I’ve Seen The Reality

20170611_160022     Driving home last night, Elder Jeppson made the comment that looking back over the week, it felt like everything happened over a 3-week span. Except it didn’t. We’re most certainly busy and we’re constantly learning more and more about being effectively busy. Each day, I feel a bit more awed that the Lord has 18-25 year olds as his primary missionary force. I came into the mission field, feeling at least a bit qualified to be a missionary. And now, I’ve begun to see just how much I don’t know.

     This work is hard; there’s a lot to it. This has grown my testimony that this is a Spiritual work: there is absolutely no way I can “convert” anyone–it’s all on the Lord’s timing, at the Lord’s will, and only when I’m teamed with Him will I get anything done. Sure, we’re trained to set effective goals, to make efficient plans, to set priorities, and to seek the inspiration from the Spirit as we do it all. However, at the end of the day, I’ve often found myself looking back on how the day panned out and I see a different day than I anticipated. This probably isn’t unique to the mission field, and is instead a common occurrence in every day life for every one in the world. It teaches me God is in charge. He has a purpose for you and I, which means there are certain things He needs us to learn.

     It’s been interesting as my perception of this has changed over the last year. At first, when someone would slam a door in my face or yell something profane, I would feel like hiding under the nearest car and asking God, “Why isn’t anyone listening?!” Granted, sometimes I still feel like doing this. That said, now I can at least grasp a little bit more. My question has changed from “Why?” to “What is your purpose for me in this?” If God is involved as much as we say He is (and He is), then there must be a purpose behind it all. (I’ll let you make the tie-in to Moses 1:39 from here.)

District Leader Council

20170611_120549     A few months ago, there were some changes made to some of the meetings we hold in the mission. One of the big changes was no more Zone Training Meetings. This would be where the Zone Leaders would hold a big meeting for all the missionaries in the Zone and hold workshops and pass down announcements they received from the Assistants. Instead, the focus has shifted to Zone Leaders passing it down to District Leaders and District Leaders passing it down to their missionaries. Really, it makes a lot of sense. With this new focus, the meeting that replaced Zone Training Meetings was District Leader Councils. Once a month, Zone Leaders will organize a meeting with the District Leaders they work with. They’ll pass on information from the Assistants and help set the vision, goals, and plans for the month. 20170611_125005
     We held a District Leader Council this last Tuesday and we’d say it was a success. After a lot of prayer and some fasting, we felt like we had received the direction that the Zone needed to head in. We organized goals and plans that matched up with this. Leading up to the meeting, we asked District Leaders to give workshops/presentations that lined up with their strengths. When the meeting came around, we had several workshops and discussions lined up. As a Council, we agreed on a 4 week focus on 4 different items:

1. Gratitude and sincere prayer
2. Finding
3. Potential investigators to progressing investigators
4. Extending baptismal and church invitations

     To eliminate an overwhelming list of stockpiled action items for missionaries to keep track of, we narrowed it down to a few focus items we felt (inspired) would help take missionary work to a higher level here. Each week would focus on one of the 4 action items, and so far missionaries like it. Obviously, it’s still really early in it all to see any real results yet, but we’re hoping for the best!

Catholic BBQ’s and Mormon Parties

     Frank is hysterical. A staunch Catholic, he never misses a chance to mention when something is Catholic. “Hey boys, come look at my flowers I just planted. They’re Catholic.” or “This is our cat. He’s quite cuddly. He’s Catholic.” And usually when something wasn’t turning out the way he wanted it to (i.e. the cat was getting annoying, the food didn’t turn out right), it “was converting to Mormonism.” It’s all done in good jest and we get a pretty big kick out of it every time. He’s awesome!

     To beat him at his own game, I recently said to him, “Hey Frank, do you see that beautiful bird up there?”  He says, “Where? I don’t see it.” “It’s just right up there. It’s a ‘Cardinal’. That’s bird is definitely Catholic.” Okay, groan if you want. But hey, he’s a grandfather so he sure liked my “Dad”style joke. And you have to admit, I was pretty clever. (Feel free to send those compliments my way.)

     For the past couple months, we’ve had on and off visits with Joan and Frank. A convert of 30 years, Joan stopped going to church when Frank’s Catholic roots and Joan’s newfound faith clashed and put a real strain on their marriage. So our mission? Help bring them feel the Spirit in their home.

     Recently, Joan called us and said her husband not only listened to her read 1 Nephi 2-3, but also Joseph Smith’s story. This was after a lesson where we just read 1 Nephi 1 to them and asked them to read 1 Nephi 2 as homework. On Wednesday, we called to confirm our Friday appointment with them when Frank told his wife to invite us over for an impromptu BBQ.

20170607_182339     Of course, Frank commented on how, “Catholics sure know how to barbecue.” I just smiled and said, “Nothing better than a Catholic barbecue for a Mormon party.”

