Sunday, June 9, 2013

Farewell Talk

Following Sister Hughes's example, I'm putting up my "Farewell" talk here on my blog:

Back in February I flew back here from BYU so that I could come open my mission call with my family and a few close friends. Because the decision was pretty last minute, the flight I ended up on was late on a Friday night. My friends Stephanie and Sidney (who were almost as excited as I was) drove me to the airport early so that I wouldn’t miss my flight. Having some extra time, I decided I would rather do something productive with my time rather than goof around on Photoshop or people-watch, so I pulled out my Spanish copy of the Book of Mormon and started reading. While I was sitting there, a man came up behind me and asked, “¿Dónde serviste?” “Where did you serve?” When he saw me reading the Spanish Book of Mormon, he assumed that I had served in a Spanish speaking area on my mission. I explained that I had learned Spanish in High School, and that I was actually on my way home to find out where I would be serving my mission. He was pretty excited about that, as he was actually the former mission president for one of the missions in Guatemala. We talked for a little while longer, and then we boarded the plane.

When the plane landed, I passed him again on the way into the airport. He put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Sólo están dos cositas cuando estás en tu mission: encontrar al Señor, y encontrar a las personas que lo necesitan.” “There are only two small things when you’re on your mission: find the Lord, and find the people who need Him.”
Now, these two things are especially important to missionaries, because we are very literally called to go out and preach his gospel to all the world, however, aren’t they important for all of us? Just because we aren’t called to a serve a mission for the church, we’re still all called to be missionaries. I know it’s been quoted time and again, but back in the April 1959 conference President David O. Mckay gave his “Every Member a Missionary” address where he exhorted all members of the church to be missionaries for our Lord. This may seem like a huge responsibility, and it is, but it can be a lot easier than it sounds.

Just like the mission president advised me back in February, we must first find the Lord ourselves. As I did some research, I found many ways to become better acquainted with who He is—most of the primary answers apply here: praying, reading our scriptures, holding family home evening, etc. but the most powerful one that I found was in Matthew 16. In verse 25, the Savior says, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” President Uchtdorf explains that, “As you ‘lose [your] life’ in the service of others, you will grow and develop until you reach ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’” As we strive to serve others, we find we grow closer to Christ. This makes sense, because that’s all Christ was here to do: serve His fellow man. He spent His entire life serving here on the earth, and when He performed the Atonement, and eventually suffered on the cross, he was still just doing so to serve all of his brothers and sisters by allowing us to return to our Heavenly Father.

Now, as a missionary, my main service will be in teaching others about the church, but if you ask any missionary, they’ll tell you the best way to start talking to someone is to serve them in some simple way, whether that’s taking out their garbage cans, moving furniture, painting a wall: whatever. I saw this exact thing just the other day. Brother VanSlooten called me up and asked if I could help move some furniture for Sam Sharif’s friend. We got to the man’s house, and started packing boxes and furniture into a U-haul. As we did so, I overheard Brother VanSlooten talking with the friend, who wasn’t a member of our church, about coming out to some Elder’s Quorum activities: nothing particularly spiritual: going shooting at the shooting range, or a potluck at his house. However, this opened a future opportunity to talk to him further about the church. Now, because we were serving him, we were emulating Christ, and finding Him in the process: this leads to blessings for ourselves. However, as this mission president had told me, this also leads to his second piece of advice: find the people who need the Lord.

Now, as we are seeking to find the Lord through service, He’s going to help us to find those people who need Him and are ready to learn about Him, which again makes sense. If we’re seeking to know Him, He’s going to bless us with His spirit, and help us to be those instruments in His hands that we can bring others to a knowledge of something greater. Now believe me, I understand just how frightening this can be for many of us, especially because the gospel is such a personal thing. We don’t want to offend anyone, or make them think that we’re forcing our views upon them, and we shouldn’t force our views. But brothers and sisters, it’s true. It’s true. All of it. And because it’s true, don’t you want others to know what’s true? Think about how much it affects your life to know that if you’re having a rough day, you can kneel down and pray to Heavenly Father, and receive comfort from Him. Think about how great it is that when you’re sick you can ask someone for a blessing. Think about how comforting it is to know that we’re actually here for a reason, that there’s a plan for our life, and that, as Richard G. Scott said, “Our Heavenly Father did not put us on earth to fail but to succeed gloriously.” There isn’t one thing I can think of in this gospel that I don’t want the person behind the register at the supermarket having, much less a good friend of mine.

I know that it’s difficult, but who knows what good we can do? Who knows whose life we can change? Who knows how much difference we can make if we will just push ourselves a little bit. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when we start doing this. As a missionary, I’m going to be bearing testimony of the church to everyone that I meet, because that’s what I’m called to do: teach. As members, though, there are a lot of ways to help get friends interested in the church.

One way that I always found easiest is just inviting them to church activities. As a youth, the most applicable one for me was always youth dances. It was so novel to my friends that a church would be putting on dances, but at the same time, it was very appealing. At our high school, they would put on two dances a year, and only seniors were allowed to attend prom. Here, anyone over 14 could come and dance every month—more often if you went to other stakes. And when I did invite my friends they would ask questions, so it was a great missionary opportunity. For those of us who aren’t youth anymore, there are plenty of similar opportunities. The Elder’s Quorum is pretty frequently putting on parties and other events that are always way fun. The ward will also put on different events throughout the year, such as movie nights, camping trips, etc. One great opportunity coming up is the big Fourth of July breakfast, and after that, the Pioneer Day Celebration. I can’t think of anyone who would pass up sack races and pie eating contests.

Another cool one I hadn’t really thought about until I was up at college is family history. In the church doing this has always been a priority, because of our desire to perform work for the dead, but it’s grown as a worldwide phenomenon. Now, back in the day it was a pain to do family history work: sorting through microfiche and the like could take ages, and often required the help of professionals. But now with the church’s FamilySearch up online, it makes the whole thing so much easier. Plus, our stake’s blessed with a pretty awesome family history center, with great volunteers always helping out.

Now, I don’t know that we can necessarily expect all of our friends to be baptized in any of these endeavors that we make: as my Dad’s said a million times to me, everyone learns things at different times, and for that reason, they might be more receptive to what we’ve got to say with someone else in a different situation, or even just further in the future. But one great thing that comes out of this is that we can show these people that we’re not these weird people, we’re actually quite nice for the most part.

Now, I want to talk to my friends who are here who aren’t of our faith, and any visitors that might happen to be here today as well: I really believe this church that I belong to is true. And it’s not just that kind of belief that sits in the back of your head—it’s the kind of belief that really and actually leads to action. I just spent a year up at probably the best college I could have ever wanted to go to, with a ton of great friends. I’ve got many, many great friends here too. But, I’m putting family, school, music, friends, dating—all these things I enjoy incredibly—on hold for two full years. Everyone I’ve talked to has told me just how hard it is out there, how it’s physically exhausting and completely emotionally draining every day. But because I’ve seen the blessings in my life from living the way the Book of Mormon has taught me to, I am so glad that I have the opportunity to maybe help a few more people be just as happy as I am.

I want you all to know that I do know that Joseph Smith saw our Heavenly Father and His son, Jesus Christ, and that the Book of Mormon is the true word of God. I believe in Christ's atonement for our sins, and am so grateful that he did that for us. I believe that this church will help us to be our very best, and that Christ's gospel is true.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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