Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Because He First Loved Us"

I wrote this article for the February 2009 issue of Great Expectations, the Singapore Mission Newsletter.

When Nephi was shown in vision the birth of our Savior, he was asked if he understood the “condescension of God”. Nephi replied that though he did not know all things, he knew that God “loveth his children” (1 Nephi 11:17). That was in part, the foundation of Nephi’s faith, and the trust that he had in God. Though he did not in any measure know or understand the meaning of all things, of one thing he was sure: he was a beloved son of his Heavenly Father. Nephi knew who he was. With that in mind, he was confident that the Lord would provide a way for him, and he would be able to do and obey all that the Lord commanded him.

In the same way, we can each gain a testimony of that love, knowing that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us, and who is watching out for us in all our endeavors. When we come to know (and not just believe) that God loves us, and when we know that he loves all His children, we are then able to preach the gospel in a way that befits the promptings that we receive and knowledge that we acquire, understanding that God has a plan for each one of His children.

When, due to family circumstances, I was released from my mission the first time, I headed off to BYU to study, and for the most part, was relatively content. But, there were still hours and days of doubt that filled my mind and heart, wondering why I had been taken off my mission and what I had done to deserve this. By and by, there came a day when I was piled down with the many burdens of life, but mostly weighted down by the disappointment of not being able to serve the Lord in the way that I thought I needed to. In great despair, I knelt down and prayed to the Lord, pleading with Him to help me overcome these many challenges. Just at that moment, I felt, for the first time in a long while, the loving arms of my Father in Heaven. It was not anything spectacular; I did not hear a voice or see a vision. But, I knew that God was there, and the Spirit spoke peace to my soul. For those few minutes, I knew that I felt just as Nephi did, I had “beheld his glory,” and that I was and could be “encircled about eternally in the arms of His love” (2 Nephi 1:15).

The Lord gave me a wonderful calling in my college ward that allowed me to especially serve my priesthood brethren, most of whom were returned missionaries. Through the experiences I gained serving in that calling, I came to understand that the Lord has much in store for each of us. There are many trials that we will face, but as we come to understand the Atonement of our Savior, and apply it in our lives; we will know that the Lord has been, and always will be mindful of His sons and daughters. That understanding will allow us to be grateful to the Lord so much the more for His exemplary life of love and service. Keeping that in mind, we can be at peace, certain that no matter what happens, we are loved!

In the first chapter of the Book of Moses, Moses sees God and receives instruction from Him. At the end of the experience, Moses collapses, realizing that “man is nothing, which thing (he) never supposed.” Of course, the cowardly Adversary appeared to Moses in his weakened state, saying, “son of man, worship me.” Moses’s reply makes it plain that though he knew of his inferiority in relation to the Lord, Moses understood his superior standing in relation to the Devil as a son of God as he “…looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his only begotten” (Moses 1:13). Moses knew that he was a beloved son of God, and that made the difference when he faced the challenges placed before him. In this instance, the challenge was the Devil!

The trials that we face might not be as dramatic as Moses had it, but the challenges that are placed before us will still be equally hard and will try the depths of our faith. But, as I have come to appreciate what it means to be a child of God, I have come to understand that when we know who we are, there is nothing that we can’t overcome, because we know that we are each children of an omnipotent and omniscient Father who loves and wants the best for us. I have come to learn that this past year, and as I have served the Lord in the mission field. All in all, the love that abounds in this world can be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, from which stems the fruit of charity. As we go about teaching the restored gospel, I believe that the most important thing we can do is to obey the great commandment in the law, which is to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). As we do so, we will be able to feel the reciprocal love that Heavenly Father so wants us to feel and understand that “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Blessings and Mercies"

First off, we found out who our new Mission President and wife are! We actually found out last week, but it didn't fit too well in the post so I put it in for this week. Anyhow, President and Sister Clark from Lake Oswego, Oregon will be arriving July 1st. President Clark is a dentist, and Sister Clark is a registered nurse. There will be more to come as we find out more. I'm going to miss President and Sister Skelton so much though! We also found out that we have a surprise Senior couple coming in less than two weeks so we're scrambling around in the office to get things ready! The office is going good. We recived our monthly Book of Mormon order, and found that we had accidently ordered some copies in Bislama, one of the languages of Vanuwatu, random. We're also now in charge of tracking all the missionary referrals between missionaries in the Singapore Zone, so that's going to be crazy! Zone Conference is coming up, so it's going to be busy! Oh, that means I'll be writing only on Thursday next week, not Wednesday.

