Sunday, May 31, 2015

Homecoming Talk for Morgan Hill

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,” Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; […] And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father” I know that if there was a missionary who had never baptized their entire mission but they were able to convert themselves, Heavenly Father would be so pleased with that missionary because of their effort to gain a testimony continually. We must continue on to convert ourselves because having one spiritual experience isn’t enough, we must press forward to always have a strong relationship with our Heavenly Father.

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 Pok√©mon 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.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Homecoming Talk for Stockton

Hey y’all! It’s been a good minute since I’ve last seen all y’all, and I’m fixing to tell y’all various stories like helping baptize a guy I met drunk, someone I taught all of the lessons in one week and he got baptized, and my first experience knocking door to door. One of the stories that I am personally most grateful for was when I was serving in my first area in Atlanta when I was at the church for the Addiction Recovery Program with one of my recent converts. It was dark and my investigator asked us if the other set of sisters were going to pick us up from the church. We remarked no, and she insisted on us asking for a ride. But they said no, and she was very disappointed and told us to be careful. After ARP finished, the senior couple- The Newman’s remarked how badly they wish they could drop us off at home, but they didn’t have any room. We were walking towards the MARTA train station as Elder Newman stopped us, and decided to leave a blessing of safety with us, and told us to be aware of our surroundings. After the blessing occurred my trainer and I began to freak out instantly, and we started to hurry our way home. It seemed like we were waiting at every single corner to cross the street, and we couldn’t hurry fast enough home, As we were approaching our final street to cross, we noticed that a car had ran a red light to turn left, and had hit the barrier in between the two lanes. The spirit confirmed to me that if we hadn’t been stopped so many times during that journey home, our paths would have crossed with that car and we would have been hit, killed instantly.

But before I get I get ahead of myself, I have to back up on how I decided to go on a mission to serve the Lord for a year and a half approximately two years ago.

The funny part was in the beginning I decided that I wasn’t going to go on one, even though the age change occurred. I thought it wasn’t for me. In my patriarchal blessing it mentioned that I would go on a mission and I just told myself that it was going to happen with my husband once I retired. I didn’t want to follow the crowd and there were many obstacles put in front of me that was dissuading me from going such as my Dad losing his job, and other financial problems. I kept entertaining the thought on whether or not I should go on a mission, but I wasn’t really doing a whole lot of acting to see whether it was God’s will or not.  I went to my cousin Chelsie’s farewell talk and that stood out to me more than anyone else’s. She mentioned how she was reluctant to get an answer on whether she should go on a mission, and that’s exactly how I was feeling. I was praying and asking whether I should go on a mission, but I never bothered to wait for an answer because I was too scared of what that answer may be. But I decided that I was done wondering, and I desired to obtain an answer so I could stop wondering what Heavenly Father had in store for me. I started to do things that would help me be worthy to receive the answer that could very possibly change the entire direction of my life for the next couple years. One day I prayed in my room for an answer I was ready to hear. While I was waiting for my answer, my Mom came in and wanted to tell me something that my Uncle Daniel mentioned to her, “Emily should not worry about the money if she’s supposed to go on a mission. Finances will not be an issue because everything will work out in the end.” Right when those words were spoken, I recognized that the spirit overcame me as strong as I’ve ever felt in my life. I started to bawl like a baby, and I exaggerate not when I say I continued to cry for a good twenty minutes. I recognized I received personal revelation and got my answer- I was going on a mission.

Personal revelation is communication from God to His children. In the Bible Dictionary, it quotes that divine revelation is one of the grandest concepts and principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for without it; man could not know of the things of God and could not be saved with any degree of salvation in the eternities. The principle of gaining knowledge by revelation is the principle of salvation. It is the making known of divine truth by communication with the heavens and consists not only of revelation of the plan of Salvation to the Lord’s prophets but also a confirmation in the hearts of the believers that the revelation to the prophets is true.

There are multiple steps that we must do in order to receive personal revelation from Heavenly Father The three that I want to focus on are how to obtain revelation, being worthy to receive it, and to recognize the revelation that Heavenly Father wants to give each and every one of us.

When I first was thinking about whether or not I should go on a mission, I did not have a yearning to obtain it, much less have a desire to seek God’s will because I knew it would be hard to leave my friends and family for a year and a half. Apostle Dallin H. Oaks stated, “Going forward with our service and work is an important way to qualify for revelation. In my study of the scriptures I have noted that most revelation to the children of God comes when they are on the move, not when they are sitting back in their habitations waiting for the Lord to tell them the first step to take.” If one isn’t doing anything to try to receive revelation, then Heavenly Father isn’t going to feel inclined to give us the revelation we want. In D&C 42:61, it reads, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” One of the people I had the privilege to teach was a man named Ironce Raymond who was from Haiti. His wife and their grandkids had been baptized earlier that year, and one of his grandsons Bryan, invited him to come to church for the second time because he was speaking in sacrament meeting. We had just started teaching the first lesson the day before, and after church was over Brother Raymond told us that he wanted to get baptized that very Saturday. He desired to receive the revelation that Heavenly Father had for him because he did everything in his power to receive all of the five lessons within that one week. He left work early so we could teach him every evening, and he made a constant priority to read the Book of Mormon and to ask God whether it was true. In True to the Faith, it states “According to your faithfulness, you can receive revelation to help you with your specific needs, responsibilities, and questions to help you strengthen your testimony.” Brother Raymond had amazing faith, and he knew that this was God’s will for him. He was able to ponder the things that we were teaching him, and studying out in his mind to find out if what we were teaching him was true to receive his answer.

