President's Pen 6-18-18 (Taste the Fruit)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! From the inspired teaching of Elder Holland, “The Atonement will carry the missionaries perhaps even more importantly than it will carry the investigators. When you struggle, when you are rejected, when you are spit upon and cast out and made a hiss and a byword, you are standing with the best life this world has ever known, the only pure and perfect life ever lived. You have reason to stand tall and be grateful that the Living Son of the Living God knows all about your sorrows and afflictions. The only way to salvation is through Gethsemane and on to Calvary. The only way to eternity is through Him—the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  Stand tall with the Savior dear Elders & Sisters, and be grateful!

Of all that I have taught during our missionary service, my favorite doctrine to teach is that of the Savior’s Atonement.  I don’t profess to know much, but what I do know and have come to deeply love is my personal witness that the Savior atoned for me.  Of all things I am grateful for, and of all truths that I take with me, I take 100% assurance in what Alma taught, “there is one thing which is of more importance than they all—for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people.” (Alma 7:11)

When your first arrived to the mission field we reviewed page two of Preach My Gospel and underlined this sentence, “As your understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ grows, your desire to share the gospel will increase.”  Not only have I come to believe this is true, but I’ve seen it fill the hearts and minds of the many missionaries we’ve been blessed to serve with.  When a missionary has come to personally know for themselves that Jesus Christ is their Savior and Redeemer, there is more energy in their step, more drive and purpose in opening their mouths, and the Savior truly becomes the center of all they teach. 

As we read this great statement in PMG, I ask you to turn with me to Lehi’s personal experience of how he tasted the fruit of the Atonement.  In his own words he says, “And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy. And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.” (1 Nephi 8:10-11)  As we study this experience we learn that the Savior is the tree of life and that the fruit Lehi partook of was the fruit of His infinite and loving Atonement. 

It is not hard to imagine why Lehi’s experience of tasting the fruit of the Savior’s Atonement would make one happy, would be so sweet, so white, and fill him with joy.  In absence of the Atonement, we are subject to death, to sin, to sorrow, misery and captivity.  There is no peace, no forgiveness, no joy, and we are all subjects to the devil.  Without the Savior and His Atonement there is no purpose to life and we are forever cut off from the presence of the Father.   

As we review the amazing and precious fruit of the Savior’s Atonement, I ask each of you to ponder how you’ve tasted the fruit.  I find that many missionaries have a knowledge of the Atonement, but personalizing it based on their own life experiences is often lacking.  When missionaries share how they have felt forgiven, have obtained hope, felt peace, were given strength through His grace, felt healed, and felt joy, I see the lights turn on in their hearts and minds.  For many it is the first time they realize that they have actually experienced the Savior’s Atonement in a real and personal way.  It no longer appears distant, but something that they have felt, applied, and can speak to.  Their faith in the Savior increases and they come to understand more fully that it is individual and personalized to them.

We then turn to the scriptures to learn how those that have come to taste of the fruit have a greater desire to share it.  We know that after Lehi partook he was desirous to share it with his family. (1 Nephi 8:12)  Enos, having tasted the fruit of forgiveness and a remission of his sins desires nothing more than to share it with his brethren the Nephites. (Enos 9 & 19)  Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah, following their miraculous conversion experience, desire to spend all their days teaching and sharing the fruits of the Savior’s love and mercy with all who would listen.  (Mosiah 27:32 & 28:3)  Zeezrom, having tasted the fruit of forgiveness and healing is baptized and immediately goes to share his experience and love for the Savior.  (Alma 15:12) King Lamoni, having also come to sing the song of redeeming love wants all of his people to experience what he has felt and learned. (Alma 19:31)  How many other experiences like these have you come to find in the scriptures?

These few, but powerful examples, stand as a witness that, “As your understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ grows, your desire to share the gospel will increase.”  I ask you today elders and sisters if you are spending the time to more fully understand the Savior’s Atonement, taste of the fruit, and have an increasing desire to share what you’ve come to know and feel.  We invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  The centerpiece of what we teach is our relationship to the Savior, He is the one thing of most importance, and He will soon come again among his people!  You find, teach, and invite to the end that people will come unto Christ, accept Him as their Savior and Redeemer, make covenants, and follow in His ways.

