¡Buenas tardes! Today it's drizzly and cool, and that's actually a great thing. I hope this email finds you all happy and doing well. This week has been a very good one - I've grown and learned a lot.
The highlight of the week was the special conference we had on Friday last with Elder Johnson, the Area President of Mexico. It was our zone, which comprises all of Villahermosa and the surrounding area, and the Cardenas zone - which is a city in Tabasco, somewhat close by, but I don't know more than that. It was a special conference primarily because because a General Authority was present, but also because there wasn't the usual... what's the word... "convivio" in Spanish. Meaning we didn't hang around afterward as a zone, talk, eat lunch, all of that. Elder Johnson wanted us to come, learn, feel the Spirit, and then head to work and apply what we had learned. And man, we learned a ton.
(Small side note: above is an example of what I think is really cool about getting better at Spanish. "Convivio" was the word that came to mind, and it's not just that I can't remember the English equivalent, it's that I don't know one; I can't think of a word that has the exact meaning I'm looking for. I think it's cool that I'm starting to view Spanish not just as a translation of English, but as its own language. There are words and phrases that don't really have an equivalent, and they're starting to sink in. Pretty cool.)
Now, back to the conference. The week before Friday we were given the "homework" to study Article of Faith 4 and D&C 29:7. At first trying to study an Article of Faith seemed a little superfluous, especially one that talks about the "basics." But like you mentioned a little while back, Dad, just because they're the basics of the gospel doesn't mean they're a cinch to understand, apply, and live; quite the opposite. I studied faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost in depth as much as I could, and then waited to hear what we'd be taught. The verse in D&C talks about finding the elect, and defines the elect as those who "listen to my voice." I thought, okay, that means I need to teach the people who will listen. Case closed. But I knew there would be more, and arrived at the conference eager to learn.
Man. I wish I could have recorded those three hours. I'll try to relate what I learned as best I can. First, we talked about why Article of Faith number four is in that place, and not elsewhere. Elder Johnson taught us that one reason is because it's impossible to complete the principles and ordinances of the gospel without the preceding three articles - you can't have faith in a Being you don't understand (AoF 1), and you can't repent and move toward baptism and all the rest without first knowing that you will be responsible for the sins you commit (AoF 2) and that there is indeed a way to be saved (AoF 3). Elder Johnson emphasized the importance of these first four declarations of belief in missionary work. First, investigators must understand that God and Jesus Christ are Beings of flesh and blood, and that the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit. It's a belief that is professed by no other religion. Next, they must learn that we are born innocent and thereafter responsible for the sins we commit - this clarifies the erroneous concept of Original Sin and points us toward action. The investigators must also understand that the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes it possible for them to be saved - to really, truly be cleansed of sin and return to live with their families in a state of glory and light after this life. A key concept here as well is that "all mankind may be saved - by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel." Too many people believe that since by grace they are saved, all we have to do is "accept" Jesus Christ's sacrifice and we'll be wiped clean of sin. This runs counter to every aspect of the Gospel and of the Plan of Salvation, which is why it's very important to understand that works are required as well. Thus we arrive at the fourth Article of Faith: the key principles and ordinances of salvation, placed in the order in which they must come. I could go into a lot more detail about that and about what Elder Johnson said, but that was one thing that I really liked from what he taught us. It brought home the importance of teaching clear, correct principles - and reaffirmed the beauty and simplicity of the Restored Gospel.
Another interesting thing we talked about is what brings the remission of sins. Elder Johnson gave us an example. Say there's a nuclear engineer in Iraq who chances upon a Bible one day, reads it, and converts to Christianity. He begins to pray, read the scriptures daily, develop his faith, and repent of his sins. He has made a true repentance and wants to continue and be baptized. The problem is, in Iraq Christianity is punishable by death, and because he builds bombs the government won't let him leave the country. The question asked us was this - Can that man receive a remission of his sins in this life? Well, various missionaries raised their hands and started asking questions and putting forth their ideas. We talked about it for a little while. The majority of the people said that yes, he can receive a remission of his sins - forgiveness, in other words - because he did indeed repent completely of his sins, and that he'll have to have his work done for him after he dies so that he can enter the Celestial Kingdom and all that. The rest of us (myself included) voted no, but it kind of felt like hey, he's doing the very best he possibly can, and you're going to deny him forgiveness? Anyway, Elder Johnson had someone read Article of Faith 4.
