Man it’s been a good minute since I’ve seen all y’all, or for some I’ve never meet y’all. But that’s okay! I remember way back yonder a year and a half ago I started my farewell talk about how I absolutely despised Southern accents, and I remember telling people time and time again that I would REFUSE to say the word y’all. It would always remind me of the show ‘Hannah Montana’ when she would say “Hey Y’ALL” and it absolutely drove me insane. Then it happened halfway through the mission where I embraced the word y’all because it says in the white handbook we must use the proper ‘you’ where you’re serving, so I never looked back. Now surprisingly enough I wish I had come back with an adorable Southern accent as I was serving in Atlanta, Georgia. But I wasn’t even close to the boonies, except my last 6 months I was dedicating my life to serving the Lord. It wasn’t all hunky dory with unicorns’ frolicking right and left; I went through some experiences that have changed my life completely that I will never forget. Obama accepted my Book of Mormon in Atlanta and I met Justin Bieber in Fayetteville. Okay okay, not really! They were just cardboard cutouts.
Some of the things that I first learned very quickly as a missionary in the Missionary Training Center is that one cannot convert someone past one’s own conversion. A testimony is not enough to stay in the church-- you must be fully converted to God. I remember very well each time we got to teach part of a lesson to one of our teachers who was pretending to be someone who they themselves taught on their missions, and the spirit in the room was absolutely astounding. Oh my stars, I may have lost my appetite, freaked out right before we would role play, sweat like a sinner at church, and pray my heart out that I wouldn’t make a fool out of myself in front of my companion and teacher. Good thing I was able to mess up a lot in the MTC so I didn’t have to as much in the real world!
One of the most powerful experiences that I had in the MTC was that as I was teaching the spirit would confirm to me and to those in the room that the things I were testifying about were true. One’s testimony grows every time we bear it, because the feelings you get as you do are undeniable, and that’s what helped me through when I didn’t think that I could go on. I soon realized that the most important thing about being a Representative of Jesus Christ is that we must first have our own conversion, testimony, and relationship with God and Jesus Christ, before we invite others to come closer unto Christ themselves. In Doctrine and Covenants 18:10, 15 it states,”
Having a testimony of the restored gospel is not enough, as missionaries we didn’t study just once a week, then go out and teach. We must constantly learn through the spirit so we can never plateau and have our testimonies grow every day. In Doctrine and Covenants Section 11:21 reads, ‘Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.’ At first I was so worried on what to say to these people, but then I realized that I didn’t need to fret. If one knows the fundamentals of what Christ teaches, then it will be easier to share the gospel with those around us. We need not worry for what one will say, for it shall be given unto us. One of the best parts of missionary work is that it’s not our work, it’s the Lord's. God knows each and every one of us individually, and He knows what each person in the world needs to hear to accept the fullness of the gospel. It’s not what I know that will help them change; it’s what God knows that will help them change. Our job is to be worthy to speak by the Spirit and to love them for who they are unconditionally. I know before I became a missionary, I was always worried that I wouldn’t be able to answer every question that someone had. But to be honest, after being a missionary for 18 months I still don’t know every single question to their answers. People were more than okay with me telling them, “I don’t really know the exact answer to that question, could I study it a bit more, and then get back to you?” or y’all can just refer the local missionaries to them, they can help!
The beautiful thing about the restored gospel is that I am still considered a missionary- more specifically a member missionary. A reassuring promise from M Russell Ballard is that, “every person has a different contribution, a different testimony to share. No one is destined to fail if one is on the Lord’s errand.” I was invited by my mission president to carry a Book of Mormon everywhere I go because that’s what we did as full time missionaries. You can ask my family and they’ll tell you I would take it to Target, Kohls, wherever. You’re considered a missionary –pointing- and so are you –pointing- and you, and you. In Preach My Gospel, Brigham Young proclaims, “There is neither man or woman in this Church who is not on a mission. That mission will last as long as they live, and it is to do good, to promote righteousness, to teach the principles of truth, and to prevail upon themselves and everybody around them to live those principles that they may obtain eternal life.” If any of y’all are feeling overwhelmed from that statement, don’t worry. Elder Bednar put my anxieties at ease as a missionary when he said, "You have been called for what you will become in the future, and not for what you've done in the past." There’s no limit to one’s potential, and we can grow and become the best we can be by not being casual with our obedience, and having lukewarm commitments. We must strive and seek to have His presence with us daily in order to touch the lives of those that Heavenly Father is preparing for us. One has to get out of one’s comfort zone for the Comforter to work within us. Your miracle zone is when one isn’t comfortable, and believe me, I know all about that!
There was this family that I had the privilege to serve with when I was in Fayetteville—the Raymond family. The grandma and grandkids had simple testimonies, and the happiness that the restored gospel brought to their lives was sweet and apparent. The oldest son, Bryan looked up to his grandfather Ironce Raymond, and wanted to share the gospel with him. He was out of his comfort zone because he was about to give his first talk during Sacrament Meeting. Bless his heart! Seeing as Ironce had been to church once before when his wife and grandkids were receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, he was willing to come to church a second time. As Ironce was able to feel the spirit, he had a strong desire to be baptized that upcoming Saturday. Heavens to Betsy, it was a whirlwind of a week seeing as we were already teaching a family of three to be baptized that Saturday as well- a grandmother, mother, and daughter. The wonderful realization is when a family comes together in a situation like that is remembering that that one family is not just one. There are families before and after that will be affected from their continual conversion day by day. We will never know how deeply others salvation will be impacted because we decided to share the gospel with someone and it’s all up to us. When need meets willing, the Lord will create miracles. There are people in each of our lives that we alone can impact with our testimonies. The gospel is for everyone, and I mean absolutely everyone. You never know who may be searching for the fullness of the gospel. There are billions of people are on this ship of life, but they don’t know who the captain is, or where they’re going- we must help them understand their purpose in life.
