I’ve been home a little over a week. I was asked to speak just a couple days after I got back and I was not able to let everyone know in time, so I’m typing it up so you can read it too.
I have just completed 18 months of service in the New York Rochester Mission. It was incredible. And, incredibly unique. I also had the opportunity to serve at the Hill Cumorah Historic Sites, include:
The Joseph Smith Farm. Joseph and his family moved to Palmyra after 3 years of falied crops in Vermont. Father Smith needed to provide for his family so he went out to search for some better land. They purchased 100 acres just South of the village of Palmyra where they would make their home. On this land in the grove we call Sacred, Joseph met with God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Joseph was told not to join any church, but that through him, God would be able to restore the true church to the earth again.
The Hill Cumorah. 3 years after Joseph saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, Moroni (the last Book of Mormon prophet and a resurrected bring) came to him in the night to tell Joseph of a record that he himself had buried as a mortal man 1,400 years earlier. Joseph was told he would recieve this record and translate it into the English language by the gift and power of God.
The Book of Mormon Publication Site. This is the site where the very first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon were printed, bound and sold. Egbert Bratt Grandin, a young and ambitious printer agreed to print this unusually large order and the first copies were sold in the restored rooms of his Bookstore on the first floor.
The Peter Whitmer Farm. After Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery finished the translation and transcription of the Book of Mormon, the Church of Jesus Christ was officially organized here on April 6, 1830.
In addition to serving at these wonderful sites, we were an authorized onine mission (hence the facebook and blogs). I also had the opportunity to teach many people the gospel. I served in 4 areas, Penfield, Amherst, Palmyra and Rochester.
What I really wanted to focus my address on today is how true conversion comes as a result of service and sacrifice. My thoughts are based on Mosiah 5, Alma 5, Ether 12, Moroni 7 and D&C 4. True conversion is a process, not an event. Because we live with ourselves day to day, it’s sometimes really hard to see the progress that we’re making, but I saw significant changes take place in the lives of others whom I served not knowing how much I would change in the process.
In my first area, we found Katie (names have been changed) who was only 16 years old. She had a two year old daughter and we needed to ask permission from Annie, her mom, in order to teach her beause she was under 18. Her mom gave us permission but did not want to hear what we had to say. We knew their circumstances were a little rough and that food was scarce. One day after our lesson, Sister Christison and I decided to put together a lasagna dinner for them. It only took us about 40 minutes. We had another appointment that we needed to get to, so we went quickly to drop it off. I will never forget the look on Annie’s face. Growing up in Utah valley, it is not unusual to bring a meal to someone in need. I didn’t feel it was a big deal at all, but before she left and with tears in her eyes, Annie said, “All I had to feed my family tonight (about 6 people) was a package of top ramen and 2 hot dogs.” It was an incredibly humbling experience that I will be eternally grateful for. People do not care about how much we know until they know how much we care. I wanted so badly to help EVERYONE recieve the gospel, but learned quickly that it was not my choice, it is theirs, but I could help by serving. We have opportunities everyday to do small acts of service that will better prepare those we serve to recieve the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that is true. Katie and Annie will be baptized at the end of this month.
As we serve, we come to love those whom we serve. Even if they are quite a bit different from you. I met so many different people from ALL walks of life, and I truly loved every one. In Palmyra, Sister Trujillo, Sister Holm and I went to go check up on a husband and wife who had met with the missionaries before, but stopped for some reason. We went to go introduce ourselves. After meeting Rachel I asked if I could use her restroom. She showed me where it was and when I opened the door to come out, “AHH!!!” I jumped back because there was a 200+ pound potbelly PIG blocking the doorway. Rachel came around the corner and said with her sweet and gentle voice, “Oh, Sunny come here.” My heart racing, I came out and we were about to sit down and talk for a few minutes when, “AHH!!!” another one! 2 potbelly pigs?! “Oh no, there are actually 3. Oceans outside.” She pointed towards the back of her house and seconds later, a miniature horse came through the doggy door. What?!?! I couldn’t believe it. So there we sat, Rachel, my two companions and me, with Sunny, Toto and Raspberry. 2 potbelly pigs and a miniature horse. Talking about how much our Father in Heaven loves us. No where else can you have experinces like these and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Rachel and her husband bought $900 dollars worth of cigarettes per month. Do the math. That’s $10,800/year! and they’d been smoking for more than 20 years. Yikes! They were barely making it. Soon, they started learning with us again. We made a plan to help them quit smoking and to build a habit of daily scripture study and prayer, both individually and as husband and wife. They started reading the Book of Mormon and coming to church. Slowly but surely their lives have been changed. They will also be baptized together in the coming months and both have a desire to go to the temple and there be sealed as husband and wife for time and all eternity. We are all children of God and we ALL deserve the blessings He has to give us. Their’s has been a long process. I’ve learned through serving and working with them that it doesn’t matter much the speed, but the direction that we travel.