Without faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement why would anyone choose to repent, make covenants, or desire to endure to the end?  Why be baptized for a remission of sins, why receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, attend church, pray, and study the scriptures?  All we teach, all we testify of, all we invite men and women to do is an appendage to the Savior and His loving Atonement.  This is why we invite in His name, promise blessings in His name, pray in His name, and do all things in His name.  As Nephi taught so well, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”  

As Elder Neil A. Anderson taught the missionaries in 2016, “Ask yourself, “What do I really believe about the Savior’s Atonement? Am I personally experiencing the Atonement?” He then goes on to promise, “By increasing your understanding of the Atonement, your effectiveness as a missionary will increase.” Unless we personally come to understand Him, His love, mercy, forgiveness, grace, healing, hope, joy, and peace, we will talk of Christ, but we won’t do it with the same power and authority that will carry it unto the hearts of those we teach.  If we want to lose ourselves in the work, focus on our purpose, and become the missionaries God needs us to be, we need to have the Savior’s name on our lips and declare how we’ve personally tasted this most desirous of all fruit.

The Savior’s Atonement can be experienced by everyone of us each day if we will but recognize it… When you pray to the Father in the Savior’s name, you taste the fruit.  When you struggle, feel inadequate, weak, and hopeless, and rely on His grace, you taste the fruit.  When you seek daily change through repentance you taste the fruit.  When you wake up every morning and are able to bear with patience your afflictions, feel succored, and are granted any success, you taste the fruit.  How else have you tasted of the fruit and how are you recognizing it?  Elders & Sisters, your daily breath is a manifestation of the Savior’s Atonement in your life.  I invite  you today to see it, feel it, taste it, and come to understand that it is infinite is scope, breadth, depth, and personal to each of you.

I know and testify that the Savior came to the world to do the will of the Father.  He drank the bitter cup of death, sin, pain, affliction, and of all infirmities so I can overcome the effects of the fall.  He knows me perfectly, wept and bled for me in the Garden of Gethsemane, arose from the tomb on the third day by the power of the resurrection.  I have put all my faith, hope, trust, and assurance in Him.  Without Him I have nothing, and with Him I have everything.   I know He lives and I testify that He loves each of you and all of the those we have come to bless in Houston perfectly.  Men and women can’t access His grace and His Atonement without your help.  I invite you to come to understand His Atonement so that you too will have a greater desire to share it.  I have tasted the fruit, know of its sweetness, and love to share it so others can partake as well.  Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 6-11-18 (Follow the Keys)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya!  “In this work there must be commitment. There must be devotion. We are engaged in a great eternal struggle that concerns the very souls of the sons and daughters of God. We are not losing. We are winning. We will continue to win if we will be faithful and true. We can do it. We must do it. We will do it. There is nothing the Lord has asked of us that in faith we cannot accomplish.” (Gordon B. Hinckley)  So true and so grateful we have all been called to teach repentance and to baptize converts!

In just a few short weeks, a miracle of how the Lord’s restored Church operates will occur.  The peaceful transition of one mission president to another will take place, and the Lord’s work will continue to move forward.  This smooth transition takes place in every leadership position in the Church, from the prophets, seers, and revelators, to the stake presidents, temple presidents, bishops, relief society, young women, primary, and elders quorum presidents.  There are no hard feelings, no political wrangling, or attempts to block what the Lord desires for His work and His children.  We sustain, we support, we raised our hands to the square, and we go to work. 

What makes this transition so powerful is understanding the nature of priesthood keys.  As we all know, the Savior is at the head of His Church and He holds all keys… He guides, directs, and leads it day to day to help bring to pass the work and glory of the Father; immortality and eternal life.  When the Savior restored His church to the earth, He sent heavenly messengers to first, restore the priesthood, and second, to restore the keys to direct the use of the priesthood.  Simply said, the priesthood is the power and authority of God delegated to man. Priesthood keys are the right to direct the use of that power in specific ways.

For the Lord’s work to be directed in His way, we align ourselves to those who hold the keys.  The living prophet aligns himself to the Lord and directs the work for the Church.  A temple president directs the work of salvation inside the temple.  A stake president directs the work of salvation within the stake, including the keys of missionary work.  A mission president, using his keys, directs the work of the missionaries and convert baptisms.  All keys must be aligned in order for the work to be effective.  Temple presidents, stake presidents, and mission presidents work together under the direction of living prophets, seers, and revelators and when they do, the power of the priesthood flows into the lives of families and individuals. 

A way to think of how priesthood keys are aligned is found in the example of a power circuit.   When you plug a power strip into the wall, it draws upon the electrical power and feeds it to each circuit.  When the circuits are aligned, power flows all the way to the end of the row.  If the circuit is broken, power stops flowing into it and it is rendered useless.  This is also true for those that hold and exercise priesthood keys, there must be alignment for power to flow (from the Savior to each leader who holds keys).  For this reason, there are coordinating councils (led by area seventy,  including all stake presidents, the temple president, and mission president for that area) where priesthood leaders gather together to align keys.  

