Hello brothers and sisters, my name is Jakob Hanson for those of you who have forgotten or are new. I know it's been awhile since I last spoke here, and after returning to a ward I have almost no familiarity with, it's good to see some familiar faces.
Anyways, as I'm sure some of you know, I recently returned from serving a mission, which covers southeastern Washington, as well as some of northeastern Oregon, centered in an area referred to as the trip-cities.
I should clarify before anyone starts thinking I served in lush forested areas, unfortunately, "The evergreen state" only refers Western Washington. I served in what is essentially a desert, and the summer climate attests to that, the hottest I experienced was 118 degrees , which was certainly hotter than I was used to. In Contrast, in the winter the coldest I saw things get was around 4 degrees. And having grown up in Southern California, I thought having actual winters was pretty cool.
Despite the desert heat, I absolutely loved these last 2 years of my life as I've given everything to the service of my Savior, losing myself in the service of my fellow beings, and growing charity for complete strangers.
I've been given a lot of liberty with my topic today being to share experiences I had on my mission, so I'll be tying those together with some of the most important things my mission taught me.
To start off, one of the first things I began to learn as a missionary was how to trust in the Lord's timing. Going into the mission field, I wasn't expecting to know everything right off the bat, or to do things perfectly, but that still wasn't enough preparation to rely on the Lord's help and timing.
As I would quickly come to learn, there was a limit to how much I could do of myself, and my efforts alone were not what ultimately brought people closer to Jesus Christ. Those people also had to first have a desire to grow closer to Christ.
There's a scripture that talks about this, Alma 32:27
While there were those who the Lord had prepared for us to find and teach, I came to realize not all were at the point in God's plan for them where they were ready to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which was hard for me to accept. There was a particularly hard point for me where 2 of the most progressing people we'd been teaching had both dropped us out of nowhere in the span of a week. My companion and I had done everything we could to help these people, but their hearts were not yet ready to receive the Gospel, and we had to respect their request to stop meeting with us. This did not mean that they would never join the church, just because we were not the missionaries to baptize them did not mean we did not help them move closer to their Savior.
There's a section I'll quote from the 9th chapter of the first edition of Preach my Gospel that I think sums this up perfectly. "No Effort is Wasted."
When people choose not to learn more about the restored gospel, your work is not wasted. Your consistent efforts in serving and teaching as many people as you can are one way God prepares His children to eventually receive His servants. He often reaches out to His children through you. Even when people do not accept the opportunity to learn the gospel, your service and words are evidence of God's Love for them and may plant seeds that future missionaries and members of the Church will harvest.
When people do not accept the gospel, do not be discouraged. You have raised a warning voice. You have given them a clear choice. Disciples of Christ feel sorrow when people choose not to repent, but they maintain a vision of who they are and what they are doing. They continue to diligently move forward.
I found out towards the end of my mission that one of the two people was meeting with the missionaries again. The Lord's timing is wonderful to see in action, and as we come to trust in Him and His timing, we begin to recognize blessings where we might otherwise find grief.
2. Building off of that, another thing I came to learn more throughout my mission was how to rely on the Spirit, as well as the importance of relying on the Spirit. A passage in the Doctrine and Covenants (D & C 42:14) instructs us that in the Church we are not to teach unless we receive the Spirit. And a passage from the section "Relying on the Spirit" in Preach my gospel Chapter 4 says the following
"Humbly put your confidence and faith in Jesus Christ, not in yourself. Rely on the Spirit rather than your own talents and abilities."
So It's clear that the Spirit is a crucial aspect of teaching others or guiding others closer to Jesus Christ. This may seem apparent, but in the moment it can be incredibly easy to just rely on your own knowledge, when the Spirit can help you know exactly what will help those you teach progress most towards Jesus Christ.
But how do we actually rely on the Spirit? How do I know it's not just a thought I'm having? How can I know with 100 percent certainty that I'm receiving a prompting? Unfortunately, I can only really answer that first question, however, there's a really good devotional given by Elder David A. Bender on YouTube simply titled "quit worrying about it" that adresses these questions really well. I won't summarize his talk, but I'll illustrate the point of his message with a story of my own.
In the second transfer of my mission, my trainer and I helped this couple load up a moving van for service. I remember it was a very long and laborious process, longer than we'd expected, and we very reasonably could have been frustrated. Toward the end of the process, there was an ornate mirror that I was wrapping so as to protect it from damage during the move. Realizing it was probably pretty old and could have sentimental value, I very meticulously placed it in the moving truck and protected it so it wouldn't be damaged. Not thinking much of this, I continued to work until we'd finished, and we said goodbye to the family before heading back home to get cleaned up for the day. I quickly forgot about this experience, and continued on with other missionary work.
