Sunday, March 10, 2013

My Farewell

This morning I had the opportunity to speak in church, as it was my last Sunday before leaving for my mission.  It was a wonderful meeting and I was deeply moved by the love I felt from those in attendance. Two of my very best friends surprised me and drove from Rexburg in order to be there.

Sydney, Me, and Amber

When I was fifteen, my mom and I went to Disneyland with some family friends. We were in a line for a ride that had opened that week, so the wait was about three hours. Around fifteen minutes into waiting, two girls, sisters in their late teens, early twenties turned around and asked us to tell them our life story. Needless to say, it didn’t take very long for the Church to come into conversation. The girls had a lot of questions and it was nice, because they obviously had heard about the Church before and had very specific questions. Most importantly they truly wanted answers and weren’t just asking so they could argue about the answers. For a while, I was content to let my mom talk, occasionally nodding or chiming in with “Yeah, Joseph Smith, he was pretty cool.” After a while though, one of the girls turned and asked me a direct question. I froze; I didn’t know the answer. Why didn’t I pay more attention in Seminary? Although only a few seconds, it seemed to last for hours. I realized my mom was talking and I turned to look at her and silently thank her for rescuing me. But I was mistaken. She was just looking at me, smiling. I was talking and answering the question. The girls were nodding, like they understood. As I listened to myself speak, I recognized the words as truth I had known all along. After I was finished they asked me another question. Again the words came to me. The rest of the conversation went smoothly, both of us answering question after question.

            Later as I pondered the experience, I realized a few things. God loved those girls. He knew they had questions, and He made it possible for them to find answers. God loved me. This was something I had been struggling with, but this experience showed me the power of His love. When we are struggling, or lacking, God will make up the difference. I know it was the Spirit of the Lord that caused me to speak the correct words when I was too nervous to even process the question. He is with us, and He will not abandon us.

            As a child I loved the words of C.S. Lewis and have enjoyed hearing the leaders of the Church quote him. I particularly like the religious symbolism in his work, including his children’s books. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he tells the story of a young boy, Eustace, who is unthinking, rude, and greedy. It is this greed that gets him into trouble, for after being told not to, he takes a gold bracelet. When he puts it on he is cursed and turns into a dragon. Unable to return to his family, he ends up in a cave, alone, his arm injured and becoming worse. He starts to realize how terrible he acted and wants more then anything to be returned to them. Aslan, the king arrives and leads him to a mountain pool. He tells Eustace he will be able to heal him, but he must first remove his dragon skin. Eustace starts to scratch at his scales and the skin slowly comes off, much like a snake. When he’s finished, he looks down and realizes there is another skin, so again he scratches it off and again there is another. After removing this skin and finding another underneath it, he becomes down trodden. Aslan then comes over and says, in essence,  “You will have to let me do it.” Eustace says the only thing greater than the pain of the skin being removed was the pleasure of having it gone. He could then enter the waters, be healed, and return to his family. It would be great if we could say Eustace was perfect after that, but sometimes he reverted to his old ways. The important thing is that he tried and day-by-day he grew to be a better boy.

            In this short excerpt, there is much symbolism—the atonement, baptism, and the traditional use of the number three to represent repentance—but my favorite moment is when the King says, “You will have to let me do it.” How often does the Lord say that to us? For me, I feel He says these words daily. We aren’t perfect, we cannot be, but when we give our all and it isn’t enough, the Lord will step in and gently say, “You will have to let me do it.”

             In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Ammon says, “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever” (Alma 26:12).

            There are many ways in which the Lord will strengthen us. In all of these ways, we must be making an effort.  For example, the Lord has already atoned for all of our sins. But if we do not repent, it won’t make a difference. His great sacrifice will not benefit us, because we haven’t done our part.

            One of the ways the Lord will multiply our efforts is through the help of others. A few years ago Deseret News published an article by Howard Collett entitled Selling Bananas to Pay His Way. The article tells the story of Sedrick Tshiambine a twenty-year-old boy from the Dominican Republic. When he was sixteen, he started saving money for his mission. In his town there was very little work to be had and his family was unable to help him finance his mission. This boy had a bicycle and every day he would push his bicycle with 200 pounds of bananas to the market. It would take him two hours. He would sell them for the best price he could and then ride back home, pick up another load and start over. For four years he had made the journey again and again. Each trip earned him about $3. He had to use this money to repair his bicycle and pay for his food. What little he had left over would be used for his mission. All of that work and his savings was only enough to pay for a passport. The rest of the money for his mission came from the General Missionary Fund. Members of the Church from all around the world donate money to help those who would not otherwise be able to serve a mission. Without that help, Sedrick would have been unable to serve a mission.  He could have given up, but he pressed forward knowing that everything would work out.