When he got to the part about baptism, Elder Johnson stopped and said, "No, no, no. Stop reading from those false scriptures. Yours must be translated incorrectly." He had someone else read it, and did the same, and then once again. He then said, "You mean to tell me that what the scriptures really say is that baptism is the only means to receive a remission of sins? So our Iraqi friend can't be forgiven in this life?" It really hit the point home - Elder Johnson was right. We can't be completely forgiven of our sins without baptism (by the proper authority), no matter how well we live. Baptism is absolutely essential for forgiveness and salvation.
That's when he connected it to the scripture in D&C. As missionaries we are called to gather the elect. The elect are those who hear his voice and don't harden their hearts. We are here to find those people and bring them to baptism, so that they can receive that forgiveness of their sins. So, how do we know who are the elect?
Elder Johnson said that a lot of times when we talk to people, teach them, etc. and they don't accept, we say, Well, at least we just planted some good seeds that one day will bear fruit. That's true, he said, but is that your calling? Does D&C 4 say that "the field is white already to be fertilized" - or planted or watered or any of the other necessary and preparatory tasks? No - it says the field is ready to be harvested. There are people who are ready to be baptized, and those are the people we are seeking. Of course people need those seeds, those experiences to prepare them to really receive the message in their hearts.
But we are not responsible, as missionaries, to plant those seeds. He made a list of things and people that prepare God's children to hear His word - things like losing a loved one, having friends who are members, spiritual experiences, doubts, tragedies, angels, etc. Basically, Elder Johnson said, it's God's job to prepare the people, and your job to find them, teach them, and baptize them.
Wow. That hit me pretty hard - even writing about it now I feel the power of those words. Elder Johnson then taught us that the way to find these elect is by testifying so that the Spirit speaks to them. If they are the elect - those that God has already prepared - they will accept the invitation to be taught and to continue in the gospel path. If they're not ready yet, well, this was one more experience (yes, seed, in a way) to help them on the way, and we move on to the next person. It's really as simple as that. He mentioned that in one zone where he taught the same thing the week before, a sister missionary raised her hand and said, "But if the missionaries had stopped teaching me during the eight years I was investigating the church, I would never have been baptized." Elder Johnson said his response was: "I wince to think of all the time those missionaries wasted. So many companionships, teaching a lesson or two every week for eight years when there were other people who were truly ready for the message." The point isn't that spreading seeds of gospel truth is a bad thing - just that it's not the job of the missionaries. God has that part of the work under control, through the circumstances of life and whatnot. We need to have faith that those people (like the sister) will be found when they are actually ready. We need to focus on those people that He's already prepared.
As I mentioned, the way we do that is through testimony and the Spirit. Usually, when we do a door/street contact, we say something like, "We're missionaries of the Church... and we share a message about (The Book of Mormon with brief explanation, the Restored Gospel and Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ, the fact that
God speaks today to prophets... etc). Can we come inside and share this message with you?" That's about the essence of it - it's always changing and directed by the Spirit, though. It's worked pretty well for us so far, but the problem is, it doesn't help us find out if people are really interested. Sometimes you can just tell, but most of the time people are willing to give you five minutes if you ask for it, and then we end up wasting time with people who aren't ready yet. So what Elder Johnson taught us to do is to say that we're representatives of Jesus Christ and then bear testimony. Start bearing testimony of a gospel truth - say whatever the Spirit indicates should be said. "I know that Christ lives and loves you. I know that if we live his gospel and his teachings, we can receive a remission of our sins" and so on. Both companions testify, and then one asks if we can come inside (or visit them in their house) and share this message. If they say yes, then we go ahead and do so. If they say no, we invite them to church and head on our way. It's pretty simple, but extremely effective and powerful. We've been putting it in practice since the conference, and I've seen definite results. We've found a couple of people who are willing to be taught, and soon we'll see how that goes for them. We've also avoided wasting time with people who seem interested but really aren't. The key is testimony, which when given invites the Spirit into the conversation. That's probably the coolest part of these contacts - no matter what the outcome is, I feel the Spirit every single time and walk away spiritually edified. It's such a cool thing to experience.