Fast forward over a year later, and I find myself transferred to a new area, and not 2 weeks after arriving, we get a referral for a lady named Heather Isaman. As I'm sure you can guess, she was the mother of this family I had helped move. Having long forgotten the details of the move, she proceeded to explain how the way I had handled her grandmother's mirror had touched her, and the help we'd given in the move, in addition to a friend of hers who was a member of the Church, had helped her to reach out to the missionaries at that time.
Now, had I identified a prompting when we were helping them move, did I handle her grandmother's mirror with care because I'd recognized the spirit? Or was I simply doing what I normally would and overanalyzing things, and it happened to make an impression on this person? Elder Bednar's answer, "Quit worrying about it."
There's a scripture I've come to love in the Book of Mormon which boils this down incredibly simply, found in Moroni 7:12-13
In other words, if we are striving to do good continually, keeping the commandments, and seeking to follow our Savior, we have the assurance that the Spirit will inspire us to not only do that which is good, but that which is right.
3. The last two points I'll talk on are both related to the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which I can't hope to fully convey my feelings on in such a short time. I learned a lot about the Atonement on my Mission, and I gained more of an understanding than I ever had of the magnitude of this Blessing that our Savior has given to us.
The first power of the Atonement I'll talk about is the power it gives us to be forgiven. This is what most of us think of when we hear the word Atonement in the church. I'll admit that while I'd known from Sunday School that the Atonement allowed us to repent and be forgiven, for the longest time I had next to no idea what exactly that entailed.
On my mission it became very important to me that I gain a better understanding of the Atonement so that I could help the people I was teaching gain an understanding of it as well, and apply it in their lives. One of the best resources I could find on applying the Atonement and repentance was the Addiction Recovery manual, which gives one of the most comprehensive walkthroughs of how the repentance process goes, even if you aren't caught by an addiction.
There's few things that give you an appreciation for the gift of the Atonement quite like seeing it affect the lives of those you are serving. Being able to see the change for the better as people strive to draw closer to their Savior and live His Gospel was one of the greatest witnesses I had of the mission I was on.
As an example, I'l share a story of a man I taught who I became very good friends with who I was able to help work toward baptism. His name was Juan, and every visit we had, it seemed like we'd talk about some fight he'd (or almost had) at work that day, and I'm not just talking about throwing words. He was very much quick to anger, and he also worked alongside people who didn't make for the most constructive work environment. But as we continued teaching him, the change I was able to see in him was dramatic. The stories we started hearing moved away from what he had done, to what he had chosen not to do, and although he still didn't like most of his coworkers, he grew so much in patience, still working on the loving part, but he's working nonetheless. Once a quick to anger, vision-goes-red, "I'll end this myself" kind of guy, now he's very active in the church, is sealed to his wife, and had the opportunity to baptize his daughter.
4. That also leads me into the other power of the Atonement I learned to appreciate during my mission, that being the enabling power of the Atonement. Over the course of my mission, I came to learn that the Atonement does not exist solely to cleanse us of our sins, but also serves to provide us with a source of strength in overcoming our afflictions, shortcomings, and trials.
In Alma 7:11-12 we read, That strength is available to us, but we must diligently seek for it through prayer. We must "Come unto Him." As we continually pray for the strength to change, to become more like Christ, and diligently labor to be changed, I know that we will receive the strength needed to do so.
I'll use someone I was teaching in the last area I served in as an example. Justice is a guy I met while I was serving in Prosser. He had a desire to draw closer to God, but was not in the best circumstances for a number of reasons. We kept inviting him to come to church, promising him the blessings that come with that, but things would always seem to come up. Eventually in one of our visits, he brought up a job interview that he had coming up that he was really worried about, as it would help him support his family much better. We invited him to pray for help in that instance, and he said one of the most heartfelt prayers I've heard in my life. I felt the spirit so strong in that moment, and I know he did as well. A couple days later, he landed the job he'd strengthened his testimony of Prayer, and helped him to later pray for and receive opportunities to come to church.
I know that as we Trust in the Timing of the Lord, rely on the Spirit, and apply both the forgiving and enabling power of the Atonement in our lives we not only will grow closer to our Savior, but will also help others do the same.