Awesome week! This was a super spiritually edifying week!
First off, we had Elder Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles come to the mission and speak to us (see the picture). He was accompanied by Elder Haynie of the General Seventy and Elder Buckner of the Area Seventy. They were all amazingly powerful speakers, but with great senses of humor and lots of awesome stories. Elder Renlund is very official in General Conference, and is still a spiritual giant in person, but told a lot more jokes, personal stories about trials as a young Bishop, and had an awesome dynamic with Sister Renlund who is an extremely talented speaker herself. We had two sessions with them. One Friday night, and the other Saturday morning. We got to have Elders Shields and Kitchen over to stay at our apartment between sessions which was super fun. Shout out to Elder Shields and Elder Kitchen! You guys rock! If anyone reading this knows them, know that they're amazing missionaries.
I have tons of notes, but there were some really standout quotes to me. Here are a few:
"It doesn't matter much to God who you were, it matters much more who you are and who you will become."
I loved that quote. I think it simultaneously gives us comfort in knowing that we can be different and better than our mistakes in the past, yet stokes the fire of ambition and motivates us in knowing that God isn't pleased with us just resting on our laurels.
I'm going to put my Spiritual Thought here this week. Elder Haynie told the story of being in a Sacrament Meeting with the Twelve and all of the Seventy assigned to Salt Lake. President Nelson was the only speaker. After the Sacrament, he stood up and before his prepared remarks said,
"The ordinance that you just participated in is much more important than the words I am going to share now. I made a new covenant today."
Elder Haynie continued,"If partaking of the Sacrament doesn't become a delight to you rather than just a routine, I'm not convinced that you will survive spiritually."
Elder Renlund echoed the importance of the Sacrament. He illustrated with a story about a recently baptized and confirmed couple. After they're all set up and they've got all of that done, what is the next ordinance that they need to complete? The missionaries said it was going to the temple. He replied that it was kind of a trick question. The answer was that they needed to partake of the Sacrament that week, and that the Sacrament is almost always the next ordinance that we need to complete each and every week.
A little while ago, we taught a lesson about the importance of the Sacrament, reading from 3 Nephi 18. In this chapter, the Savior is very clear in his commandment that we partake of the Sacrament. It is not simply something good to do. It is a commandment of God.
Elder Renlund hammered this point home:
"What are we promised for enduring to the end of the covenant path?"
"What are we promised for just being baptized and confirmed?"
His point was that it's a mistake if we are teaching people to be baptized and confirmed, and not teaching them about the responsibility that they have to continue on that path afterwards. However, this applies to all of us. Baptism and confirmation is the front gate to the covenant path, but we're promised nothing from simply opening that gate. We're promised everything that God has for continuing to follow it until the end as co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).
Another thing we talked about was having joy, even in circumstances we can't control. We can't control other people's agency. They have their free will and Heavenly Father doesn't impede that. Our righteousness is completely contingent on our own agency. Joy coming from righteousness means that our joy is completely our own choice and effort. President Nelson had a great talk about that (Joy and Spiritual Survival, Oct. 2016)
He said, "...the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation... and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening —or not happening —in our lives."
It was reinforced to me that my success as a missionary is completely my own choice. It is based 100% on my own effort. Elder Renlund went through each measure of missionary success in Preach My Gospel and pointed out that all of them were based on the agency of each missionary and no one else. So, I decided to step up my effort, and in the last two days we've seen amazing miracles. I'll share a couple here:
1. Yesterday we had some time to knock, and we had picked out a couple of stop-bys to knock around that were near each other. It was pouring rain, which in my opinion is when the most miracles come, so we set off. We walked towards the first one, and as we got closer to it, I felt like we should go to the second one instead. I voiced this to my companion and he agreed to go to the second house first. As we got half-way to the second house I felt impressed that we should go back to the first house! I was super confused and voiced this to my companion and suggested we say a prayer.
