Right now as I'm typing this I feel like I'm in a movie or at the end of some dramatic play. Lots of emotions are stirring within me. I don't know if I will be able to get a grasp mentally of my feelings to express exactly how I feel. But for now I'm going to attempt to describe what I'm thinking and feeling.
Reflecting back to the days leading up to me entering the MTC, I feel like the "mission" phase began when I kicked high school out the door, and entered the Salt Lake Temple the next day to receive the Endowment. The Memory is still strong in my mind of me sitting with my Father in that Holy Temple. There were many individuals who played significant roles in my life that were in attendance that special day. My heart is "pierced" so to say, when I remember the tremendous love that surrounded me and those I love in the Celestial room. I knew in my heart that day, that because of the covenants that I had made, Heavenly Father had blessed me beyond what I could understand. I think at that moment a seed of truth was planted, a seed that could only be grown in the fertile grounds of the mission field.
The 12 days leading up to the MTC were days filled with Temple Worship, I traveled around Utah and Southern Idaho to attend various temples to familiarize myself with the sacred ceremony of the Endowment. I spent time with friends and family as much as I could those final days. My last Sunday home we went to Temple Square and went to the top of the Conference center. There was a stone bench on the west side of the garden roof, I sat down and stared across the valley, something within me knew that my Mission was going to be a really emotional experience. I took that moment to thank my Heavenly Father for blessing me to be at that point in my life, being ready to serve a mission. When the day came to be set apart, I remember sitting in the High Council room with many people I love, listening to them say goodbye. It was rather surreal to sit in that room and recognize that for 2 years I would be walking away from those relationships and going somewhere totally new. I think it would be fair to say that I had NO IDEA what I had just gotten myself into. With my Father being my Stake President, I was blessed to have him set me apart.
The Next morning was so weird to get into the Tahoe and convince my mind to not think about what was happening. We took pictures at the Provo Temple, and when my scheduled time came, it was like slow motion as we unloaded my stuff. I was surprised that I didn't emotionally break down as I walked away from my family down the sidewalk into the MTC.
Being in the MTC was a strange experience. I wrote in a letter that it was like being in a "spiritual prison". I felt like a cow being herded around, needless to say my personality doesn't do well with people herding me from building to building. We reviewed and studied the simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the 12 days that I was there. In that strange place a simple truth was confirmed to me, 'It is better to be in prison with the Lord, than in a palace without Him'.
Flying from the MTC was both exciting and nerve-racking. In the MTC they just pamper you and pretend that everyone will accept the message you have to share. I didn't really know what was coming my way.
As I'm writing this, memories are flooding my mind of all the details that occurred during this transition period of becoming a missionary, I wish I could express it all quickly, but ain't nobody got time for that.
President Holm was the mission President who picked me up, but he was only my President for 3 days, and then President Turner took over the mission.
I was blessed to be given a Trainer who was both Hard Working and Obedient. I'm sure I was a difficult trainee because I had lots of questions and opinions about just every facet of missionary work that you could think of, certainly he was blessed with the Gift of Patience during those 3 months.
Teaching came natural for me. Ever since I was able to utter a word, I've never had difficulty sharing with people what I think....haha both in a good and a bad way. Anyways, Teaching and talking to people wasn't a stressor for me. I found it rather exciting and fulfilling to sit down and teach people the gospel.
But just as my strengths were made apparent, so also were my weaknesses. I recognized that I struggled to have patience with others. I learned that I can't always do it on my own. I learned that others don't always see it the way I do. I realized that I wasn't as good at planning as I thought I was at first. I realized that I get attached to people and it is difficult to learn to say goodbye. I noticed that I was a critical person, that I analyzed others a bit too much. I learned that I really disliked some of the mission rules. And the list continues...
More than ever in my life I discovered the desperate need that I had for revelation from Heavenly Father. If I was going to get through those 2 years and remain sane I would need to have a constant flow of direction from Heavenly Father. As time passed I recognized that my happiness was largely dependent on the revelation I was receiving. The Revelations that I experienced on the mission revolved around very important principles:
- FAITH: Believing that Heavenly Father is real and that His directions and instructions are for my happiness.
