When I received my mission call and read that I was going to the Texas San Antonio Mission, I thought for sure I would bid farewell to cold weather. I could not have been more wrong. This past week has been freezing. We’ve had ice in the roads and even seen icicles off the houses. My companion Elder Franks and I have found ourselves in quite the paradox: if you want to stay warm on a bike, you need to ride fast, if you ride fast you are unable to feel your hands or your face. We’ve decided it’s probably best to just have frozen faces because messengers of the Lord declare good tidings of great joy (Luke 2:10). If we are doing so we need to have smiles on our faces. In this winter weather it is fairly easy to keep a smile on your face when it’s frozen that way.
This past week has been filled with challenge after challenge. It’s interesting to me that I am passing through a refiner’s fire in the cold heart of winter (D&C 128:24). We had dinner a few nights ago with a part-member family. The mother is a member of the church but her husband is not. We wanted to share with them a Christmas message that would invite the Spirit into their home which would encourage them to attend church and seek the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, as we were about to share our thoughts, the mother had to put her kids to bed and her husband walked us to the door. Bummer. That wasn’t going to break our spirits though because that night we would teach our only investigator; until she cancelled. We then decided to visit part-member and less active families in the area. None were interested. Cold, tired, and disheartened, we returned to our apartment.
As a missionary fresh out of the MTC, one expects the work to be thriving. It is thought that all will want to hear that they are sons and daughters, kings and queens, of the Most High God. To hear that their older brother suffered all things for them, “Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit–would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18). To hear how they can gain a testimony of Him, to exercise faith in Him, and desire to repent and be baptized. As a week and half old missionary, at times it has appeared that this is not so.
Prayerfully and humbly we have planned our days with the hope and faith that we will go to the houses of those who are prepared and seeking to come unto Christ. We headed out the next day into a world even colder than the day previous, earnestly desiring to find the chosen vessels of the Lord (Moroni 7:31). Not a block from our apartment complex, my bike ceased to function. The chain was grinding against the derailer making it hazardous to ride. We returned home. On foot we left our apartment realizing that the work must go on.
As I look back on this point in the week I can see that nearly everything that could go wrong happened. The weather was threatening, our message was not being received, those who had listened to us previously cancelled our appointment, and our means of transportation was reduced to the strength of our own feet. I remember wondering how we would ever have success when we can’t even travel very far.
That day and night were not much better than those before. Everyone we visited was busy or uninterested. A lady who had stopped us days before with a friendly welcome, told us it was freezing outside and to come by some other time. Nevertheless, we continued on. We decided to go to the house of a woman who previous missionaries had listed as a potential investigator. As we knocked on the door, a man answered and welcomed us right in without hesitation. A miracle! We sat with him and his son and he told us that he has a lot of respect for our church and enjoys our meetings. He told us that he has even felt “the burning in the belly.” He said that he would be interested in listening to us and that his girlfriend, the woman in the list, would probably like to hear as well. He asked us how we were getting around, and after I told him about my bike, he lent me his! After several minutes of talking his girlfriend came home from work. She told us that she works in retail and could not have anytime to learn from us until January. We gave them an invitation to the Stake Choir Christmas Concert and left with the borrowed bike.
The next day, at the concert, the man, his girlfriend, and their son came to hear the choir! I have never been so happy. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not solely for individuals. The Plan of Salvation is centered on families. We did not come to Earth alone; we were born into families. Our purpose as missionaries is not to baptize and bring unto Christ just one man, but his entire family as well so that they can be sealed together and each be partakers of eternal life. When I saw the man and his family arrive and sit down together to hear songs of Christ and celebrate His birth, I finally understood this to be my purpose.
The following day we took my bike to a guy who fixes all the missionary bikes and he fixed it for us. That night we met with a 16 year old recent convert. He has been struggling to come to church because he feels that some of the leaders are out to get him. For weeks the previous missionaries have not had success in helping him attend. As we talked and met with him, I was prompted to share with him the sacrament prayer. He had told us that a lot of people think he’s a jerk and he is proud of that. I explained to him that after we are baptized we take upon us the name of Christ. I asked him why we take the sacrament and he answered that it was to remember our covenants. I explained to him that there is a difference between the prayers for the bread and the water, more than just the blessing of two different things. The sacrament prayer states that as we take the bread, we demonstrate to the Father that we are willing to take upon us the name of Christ, to always remember Him and keep His commandments (Moroni 4:3). The prayer for the water states that as we drink the water we are showing our Heavenly Father that we will do those things (Moroni 5:2). The sacrament is how we show God that we are willing to follow Christ and that we do follow Christ.
I asked what the Lord gives us if we take the sacrament and he responded that we get the Spirit. “But why do we want the Spirit?” He told me, “So that we can be more Christlike.” “Isn’t it difficult to be more Christlike if we don’t have the Spirit and we don’t go to Church?” I posed. He responded, “a little, I guess.” “It’s impossible,” I told him. The Holy Ghost acts as a gauge, which tells us how close we are to being like Christ. It prompts us to do good and to help others as Christ would. When we do things that Christ wouldn’t do, we depart from the Spirit. The gospel of Jesus Christ is to have faith in Him and his atonement, to repent, to be baptized, and to endure to the end. As members of the church we’ve already done three of those things. In order for us to endure to the end, we have to have the Spirit with us.
I asked him if he would attend church so that he can take the sacrament, to repent and receive the Spirit so that he can know how to live his life more like Christ. He said he would and on Sunday he did.
This week has been challenging for multiple reasons. However, after going through it all, I know that if it had not been for those trials, we would not have met that family and the young man would not have come to church. I know that Heavenly Father hears are prayers and is willing to answer them so long as we are willing to pass through the necessary trials. I know that the Eternal Creator of all things puts trials into our life, not because He is a hateful God who wants to make our lives difficult, but because He loves us infinitely and wants to help us grow and progress. The trials I faced had purpose and I am so grateful that I was able to endure them.