This was one of the most trying weeks of my mission. You can only endure trials and cancelled lessons and low numbers for so long before your patience bubble bursts. On Tuesday, my companion and I talked for about two hours on what was going wrong with us and our area. After a lot of introspection and talking, I drew the conclusion that I myself must have lost faith in the area. Or more specifically, I lost faith that God would bless us with investigators. We only have three investigators—two of which cannot be baptized now for certain reasons—and hope for more investigators in the future is looking pretty shaky at best. Church attendance has dropped significantly since I came here, and in the three months that I've been in Hengchun I still don't understand how to find investigators here. I just kind of threw my hands in the air and tried not to care anymore.
...But that didn't even last a day. After all, I knew why I was out here: I was out here to help others come unto Christ and experience real happiness, and with that so ingrained in my mind, there's no way I could put that off indefinitely. Wanting to resolve the problems we were facing, I decided that night to turn to my Zone Leaders for help.
Elder Teng has followed me around throughout my mission, and has served as my Zone Leader three times. I've come to really respect and admire him and his insight, and I've always found his viewpoints and advice to be valuable. As I talked with him on the phone, he asked me an interesting question: "When was the last time that you were rebuked by the Spirit?" I thought back to when I started this last transfer, about four weeks ago, and at that time I was disappointed that I wasn't training a new missionary yet. I'd prayed about why I wasn't training, and the response I got in my mind was, "You are not ready. You have much to learn. You have not been using the skills and tools you learned previously in your mission and you need to repent and start using them now." After that moment, I was more motivated to improve and work more earnestly. Elder Teng asked me why I feel we are having struggles in our area now, and I responded that I have been feeling inadequate and incapable of the work. He pointed out the key difference between my two experiences: One set of thoughts was edifying, while the other set was destructive. He told me that all thoughts that edify and persuade man to do good and come closer to God are from the Spirit, while all thoughts that cause us to desire to escape and withdraw from God and ultimately prevent ourselves from reaching happiness are from the devil. He showed me that success is not judged by numbers and status, but rather by our spiritual experiences:
- Do you feel the Spirit testify to others through you?
- Are you obedient?
- Are you praying for your family, your area, and your investigators?
- Do you feel the presence of the Spirit constantly in your life?
- Do you live worthily?
As I judge myself righteously, I still may face disappointments, but I won't be disappointed in myself. I will be able to rest with ease knowing that I am doing my best and that I am fulfilling God's expectations of me.
Naturally, to change a thought process of this magnitude, considering that I've judged myself the more degrading way for a very long time, I was going to need some help. I started to study intensively about Christ and his atoning sacrifice, knowing that if anybody would have the power and knowledge to help me change, Christ could.
Towards the end of the week, we visited a wonderful family, of which the mother and the oldest son are recent converts. With four young, energetic boys in the family, my companion spent this time trying to keep the boys under control, so that I could have a good discussion with the mother. I had started teaching about the family, and after a little bit I began to sense that she wasn't really listening to me. I stopped for a moment, and tried to listen to the promptings of the Spirit. I then asked: "What is the most important thing to you in your life?" She looked down for a moment, thought, then looked up at me and said, "My family." "Why?" She looked down again, then looked up and said, "Because I love them. And this relationship is eternal, and we can find the most happiness in the home." But her words were a little strained.
I knew she was thinking about four weeks previous, when something had happened at home, most probably an argument, and she had afterwards left home and stayed up north for a week. Following a prompting, I looked her in the eyes and testified that families are eternal, and that we can find happiness in them. She looked down again, and this time when she looked back up she was crying. "I'm worried about my children," she said. "They're naughty, they are starting to make bad decisions, they have friends that are not good influences, and I can't control them. I don't know how to help them. I love them and want to help them, but I don't know how."
I looked at her again, and said, "God loves you. He knows your needs. He knows your desire to help your boys. And He wants to help you. You yourself do not have the power to change the choices of your children. You cannot force them to do anything. But God has the power to change hearts. Seek Him out, pray earnestly for His help, and I promise that He will help you." At this point I was crying too. "You are not alone. God loves you, and He loves your wonderful children too. I know it's hard sometimes. I'm sure my mother would say the same thing. But I'm also sure my mother would say that all this hard stuff is absolutely worth it."
My testimony in Christ's Atonement has grown. I'm grateful for the experiences I've had recently to help me expand my faith in Christ's power, so that when the time came, I could help someone else. I now know of a surety that the Atonement can heal any heart, any relationship, and any family. I've seen this many times, and I'm seeing it all the time in myself.
Thank you for your letters and prayers. I am blessed beyond comprehension, much more than I remotely deserve. I love you.
PS I am happy and beyond pleased to announce that my brother Hans will be reporting to the MTC on October 2nd, in preparation for his service in the Reno, Nevada mission. Woohoo!!!