The week went by crazy fast as usual, and we were able to set another baptism date. In last week's email, I talked about three different people who had accepted baptism dates, but I only named two of them. So, right now, we have Angelina, Raja, Velmurugan, Anandan, and Joe. Joe is a student from Shanghai who we met a couple of weeks ago, but could only meet up this last week. But, from the time that we first met up with him on Friday, we've already met up with him three times, and he's well on his way to baptism. He came to Church on Sunday, and has had no problems understanding or accepting the Restoration or The Plan of Salvation. It is wonderful when you get someone who is ready and willing to accept the gospel. It really helps you to see the tender mercies of the Lord, and it makes you want to work even harder to constantly feel that happiness.

We had some good dinners this week, which has been good for our taste buds but horrible for my weight and belly. I'm up to 134lbs right now and that's not too good for me at all, especially when it causes your pants to split in the middle of the mission office, and watch your Mission President roar with laughter. Anyhow, we were able to fellowship some wonderful members in the ward, and I can't wait to see what referrals we can get as we work with the members and seek the Lord's guidance on who can really help.

Velmurugan has been progressing well, having been able to meet up with him three times in the past week too. We just have to work with him to find a way to get him to Church on Sundays. Raja had to go to Indonesia for a couple of weeks to work on some pipelines for his job, so we're praying that he gets back as soon as possible. He's already been to Church twice, and is also progressing well!

As usual, our highlight for the week is Angelina. We went over last night to review the Plan of Salvation with her and had a wonderful lesson as we explained the marvelous plan that the Lord has for us, all the way from the pre-Earth life, to exaltation with God. She's really excited for her baptism! We'll be meeting with her on Friday to review some commandments, then she'll have her baptismal interview on Tuesday, woot!

So, why have we been doing better these past few weeks? (well, I think we're doing better). Remember the expectation that President Skelton gave us about having a baptismal service every two weeks? Well, we haven't been doing that. So, Elder Palfreyman and I sat down, and came up with our own individual visions for our area. It's really been helping, pushing ourselves, and seeing the blessings and mercies the Lord has afforded to us as we place our trust and faith in him. It is wonderful to be able to change, to just be constantly striving to do better. The Lord really does afford to us many mercies, and I'm definitely trying to take them as they come. But, more than that, I'm trying to put forth my best effort so that the blessings from the Lord that I receive are things that I've worked for. The only problem is that whatever you give the Lord, he gives you a lot more in return, so you're always in debt. I like being a debtor to the Lord though, he a good creditor. :)

We have four new missionaries coming today, so it's going to be fun using them and putting them to the test tonight! It's always fun to have new missionaries come, because they are so excited and ready to serve, and they really boost the morale of the mission. On the other hand, when they come, we tend to realize just how long we've been out. I was just talking to Elder Perrett, one of the Assistants, about that this morning, about how the mission zooms by. He mentioned that he wondered if life after the mission would go by that quickly too. Who knows huh? I guess we'll all eventually find out.

"All Because A Boy Went Into The Woods To Pray...."

This has been one of those weeks where I know why I'm on my mission, and know without a doubt that there is nothing that I'd rather be doing besides serving a mission.

We started off last Wednesday night with some crazy finding, spending an hour or so doing that, being able to teach about fifteen people, and getting five new investigators. As I went to bed that night, I felt satisfied with the work I had done, and felt the love and peace of the Lord that he was well-pleased with my efforts. On Thursday, we went on exchanges with the Zone Leaders. Elder Tuckfield and I went over to the Figueiredo's (my recent convert family), and had a wonderful dinner with them. After the meal, we set down with them to review the Restoration as part of the new member lessons. We took the approach of teaching them by asking questions, and they answered them beautifully. Alex, the little nine year old, recited the story of the 116 lost pages in decent detail, so that really surprised us. We then asked Simone what she thought a prophet was, and she said something along the lines of "a prophet is a man who helps us to keep a direct line of communication between God and His children." Boy, was I blown away! I don't Elder Tuckfield or I could gave given a better definition. As we went along, Luiz recounted a story where he was able to help a less-fortunate member in Brazil while they were there over Christmas, and Simone told us about how Thomas and Alex has fellowshipped their neighbors there so well, that, as they were about to leave, the neighbor asked how she could continue having her kids go to the Church! The best part of that whole night was being able to tell them the story of the First Vision once again, and to recite the Prophet Joseph Smith's testimony. As I said those words, and as they listened, I knew that what I was telling them was true. It was a wonderful feeling that I have not yet forgotten, and that has continued to help me throughout the week.

On Friday, we spent about two hours contacting, just standing and stopping people to talk to them. It was tiring as it was extremely hot, and there were times that I just wanted to sit down and rest. But, every time that happened, someone would walk by, and they would be a good contact! We had our appointments cancel that night so we spent more time finding.

