We had interviews with President this week, which as usual had me electrified with enthusiasm for missionary work. Before the interviews, President spoke to our district about our area - something we were definitely discouraged about. He asked what we saw in the area. Six missionaries were suddenly very quiet. But I opened my mouth and suggested slowly, "Potential." President nodded and asked us to consider a temple district. What are they made of? Stakes. What are stakes made of? Wards. What comes before a ward? President waved a hand at us. A branch, he said. He asked us if we could imagine a temple in Malilipot, right over the rice fields. He asked us to remember that our work adds to the sum total - every little drop counts as we slowly help build the church here. What an awesome responsibility!
It was an incredible reminder, especially since this was another hectic week. We were in Legazpiand , with doctors appointments, tests, and xrays. Don't freak out, now. Turns out, my kidney stones have miraculously disappeared with just the aid of my medication. My mission mom says it's a little bit of a miracle that the stone is just *poof* gone. I am (more or less) healthy! Just as well, the expeditions to Legazpi severely damaged our work time, and we were feeling pretty exhausted, and not in a good fulfilling way. So President's inspired reminder was like injecting fire into my veins. I was ready to work again, keeping this temple vision in mind.
And we do have work to do. President had us resplit our areas, so now Sister Sanchez and I have a very large chunk of Malilipot Central, which is very new and exciting since all of our areas have previously been very far from the church. Now I'm very excited about this area, though everyone made it clear to us that we were inheriting a difficult area. No investigators in the whole area, almost like we're opening it for the first time. And members, missionaries, and basically everyone we talked to said that it's going to be tough. Facing this new challenge, I was reminded of chapter 26 in the book of Alma, in the Book of Mormon. Ammon and his brothers have spent fourteen years being missionaries and Ammon recalls:
"Now do ye remember, my brethren, that we said unto our brethren in the land of Zarahemla, we go up to the land of Nephi, to preach unto our brethren, the Lamanites, and they laughed us to scorn?
For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? Now my brethren, ye remember that this was their language." (verses 23-24)
Now, I could relate to this for sure. New area, with no investigators, and a whole bunch of testimonies of how unperceptive the people are? Just call me Ammon! But Sister Sanchez and I, inspired by President's love for the work, refused to give up. We kept that temple image in mind. We kept focused on and prayed for those people we were about to meet and love.
"But behold, my beloved brethren, we came into the wilderness not with the intent to destroy our brethren, but with the intent that perhaps we might save some few of their souls." (verse 25)
First day of tracting the new area was a bunch of blow offs. Being a fairly tiring week to begin with, we were less than excited to be rejected a million times. After the first few hours of no luck and more than a few uncomfortable cat calls by the local menfolk to me, we were tempted to become discouraged, tempted to believe that it maybe, just maybe, those testimonies about the hardness of the area could be true. But then I read Alma 26 again and thought like Ammon.
"Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success." (verse 27)
Take about a pep talk! So we squared our shoulders and tracted again the next day, determined to let these people know that we weren't going anywhere. Again, we had cause to be discouraged. Twice, while walking down and back up the same stretch of road, a woman shrieked horrific profanity at us. Sadly, she was proficient in English in this area, and I was so shocked that she was screaming at us - two sister missionaries minding their own business and just walking. But although this was cause to be discouraged, cause to "turn back", I felt a familiar sense of stubbornness take over me. They don't want me here? Well, I'm here to stay. They don't want to listen to me? Fine, I'll try the next house, and the one after that, and after that until I find that soul ready to receive the truth. This message is worth it - worth all the pain, sorrow, and rejection this area has to offer me.
"And we have entered into their houses and taught them, and we have taught them in their streets; yea, and we have taught them upon their hills; and we have also entered into their temples and their synagogues and taught them; and we have been cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon our cheeks; and we have been stoned, and taken and bound with strong cords, and cast into prison; and through the power and wisdom of God we have been delivered again.