            Gordon B. Hinckley said, “It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out. Don’t worry. I say that to myself every morning. It will all work out. If you do your best, it will all work out. Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future. The Lord will not forsake us. He will not forsake us. If we will put our trust in Him, if we will pray to Him, if we will live worthy of His blessings, He will hear our prayers.”

Everyone I know keeps asking me if I’m nervous, if I’m scared to serve a mission. There are a few things I’m nervous about. I know serving a mission will be the hardest thing I have ever done, and I fully expect to have days where I feel like I am useless. I also know that it will be difficult to learn Italian and to have the courage to each and everyday proclaim the truthfulness of this Gospel. Even with all of these things, I am not afraid for I know the Lord is with me.

            I am grateful for those in our ward who have served missions; the sisters especially have greatly influenced me. I love that when I first met Sister White, she told me how much she loved her mission and she gave me advice on how to love those I will serve. She still has the demeanor of a missionary and she looks you directly in the eyes, letting you know that she is actively listening and cares about what you have to say. I have always loved that Sister Kendall sings Called to Serve in German. I have never heard her sing it in English and I don’t ever expect to. I was so excited when I opened my call to serve in the Italy Milan Mission. Immediately I wanted to go to the Bressan’s house and share the news with them. Sister Bressan had often talked to me about her mission and I was so excited to tell her I had been called to the mission she loves so dearly.  Minutes later, I found myself standing on her doorstep as I told her that I too would be serving in Milan. She took me into her arms and then pulled me inside their home to show me pictures from her mission. I know these women had challenges while on their missions and it wasn’t always easy, but I also know you will never hear them complain about their experiences. They have nothing but kind words for the people and the places they grew to love. Because the Lord was with them they learned great things and they have been able to share those lessons with me.

            When Boyd K. Packer wrote of missionary work, he mentioned our desire to share the Gospel with every single person in the world. He stated, “Some who measure that challenge say quickly, ‘Why, that’s impossible! It cannot be done!’ To that we simply say, ‘Perhaps, but we shall do it anyway.’ Against the assertion that it cannot be done, we are willing to commit every resource that can be righteously accumulated to this work. Now, while our effort may seem modest, when measured against the challenge, it is hard to ignore when measured against what is being accomplished.”

            This is why I am not afraid; because although this work is difficult and sometimes seems impossible, I have seen the good missionaries can do and I have seen the way they rely on the Lord and how he guides them.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Luke says, “ And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26).

About these verses, Russell M. Nelson says, “What we’re seeing is a prediction that in these latter days people will be afraid. Men’s hearts are failing and that includes women because they forget their identity and their purpose. Heartaches will come. I’ve lived through the death of a wife, and the death of a daughter, I’ve seen the troubles that divorce brings, children or grandchildren go astray, disability, illness, and injuries arise. To the individual who is weak in the heart, fearful in the heart, be patient with yourself. Perfection comes not in this life but in the next life. Don’t demand things that are unreasonable, but demand of yourself improvement. As you let the Lord help you through that, he will make the difference.” 

This is why I am serving a mission. Although I have had challenges, I have been able to get through them. Life is much easier then it would otherwise be, because I have the help of Christ. The message of Christ is one of peace and love. I don’t think there is a single soul who could not benefit from a little more love. When you learn of your Savior and of His love for you, life all at once becomes easier, not because you stop having challenges, but because when you struggle and just can’t seem to make it through He will say, “You will have to let me do it.” He will lift you up and although it may still be difficult, you will not have to go through it alone, you will have the Lord to lean upon.

I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true and I know Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer. There is a living prophet on the earth today. His words, as of the prophets of old, are the words of God. I testify to you that the Book of Mormon is true, and I am so grateful for knowledge I find in its pages and the peace it brings me. 

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