Saturday was wonderful because we were able to attend a member's wedding at the chapel on Valentine's Day! Well, it was a solemnization family, but it was still way fun. We were able to talk to one of the groom's good friends, and he said that we could contact him again sometime! The officiator, who is also our Stake Patriarch, gave some wonderful counsel and advice about being sealed for time and eternity. It was a good reminder of the goal that all of Heavenly Father's children should have. After planning, we headed over to Clementi to meet up with Raja. He was very open, and really listened as we taught him about the Restoration. After the lesson, he treated us to dinner, so that was way nice of him. The best part is, he came to Church the next day, stayed for all three hours, and accepted a baptism date as we talked with him after Church! We are so excited to see him progress! We spent Sunday afternoon chasing down Elder Palfreyman's Dad's MTC companion's ex-colleague. We live in the west, and so it took awhile to get to the east. Had a decent lesson with her, headed home, did our personal studies, then rushed off to another appointment but that didn't work out. Didn't have time for dinner, so I was slightly cranky. But, our next appointment, Anandan, showed up, and we had a great second lesson with him about the Plan of Salvation. And.... he accepted a baptism date too! We had Tun Niang, a wonderful member from Myanmar help us.

Monday was normal. Had reporting and all that, did our work at the office. Headed for an appointment that didn't show up, so we did some finding again, then headed to our next appointment, whom we weren't really sure whether he would show up. But, when we got to the assigned meeting place, Velmurugan was already there! We took him to the Church that was just a couple bus stops away, and taught him the Restoration. Elder Palfreyman was inspired to ask him if he wanted to be baptized about five minutes into the lesson, and I was pleasantly surprised when he said "Yes, I want to follow Jesus Christ." Woot! We showed him the Restoration video, and set up another appointment with him. So, we now have three baptisms set for March 29th! Hopefully we can move a couple forward though. On the way back home, I talked to a young man on the bus about the Plan of Salvation. As I tried to explain it to him, what he kept saying was that he controlled his own fate. I said that I agreed to a certain point, but there was something more than that to life, to finding lasting and inner peace in this life and in the life to come. Sadly, he didn't really think that could be had, or just didn't want to listen, so I left him with a pamphlet, my card, and my testimony.

Last night was the best Tuesday ever leading up to our Preparation Day. First off, we had a Missionary Council with President Skelton, so that we could all talk in a more informal setting about the work and what concerns we might have had. We worked through a few things, then he talked about the key indicators that we had to focus on to really improve, such as investigators at sacrament meeting, and the teaching pool that we're building up. As we ended up the meeting, President bore to us a wonderful testimony of hard work, about having no regrets about out mission, and making sure that every moment on our missions are "shining stars." He talked about missionaries who, at their exit interviews, felt that they had failed because they hadn't given their all for the two years. So, he challenged us to give our hundred percent, our all to the Lord, to keep our focus on the things that really matter: bringing Heavenly Father's children back to Him. That night, we had our usual Tuesday night lesson with Angelina. But, the lesson was any but usual.

We started going through the Restoration lesson (seems like this was something that the Lord wanted Elder Palfreyman and I had to review!), because we had covered parts, but had never completed the full lesson. We did an amazing job teaching in unity, trading back and forth, and really had the momentum going, and I was once again able to recount the story of the First Vision. My, I felt so loved because I once again felt the Spirit testifying to me that the story was true, that God has provided his restored on this earth once more. I have never felt the Spirit so much in my life in a week, not even at EFY. As I ended off, and Elder Palfreyman continued, I felt at peace. Something that surprised me was the ability I had to tune out the noise around me as I taught. Everything tuned out as I focused on the message, and as Angelina listened intently. As we traded off, I heard the background noises again. But, that focus came as the Spirit helped me to teach and testify. Towards the end, Sister Jocelyn, one of our members, told us about an experience she had on her mission, where an investigator was having doubts about Joseph Smith. She asked the investigator if it was alright if they could each kneel down and say a prayer, one after another, to receive an answer. The prayers were said, and the question was answered in the affirmative. That prompted Angelina to ask if we could each do that. So, six of us, Elder Palfreyman and I, the two members, and Brother Yong and Angelina, each took our turns praying on our knees in a circle. It was a wonderful experience. As we ended, Sister Jocelyn asked Angelina how she felt. Frankly, I wasn't sure how she would respond. I was bracing for a "I still don't feel anything" answer. But, to my utter delight, she said that she had felt the Spirit. As Elder Palfreyman went on to ask her how she felt about her baptism date on the 15th, she said "I'm so excited!" It was an answer to the many prayer that Elder Palfreyman and I have been asking for, from the doubts that she had herself, and to those that her father has been throwing at her. To top the night off, she asked if we wanted ice cream! As we left, Sister Jocelyn was telling her how to keep that Spirit around her, and her response was, "it hasn't left yet!"