- HOPE: Having that emotional investment of my heart into my belief that Heavenly Father's will was possible and necessary for my happiness.
- CHARITY: Seeing others from the eyes of God and feeling the Love that He has for them. This is also embracing that Love that God has for me too.
- HUMILITY: Understanding that I am completely dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ for all things that are good. This is not about "I", it is about "Him". There is no "Mine" there is only "His". "Not my will, but thine be done."
Attempting to describe what occurred in these two years is so difficult, like I mentioned earlier, memories are flashing all over my mind right now. I developed a treasure trove of memories where these principles were demonstrated to me and where I was given opportunity to perform them. I am going to include some personal stories where I saw others demonstrate those attributes to me.
This is not a "my top favorite people" kind of thing, these are just stories that I felt impressed to share! If I were to write a blog about all my amazing friends here in South Carolina it would take FOREVER! Maybe in the future I'll post a blog with all the pictures of the people I made great friends with!
In my first area of Greenwood I was so blessed to meet an African American man named John. He is older in his 70s and lives in a small home in the woods. Elder Cole Davis and I were going through a list of less actives and we came across him one day. We found out he was baptized 20 years ago, before I was even born. We asked him some questions and realized he didn't remember much about the church. He was basically baptized and then fell out off the radar. He struggled with speech, it was hard to understand him sometimes. We offered him another Book of Mormon, but he told us the print was to small for him to read, so we promised that we would return with a large print Book of Mormon. To my regret, this fell into the back of my mind and it took almost 2 months for us to return to his home with the Large Print book. When we brought this book by, John said, "Where have you been? I've been waiting a while for this Book." That took me back, I didn't know he was that interested. Anyways we left the Book of Mormon with him and invited him to come to Church. A Sunday came and he showed up decked out in a fancy suit. It made my day to see him walk back into the Church after 20 years of inactivity. By this point Elder Davis had gone home and I was now with Elder Lumpkin. John from that day forward faithfully attended church each week. He was quiet at church and didn't interact much, but he would tell us when we would go visit that he loved being there. As time passed we felt that it was necessary to propose to him that he prepare to be ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood. We explained to him that he would need to quit smoking in order for this ordination to take place. This scared John, he was really nervous to begin the change. But he expressed his desire to make the change. He had been smoking for many many years, since he was 16. We asked John how his scripture reading had been, we discovered that he had been reading faithfully an hour everyday for about a month. He had fallen in love with the Book of Mormon and the spirit that touched his heart as he read it. We understood at that point that he was prepared to make a change in his life. We told John that we could give him a blessing of Healing to help him leave his addiction behind. John was so excited when we told him that! We decided that we would give him a blessing on Sunday after church. That way we had a few days to prepare for this blessing by fasting and praying.
When the day came for the blessing, I remember standing in the church gym with no one else in there except for John, Me, Elder Lumpkin, and our Ward Mission Leader. We laid our Hands upon Johns Head, I was asked to be voice, and we pronounced a blessing of Healing after he was anointed. John was promised that he would receive power and strength to walk away from his addictions and that the Lord would make him whole. All who were there felt the spirit confirm the validity of the words spoken.
John got up and gave me a hug, and went on his way.
John Dropped Smoking cold turkey, and moved forward receiving the blessings he was promised. He was blessed as D&C 89 says, to have treasures of knowledge. John became a full tithe payer shortly after and the special day came for him to receive the Priesthood. As we laid our hands upon Johns head in the Chapel, he burst into tears. It was such an emotional experience to at that moment to realize the power the Atonement had on this man. He truly had believed, he truly had repented, he truly was prepared by the Lord to receive the Promised Blessings. We all were emotional as we gave John a hug after the Ordination, knowing that one of the Lords sheep had returned.
John to me, was an example of Faith. He believed the Lord would make him whole. He believed that the Book of Mormon was true, so he read it. He believed that Heavenly Father Loved him, so he prayed to Him often.
Being in Summerville was a privilege, every missionary should serve in Summerville! I was so blessed to come in contact with an amazing family. Y'all remember me talking about Bobbi and Ed, and you probably won't hear me stop talking about them the rest of my life haha. They are such great people!
