Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mission Report / Homecoming talk -- Feb. 11, 2018

Good morning, Brothers and Sisters. The bishop has asked me to speak upon the blessings of work, as well as share experiences from my mission that apply to this topic. As I thought about specific experiences or stories that had portrayed to me the blessings of hard work in the mission field, I had one quickly come to mind. I served my mission in the Atacama desert, which spans about the northern third of Chile. My second and third sectors were in Calama: the mission’s driest city. It is about 3 hours from the ocean, which means it lacks the moderating effects of the sea breeze during the day, and the warm humidity at night, found in the coastal cities. In my third sector, my companion and I lived at a member’s house. Though the family lived in our sector, in was a little far from the rest of our sector where we usually worked. So, we got into the habit of heading back to the house about ten minutes early each night, to get there on time. As we walked back each night, I usually didn’t contact anyone else in the street, as to get home as soon as possible and avoid being late. However, one night, as we were walking back to the house and about a block away, I was surprised to see my companion quickly begin talking to a woman that was moving a dresser out of her house, and asking if she needed any help. She told us that she did not, but despite having never talked to the missionaries, was very strong in her faith in God, and has always wanted to talk to us, but had never seemed to have the opportunity. We were very surprised at her comment, but happily made an appointment to meet her and her family where they worked at a local supermarket, as they were in the process of moving, and were not sure what their new address would be. We returned to the house happily, and I began to reflect on what had just happened. Because my companion had decided to open his mouth in those last few minutes of our day, we had found a very interested and sincere new investigator. It made me realize that even the last ten minutes of our day were a golden opportunity to find the people that were prepared to receive the gospel. Over the next few weeks, we got to know Elena better, along with her husband Juan, and their four children. They all quickly accepted the gospel, and Elena and Juan were baptized with their two youngest children, Rodrigo and Carolina. But before the two oldest children, Luis and Nayeli had the opportunity to get baptized, the family had to move back to their native Bolivia for a time, and I hoped and prayed that they would continue strong and active within the church. Several months later, I left Calama to go to a new sector, still not having heard from Elena or Juan. However, four and a half months later, I got sent back to Calama, to a different part of the city. Not long after returning, I received a phone call from the bishop of the ward where I had previously been. He began asking me about Elena and Juan’s children, and which ones had been baptized and which ones had not. I told him that Luis and Nayeli had not yet had the opportunity, and he explained that their bishop in Bolivia had called him to make sure, and so that the other two could be baptized. This news filled me with joy and excitement, and several months later, as I was ready to leave Calama for the second time, the bishop informed me that Elena and Juan had returned to my previous ward, and were once again attending there. All of these experiences with this family filled me with such joy to see their progression and strength within the church, but it always made me think as well. If we had not talked to Elena that night that we were rushing to get home, if we had passed her without saying anything, justifying it with the fact that we were tired, or hurried, or felt that we had finished our day’s fill of work, none of these blessings, or the fulfillment of having helped a family in such a personal way ever would have happened. Though God would have given Elena another opportunity to learn of the Restored Gospel and be baptized in the restored church, we may not have had the opportunity to celebrate with her. By doing something so simple to better magnify our callings as missionaries, we were able to receive so many more blessings, and be part of so many other people’s conversions.
            When it comes to the importance of hard work in the mission field, Ezra Taft Benson often said, “… one of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work! If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the Spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; and if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people and he will be happy. There will be no homesickness, no worrying about families, for all time and talents and interests are centered on the work of the ministry. Work, work, work—there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work.” 
            J. Richard Clarke also spoke of the importance of hard work and also clarified its sacred nature. He said, “We are co-creators with God. He gave us the capacity to do the work he left undone, to harness the energy, mine the ore, transform the treasures of the earth for our good. But most important, the Lord knew that from the crucible of work emerges the hard core of character.”
            Our Heavenly Father expects and enables us to work for ourselves, so that by our own experience we grow and progress to be stronger, more intelligent, and more able: progress that only comes through practice…and life’s practice being hard work. While working for a certain purpose brings good consequences including feelings of accomplishment, or the desired outcome, work is a blessing in and of itself. Only by work can we gain experience and improve, for this was Adam and Eve’s great dilemma in the Garden of Eden: that in the Garden, where no work was required, and everything was freely given to them, they could not learn nor be better than they currently were. For that to be possible, they needed opposition and difficulty… they needed to work for themselves.
            As the Lord states in Doctrine and Covenants section 58, verses 26 to 28: “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.”
            As this scripture says, if we work hard and try to fulfill our potential, we will not lose the reward that God promises us. However, we often demand from Him a specific reward, while in reality He will be giving us what we need to improve, and not necessarily what we want in that given moment.
            On another occasion during my mission my companion and I had a family that had prepared for a long time to be baptized, and while all of them that were not yet members wished to have that blessing, the parents, Justina and Javier, needed to do extensive paperwork to be able to get married first. However, their nine year old daughter Antonia, had an enormous desire to get baptized and receive her blessings as soon as possible, and her parents, knowing that their paperwork could take a very long time to process, wanted her to get baptized as soon as possible, even if they could not be baptized with her. So we began planning Antonia’s baptism. We began calling members so that they could prepare talks, and finally the day of the baptism arrived. We filled the font, and as we waited another young man showed up that was to be baptized the same day. However, we continued waiting, and we still had not seen Antonia or her family. We suddenly received a phone call from her mom, informing us that Antonia’s sister had gotten really sick and needed to be hospitalized, and that Antonia would not be able to be baptized that day. We went forward with the young man’s baptism that we also had planned, but afterwards, I felt angry and confused. We had worked hard to help Antonia and her family, and yet she was hindered in her desire to receive blessings. I could not understand why God would allow this to happen, when it was the best thing she could do at that moment. A few days later we passed by to talk to Justina and Javier, to see how their daughter was doing. They informed us that she was doing better and that she would recover well, but they quickly told us that they had some important news. They told us that the paperwork for their marriage had taken much less time than they had thought, and that they were going to be able to get married in the government office that week, and they wanted to see if they could possibly be baptized that Saturday with Antonia. As they told us this, my heart was full of gratitude, and I realized that that had always been Heavenly Father’s plan for them: to get baptized together. We had worked hard and He did bless us for our efforts, but not right when I wanted it. But His plan was certainly better, and my heart was filled with even more joy to see Justina and Javier in white along with their young daughter.
            As I spent my mission trying to improve and work hard each day, I was repeatedly impressed by a talk by Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge titled, ‘The Fourth Missionary’. In this talk Elder Corbridge speaks of 4 types of missionaries, the first and second being distinct levels of disobedient, but both the third and fourth missionaries that he describes are obedient missionaries. However, there is a distinction between them, being the desires of each one. While the third missionary does the things he should, he does them for that sole purpose: that he SHOULD. His heart and mind are still focused on his personal affairs, when he simply goes through the motions of his day-to-day missionary routine. The fourth missionary on the other hand has given his will over to the Lord, and unlike the third missionary has not just offered the Lord his might and strength, but also his heart and mind.  In the same way the third missionary differs from the fourth, our hard work will have little value when we do it to simply complete a task: working hard to do something because we SHOULD, rather than because we view its importance and working hard because we WANT to.
            As we truly work hard in our personal affairs as well as spiritual affairs with the Lord’s will as our own, we will be blessed with improvement, success, and satisfaction. The Lord will help us to grow, and the work in and of itself will be a great blessing for our eternal experience.



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