We have been diligent in finding and contacting this week, and it has really paid off, not really in the way that we expected it to, but in the many little blessings that the Lord has given us. For me, the greatest blessing that he has given me this week is the courage to talk to anyone and everyone! Granted, I've been rejected many a time, but I can feel the Spirit right beside me, and that's all that really matters.

In last week's email out, I was talking about how I had been having a pretty hard week with self-reflection. My favorite BYU professor emailed me a short note, saying "The closer we get to Christ, the evermore present become our shortcomings. Thus the need to rely on His holiness over our own." As I've been thinking about it, what he said really is true, and I'm grateful for it, because it just makes me want to change, to be a better person, and to be a happier person as I do my best to be "even as He is."

As I have taught the message of the Restoration over and over again this week, I have come to appreciate it more and more, and have also come to understand my Heavenly Father and His Son. It is amazing just how much love they have for us, and how all the commandments and teachings that we are given are solely for our eternal happiness. I am so grateful for them, and for the Prophet Joseph Smith. Who knows where I'd be right now, and what the world would be right now without this Restored gospel. I'm very much who I am today, "All because a boy went into the woods to pray...."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009



This week has been one of self-reflection. But, before I go into the details of that, I guess I'll recap the week. We went on splits Thursday night and taught two different appointments. Along with a few members, I taught a member's friend from Chine who was here for auditions for the music conservatory at the National University of Singapore. For the most part, we had to teach the lesson on Mandarin, and it was then that I realized just how inadequate my Mandarin is. I don't have to study a language, and so I've never really focused on one during language study time. I can contact and teach short lessons in Mandarin, but nothing more than that. So, that was an embarrassing lesson, and frankly, something good because it humbled me. We had quite a few appointments cancel, and we only ended up having one more sit-down lesson the rest of the week. We were able to meet up with Angelina last Friday, and also yesterday. She has been progressing very well, and has been asking many excellent questions, along with great insights, and sometimes answering her own question! We are so excited to see how that continues on, and we are pretty confident that she will be baptized on her targeted date of March 15th.

On Saturday, we had just finished up with an evening of finding/contacting, with some success, but nothing too great. But, just as we were walking to the bus stop, I decided to say hello to a man who was walking beside me with his daughter. Raja was meeting up with his wife, and we started talking about the Church just as his wife walked up. Elder Palfreyman started talking to his wife, and we both shared what our beliefs are. To my utter amazement, he said that he wanted to go to Church the next day! So we called a member, and they arranged to go to Church together the next day, and they did! It was a wonderful blessing, because we only were going to have one investigator at Church, and we weren't really sure what we were going to do to get more. The Lord really gives us these little miracles as we do our best. Raja's family returned home to India on Tuesday, but we're meeting with him on Saturday, so that is going to be a wonderful appointment for us.

We spent Sunday night visiting with a member and some less-actives, and just some finding and an appointment with Angelina last night.

Back to the self-reflection that I mentioned earlier in the week... Well, it's just been comments that people have made, and things that I have observed about myself that I frankly find pretty distasteful. It's nothing horrible. It's just that I'm developing into a person that I don't really want to be, and I'm glad that I'm on my mission because it has helped me to see that, and has also given me the desire and courage to change myself so that I can be the very best person that I want to be. I suppose that I won't go into the details of all my shortcomings, that would be awkward. But, what I have learned, what attributes I have found to be the most effective in molding me are humility and patience.

By far, humility is that that I have to work on the most. It's not just the whole bratty, single child attitude that I might have, but it is the pride inside that gets me in trouble sometimes. It's not so much trouble that might harm me, but rather pride that harms the person whom I'm trying to become, and it does hurt those around me sometimes. Decisions that I would have made in the past easily are now affected by other people too. Crazy. I suppose that humility works hand in hand with patience too. Being impatient can be related to so many things, with not getting what you want, with people around you, with people's reactions to you. It saddens me when I have a conversation with a not-so-polite-person, and I respond in kind. I'm learning how not to be bothered by others comments, and let them think what they want, though sometimes, I just want to give them a not so friendly hit to some part of their being. I am just trying to see how I can change my attitude, my perspective.