As a priesthood leader is called, keys are given that authorize them to direct, control, and govern the use of the Lord’s priesthood on the earth (especially in the ordinances).  Those who fall under keys, the ward congregation for a bishop, a quorum for an elders quorum president, or missionaries to a mission president, are wise to align themselves to the instruction and direction of their leaders so God’s power can freely flow into their lives.  As Elder M. Russell Ballard taught, “Those who have priesthood keys … literally make it possible for all who serve faithfully under their direction to exercise priesthood authority and have access to priesthood power.”   I would like you all to read Elder Oaks talk by going to the following link… Keys and the Authority of the Priesthood

When I was called to serve as a mission president, Elder David A. Bednar of the Twelve, laid his hands upon my head and gave me the keys to direct and preside over the Texas Houston South Mission.  In just a few weeks, President Guthrie will likewise receive keys from an apostle of the Lord to continue directing the work here in the Great THSM.  When President Guthrie walks off the plane here in Houston on June 29th, he will hold the keys to direct you and you efforts to teach repentance and baptize converts.  Imagine that the keys come directly from the Savior, to the prophets seers and revelators, and directly to a mission president.  That is amazing!  If you want to be blessed, follow the counsel you receive at the hands of those who hold the keys.

When changes like this occur, it is natural to feel excitement and to wonder how and what President Guthrie will do to bless and direct the mission.  It is important for you to recognize that his direction, his inspiration, including any changes he decides to make, will come as he exercises priesthood keys.  The work in and of itself with stay the same, it’s the same gospel, we need to find, teach powerfully, and do all we can to invite others unto Christ.  You may not see many significant changes in the beginning, but in time, he will direct you based on impressions and in coordination local leaders as they align their keys.  I want you to embrace these changes fully, don’t hold back from offering your full support and effort on what he decides to do; this is how true power will flow into the work you are assigned to do.  His style will be unique, it will be his, and the Lord has called him, qualified him, and he will be anxious to bless, love, and serve you with his full heart, might, mind and strength. 

One of the great blessings that you’ll experience as a new mission president arrives is that you all get a fresh start.  As he begins and I exit, we will hold a brief meeting to discuss some administrative items such as budgets, systems and tools, and activities in the office.  We will not, however, discuss any of you individually.  I will simply tell him you are the world’s best missionaries (because it’s true!), that you are 100% obedient, engaged in the work, and excited to sustain and support him.  He will not know of past challenges or difficulties, unless there are health concerns that he needs to be aware of.  With that fresh start, and in his eyes, you will be the most consecrated, 4th missionary, second employee missionaries he’s ever met.  I have sent him all your pictures, he’ll be memorizing your names, and he will love you as I have loved you.  While I know you’ve been amazing for me, I know you’ll be even more amazing, supportive, and prepared to align to him.  It will be up to you should you choose to give him any impressions or actions that will be contrary to being the best missionary you can be.  Be awesome!

For some of you the change will be hard, simply because change is hard.  We know you love Sister Hall and me, I feel your prayers and I love you all like my own.  You will forever be ours and a change in leadership doesn’t decrease or minimize how we feel for you.  What I invite you to do is to recognize that love is exponential.  There is no limit to who we can love, how we love them, or how we let them into our hearts.  It is not a competition to see who we love more or less or if one is better than another.  You will love the Guthrie’s for who they are, for their unique talents and abilities, and for what they will do to love and bless you.  The love you will develop and have for them will not minimize, threaten, or be upsetting in any way to us, we want you to love them and give them all you have!  Please avoid saying things such as, “President Hall did it this way, or why are we going to change that, or I’m going to do it the old way.”  You will need to align to his keys, embrace his direction, and serve the Lord with all your heart if you desire to have power flow into your efforts.  

Elders & Sisters, this is God’s work, not the work of a mission president, local leaders, or of any man.  Leaders are called to assist the Lord, we are nothing without Him, and it’s a miracle that we’re called to serve in the vineyard with Him to begin with.  Leaders will come and go, they will do their best, but ultimately it is up to us to follow their counsel and to align our hearts, minds and will to the Lord.  I invite you to begin praying for President and Sister Guthrie each day and for their family.  They need your prayers as they begin this amazing journey of serving here in the Great THSM!  This is a big change for them too and they are as nervous and excited as you are.  They will do an amazing job and lift the mission to new heights.  My greatest desire is for you to be at peace with the change, to look forward with excitement, to follow priesthood keys, and most importantly to focus on your purpose of inviting and helping all come unto Christ. 