Upon praying, I felt like neither houses were right, which was super confusing, but we kept going to the second house until I felt like we should take a turn in onto a different street away from it. At this point I had no idea where we were going and looked at the map and found another former near to where I felt like we should go. We went and knocked it but no one answered. We knocked a couple houses next to it that I felt like were right, but no one was interested in those either. I was wasn't sure what to do at that point, but this time my companion said he felt like we should knock a few more doors in the direction we were going. We did so, and after a few doors, we turned around and saw a beautiful house that looked very different from the other houses on the street. My companion felt like that was the house we should knock, so we did.
A man opened the door and after showing him a "Come and See" video, he let us right in to share our message with him. He loves God and has been trying to study the Bible. He was grateful to God for changing his life, and has recently become more interested in studying the scriptures. He said he loves to read. He was attentive to our message and asked us if we thought that God would send prophets again soon like he had before. We explained the Restoration, the Book of Mormon, and Modern Prophets and he loved it. He thanked us for helping him and knocking on his door. He wants us to teach him more, and invited us to come back and explain the Plan of Salvation and help him study the scriptures.
It was an amazing miracle to me. Sometimes we knock 20, 40, 60 doors and never find anyone interested. This time, even though the promptings seemed confusing or illogical at first, we were led directly to this very prepared man because we both followed them. We knocked probably 4-6 doors, talked to 2 people, and the second one was ready to listen. I'm so grateful to Heavenly Father for guiding us, and it built my testimony about the importance of working with the Spirit to be effective.
2. We got hard juked and decided to go make some needed calls across the street at a small park, but the park was closed. The park was right next to a small mall/grocery store. Heeding Sister Renlund's advice ("if you want to find more people, go where the people are") we decided we ought to go "where the people are" (and also where the was air conditioning). Fighting the urge to sing the first lines of "Part of Your World" from the Little Mermaid, ("I want to be where the people are"), we walked in. A little ways into the store, a large security guard stopped us, and pointed at my companions tag. "What does 'Jesucristo' mean?" he asked. We explained that it meant "Jesus Christ" and introduced ourselves as representatives and servants of Jesus Christ. We talked for a while, and learned that his name was Kunle (Koon-lay), and he is from Nigeria. He said he lived near one of our churches in Nigeria, and that he always loved the way that they looked. "They are beautiful, and draw one to them," he said. He had been taught previously a year ago, but didn't remember much about the Book of Mormon and had some questions about tithing, so we exchanged information and he said he'd come to work early the next day so he could talk to us.
The next day, we came back and he arrived later than expected so he asked us if we could come back later. We told him we could, and he said that he would take his break at the hour that we could come back so we could talk. We came back in the evening and he was sitting on a bench outside the store waiting to talk to us. We talked and answered his questions. He was amazed by the Book of Mormon. He was amazed by Joseph Smith's story as a prophet and that he was given the authority of Christ's Apostles. He curiously asked, "Did Joseph Smith do miracles like Jesus did?" We told him that he did, that he translated the entire Book of Mormon by the power of God. He was shocked when we told him that Joseph Smith died at such a young age. "He translated all of that in so few years of his life before he was assassinated?" He was even more shocked when we told him that the Book of Mormon was translated in about 90 days. He wanted to know who Mormon was, and when we explained it he said "Oooh, so Mormon was one of the last prophets in the Americas?" We said yes. He sheepishly asked, "So, is Mormon different than Mammon?" (In his accent, it sounds almost the same. Moamon and Mahhmon). We said yes. He explained "Oooh, that was the thing that drove me away from your church in Nigeria. I thought the brothers were saying it was the Church of Mammon. Even though it was beautiful and amazing, the Bible says you cannot serve God and Mammon." With that cleared up, he was excited to learn more and read the Book of Mormon. Whoever covers where he lives is going to meet a really amazing man, and I hope they love this gentle giant as much as we do.
That's been our week! It was super-energizing and refreshing. I'm really excited to apply of these teachings and teach some more great lessons.
Love you all!
Glossary of a few terms for my less mission-knowledgeable friends:
Former: someone formerly taught by missionaries who hasn't been taught in a while.
Stop-by: when we stop by the house of a member or former to try to see how they're doing
Juke: when we set an appointment with someone and they don't show up to it
Hard juke: when someone confirms the appointment hours before it's supposed to happen and then jukes