Elder Palfreyman has helped me see another side of pride too, of being too judgemental, and not trusting. We met a pastor from Pakistan who wanted to meet with us, so that he could learn more, and receive some help because he is a religious refugee. Elder Palfreyman was doing his best to help him because he had been calling a number of times, and said that he had a daughter and wife that he was trying to get out of Singapore. I was rather cynecal about it, and mentioned that I thought that he might just be wanting to scam money out of us, which triggered a reaction of disappointment in Elder Palfreyman. At first, I was very defensive about it, and frankly, very insulted. But, as I reflected on it, I realised that as a missionary, I'm putting all my trust in the betterment of the human race, that there is something within them that is always seeking for better. It was then that I realized that I need to look for the good in all, instead of being so judgemental and critical.

Well, I guess I'll just be looking out for more of the positives in life, to be more carefree, but more responsible too. It's that need to blend maturity and refinement together, to cleanse our inner selves, and build up the character that we must have to be truly happy.

with four of my favorite Elders: Elder Mattox, me, Elder Merrill, Elder Palfreyman

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Want No Excuse"


This morning, Elder Palfreyman and I had to wake up at six in the morning to head over to the office for training. The Church is putting on the mission office systems for the Church completely online, so we're transitioning into that program, and we had to be at the office to receive training from Church Headquarters in Salt Lake. It was all very informative, but it was tiring, and we were hungry. It was all good fun overall.

We've had a pretty busy week in the office! There has been much to do, especially since we're starting on getting the office ready for the next mission president. President Skelton has just under five months left, but there is much to be done. In addition, we had a mini-emergency this week. Our office couple, Elder and Sister Palmer, are scheduled to return home on March 1st. But, up till yesterday, we had no idea who was going to replace them, so they were starting to teach me and Elder Palfreyman how to do their jobs, (a.k.a. the finances, travel, and records for the mission). Fortunately, we received word yesterday that a new couple will be coming mid-April! President Skelton is trying to get the couple to come earlier, and the Palmer's have agreed to extend for a whole month! We've extremely grateful to them for doing that! We would be so lost without them! But, we're still going to have to learn what they do so that we can help the new couple transition, so there's much to be done! We've been going through old document files, and some go back to the seventies, so it's pretty amazing to skim through these old historical records. Unfortunately, we're just going to have to shred most of them. President wants everything to be spick and span for the new man.

Aside from that, Elder Palfreyman and I spent the whole of the afternoon yesterday cleaning out the storeroom that we share with the distribution center upstairs. It was heavy, dirty work! But, we managed to arrange it all and take an inventory of all our supplies. It's pretty crazy to see what some missionaries have ordered, along with how much they have ordered. In some cases, they've ordered thousands of certain items that we really don't need! Crazy missionaries.. haha. Anyhow, we've found a bunch of old supplies that we can use, so that will definitely be helpful. The old set of office Elders never didn't place an order for last quarter's supplies, so we had to do an emergency order, and hopefully that will come in the next few days, as I already mentioned last week! We have a few other projects to work on, including tracking men ordained to the priesthood, and members who can't be found. We're going to be busy, and that's wonderful!

We had a new couple from Heber, UT, come in this past week. Elder and Sister Spanos are an amazing couple. They have already served two missions among the native tribes in Canada, and among the Zulu people in South Africa. We enjoyed our week with the. They helped a ton, and bought us snacks. :)

The week went pretty well in terms of missionary work. We had a bunch of visa runners come in, so we were able to teach more lessons, and split up to teach more appointments. Unfortunately, we had to drop a few of our investigators because they have not been progressing. They are all really nice, but just not too ready yet I guess. We met a man from Myanmar named Soe who met up with us just a few days later, and we had a good lesson with him. Angelina is progressing well and is on track to be baptized on March 15, so that is definitely something exciting, and we are looking forward to it.

Our mission did wonderfully well last year, with over a thousand baptisms. We are so happy and grateful for that, especially since we averaged 12 baptisms a missionary, including senior couples! We hope to be able to keep up the trend as we humble ourselves and rely on the Lord as we put in our best effort.

We received a wonderful Zone Training from the Zone Leaders yesterday, about accountability. It really got me to think about just how accountable we are for ourselves, and for all those around us, especially as missionaries. The Zone Leaders quoted Elder James E. Talmage in his analysis on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where he explained that the reason why the Samaritan stopped is because he "wanted no excuse" to not help the injured man on the side of the road, while the other two supposedly holy men did not stop to help. The Zone Leaders went on to talk about how we need to not make excuses, and go and do the work because we want to! We have a couple of good appointments coming up in the next few days. Of course, the best lessons come from member referrals, and we're having one of those tonight, so that will be wonderful.

So, I hope that we will all "want no excuse" as we do the Lord's work! Take care!