Well, that's more than enough about the conference; I absolutely loved everything we were taught and will continue to study my notes and ponder the instruction. I hope I accurately expressed the ideas that he conveyed - and didn't bore anyone with too much detail. The application of these principles will really change the way we work as missionaries and the success we have. If we contact 30 people every two days (15 per day is about the average here), we're bound to find at least one person who has been prepared by the Lord to accept the gospel. That's 3 people every week - which means that if we put this in practice now, we'll get to the point where we can have a couple people getting baptized every single week. Pretty cool thought, huh?
Whew. That took a while but I wanted to share the things I learned. The rest of the week has been pretty good - last week was a little slow leading up to the conference, teaching-wise, but it's starting to pick up again. We're going to be teaching Angelica later on tonight and going to invite her to baptism; wish us luck! (Or, on second thought, pray for us!) We'll be spending a lot of time this week contacting and then teaching the people we contact; I'm honestly really excited for it. Not too much else happened during the week that was noteworthy... that I remember, anyway. :) Answer time!
First - yes, I received letters. (I knew there was something cool I was forgetting.) Man, did I do well this time around. Two letters from Lisa and two from Laura. Two from Brother and Sister Windley. A Christmas card from Kevin's family and one from the Stake Presidency (it's Christmas time again?? haha). A letter from Grandma and Grandpa Bown, and another from... argh. I can't remember right now. Anyway, it was really awesome to read all the letters and receive all that love and support. Please thank the Windleys for me - that was really nice of them. Also, tell Grandma and Grandpa that I really appreciate their letter a lot and that I'm going to reply to them - probably in my email next week, and with a handwritten letter if I can get it off. And, as always, thank Laura and Lisa - I always love their letters.
Gabbie - I was sad to hear about your knee injury in gymnastics. Did you wrap an Ace bandage around it? :) Haha. Mom says you're not going to take gymnastics anymore - things are sure changing while I'm gone, huh? No more going to pick you up anymore, I guess. The soccer story sounds funny - and painful, of course. It sounds like you've been having lots of fun in school and everything. Keep up the good work. I'll write more next week; I don't have a ton of time right now. But I love you very much! Thanks for always emailing me. Can't wait to hear from you next week! Love you!
Miranda - No worries about the lack of an email last week; I'm going to make up for it right now by being kind of short. Lacrosse sounds pretty fun - when do the games start? You'll have to have Mom take pictures of a game when you have one. Michael Jackson's back to being pretty popular here, too, so you're not alone with your newest obession-of-the-week... cough... I mean, perfectly normal interest. :) Haha. Just kidding, of course. Speaking of music - I thought of this Rudolf song the other day: "You'll go down in history - like Columbus, Einstein, Frankenstein, Caesar, Napoleon, King George, Titanic, Elvis, George Washington, and Joseph Smith!" Haha - remember that when we were little?! Good times, huh? Well, enjoy the fun week at school, work hard and have lots of fun, and remember that I love you a lot! :)
Mom - Whew, a bunch of questions. I promise I'll answer them - but it'll have to wait til next week. Like I said, a little short on time right now. It was cool to hear about the FHE and the Reagan stories. My hands are actually doing really well - my skin in general too. No redness, no cracking or peeling. Pretty much perfect, actually. I'll have to check the pictures to see if it looks otherwise - just your motherly protectiveness kicking in. :) Sorry for the short message. I really enjoyed reading your email, as always. Thank you very much. I love you very much! :)
Dad - Taylor's farewell sounded pretty cool. Tell him good luck from me, and that I wish him the best. Everything you said about the Sunday School lesson and Brother Barber's talk I really enjoyed, and I'm going to read the scriptures you mentioned. I like the application of Cain's actions - I'd never thought about it exactly that way before. And what you said about "the little things" and how pride can snowball is so very, very true. (How can something be truer that "true"? Haha.) It really is the little habits and actions that make or break our experience in life, and our faithfulness, our blessings and obedience, etc. I thought your advice about "Take every opportunity to bear your testimony" was especially appropriate given the conference. Thanks for all the advice you gave, and always give. It always helps me keep improving and getting better. Oh, one last thing - the other day I heard "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" playing on the radio. Haha. Pretty awesome - since the only other times I heard that song was the recording of your karaoke "performance". (for a second I thought it was you! ha). Thanks again, Dad, for everything. Answers to questions and pictures next week for sure. I love you very much!
My hour is up - back to work! :)
I hope this week is great for everyone. Thanks for all the prayers and support. Keep relying on the Spirit and doing all you can to follow the example of our Savior Jesus Christ. I love you all very much!