Sunday, October 26, 2014

My Decision to Serve (Farewell Talk)

Hallo, mijn naam is Zuster Jones.  Ik ben Mormoon.

That’s pretty much all I know how to say in Dutch so far.  But I can’t tell you how excited I am to learn this language, and to be able to teach people the gospel in this language.  In greek the word gospel translates to “good news” and I just feel so blessed to be given the opportunity to be able to spread the good news of Christ’s church being on the earth today to the people living in Belgium and the Netherlands.  They might not be able to understand the good news that I'm trying to proclaim for the first few months that I am there, but I am excited to share it in some way, shape or form. 

My brother and I when I received my call.
Today, I can tell you without a doubt that serving a mission is something I feel strongly about, and feel like it is something that I was definitely supposed to do.  But I struggled for a bit with the decision of going on a mission.  I’ve always known that I had a desire to go, but I was worried that I didn't want to go for the right reasons, or if serving a mission was something that I should do, if it was the right choice for me.  Living in Provo last year and going to BYU, it was very common for a freshman to talk about serving a mission, and I did not want to be one just to jump on the bandwagon. I wanted to make sure that it was personally something I thought I should do.

I felt like I got enough “maybe” answers though, that I went ahead and started preparing to serve. But I wasn’t confident in my decision. I felt like I hadn’t gotten an “ah-ha” moment, I felt like I hadn’t gotten a solid, clear answer that just put my soul to peace.

Looking back on it, I feel like I was having an attitude similar to that of Laman and Lemual.  I was waiting an angel to come down and smack me over the head and tell me exactly what to do.  I was scared to make a firm decision myself.

One day though, while I was preparing, I was kind of frustrated by a couple things that were going on, and I felt like I might be missing out on some opportunities by serving a mission.  And so I sat and started praying hard, if serving a mission was what I was supposed to do.  Not because I felt like it would be bad to do per say, but because I wanted to receive an answer that made me feel very firmly that this is what I was supposed to do, and when something happened, even if it was something small, it wouldn’t even faze me and I wouldn’t waver at all from my decision.  And I remember not even finishing that prayer, when I had to pause and I started remembering all the little, and honestly occasionally big, answers I had received to to this question I had prayed about many times.

I had been, to spin off a quote from Uchtdorf, doubting the promptings I was getting instead of doubting my doubts.  As I was sitting there I remembered all the countless blessings and promptings I had been getting that pushed me towards serving a mission.  I remembered when the announcement was made about the missionary age being lowered at the beginning of my senior year. It was at a time when I was feeling so overwhelmed with choices about my future, but at that moment when the announcement was made I remember feeling such… excitement and such peace, no anxiety.  I also realized what a blessing it was to be in the ward I was in Provo, full of Returned Sisters who showed me and told me all about the blessings of serving a full time mission.  Who were, and are, great examples to me, and who made me so excited to go serve.   I also remembered, one of my bigger prompting, in my summer ward last year when I was seriously debating about not serving a mission, one of the Bishop’s counselors pulled me aside to chat, and he asked if I was planning on going on a mission and I told him that well, I had thought about it.  And then he very enthusiastically told me that they wanted to give me a calling having to do with missionary work.  I remember just thinking, are you kidding me?  I definitely started thinking about going on a mission again.  These are just a few examples where I had been given blessings and promptings, that after a few days I would forget how strong and sure they felt when I originally received them.  To put a cherry on top of it all, that evening I was helping a friend of mine pack up for a move and we came across a little short story she wrote back in middle school about how she pictured herself in 10 years.  In it, she wrote about receiving a phone call “from her dear Mormon friend who was currently serving as a missionary.”  Apparently I was so thrilled to tell her that I had met someone where I was at and we had just gotten engaged.  I realized then that not only I really had to explain the missionary rules a little more to one of my best friends, but it also added to the list of all the moments, and answers to my question. 

I didn’t receive a single “ah-ha” answer.  But I had received promptings to serve, and then while I was acting on this promptings and prepared to serve I became more firm and sure of my decision.
Richard G. Scott has said: “When we seek inspiration to help make decisions, the Lord gives gentle promptings. These require us to think, to exercise faith, to work, to struggle at times, and to act. Seldom does the whole answer to a decisively important matter or complex problem come all at once. More often, it comes a piece at a time, without the end in sight.”

It is important to act on gentle promptings from the Lord. God guides and directs us, but he doesn’t typical steal the reigns from us. 