I love each of you with my whole soul.  The Lord has blessed us more than I can describe as we’ve served with you.  It is hard to leave, hard to go back to doing anything but missionary work, you will all feel this.  I was blessed by Elder Bednar to have the gift of gratitude.  I feel it now, and it helps me as we transition to other great things the Lord will have in store for us.  Thanks for your goodness, for your sacrifice, and for your willingness to serve the Lord. We honor and love you and for the next few weeks let’s continue to be urgent, tenacious, diligent, and purposeful and then please keep that Spirit and effort as the Guthrie’s arrive and beyond.  Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 6-4-18 (Houston, We have a problem)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

 Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya!  "My mission belongs to the Lord.  With all my heart I give my energy and my time to the Master because I love him.  Therefore, I'm going to look at every day not as mine, but as His.  And I will treat each minute of His time with respect and focus and the dedication that it deserves."  I love this quote from Elder Ballard and pray that this is the way we will all feel and serve as we show our love to the Lord.

On April 14th, 1970, these famous words were communicated to NASA’s mission control here in Houston… Apollo 13 Astronauts: “Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here.”  Houston replies: “This is Houston. Say again please.” Apollo 13 Astronauts: “Houston, we've had a problem.” Imagine being 205,000 miles away from the earth, on your way to the moon, and having everything go wrong.  A large explosion had rocked the Apollo 13 spacecraft, the oxygen tanks that would sustain life were being drained, and power and communication were failing.  “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” seems like a massive understatement for three astronauts whose lives were in jeopardy. 

Problems in life are all around us, we feel, see, and experience them seemingly every day.  Our perception of problems and how we work through them vary in urgency and reaction depending on the situation and what’s at stake.  We have first world problems defined as, “a usually minor or trivial problem or annoyance experienced by people in relatively affluent or privileged circumstances.” (wifi is down)  And in contrast, third world problems, “problems of greater social significance facing people in poor and underdeveloped parts of the world.” (lack of food, water, education, health)  The majority of our problems day to day represent first world problems, and yet, there are those who see every problem as Apollo 13 (life is coming to an end, imminent death is certain). Perspective and our perception is everything!

I love what we learn in the scriptures regarding problems and the brother of Jared’s experience with the Lord.  As you all know, the brother of Jared is commanded to build a ship according to the Lord’s specifications.  Upon completing the vessels, the brother of Jared has a “Houston, we have a problem” moment; we don’t have any light in these fancy ships!  “And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?” (Ether 2:22)

I can only imagine at times what the Lord must be thinking when we have our “Houston, we have a problem!” moments.  He surely must have a wonderful sense of humor and great patience for all of us when we cry out with every problem under the heavens and earth.  The Lord smiles (in my eyes :) as he replies to the brother of Jared, “And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” (Ether 2:23) In other words, “So yes, brother of Jared, you do have a problem, how can I help you?”

The Lord then goes on to list every possible problem; you can’t have windows, you can’t light fires, the mountain of waves will dash upon you. (Ether 2:23)   The brother of Jared must be thinking, “Oh gee, thanks, I thought it was bad, but it’s worse than I thought!”  The Lord in His infinite kindness, however, reassures the brother of Jared and says, “Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.  And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come”  In other words, I’ll take care of you, be at peace, but He then asks, “Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” (Ether 2:25)

I find it interesting that in scripture I never see the Lord solve our problems… He helps us work through them, gives us strength, reassures us, but then allows us to find solutions.  This was true for Nephi and the brass plates, King Limhi and his people, Alma and his people, Ammon and his people, and on and on.  We know that the brother of Jared decided to go to the mount (symbolic of going to the temple) where he fashioned 16 small stones out of a rock.  He stayed at the mount, problem solved, and then came to the Lord with a solution on how he would have Him provide light as they crossed the sea.   It took time, work, and effort for the brother of Jared to do his part, and then the Lord willingly helped him.

We learn many important problem solving principles from the experience the brother of Jared has with the Lord (language problems, family and friend problems, where to live problems).  Among all of them, one of my favorites is what the brother of Jared says in his prayer, “And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man...”  (Ether 3:4)  The Lord could clearly step in at any time and take away our challenges, but for our benefit, He doesn’t.   He has power to do whatever we need, but He allows us to stumble and fall, fail, and keep learning, progressing, and growing.  He sees our problems as moments in time, as opportunities to lean upon Him, trust Him, and as He taught the Prophet Joseph, “know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7) 

We all want the silver bullets, the quick fixes, and the easy outs.  The reality is life is complex, there is opposition, and problems are a part of what mortality is all about.  Your opportunity is to be one who goes to the Lord, shares your problems, but then tells Him your plan and what you’re going to do about it.  Nothing is too big or too small, but He wants us to use the power that it within us to figure things out, to reason, to think, to study it out in our minds.  You get very little out of something when you put no time, effort, or attention to it and alternatively you come away with knowledge, experience, and great satisfaction when you can work things out.  How often do we ask to have problems solved before spending any time on them?