And we have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some." (verses 29-30)
And you know what? We may not have been like Ammon and converted the city, but we're starting. We're determined to work. We found some people who may not be leaping for joy yet, but they're willing to listen. As we were walking out of a less actives home, I saw an old man reading the Bible in a chair outside. Though I didn't want to be involved in any Bible Bashing party, I felt like I should talk to him, and I've learned on the mission tonever discount that feeling. So, swallowing my fear and hesitancy and grabbing Sister Sanchez by the arm, I walked up to him and said hello. He invited us to sit down, introduced himself, and we began to talk. He's had missionary friends before from Ohio, years ago, and he said back then he wasn't exactly open to other religions. But now, he said, in his old age, he's studied a lot of different religions. He told us that he was searching for truth, and he doesn't feel like he's found it yet. Well, I smiled so big and asked him if we could come back to share with him, and he just nodded and told me we definitely could. What a blessing!
President told me during my interview with him that in order to be exactly obedient, sometimes you have to take the offensive. For example, if you're someone who hates waking up early (hemhem), and you're supposed to wake up at, you set your alarm for . Same with our work, as I've noticed. If we just work to work, we'll get results. But if we go out every single day with the determination and faith that we'll find those waiting people, we'll get miracles. We'll get true conversion. President also told me it all comes down to choice. I have the choice to be happy. I have the choice to work hard. I have the choice to not get discouraged. I have the choice to fight for what I know to be true. I have the choice to look sorrow and misery in the face and turn the other way.
I'm inspired by a story of John Taylor, the third prophet of this dispensation. I read it the other day and it just made me feel like climbing a mountain. Here it is:
In 1838, soon after his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, John Taylor traveled toward Far West, Missouri, to join the Saints. Along the way, he was scheduled to speak to a group near Columbus, Ohio. A little before the appointed time, some brethren brought news that a number of men had gathered at the meeting place and were plotting to tar and feather Elder Taylor. The brethren advised him to cancel the meeting because they were outnumbered and would not be able to protect him. However, Elder Taylor insisted he would go and preach as planned and would do so even if he had to go by himself.
When he reached the large crowd assembled to hear him, he proceeded to speak first about his having recently come from countries ruled by monarchs. He told them about the honor he felt of standing on free soil. In reference to how that freedom was achieved, he said: “Gentlemen, I now stand among men whose fathers fought for and obtained one of the greatest blessings ever conferred upon the human family—the right to think, to speak, to write; the right to say who shall govern them, and the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences—all of them sacred, human rights, and now guaranteed by the American Constitution. I see around me the sons of those noble sires, who, rather than bow to the behests of a tyrant, pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honors to burst those fetters, enjoy freedom themselves, bequeath it to their posterity, or die in the attempt.”
Elder Taylor then continued: “But, by the by, I have been informed that you purpose to tar and feather me, for my religious opinions. Is this the boon you have inherited from your fathers? Is this the blessing they purchased with their dearest hearts’ blood—this your liberty? If so, you now have a victim, and we will have an offering to the goddess of liberty.”
Having said that, he tore open his vest and exclaimed: “Gentlemen come on with your tar and feathers, your victim is ready; and ye shades of the venerable patriots, gaze upon the deeds of your degenerate sons! Come on, gentlemen! Come on, I say, I am ready!” Elder Taylor paused for a few minutes, but no one would move or speak. He then continued his remarks and preached to the crowd with boldness and power for three hours.
How can you not love that dedication? John Taylor is my newest personal hero. So when I'm tempted to feel discouraged, when I'm tempted to feel never good enough, when pain, health issues, rejection, home-sickness, or any other ailment comes my way? I'm with John Taylor on this one: "Come on, I say, I am ready!"
And then, when I've done this, my very best, when I've tracted every house in Malilipot with vigor and love and dedication to this message, then I can be like Ammon and say:
"Now behold, we can look forth and see the fruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many; yea, and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us." (verse 31)
So that's my missionary rant for this week. I hope all of you are safe, healthy, and that you know you are loved by so many people, particularly one tired, but bright-eyed sister missionary in the Philippines. You are all so amazing, and I miss you a lot. Embrace your inner John Taylor! You're awesome.
I LOVE YOU.