Grant E. Baron, who was the director of teaching at the Provo MTC way back in 1996, back when I was all of 12 months old, he told a story about a missionary who had came to him because he felt like he wasn’t receiving any answers to his prayers.  "He was worried that the voice of the Spirit might be so soft and unclear that its message could be difficult to discern." Baron recalls.  "I asked the missionary: 'Why must the voice of the Spirit be so still and small? Why doesn’t the Lord simply write with his finger on your wall every morning the names of those he wants you to visit?'”
“Well,” the elder answered thoughtfully, “I suppose if the Lord did that, I wouldn’t have to make any effort myself. I would be living by knowledge and wouldn’t have to develop faith. I wouldn’t have to listen to the Spirit.”
Baron continues to say that "immediate divine intervention to solve every problem would invalidate the test that earth life was designed to be. Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote: “It is not, never has been, and never will be the design and purpose of the Lord—however much we seek him in prayer—to answer all our problems and concerns without struggle and effort on our part. This mortality is a probationary estate. … We are being tested to see how we will respond in various situations; how we will decide issues; what course we will pursue while we are here walking, not by sight, but by faith”

By making decisions by follow promptings we have been given we develop this faith.  We are also using the gift of agency we have been given.   If the Lord did simply write on your wall all that he wanted you to do, we not only would decrease our growth in faith, but it would also in a sense take away the agency that we fought so hard to have in our premortal life.  To quote Richard G. Scott: “OurHeavenly Father did not put us on earth to fail but to succeed gloriously. It may seem paradoxical, but that is why recognizing answers to prayer can sometimes be very difficult.”

As long we are living our lives righteously, and are striving to make righteous decisions, if we come to the Lord for help, he will help guide us.  It might not always come in the way we want or expect it to, but He will answer our prayers.

Baron also testified that “One of the beautiful truths of the gospel is that our Father in Heaven is very close and responsive to all who earnestly pray to him. ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth’… the reassuring message of the scriptures is that all who pray in faith for divine assistance, asking for that which is right, will be answered in some way. The promise is sure. Our challenge is to discern our Father’s abundant and varied responses.”

And that is one thing I gained a strong testimony for while preparing to serve, is that the Lord does listen and does answer your prayers.  You are a child of God, and God loves you.  I don’t know how he does, and how he could possibly listen to every single prayer uttered, but he does.  And he cares about you and your concerns.

Another thing I learned while preparing to serve is just how blessed I am.  I love the hymn “Because I have been given much, I too must give.”  It is something I have thought a lot about while preparing to serve.

My siblings and cousin are something that I'm especially grateful for

 18 months is nothing considering how much the Lord has blessed me in my 19 years.  I am so thankful for the parents I have, who have not only taught me that “I can do hard things” but have pushed me and encouraged me to do hard things.”  I am grateful for my wonderful friends in my life, who have supported me in some many ways.  Including supporting me in this decision to go on a mission, even though they don’t share my faith.  I received a phone call this morning from one of my best friends who’s in the Middle East right now, just to quickly wish me good luck and say some encouraging words.  I cannot express how bless I feel for that friendship, and for the others I have in my life.  They have helped me grow and have shaped me into the person I am today.

I am grateful for having grown up in this gospel, and the guidience I have had in my life.  In 2 Corintians 4:13 it reads: “we also believe, therefore speak.”  Because I have grown up in this gospel, and I know the blessings from this gospel, how can I keep my mouth shut?  Because I believe, I will speak.  And I will be praying for the Lord to help me speak.

I would like to add my testimony that I know that Christ lives.  I know that he is my Savior, and that he loves me and I love him.  I know that the Bible is the word of God, and that the Book of Mormon is as well and that it is another testament of Jesus Christ.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve Christ as a full time missionary in Europe.

I also know that families are forever, and I am so grateful for mine.

"You're becoming a what now?"

"What's a Zuster?"

Zuster is dutch for "Sister" which is a title that female missionaries use.

"'Sister?'  You mean like you call a nun a sister?"

Yeah, I guess you could say that.  In some ways the idea of being a sister missionary is similar to the idea of being a temporary nun for 18 months.  The idea is that we are dedicating that time to the Lord.  During those 18 months you have no days off (you do have one day a week called Preparation Day, or Pday, though to write letters and emails back home, do laundry, etc.), and you do have rules that might sound similar to a temporary nun (no romantic relationships on the mission field for instance.)  But we don't believe we are marrying Christ.  So maybe not quite like a nun...

Elder Bruce R. McConkie explains what an LDS missionary is better than I can:  

"I am called of God.... By revelation I have been selected as a personal representative of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He is my master and He has chosen me to represent Him--to stand in His place, to say and do what He Himself would say and do if He personally were ministering to the very people to whom He has sent me.
My voice is His voice, and my acts are His acts; my doctrine is His doctrine.
My Commission is to do what He wants done; To say what He wants said; to be a living modern witness in word and in deed of the divinity of his great and marvelous Latter-day work.
How great is my calling!"

As I missionary, I want to spread the gospel - the good news of Christ's church being on the earth today! - to anyone interested in hearing it.  I want to dedicate these 18 months to the Lord, and "to say what he wants said."  Words cannot express how excited I am and grateful to be given the opportunity to teach about this great news in Belgium and in the Netherlands.

If you want to learn more about the history of sister missionaries, here's a really interesting, short video about some of the first sister missionaries:

If you want to meet with some missionaries go here.