Monday, December 29, 2014

Homecoming Talk

A little over 3 weeks ago I returned from serving in the UK as a full time volunteer missionary and today I have the privilege of speaking in front of all of you about my service. I was called to serve in Britain, the beautiful lands of rolling hills and lots and lots of rain, and what is called the England Manchester Mission. For those of you that may be unfamiliar with the geography of the UK, my mission covered the northwest region of the two countries England and Wales.

Within the boundaries of the mission I served contains a very important history in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
1)   In the year 1837, the prophet Joseph Smith called Heber C. Kimball to lead his brethren in a foreign mission in England.  The first baptisms outside of the U.S took place in Preston. The growth of the church there went on to be what sustained the newly restored church in its early years when many of these saints left their native land to come here to America.
     2) Many leaders in the church served their missions in this land including Gordon B. Hinckley who later was called by God to be a prophet in the late 90s until he passed away in 2008

I had a unique mission because I was assigned to preach the gospel in the Mandarin Chinese language. This was a surprise to many. Who thought such a mission could exist? Indeed, being able to speak Mandarin Chinese opened up more doors to whom I could share the gospel with. Rather than being confined to a particular nation, because of where I served I taught people from all over the world. I was blessed to teach people from China, Nigeria, Portugal, India, and Bangladesh, to name a few. I taught mostly students and a few families from these different parts of the world.
I can say with a sincere heart I loved the people I taught, the people in the wards, and my companions.

With prayerful consideration, I decided to talk about some of the things I have gained on my mission, and fortunately for me, it was not weight! What I have to say today will not do it justice because I have learned things that will last a lifetime and 15-20 minutes is not an adequate amount of time to expound upon those things..

Toward the end of your mission and when you get home, the most popular question others will ask or you will ask yourself is ‘’how have you changed?’’ This has been a difficult question for me to answer. I can feel that I have become a better person but it can be hard to explain in what way. Now that I have been home for a while and have not had dress, a certain way and keep mission rules I have noticed the major changes. The one that has stood out to me is how I have been able to ‘”turn outward.”  To turn outward means that you are more concerned about others than yourself and your own circumstances. It means to be aware of others around you.

One of the most basic truths we learn in the gospel is that God is our Heavenly Father and we are all sons and daughters of God. We were all one big family before we came to earth, we are here on earth, and if we accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, our family relationships can continue beyond the grave. This is the basis of missionary work. When we put this truth into practice, it becomes natural to turn outward.
Before my mission, I had tunnel vision. When I was out and about, I was so focused on getting from point A to point B that I ignored the people I was passing.
As an Apostle has said, ‘’nothing happens in missionary work until you find someone to teach.’’ I would not have been able to find people to teach if I remained with a tunnel perspective. I had to transform into being someone who had to look around and be aware of who I was around at all times and then take a step outside of my comfort zone and talk to them. I had to ask these people what means the most to them in their life, if they believed in God and share what I hold so near and dear to my heart, the message of the gospel.
I noticed the impact having tunnel vision has on me when I went from stopping people everyday to blocking them out again on P-days. P-day, or preparation day, is usually a Monday and is the day we as missionaries have to get groceries, email friends and family, go shopping until 6pm. It’s typically on that day that we take a step back from missionary work and stopping people like on a regular day. Mondays became the hardest day of the week and I often felt empty. For the longest time I did not understand why until we started as a mission to set goals as companionships on how we would still proselyte, or share the gospel, during our P-day. Once I began to focus on others again, I felt much happier on my P-days.

As I turned outward and stepped outside of my comfort zone, I began to grow. I began to see people for what they really were. The man sitting on the bench or the crazy lady that shouted at us was no longer a random person we spoke to but a brother or a sister, a son or daughter of God. With this truth at the forefront of my mind, it became easier to love each person I talked to and share the gospel from my heart.