     When we finished dinner, we watched a newer Mormon Message on feeling the music of the gospel. When we finished the video, we shared some of our thoughts. It was amazing to see Frank open right up to us. He talked for a good 15 minutes and laid out his all his thoughts and concerns through various stories. He basically told us that he didn’t not like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but that it was all new and he’d been raised a Catholic.

     That’s right around where the lesson was wrapped up. We asked Joan to continue reading with him and even gave her a blessing she’d requested. It’s been amazing to watch the small, but steady change in both Frank and Joan these passed couple months. The gospel is amazing. The Spirit will testify of it’s truthfulness and soften hearts so they can feel this. Frank is a witness to me of this truth, as Joan said he would never in a million years sit in for a spiritual thought. Especially one about the Book of Mormon.

received_10213362527641718“Working hard or hardly working” –My dad (If your dad says something similar, I’m telling ya, they’re quoting my dad)

     The traditional missionary garb: slacks, white buttoned-up shirt, a tie, and a pair of dress shoes. Most of the time, I really enjoy it. But soommeeettiimmesss, I need me some t-shirt and shorts with some good ‘ole tennis shoes. This last week, we got to help Betsy and co. with yard work. You guessed it. Shorts, t-shirt, and tennis shoes. We spent two hours tearing and digging up plants and conversating with the Stevens family about various things. Honestly, it was some of the most fun we had all week! We loved it! Working hard always feels good.

     Betsy’s testimony has continued to grow brighter and brighter. She is quite the special person, because wherever she goes she always makes good friends. And while life still isn’t easy, it’s strengthened our testimonies as we’ve watched blessings flow out since she started her journey in the gospel. We’re looking forward to going to the temple soon (I love the temple!); we’re pretty pumped for her to experience it for herself!

“I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost” (D&C 8:2)

     Lynne is our favorite Quaker. Honestly, before a couple weeks ago, I didn’t have an inkling of what Quakers believe, except I knew they made good oats (that’s Quaker Oats for all y’all that haven’t grown accustomed to my corny jokes).

     Before I detail our last appointment with Lynne, I’ll preface it with this: after our last visit, Elder Jeppson turned to me and said, “Betsy’s and Lynne’s lessons are the best I’ve ever had on the mission.”

     Lynne is one of the sweetest grandmothers. She makes you feel important, she values your opinion, she’s gentle and kind–basically, she exemplifies the role of grandmother. She was found and taught by Sister missionaries a couple years ago and wasn’t quite as interested as the Sisters had hoped. 8 weeks ago, when Elder Jeppson came back here to his stomping grounds, he remembered Lynne and suggested we stop by.

     During the lessons we’ve had, there’s been a powerful Spirit present. Even just thinking about it almost brings tears to my eyes. I’ll say this: the only way people ever make ANY progress is when they study the Book of Mormon and pray about it. Each time we come over, Lynne has been reading the Book of Mormon and praying about what she reads. She quite obviously ponders over her studies, as well, since the answers she gets are real, deep, profound answers.

     Two visits ago, she told us, “Before, I didn’t want to pray about the Book of Mormon. I was afraid of the answer that I would get. But after what we have just talked about, I want to pray.” On Saturday, we went over her reading from 2 Nephi 30-32 and towards the end, out of the blue she says, “I want to be baptized. I can see it’s what I have to do. But I’m a Quaker, not a Latter-day Saint.” We took the time to listen to her concerns. In response, we turned to Mosiah 5:7-8.

“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
“And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.”

     We explained that this wasn’t about being a Jew or a Catholic or a Quaker or a Mormon–it’s about having the name of Christ written on our hearts. As with any legal contract, that requires someone with authority. This was about us taking on the name of Christ through an ordinance performed by someone who has the authority in the Kingdom of God to do so.

     From our personal sentiments, I shared this: “Lynne, when it comes time for us to come before God to be judged, I don’t think he is going to ask us, ‘Are you Catholic? A Jew? A Quaker? Or a Mormon?’ Instead, I’d imagine He would want to know if we have the name of Christ written on our heart.”

     Obviously, the nickname “Mormon” comes with the baptism. But that’s not what God sees. The status that will have eternal significance won’t be “Mormon”, but a disciple of Jesus Christ in the Church of Jesus Christ as a Latter-day Saint.
Lynne’s response? She said it connected and that answered even a question she hadn’t asked.

I’m not perfect, by any means. In fact, I have more inadequacies than I can count. There are even times when I wonder why the Lord would allow ME to do this work. But, I have a testimony that Christ lifts us up. I have felt the loving support of our Father in Heaven. The Holy Ghost, as the third member of the Godhead, has real effect on all those who seek his companionship.

     Hard times will come, storms will rage, and waves will beat, but I will never allow myself to forget what I’ve both experienced and seen here in New York. I’ve seen the reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nephi says, “For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men” (2 Nephi 31:3). And it really is simple: sincere prayer, diligent scripture study, and faithful church attendance leads to a strong testimony, a witness of the truth, and an elevated life and discipleship.

Elder McConkie

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