Wednesday, January 29, 2014

January 13: We Did Not Stand Alone

I'm just going to start this email with the pre-cursor that I have been a tenderhearted, cry-baby mess this week. Cool? Cool. But literally, soooo cool. So cold. No worries, I didn't cry on the inside days. We just got weeeeeird. We were inside due to dangerous cold from SATURDAY NIGHT TO TUESDAY AT NOON. Oh HECK no! Hahaha. Thank goodness we live with the hermanas, so it was more of a party... It was all area books, deep doctrine discussions, and phone calls as far as the eye could see. Also, we ate an entire batch of no-bakes and learned about SCIENCE. For INstance. If you blow bubbles in -30, they freeze immediately, and clank together like little golf balls in the air. Next science experiment. If you boil a large VAT of water, and throw it in the air in -30, it turns to powder upon impact. Yes, sir. These are the life lessons I'm learnin'.

But really, this week was wonderful. On Sunday, since we live close, we got invited with a few other missionaries to have a sacrament service in the mission home. (SINCE CHURCH WAS CANCELLED.) It was so intimate and special. Each missionary shared their testimony and the Spirit was so strong. I am so thankful that I was able to have had that moment, with my fellow missionaries and with my Savior. My GASH. My heart is so full of joy and gratitude today. For the past 3 months of not-quite baptisms, for the weekend of wild cold, for the week of warmer temps, for my companion, and for the African people. 

I found this video today, and I just cried. This is my area. These are my people. This is their story:

The part I want to talk about today is the part where she holds up the torn blanket, and says, "And so, I've decided to keep it. As a remembrance. So whenever I have important visitors, this is what I will show to them. That I am not finished. I am still alive.

That faith, that belief, that hope, was within us." 

The past three months of my mission have been incredibly difficult. I'll be straight-up. I've improved as a missionary and as a person (you hope, right...? Eh.), and worked harder than I ever have in my life - harder than I was when we were baptizing once a month. And yet, things still fall through. Wonderful new investigators turn into eternal stop-bys and date-sets turn into hostile conversations and dropped investigators. And it's heartbreaking. Because whether you teach someone once or one hundred times, you feel the love Christ has for them. And you want this for them more than absolutely anything else. And you have this urgency, that the words you are saying, however humble and simple, are backed by eternal truths - by an all-knowing God who loves this individual child so much. You know that it's the most important opportunity they will ever have placed in front of them, and when that doesn't so much as register for them or go anywhere, it is heart-breaking. Every single time.

This week, as I slide waaaaay too close to having used half of this time already, I've been reflecting on the parallels between my earthly mission and my 18-month mission. In almost every way, it is the same. We were shown this opportunity to learn and to grow, and we were so excited at the prospect of being able to grow closer to God and closer to the people He needs us to be. We knew it would be miserable at times and joyful at times, but we had absolutely no clue just how gut-wrenchingly miserable and how soul-alteringly joyful it would be. And then we get here. And there are challenges and tasks so much bigger than us, lots of learning and growing to do. And the only way we can accomplish them, the only way to stay hopeful and full of light, is by calling on the name of Christ. By using His Atonement. You work your absolute hardest, do all you can to be faithful and obedient, and when your mission is completed, you "die." And based on how you used that opportunity, you are different. But so much better. 

Our cute investie J, who was supposed to get baptized on the 25th, had a whole landslide of doubts and discouragement. (Which is pretty typical before a baptism, but stay with me here.) Her main fellowshipper is my friend A. Another one of my African mamas. She's from Zambia and is the sweetest, best person in the world. Honestly. (She'd never heard of hand-warmers and doesn't own a real coat or boots in this weather. Therefore, some of our dinner hour this week was spent sliding handwarmer after toewarmer after handwarmer under her door. ALWAYS CREEPIN. Buuuuut. She knew it was us. Hahaha. She thinks we're hilarious.)  Her faith is incredible. Her family is half in Zambia, half here - and the half here have mostly distanced themselves since she joined the church. And yet there she is. Every activity. Every Sunday. In our lesson at her home, when J said she couldn't be baptized because she didn't have a job anymore, Sister K threw down with her. (Old African lady throwdowns are the literal best thing. Better than anything on TV.) 

She testified about not having a job when she joined two years ago, and staying faithful and still not having a job now. She told J it was a flimsy excuse and quoted the Savior. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you." She told J she was chasing the spirit away by focusing on spiritual or temporal problems. She said, "If you go tomorrow, does it matter to God if you had a job or if you were cleansed and promised something to Him?" ... Hi. I love her. 

Well, J shared more concerns, and every one of us - the Relief Society President, A, Sister T, etc, walked away saddened. (We're still working with her, but the date is pushed back again.) The next day, we get a call. It's A. She is asking for J's number because she's out and about looking for jobs for J. Let me reiterate, A is jobless herself, and they're both seeking the same nursing position. But she called and said, "I found some places that are looking for help and other places that could help her with her resume. I don't think it's a good reason, but if it is holding her back, I want to help. I want to call her today, so we can get to be good friends. So I can help." 

Naaaaturally, I started crying. African people, guys. I literally can't put them into words. I said, "You are wonderful." She said, in her little Zambian accent, "'Eeeeeey, Sista Balleh, you are wonderful TOO." 

And then after that show of true discipleship, of true conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ, literally no discouragement mattered. All we could see were miracles. And I felt like my African friends, who start every prayer and every testimony and every Sunday School comment with, "I just want to be tankful to GOD." 

A member had the courage to refer her friend and their whole family and we met with them twice this week.

An older member who had his records removed about 12 years ago has been reading the Book of Mormon with us, and keeping his outside reading commitments. We started through the discussions with him, and we had an incredible lesson last night about the Atonement and the restoration of the gospel. We talked about how his cancer had humbled him and brought his heart back to God. 

We've been promised that as we increase lessons with members there, we will increase church attendance and baptism. This week, we worked our butts off and more than doubled the number of member presents.... And had one fifth the church attendance, none of which were our progressing investigators. And rather than be discouraged, I felt so joyful. Because rather than watch the door, I watched Brother B bless the sacrament for the first time. 

These are only a few, and maybe seem small, but I was filled this week. And when Brother B blessed the sacrament, I just started crying. And it wouldn't stop until I got up and shared my testimony. Yes, I just want to be thankful to God. 

And going back to that video, when the woman held up the tattered blanket, a small gesture that represented something so much more, I thought of all my weathered and beat up missionary planners. Things I will not throw away for the world. Because those lessons planned, those goals set, those days spent... I will keep them in remembrance. I want to show them to everyone. (I won't really. I won't BE THAT GUY.) That no matter what happens today or tomorrow or however long it takes until the Lord is ready to bless us, because of the Atonement and gospel of Jesus Christ, I am not finished. I am still alive.

And that faith, that hope, that belief, lives within me. 

And I will wake up tomorrow and with the Lord's help, fill that next blank page with lessons taught and received.

I love this work. I love this beautiful area and for the incredible training ground for life it has proved to be. I love my mission president. I love my companion. She has grown SO much. I feel like a mama. My mission is everything to me. I have loved so much seeing the changes in people's lives. But I have loved just as much the beautiful privilege in loving those who weren't ready to change. 

I testify that no matter the opposition, no matter the discouragement, no matter the mountain before us, the Lord is over all. These things are tailored individually for our profit and learning by a Father who loves and knows us perfectly. And Jesus Christ, our brother and friend, has overcome. He will take us by the hand and help us do the same. 

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