When I mentioned Hope earlier, I said that it was an emotional investment from the Heart into what we believe. I think back to my time with Bobbi and Ed and truly they demonstrated Hope to me! I don't know how to really tell the story, because it's about 6 months long and continues to this day haha. But as we taught Bobbi and Ed the Lessons it was such a privilege to see the Light of Christ awaken in their eyes! Bobbi would frequently mention to us how she noticed a significant increase in her happiness throughout her days, and that she felt a connection to God that was growing. When we would ask them "Do you believe the Book of Mormon is true?" They would respond saying, "Why wouldn't God still call a prophet? It would only make sense that God would inspire a Prophet to bring this book forth!" They not only showed Faith, they had an emotional attachment to the gospel that was being taught to them.
A special day came when we decided to show Bobbi the baptismal font at the Church. Before we opened the font doors, we explained the meaning of baptism again. As we opened the doors, you could feel a change in the room, and warm feeling resting on the heart. Bobbi put her hand over her heart and said, "I just felt something touch my heart". She said she knew that it was a sacred place. She felt that Emotional investment in her heart, she told us how she hoped to be in that font some day. What a special experience! I will forever remember the feeling we all shared that day! What a great demonstration of HOPE! To stand at the font and feel the Holy Ghost witness and bestow upon Bobbi a desire to be baptized! In my recent emails with Bobbi and Ed, they say that they are hoping to be baptized this Fall! Ed's Son Danny was baptized a few months ago, and so the blessings have already began!
Elder Parker was my companion for about 25% - 6 months of my mission, that's a pretty big chunk. I wasn't companions with anyone else as long as I was with him. I wrote about my experiences with Elder Parker in a blog post about a year ago. I wrote about how he was an example of Charity to me. If you go around asking all the missionaries in this mission if they know Elder Parker they will all get excited and say ecstatically, "YES! HE IS SO HAPPY!'. Everyone who has come in contact with Elder Parker feels the love of God through him! He demonstrated to me what Charity really is. Charity is to see others how God sees them. Elder Parker passed no judgement on anyone! The only thing I remember him being critical about was Rap Music, he hated it! I hate it too! So no problem there! One time I was sitting in the Chapel with Bobbi before sacrament, Elder Parker was playing the prelude on the Organ. Bobbi leaned over to me and whispered, "Whenever I see him, He brightens my day" Bobbi and I both talked about how he just brightens up your day when you're around him. It was such an amazing experience to learn from Elder Parker how to treat others. How to show others the Love of God. I really hope to hang out with Cole Parker when he is done with his mission!
Two Stories with Humility that I would like to share. The First is from when I was in training. I had spent a morning studying the topic of humility, because I recognized that it was something I lacked significantly. Although I had read lots of material about humility, I felt there was something missing, I felt like there was some information that I lacked. I expressed to my Trainer Elder Davis during comp study that I wish I knew more about humility. We talked a bit about it, but still I could not find this "missing piece". We went out and worked hard as usual, but towards the end of the day we went walking into this neighborhood and came across an older gentleman Mr Soni. He approached us and said that he wanted to talk to us. He was from India, he grew up there and was raised in the Hindu faith. He had come over to the United States to learn and practice medicine, and has lived here since. We began a discussion on our various beliefs, but Mr Soni said that one common essence of religion is that we are trying to harmonize ourselves with the divine. He then proceeded to explain the following concepts.
He said that we must not have any ego (a persons sense of self-importance).
We must not be possessive of anything, there is no "mine"
We must have no "desire". We cannot "want". The only correct desire is God's desire.
I was really impressed with those ideas and I realized that Heavenly Father had just answered my prayers from earlier that day. I realized that Mr Soni was right and that those principles were in harmony with the teachings of our Church. I thanked Soni for what he had shared with me and explained to him that he was an answer to prayer. Both my trainer and I walked away rather shocked that the Lord had answered my prayer so directly. I discovered that Humility is more than just not being prideful.
Humility declares that we realize that our "self importance" is vain. We cannot place importance on ourselves. If we put ourselves on the top of our priority christ says, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" The importance in our life should be revolving around Love of God and our Neighbor, not ourselves.