One of the stories that I consider to be a miracle is a man named Christopher, who is one of my recent converts when I was serving in my first area in Atlanta. We were on the MARTA train when I first met Christopher absolutely drunk. I was really surprised that he remembered us when I called him the next day to confirm the appointment. It was a joy teaching Christopher every day or every other day. He would always take what we taught him to the Lord, something we need to do every day as we read the scriptures daily and as a family to gain a stronger testimony. What we didn’t know until after he was baptized three weeks later was that he was praying for the spirit’s guidance, and he valiantly followed the promptings he received before he met us. He felt like he came to a plateau in his own life, and he wanted God to show him the path that he needed to be on. He promised to God that if it would be revealed it him, he wouldn’t back out with what God wanted him to have. The day after we taught Christopher the first lesson in a member’s home -something we should ALL strive for!- He had read 40 pages of the Book of Mormon- the first 35 pages, and then the last 5 because he wanted to know how the story ended. It’s just as important to be friends to those around us that the missionaries are teaching, and showing support to the missionaries in our own congregation. Throughout those three weeks before his baptism, he humbled himself by giving up his drinking and smoking habits with the support of those around him in the church. Without them, I strongly believe he wouldn’t be where he is now.
I was able to have a really cool experience with a family which only the husband was a member. Rowan wasn’t active for over ten years, and he knew that the church was true, but he decided to let anyone religious in his home. The Catholics, Lutherans, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, you name it. Rowan knew that eventually that the missionaries would come along and knock on their door. Things fell into place, and the Mom and 10 year old daughter got baptized before I became a trio, and started to serve in two wards at once, oh Bessie! I had the privilege to teach the two teenagers- Maria and Josh. They had been taking the lessons along with the rest of the family, but they didn’t feel worthy enough to be baptized, and that they felt like they needed to learn more, or have their testimony be stronger. As childish as it may seem, we were able to relate Pokémon references no less to help them understand why we get baptized, and they did the next week after. Since those two sister missionaries just asked if they could come back and share more of our message of Jesus Christ, that family will be sealed for all time and eternity in ten months because of the love that the missionaries had for them. There are those who are wanting to come back, they just need to have a reason or invitation to do so.
In Elder Bednar’s talk, "Come and See", he recounts a story of his two younger sons playing outside. The younger brother was injured slightly in a small accident. Instead of coming to their rescue they watched from a near distance. The older brother carefully went back into the kitchen with his younger brother, and gently washed the scratch on his younger brother’s arm to remove the dirt. The reaction of the little brother to this procedure can only be described accurately using language from the holy scriptures: “And they shall have cause to howl, and weep, and wail, and gnash their teeth” And did that little boy howl!
After the washing was finished, the arm was dried with a towel as the screaming ceased. The older brother continued to climb and found a new tube of medicated ointment in the cabinet. Although the scratches weren’t serious in any way, he applied almost all of the ointment in the tube to the entire injured arm. The older brother returned to the cabinet and found a box of bandages which is generously applied to his brother’s arm—from the wrist to the elbow. With the emergency resolved, and with soap bubbles, ointment, and wrappers all over the kitchen, the two little boys hopped down from the chair with bright smiles and happy faces.
The most important part of this story is that the injured brother gathered up what was left of the ointment and bandages, and went back outside. He desired to share the relief that he received to his injured friends with sincerity and enthusiasm. The reason why? The love that he had for his friends made him wish to give the very thing that helped him when he was hurt. The little boy didn’t have to be told, but his yearning to share was the natural consequence of a helpful and beneficial personal experience. Many of us members of Christ’s Church have that same desire to share the restored gospel when it has helped us through hard times in our lives. We personally have seen the positive changes that it has made for us personally, so naturally we want to share it with others. When we invite someone who is not of our faith to hear the restored truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s not an attempt to diminish your religious traditions or life experience. We want to give additional enlightenment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s up to them to study, ponder, pray, and come to know for themselves if the things we are sharing with them are true.
Brothers and sisters, I can testify to you that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored on the Earth once again today. Missionary work is the lifeblood of the Church, and we are the future of the church. If we want to increase or keep what we learned in the gospel, we must share it with those around us. We as members must unite with the missionaries to help hasten the work of salvation. The full time missionaries are there simply to assist the members in their missionary efforts. I leave one last question with the members of Christ’s Church- if the Savior was here, what would he ask you to do to help hasten the work? I can testify that there are people in each of our lives that Heavenly Father wants us to touch with our simple testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that this is the beginning of the Second Coming, and it is our responsibility to warn our neighbor of the dire consequences if we don't accept the gospel and desire to become more like our Savior Jesus Christ. I know that the Book of Mormon is true, and that it's so important that we read the scriptures as a family because it helps build a foundation of Christ at a young age, and we're never too old to read it as a family. Elder Zwick from the Seventy came to one of my stake conferences, and he told us that Heavenly Father isn't trying to make it hard for us to come home to His presence. If we have Family Home Evening, family prayer, and family scripture reading, we will have the strength to endure to the end. I testify that I have seen a difference in the families that I visit who do and don't do those things. The spirit is evident. I know God lives, and that He loves us so very much, and desires to help us come back to Him. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.