6 February 2017
I met one of the most mighty souls I’ve ever met this week. Recently, we started teaching this man. He’s lived in New York City all his life, most of which was spent in a home just down the street from us, which has been owned by his family since 1935. He is a very special man. He has a mental disability and he speaks of it often. However, the Spirit he carries is profound. When I walk in his home, the Spirit sinks deep into my soul. When you look in his eyes, you see a powerful disciple of Christ. He tells story after story, and the central character in each is God.
He has a room in his home dedicated to his family. One side is a memorial to his dad–a WWII veteran–and his grandpa–a WWI veteran. He has pictures of the rest of his family around the rest of the room, almost all of which are deceased now. He told us the story how we watched his brother get murdered and the horrific effect it had on his life, which was closely followed by the solace he found in God.
I could go on and on about this good man. He came to church this last week and his mental disability seems to have almost no bearing on his ability to testify, share the gospel, and communicate with others.
We rode the train with him to church, and he gave us a “tour through history” of the Rockaway’s. There’s one particular story he told us that struck a cord. Hurricane Sandy laid waste to this area in 2012. It’s well remembered by all the locals and we usually hear it mentioned about once a day. Previous to the hurricane, he explained that the area was much more dangerous than it is now. He described run-down apartment buildings where race riots and shootings were more than a weekly occurrence: they happened nightly, often even multiple times per night. You always looked behind you when you walked the streets.
However, when the hurricane hit, flooding over this tiny peninsula, connecting Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic with at least 6 feet of water, it forced this area to rebuild. Since then, while this place “still ain’t heaven,” crime has dropped and everything has improved. It’d be impossible to go over everything that was destroyed and rebuilt and how each thing added a bit more color to life here. Again, this place sure isn’t the city of Enoch, however it is one step closer.
I found a powerful parallel to this story. Similar to Elder Christofferson‘s story of the Currant Bush, sometimes we are torn down to become something better. The Currant Bush was cut back so it could be healthier and produce better fruit. Hurricane Sandy devastated the community here, but it proved to be just what they needed.
Personally, I can’t even begin to number the times the Lord has cut me back here in New York. And yet, each time I look back, I am filled with incredible gratitude and wonder for Heavenly Father. Sometimes I feel like echoing the words from the story Elder Christofferson told: “Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down, for loving me enough to hurt me” (“As Many As I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten“, April 2011).
So I better warn everyone, I’ve decided to take up stand-up comedy and break dancing when I come home. Sister Forbes, our very own Jamaican mother and a member of the branch here, tells me time and time again how I would be one of the very best and how I have the moves. The hitch might come when everyone else just tells me my jokes are cheesier than the best nachos and I have no moves because I’m white. So I guess you could say I’m gearing towards getting a major in Performing Arts, with emphasis in Street and Hood. (haha)
Our Jamaican brother has been reading the Book of Mormon and even came to our Branch Party Saturday night (a surprise baby shower for the our Branch President’s wife). My favorite part of it all? Seeing a light being turned on in his countenance. It’s amazing how simple it is. As soon as he started reading the Book of Mormon, we immediately noticed a difference in him. Recently, he’s had a bit of trouble keeping up on his reading and even missed church yesterday– my own personal conversion certainly wasn’t without its hitches. I’m confident that if he will take complete hold on the gospel that he will see miracles he didn’t know were possible. He will prosper. President Joseph F. Smith said, “The man who stays with the kingdom of God, the man who is true to this people, the man who keeps himself pure and unspotted from the world, is the man that God will accept, that God will uphold, that he will sustain, and that will prosper in the land, whether he be in the enjoyment of his liberty or be confined in prison cells, it makes no difference where he is, he will come out all right” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 257).
It’s pretty impossible to write about all the incredible back stories I hear. So just a quick shout out to NYC for producing some of the most incredible people out there. For pretty much everyone, this place proves to be a refiner’s fire in almost every sense of the word (especially during the summer when the heat and humidity is obnoxious).
I can’t believe how much has happened over these last 10.5 months. I look at where I started and where I am now, I feel a bit overwhelmed. I have found that prayer is more than just a quick word offered preparatory to a meal or going to bed. Prayer is designed to be much more integral than that. It’s sacred time, between just my Father in Heaven and I where I can express my complete gratitude for all He’s done. Taking those moments at night to express my thoughts, my gratitude, my desires, my daily activities aloud proves to be one of the best things I can do for myself. And just as much as I value my time spent talking to Him, I value that time spent listening. I find that when I keep a notecard and pen close, intent on writing down what God would tell me, I receive more answers.
Here’s the thing, prayer isn’t easy. It’s hard. It takes a desire to work. A half-hearted prayer doesn’t do me anywhere near as a good as when I sincerely communicate with Heavenly Father. And you know what I realized? This is more than something I taught in church as a little kid because that’s where my parents raised me. This is much more than just a family culture. This is the truth.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is founded on complete, eternal truth. Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. Cain killed Abel. Enoch was called by God, despite his weaknesses. Isaiah prophesied of Christ. Christ performed the Atonement, providing THE way. Nephi sailed across the ocean. Ammon was the tool for converting thousands of Lamanites. Christ did in fact visit the Americas following his resurrection. Mormon lead his people in their final battle. Moroni buried the Golden Plates for Joseph Smith to receive and translate over a millennia later. And we have a living prophet today. Christ’s Kingdom truly is established once again on the earth and everyone is invited to come and see.
Isn’t this a marvelous message? When I remember all this, I can hardly keep my mouth closed. There are too many people around me that need this. And I’ve learned, that no matter who we are, there is always at least one person in our lives that needs this message.
I hope everyone had a spectacular week! I know it’s cliché, but when I have a rough week, I can know God has prepared this test of life perfectly catered to me. Good luck! Let’s move the work of the Lord forward. 🙂
“And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God.” (1 Nephi 2:7)