Humility stands to say that we must never say, "MINE'. Nothing is ours, all things are God's. Not even the tabernacle of clay that you dwell in is yours, that dust and matter belongs to Heavenly Father. All things that are, belong to Heavenly Father. The second we begin to claim ownership of something other than our Agency, we are distancing ourselves from Heavenly Father. If we would but recognize that all things are His, we would view the material in this world much differently. Remember Satan's trick is to get us to think that we can exchange our salvation for worldly power and material objects, which was a lie in the begging. All things are God's, Satan has no authority to validate such an offer. To say "mine" is to say that it isn't God's, which is false.
Desire is our motivation in life. Desire is what leads us to make decisions and take action. If that being true, anything that is not in harmony with God's desire will ultimately send us to that "broad gate which leads to destruction, and many there be that enter there at." We cannot have our "own" desires, they are destructive. We can however chose to have "God's desire". If we would but believe that His desire is perfect and will bring about our exalting happiness, how much easier it is to let go of the vain imaginations of our heart!
Those concepts are EXTREMELY difficult to accept, but as I have pondered them I have realized they truly do represent the perfect concept of Humility. If we are ever to become like God, those principles must be existing in our character. What a difficult task that is! It will take an eternity to perfect!
But you never know how the Lord will answer your questions! Sometimes you meet some old person on the side of the road who gives you the wisdom of the universe!
The second example of humility comes from my experience at Fort Jackson. If you read the previous blog posts from late summer-fall of 2015 you'll see that we were blessed to have many baptisms at the military base. Some weeks we had 4 baptisms. Almost every week the font was full. The amazing thing is that the retention rate at Fort Jackson was higher that the world average, it is close to 60%. Those who were baptized at Fort Jackson remained active better than any other rate across the mission.
I was so amazed to see how quickly these soldiers would enter the waters of baptism. They were not people who just wanted to get wet. I was blessed to interview some of them for baptism and I was amazed to see the testimonies that these men and women had developed in such a short span of time, usually 3-4 weeks. They would read the Book of Mormon throughout the week, and pray like they never had before. Their environment during basic training was rather stressful and it takes an emotional toll on them. They go through many weeks with their drill sergeants yelling at them. Their self-importance drops and they develop a love for those they are working with. They recognize that their is something more to this world than themselves.
I wondered why so many people were being baptized? What was the secret to the success? I knew it wasn't the missionaries, because this didn't happen in other areas. It took me 12 weeks to figure out that it was the soldiers. I finally realized at the end of my service on Fort Jackson that the reason for the success was the Humility that was being displayed. When the Lord sees humility, the Powers of Heaven are Opened.
Dang, this "little" summary I was thinking of making has gotten really long! But so far I feel like I've been able to express some of the feelings and thoughts I've had as I reflect on these last 2 years.
I need to express how I feel about all the amazing people that I've met out here. Before my mission I certainly had already developed a habit of finding people who were so much fun to talk to. The mission didn't change that at all. I feel like part of a mission is to meet people and to develop friendships. In each area I always had certain individuals that I just got along super well with. Sometimes it felt like a spiritual reunion from the preexistence, as if we were long lost friends who found each other. Unfortunately mortality causes these kind of friendships to be limited in this life, time restricts the relationships and life happens. It was always super hard to say goodbye to people that I had grown close to in each area. But Thanks for FACEBOOK! That will be a great tool to stay in contact with all of my great friends that I've made out here. I realized on my mission that a lot of true happiness comes from other people. Relationships are key to the eternal perspective. That is what existing is all about, to have friends and family. Progressing in Knowledge and Power for eternity would be terribly boring if we didn't have anyone to share it with!
Being at this point now realizing that another transition phase similar to the MTC is coming, saying goodbyes again and returning to what I left in Utah. This triggers another memory from before my mission, when I was in the Salt Lake Temple. A member of the temple presidency was instructing us before the endowment session began, and he explained to us that a mission is like a "mini plan of salvation".
I thought about the similarities:
In the preexistence before we came to this earth, we were prepared, taught, and instructed on what this mortal life would be like. Before my mission, my parents and leaders taught me and prepared me for the mission experience.
Before coming to earth, we were preordained and given promises of what would happen in this life if we were faithful. Before leaving on a mission I was ordained by my Father and given blessings for my mission.