As you turn outward, you will start look upon the hearts of others rather than judging them by their appearance. This is the very thing Heavenly Father does:

“For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”(1 Samuel 16: 7)
We tend to jump to conclusions when we judge people by their appearance or how they behave but we really do not know someone until you know what is in their heart. Once you get to know someone’s story, you will see the big picture that our Heavenly Father sees. Some one I taught on my mission shared with us his story. Upon meeting this man at a bus stop and within 30 minutes of talking to him he had told us how he used to be addicted to gambling but was able to turn his life around, his mom passed away from being an alcoholic, and he was going through a tough time in his life because of charges from ex-girlfriend. I was surprised someone would tell so much to a stranger he just met! That man grew and changed so much as he learned about the gospel.
There was also a time my companion and I were at a member’s home doing service and right before we were about to leave, she told us about how she had been suffering from depression. She broke down in tears and my companion and I were there to listen and comfort her. I feel so honored that that member trusted us as missionaries and shared her story with us.
I am so grateful for these two experiences because it shows how people trusted us as representatives of the Lord. People have so much going on in their lives and you will never know that by judging them from what they look like.  Everyone has an incredible story!
My mission has allowed me to develop a greater interest in everyone’s life story. As a result of my experiences of getting to know so many people on a personal level I want to continue to get to know people that same way..

My first mission president said ‘’you can change someone’s life by the way you walk past them. ‘By having an outward perspective I can notice people around me and it has given me opportunities to smile or wave at someone.

Recently I have been able to put more effort into doing kind gestures to people I have seen around town that I used to know. For instance, while in Best Buy the other day I noticed someone from my cheerleading days. I have not talked to this particular person and ages and sometimes I can be awkward about that but this time I smiled and waved.

Life becomes brighter when we choose to turn outward and welcome more people into our lives.

On the pathway to becoming an outward person, at some point we will need to build a more personal and loving relationship with God, our Heavenly Father. 

Before leaving on my mission, I remember feeling that there was a giant gap between God and myself. I would pray, but they were often rushed and lacking thought. Some days I did not even say a personal prayer at all. How I approached God through prayer slowly evolved into something much grander on my mission simply because I started to pray more frequently and more fervently.

During this process of closing the gap that had formed because of my neglect to draw closer to God in prayer I once had an investigator ask my companion and I a question that really made me think.

When I was serving in the Manchester Young Single Adult ward, we were teaching this student from Singapore. We invited her to give the closing prayer to our lesson but she struggled to understand the purpose of prayer and said “If God knows everything, why do we pray?’’ It’s a great question. Why bother with praying if God already sees everything and knows what we are going through? After much thought I came to realize that
 the answer to her question is quite simple: We are all sons and daughters of a Heavenly Father who know us individually and personally. We each have a unique and special relationship with Him. He knows us but we do not know Him since we have forgotten our life before we came to this earth. It will remain that way until we speak to Him in prayer. Through prayer, we can grow and develop the relationship we already had with our Heavenly Father before we came to this world.
We are taught in Alma 34: 18-27 how to make our prayers more meaningful:
‘’Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save..
Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him. Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.’’
We can pour our souls out to our Heavenly Father in prayer. We can tell Him anything! We can tell him how we feel that day, express our gratitude, what our hopes are, our desires, our fears, ask Him for blessings and answers to our questions, etc.

Since discovering this power of prayer, I have felt closer to my Heavenly Father than I ever have. I do not just believe I am a daughter of God because that what I was taught but I KNOW I am a daughter of God and that God loves me.

I have brought home from my mission the habit of daily morning and evening prayer and I continue to feel a strong presence of God in my life.

A closer relationship with my Heavenly Father has brought about a conversion, a change of nature.

I am so thankful for my mission. It has been an MTC (missionary training center) for the rest of my life.

Testimony (English and Mandarin)

I know that this gospel is true. I know Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Joseph Smith is not the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; he was an instrument in the hands of the Lord to restore it. I know the Book of Mormon is true and it has the power to change lives. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

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