update on our ward. The plants are sprouting here in Avocado!

Thanks to Dad teaching me how to set goals and make plans, we have come far in the ward council in just a few weeks. Of course, it's all Heavenly Father, but He helps a lot more and a lot faster when things are organized. 

I have been taught on my mission what a ward council is supposed to be, and I realize that many times we miss the mark of the Brethren’s vision. It's hard to help ward councils understand what God expects a ward council to be like. It’s all about missionary work — reactivating, finding, retaining. It should be focused around the ward mission plan and how to accomplish those goals, not just to talk about activities and the drama/needs of individuals in each auxiliary, (that’s for presidency meetings) but missionary work as a whole. Church is a tool God uses for missionary work — Relief Society, Young Men's, Young Women's, Sunday School, Priesthood quorums,  all of the activities, service projects — all of that is a tool to help us be missionaries. 

In our ward council this week, we remade a progress record sheet, with our progress as missionaries for the week with less actives, investigators and members. We made a grid of our weekly, monthly, and yearly goals and how the ward's progress was. We then had assignments for each member of the ward council, as well as follow-ups from the previous week. It was amazing to watch these members volunteer to invite their friends to the 4th of July activity, to pray about someone they could have for us to teach by next week, to assign us members from their auxiliaries to teach. There was a fire and an excitement about missionary work! I realized this is what it's all about! I hope that we all can catch the vision, and help revolutionize the way we do missionary work. We need to be Moroni's. And just like Moroni revolutionized war, we can change the old habits of the church and make new more effective ones.

Enough said about that. I also wanted to share a few thoughts from our Zone Leader council this week. Once a month, Sister Tanner and I meet with President, the Assistants and the Zone Leaders and talk about how to continue improving our work. This month, President talked about the urgency of missionary work. He told us this story: He was doing anesthesia on one of the Apostles, and as the Apostle was waking up, he kept trying to get out of bed, squirming and looking very uncomfortable. President asked what he needed, explained that he was just coming out of anesthesia and needed to rest. The apostle responded, "I don’t have time, I need to go, there is so much work to do!" 

President related that story with tears in his eyes, as he explained that in order for us to be disciples of Christ, we need to catch the urgency of this work.

It made me think of the Ensign article from General Conference about the Laborers in the Vineyard. I was reading it this morning and a few things popped out at me. I guess before I share that, I should give background of the story (found in Matthew 20:1-15):

A householder went out early in the morning to hire laborers. After employing the 1st group at 6 in the morning, he returned at 9, noon, and 3, hiring more workers as the urgency of the harvest increased. In the Bible, it says, "he came back a final time about the eleventh hour" which would have been 5 pm. Just an hour later, all the workers were gathered in and received their day’s wages, all of them receiving the same pay.

Elder Holland talked about how it shouldn't make anyone jealous for god to choose to be kind.  And how it was not too late for these laborers who waited all day, with sorrow in their hearts, feeling hopeless and thinking that they would have to return to their families with no way to feed them that night. The householder gave them a great gift. An opportunity to work, even if for just an hour, still it was something. To everyone's surprise at the end of the day, all the laborers received pay, and all of them received the same wage.

To all of you reading this: as I sat today at my mission president’s feet, and as I read the words of an Apostle of God, I was taught from on high that no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, this work is urgent. We need everyone we can! In Elder Holland’s words:

 "However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.... If you have made covenants, keep them. If you haven't made them, make them. If you have made them and broken them, repent and repair them. It is never too late so long as the Master of the vineyard says there is time. Don't delay. It’s getting late"

I testify to what Elder Holland and President both taught me this week. God needs everyone He can. Come join the ranks! And don’t give up or give in if you have been fighting, no matter how long it has been. We will win. We are on the Lord's side.