Conversion also comes through sacrifice. In Amherst, Sister Clark and I met two amazing women, Lisa and Harley. They were neighbors. Both of them started meeting with the missionaries around the same time, and both were baptized last year. Lisa is incredible. The only member in her family. She sacrifices everyday to study from the scriptures, and does so dilligently. This enables her to have the strength she needs to be an example to her family. She lost some friends when she joined the church, but knew that sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven and she could not go through life without them. She quit swearing and has a desire to be more refined and better prepared to help her family and meet her Maker someday. Lisa cut off her cable feeling that there were better things to do with her time, and realizing there waren’t very many wholesome things to watch. She also quit drinking coffee and tea. Harley was baptized with her daughter and is an incrdible example of sacrifice. She reminds me of the story of the widow’s mite in the Bible. She pays her tithing every month without fail, and is careful to notice the blessings that come because of it. She quit smoking as well, substituting cigarettes for lolipops. She is always eager to share the gospel with those around her and strives to be a good example to her children. Both of them are involved in doing geneology and family history. Harley does not have a car and has ridden countless miles on buses and walked for miles to find the gravesites of those who have passed away without having the opportunity to recieve the gospel. Both Lisa and Harley have been to the temple to perform baptisms by proxy for their family members so that they may have an opportunity to recieve the gospel as well. They will also go through the temple to reciever their own endowments next month!
Marsha was another woman I taught. God had prepared her to recieve the gospel and had lead us to her. We recieved a refferral from church headquarters that there was someone in the area that wanted a copy of the Book of Mormon and a visit from the missionaries. We went to drop it off but couldn’t find the door, so we knocked on another in hopes that they would know. As we talked to this woman, I heard the door behind us open. I turned around to see who it was and couldn’t really. It was dark inside, but there was a little woman, Marsha who looked pretty down. I asked her if we could come back and share a short message about the plan God has for us with her. She reluctantly said yes. When we came back, she told us her mother had died when she was about 20 years old. She finished raising all of her siblings and later had 11 children of her own. She suffered from depression, bi-polar disorder, diabetes, and many other things. As we taught her , I began to see her countenance change. Quickly. She started reading the Book of Mormon and knew it was true. She needed to get divorced from her previous husband and marry the man she was living with (George) before joining the church. She got the divorce going and George proposed to her on Valentine’s Day. Many things happened after I got transferred out of the area. The Sisters continued to teach her. There were a few hiccups, but in the end she knew without a doubt, and bore her testimony to me on the last day of her mortal life. She’d come into the Book of Mormon Publication site. My new companion and I had driven in to serve there that day. I was able to spend a few minutes with her before she went to meet her daugther and granddaughter at the park. She didn’t make it. It was a very hard day in my life and is still painful to talk about, but I need to share her story. Marsha sacrificed everything to gain a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and testified of it to the end. Literally. She was supposed to be baptized today, July 24th. Next year, my companion and I will go back to do her work in the holy temple. I have been comforted and know that she is on the other side waiting and teaching. I know I will see her again and am confident that the plan God has for us is absolutely true.
About a week later, as her children were cleaning out her home, they found this. “When we talked about depression, I was really starting to go to my dark place then you girls came into my life. I feel renewed. I know I making the right choice. I know its the TRUE church.”
I have been changed. Converted. I have come to realize that those whom I served and sacrficed for have served me more through their sacrifices. I thought going out to serve would, in a way, pay Heavenly Father back for all He’s done for me. Little did I know, I’d be more indebted to Him now than ever. I know with all my heart that this gospel is absolutely true. I know it changes lives. Hearts. I know and bear solemn witness of the Father and the Son. They came to speak to the boy prophet, Joseph Smith. We have a living prophet today, President Thomas S. Monson who speaks for God. It is through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism (or partaking of the sacrament each week), recieving the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end that we can return to live with our Father. I know through the restored authority called the preisthood we can be bound as families for all eternity in the temple. I know the Book of Mormon is true. It is through service and sacrifice that we are truly changed. At no other time in the history of the world has God’s word been so readily available. I bear my witness to the world in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
P.S. I tried to remember as much as I could and was able to share more stories here. I hope I got everything. I’d like challenge each of you to pray for opportunites to serve. I promise as you do so and sacrfice that time and energy to help other, you will feel a greater abundance of the Spirit in your life and the Lord will better be able to lead you as you engage yourself in His work. It’s true. It’s all true.