Good morning Brothers and Sisters. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Preston Checketts. I’ve been called to the Chile, Antofagasta mission, and will be departing for the MTC in Mexico City on February 17th. My family moved into this ward in November, and because I was going to a semester of school at Utah State University, I didn’t join them until Christmas Break. At first, I was kind of bummed that few people in the ward would know who I was during the final talk before my mission, but as I thought about it, I realized that my situation parallels the work I will be doing for two years in Chile. I am talking to people that I don’t know very well, about the gospel, and hope that they can find truth in my words, despite our just barely meeting each other. Without the presence of the Holy Ghost, missionary-work would be impossible, because a confirmation of the truth of a person’s words would never come, and we wouldn’t have a clue what our Heavenly Father even wants from us. I have met people that I truly felt I had absolutely nothing in common with. However, as I tried to see from their perspective, I realized that we essentially have the same intentions, just very different ways to carry them out. If it has sometimes been hard for me to relate to people I see every day, I’m sure it will be much more difficult with people I see infrequently on my mission that I disagree with. Fortunately, the one thing we all have in common with every other person on this Earth, is that we are all children of God. Through sincerity and charity with reliance on our Savior, the Spirit can connect us to people we would never think to associate with. If we are genuine, and reach out to aid rather than to simply interfere, the Spirit can work through us to bless others, and vise versa.
In fact, I feel that it is more common than not for the Spirit to work through people, to teach both the student and the teacher through their own experiences. Before moving back here to Utah, my family and I lived in the Toronto, Canada area. While in our ward there, my dad and I were Home Teachers for an older woman named Greta who was a new convert to the Church. She was originally from Slovenia, and moved from Europe to Canada with her daughter about twenty years previously. As a new member who still had a lot to learn, my father, myself, and the missionaries were Greta’s primary outlets for questions and help when it came to understanding the doctrine. When Greta first met me as her Home Teacher, she could hardly contain her enthusiasm as she exclaimed that I was her youngest teacher ever. Every time we taught her a new principle, or helped to clarify anything that confused her, she sat there in awe that God and His plan for her could be so spectacular. She loved it every time we taught her, and had more love and excitement for the gospel than anyone I have ever met. But in all truthfulness, Greta taught me much more than I ever taught her. She was always genuinely happy, and never let a guest leave hungry. Though she had many questions for us, Greta understood that she was learning just as we all are, and never became discouraged by that. Even though we were the ones to teach her the gospel, she knew how to live those principles certainly better than I ever have, and because she allowed herself to be a humble student, Greta became a wise teacher through her charitable actions.
Christ taught us in the New Testament to “love one another”, and in the Doctrine and Covenants, He says “...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!” Though not traditionally coupled together, I feel that these two scriptures are deeply intertwined. By interacting with people I know to be truly charitable, I have seen that a sincere love for another person is what invites the Spirit best. I also know that without the Spirit, no teaching or learning would happen within the Church. Only preaching. Because of this, it is charity that brings the Spirit into a room, and allows us to bring people unto Christ. I have seen friends who I have tried to explain the Church to, completely misunderstand the importance or purpose of such things, because they fundamentally did not understand the concept of the Holy Ghost, which meant the difference between a true church and a lost one.
There is a story of when Joseph Smith went to go visit Martin Van Buren, then president of the United States. When Joseph arrived, and the two began talking, the President asked what set the LDS church apart from other denominations. Joseph answered that it was the correct mode of baptism, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost. As he thought about what else specifically set the Church apart, he realized that everything else was contained within the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I think that it is so powerful that we all have the Spirit available to us as a constant moral compass to guide us through our lives.
In a series of three Mormon Messages entitled “Patterns of Light”, Elder David A. Bednar explains how the Spirit specifically affects us, and how God reaches out to us in ways to test our faith, and by doing so helping us to help ourselves. He begins by talking about two different ways we can be influenced by the Spirit. The first he suggests to be more rare than common, and is the analogy of a lightswitch. In a completely dark room, a light is turned on, and instantaneously chases away the darkness. Elder Bednar suggests that while our lives are sometimes touched by the Spirit replacing all darkness and doubt in a moment of distress, it is more common for the Spirit to act in the manner of a sunrise. As we continually build upon things in our lives that bring the Spirit, line upon line, precept upon precept, such as scripture study and prayer, the Holy Ghost will gradually and continually grow to become a more powerful force in our lives. Just like a sunrise, we can discern the increase in happiness and peace that the Spirit brings, but most often, not all at once. Elder Bednar also discusses a common manner in which our questions are answered by God. To explain this, he uses the analogy of a foggy day. Sometimes we can discern God’s hand in our lives (or the light), but not really understand His will for us very clearly, just as we cannot see what is ahead of us clearly for more than a few feet when there is fog.
So why is it that God often gives us answers and promptings in more subtle ways, rather than giving us an immediately illuminating answer? Elder Bednar simply states that it is because God trusts us. He knows that He does not generally need to shake us awake to get our attention. He trusts that we are searching for the gradual and subtle notions of Him, which also build our faith when we must put our trust in Him to receive further enlightenment, as well as patience, when our answers come slowly, but surely.
The other day, I was feeling especially discouraged and nervous in regards to my quickly approaching mission. As I went about searching for comfort in scripture and prayer, comforting and familiar words of my mother came to my mind, dispelling any fear and uncertainty. A very similar example is given by Elder Bednar in the same Mormon Message. He gives the example of a man who always remembered to say his prayers, because it was something that his mother always reminded him to do as a child. God did not need to send an angel to remind the man to say his prayers, because the man would recall the words of his angel mother prompting him to do what he was supposed to. It is often in this manner that the Spirit is able to touch our hearts. When in need, thoughts and promptings can be recalled from our memories to tell us what God most wants us to know. While angels are most commonly thought of as people on the other side of the veil, God more often prompts us with thoughts, feelings, and blessings that come from the contact we have with souls on this side of the veil. It is for this reason that missionary-work is so prevalent and necessary. It’s humbling to realize that the implications of such a principle means that I will have the opportunity to be that person to touch the lives of others profoundly, while serving as a missionary in Chile. I have the opportunity to help provide light and truth in the lives of people I serve. I find this a tremendous honor as I consider the people who have most directly impacted the growth of my own testimony. My mother, who has always been the prime example of a humble teacher to me, and who has shown me that the influence of one great person can mean more to an individual than they could ever know or expect to become. My father, who has shown me how to be a powerful and respected leader, who is never above helping anyone, and is never blinded by pride. My grandparents, by blessing me more personally than they could ever imagine, and making the righteous decisions that have made it possible for me to be standing up here today. My siblings have also continued to be an inspiration to me, as my best friends, and most loving enemies. If I am able to touch the lives of those I teach in Chile to even a fraction of the magnitude to which these people and so many others have touched me, how great will be my joy.I am so grateful for the examples of my friends and family, who continue to be an inspiration in my life. I am grateful for the opportunity that I have been given to teach and bless the people of northern Chile, and the divine revelation that has placed me there specifically. I know that this church is true, and that the Spirit will never lead us astray, as we stay faithful and work to bless others through charity and our obedience to God’s law. I am so grateful for Christ’s atoning sacrifice that allows us to make our way back to our father in Heaven. I know that the Spirit testifies of the truth of all things, and will serve as a guide in all of our lives, so that we can become our best selves. I testify of these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.