One of the things that I learned when I first went out into the mission field was that we cannot force spiritual things. D&C 88:68 read, “Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will”. When I had my first day of knocking on doors, I really freaked out because I didn’t want to waste the Lord’s time by knocking on doors that would reject us. I would refuse to choose what door to knock on because I didn’t know what the spirit was telling me. It’s amusing now to think that I would pray whether or not I should knock on a door and I wouldn’t get an answer. So I went for it, but no one answered. I quickly learned this statement in Preach My Gospel by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal growth. Personal decision making is one of the sources of growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don’t receive it. For example, this is likely to occur in those numerous circumstances in which the choices are trivial or either choice is acceptable.” I learned that Heavenly Father didn’t care whether or not I got rejected at the door; He was just pleased with me that I was serving Him and having a desire to share the gospel with those in Georgia.

As you have a desire to obtain revelation, one will change and start doing the things necessary to be worthy to receive revelation. One of the stories that pop into my mind when it comes to receive personal revelation is in Alma 37. When Lehi and his family were in the wilderness, they relied on the Liahona to guide them so they would be able to make it in their journey, just as we need personal revelation in our own lives. Verses 40-41 say, “And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day. 41 Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey;” Unfortunately if we don’t exercise our faith and diligence, we won’t be able to receive the progress just as Lehi and his family did for that period of time. In order to be worthy we must be reverent, obey the commandments, pray often, continually come to church, fast if needed, and study our patriarchal blessing.

Christopher was one of my recent converts when I was serving in my first area in Atlanta. We were on the MARTA train when I met Christopher when he was drunk, and I was really surprised that he remembered us when I followed up with him the next day to confirm the appointment we set at the church for the upcoming Saturday. It was a joy teaching Christopher because he was truly repenting and changing himself to be worthy to receive revelation from Heavenly Father. One of the general authorities serving in Atlanta, Elder Parker asked us in zone conference, “Am I teachable?” We must be meek and lowly of heart to be open to have personal revelation revealed to us. When we taught Christopher every day or every other day, he would always take what we taught him to the Lord. 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. 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. Christopher had the faith that he would be able to receive personal revelation to guide him.  The day after we taught Christopher the first lesson, 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. We all must study the scriptures every day so we can apply them to our own personal life. We communicate to God through prayer, and God communicates to us through the scriptures. Throughout those three weeks before his baptism, he humbled himself by giving up his drinking and smoking habits so he could be worthy to receive the many great blessings of baptism. Those who humble themselves are able to acknowledge and to understand the Lord answers to their prayers.

            One of the most important things about personal revelation is being able to recognize what Heavenly Father is trying to tell you. I was one of the pros of overthinking personal revelation, since learning how the Holy Spirit speaks to you is a constant process. I remember in the very beginning of my mission I thought that I would be guided simply to each of the doors that I needed to knock on, and I wouldn’t question what Heavenly Father would have me do. But in reality if we did that, we wouldn’t be able to act on faith. But the longer I was out, I understood the concept that all things which are good comes from God, and the things that are evil comes from Satan. So if we receive a prompting to do something good, then it’s from Heavenly Father. There are many fruits of the spirit that we can feel to help determine whether the Holy Spirit is testifying of truth- love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. One of my favorite scriptures that explains the holy spirit is in Helaman 5:30, “And it came to pass when they heard this voice, and beheld that it was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul—”

            As I was deciding to figure out what college I should go to, and what transfer I should go home at, I felt like Joseph Smith in some cases because he was trying to decide which doctrine was right. Unlike Joseph Smith, I was able to attend the temple monthly, and I continued to find what was right through fasting and prayer. I took a question to General Conference in faith that it would be answered. Just as I had a question, Joseph Smith had a question for Heavenly Father that he wanted answered. If y’all wouldn’t mind, I would love for all y’all to close your eyes, but don’t fall asleep! If you’re not sure on how the spirit speaks to you, I invite you to pay attention to how you feel as I recite what Joseph Smith went through when he went to the grove of trees.

“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”

-pause-

 I want y’all to pause for a few moments to pay attention on how you can recognize the Holy Spirit.

–pause-

 Brothers and sisters, I can just testify to you that I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. God is our loving Heavenly Father, and that he speaks to us through chosen prophets to receive revelation on our behalf so we can return to live with him again through the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have that power to baptize, perform miracles, and to preach the gospel. I know that Christ did establish his church through the foundation of apostles and prophets. He gave them authority to continue building His Church, although it didn't happen that way. As the patterns of the prophets have repeated itself time and time again, God called Joseph Smith to be a prophet of God, and promised us that we will never again have Christ's Church be taken from the Earth. I testify this to be true with all my heart, and that I know that the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. Many plain and precious truths were lost during that time where there wasn't a prophet to guide the people after the apostles' death. But through the Book of Mormon many plain and precious truths have been restored for us. I invite everyone to pray and read the Book of Mormon every day, especially as a family. I remember when Elder Zwick came to my last area and he was telling us that making it to the Celestial Kingdom isn't rocket science. He asks us to do three simple things. Small and simple things bring great things come to pass. Heavenly Father loves us, and all that he wants us to do as a family is to pray and read scriptures as a family, and have Family Home Evening. I have seen the differences between various families that I've served with that do and don't do those three things. They have the spirit in their home. I admonish you that if you aren't doing those three things, start now. I know through Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. Through the Atonement when can be made whole, and that he has felt everything that we have felt. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.