Before coming to earth we probably said goodbye "for now" to many friends, including our Heavenly Parents. We understood that we would be called to return. Before coming to South Carolina I said goodbye "for now" to many friends, including my parents. But the day is coming this week when I will be called home to return.
This life is a life of trial and error, preparing us for our future responsibilities as children of Deity. This mission was an experience of Trial and error, preparing me for future responsibilities like Fatherhood, and other Priesthood functions.
This life was meant to be a life of service, not everyone recognizes that, but that is a central reason for this life. Being on a mission I was able to serve 24/7.
Anyways, there are many other parallels. The one that I find most interesting is that when we reach that point in this life when we have accomplished all that we were asked to do, when we had finally figured out ourselves and this life, we die and are taken home to our Heavenly Parents. The same goes for a mission, right when you feel like you finally got a grasp of what this is all about, it is over, and you're ready to move on to the next phase.
As this previous week went by my mind spent a lot of time "daydreaming" and imagining what the differences will be like when I get back. I asked myself some strange questions like: Will others see a difference in me? Will my personality be different to others? Will I be feel "home sick" for South Carolina? Will I still care about the things I cared about before I left? Will I be able to quickly transition back into the home life?
After reviewing those questions I realize that whatever happens the Lord is in Charge. I certainly believe that when I get back I will notice a lot of changes. For example, it wasn't possible to carry on a conversation with Garit before I left, now he speaks clear sentences and I'll be able to talk to him, haha! It was so much fun to talk to him over Skype 5 weeks ago!
Alright, this letter has gotten way to long. I'll finish it up now! Maybe I'll write one more blog post next week after I've been home for a few days.
It would be wrong of me to not express how grateful I am for all of the support that I have received while being on my mission. That support came in so many ways, through prayer, fasting, letters, emails, money, ect. So thanks for everything!
I hope to spend the rest of my life helping others to come unto Christ. I hope that my mission in South Carolina was just the "training" for the rest of my mission here on Earth.
I know my Heavenly Father as a distinct person who does indeed speak to me in many ways. His Son Jesus Christ knows me better than I know myself. He sees my perspective and wants me to constantly repent so that I can become better each day. The Love of God is the motivating force in this universe for all that is Good. It is this love that causes me to repent and to invite others to do the same! Through the Power of the Holy Ghost we can truly 'know' the reality of all things! I have experienced the Power of the Holy Ghost reveal to me that Jesus Christ loves all of us, and that is indeed why He died for us. Revelation is absolutely central and necessary for our salvation. We cannot expect to return to our Heavenly Father if we are not engaged in continuous communication with Him. I have a bold claim that some people chose not to believe, but I will proudly declare that my Heavenly Father has ALWAYS answered my questions. He has always responded. This is nothing that is unique to me. I know that all of His Children are entitled through divine birthright to that same revelation that I have experienced. Joseph Smith truly received the greatest revelations of these the latter days. I believe that through the revelation and ministration of Angels the Priesthood and Government of God has been brought back to this earth. We now have 'authorized' authority from Heavenly Father. What a blessing it is to have not only personal revelation but to have another Priesthood Authorized witness, a Prophet of God to lead the people of Israel! President Monson is the only person Authorized on the face of this Earth to exercise all of the Priesthood that Heavenly Father has revealed to us. Through the Power of Revelation he leads this church under the direction of Jesus Christ Himself. If someone desires to learn how to gain access to the revelations of God for themselves, then they must read the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon was brought forth by revelation, as a revelation, on how to receive revelation! The ENTIRE book is an account of individuals who received revelation and how you can too. If someone wants to know if the Book of Mormon is a hoax, then they must doubt it and not act, but if they want to know that it is True, then they must believe and act, which will bring forth the fruits of revelation and ultimately power to return to God.
The Revelations I have received concerning the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith have led me to do good in my life. I know that repentance works, and that we really can feel the spirit declare that we are clean after repentace! What revelation is better than that, to feel the Spirit say, "Heavenly Father has forgiven you, because of your Faith on His Son Jesus Christ!" I hope that we all continually strive to feel those words impressed upon our hearts each week as we partake of the Lords Sacrament!
And the next chapter of life begins . . . In 3 days