So, what do we do… When investigators don’t come to church, read, or pray, do we say, “Houston, we have a problem!”  No, we determine what the needs are, what the obstacles might be, we get to the root of it, we problem solve with them (not for them) and we create plans with them.  When you and your companion don’t see eye to eye do we say, “Houston, we have a problem!” No, we come back to our common purpose, we communicate safely, openly, kindly, and come to mutually agreeable solutions together.  When the members seemingly don’t do their part do we say, “Houston, we have a problem!”  No, we love them first, we earn their trust, we teach them, serve them, and invite them to join with us and help them share the gospel.  Life is full of “Houston, we have a problem!” moments.  We have challenges, big and small, but we can find solutions and the Lord will always be there to give us light and direction, bank on it! “And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments…” (1 Ne 17:13)

A few brief ideas when working through problems… First, identify the facts, know what the problem actually is.  Is it real, is it imagined, is it first world, is it yours to solve?  Second, begin by listing the possible solutions and get creative (brainstorm).  The more solutions, the more revelation will come. Third, evaluate the options by determining the pros and cons, the pluses and minuses.  Fourth, choose an option or options and make a plan to carry them out.  Fifth, implement your plan, monitor your progress and evaluate.  Not every problem has an immediate solution, and it is often necessary to account for time, the agency of others, and if its within your control.  We also need to remember, especially when it comes to people, President Monson’s counsel, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”

Elders and Sisters, as missionaries we are problem solvers, we are solution finders, we are obstacle removers, and hurdle handlers.  We do this for ourselves and we help those we’ve come to serve overcome their spiritual problems in life.  Not all problems are Apollo 13 in nature, let’s be optimistic and not doomsayers when the wifi goes down. ☺  We are meant to experience “Houston, we have a problem!” moments.  When we do, we know that the Lord is always preparing a way, He expects us to work through them, find solutions, seek His counsel, do the best we can, and know that light will come. 

I invite you today to consider any “Houston, we have a problem!” issues you’re experiencing.  Whether it is within your own life, with your investigators, or challenges at home.  What does the Lord want you to experience, what is there to learn, how can you find solutions for them?  Are you willing to accept the Lord’s timing and be patient as we endure them?  I testify in the name of Jesus Christ that the Lord knows your needs, He knows how to bless you, the power is within you to manage life’s problems.  Let us all trust in the Lord when our “Houston, we have a problem!” moments come.  Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 5-28-18 (Be Wise)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! From the inspired words of Elder Holland, “God is eagerly waiting for the chance to answer your prayers and fulfill your dreams, just as He always has. But He can't if you don't pray, and He can't if you don't dream. In short, He can't if you don't believe.”  I believe Elders & Sisters!  I know this is God’s work and that He has prepared hearts and minds to receive you.  Pray with faith, with real intent, and then believe He can and will help you accomplish your dreams!

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” I love this quote and think of it often when I remember Jacob’s teaching to his people, “O be wise; what can I say more?” (Jacob 6:22)  As we come to learn the gospel of Jesus Christ, we understand that knowing is not enough, it is in the application or living the gospel (wisdom) where the miracle of conversion takes place.  As Nephi taught, “But to be learned is good if they hearken (listen and obey) unto the counsels of God.” (2 Ne 9:29)  King Benjamin also added to this teaching when he said, “and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.” (Mosiah 4:10)

In the grand council in heaven we learned that an important purpose of our mortal existence was to be proven, “…to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them…” (Abraham 3:25)  The blessing of mortality is applying the gift of agency that was preserved and maintained through the Savior’s loving Atonement.  It is the one gift that will never be taken from us, and yet, it is the one gift that the Father asks us to return as we submit our will to His commandments.  As Elder Neil A. Maxwell taught, “the submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we “give,” brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”

Wisdom, as I begin to understand it more fully, helps me realize that when I come to know and learn God’s will (commandments), the only logical and clear choice is to do/act/submit to whatever I’m asked to do.  It will always bless me to keep God’s commandments, to love Him, and in return, I receive the innumerable blessings He wants to give me.  Wisdom is found in obedience, in submitting my will.  I know, and therefore, it would be wise for me to go and do.  For this reason, I believe Nephi was wise when he said, “I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Ne 3:7) 

When I know following the Lord’s path is best, I love how Lehi’s teaching expresses the wisdom behind it, “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Ne. 2:27).  Here we see the grand plan of salvation taught plainly and the wisdom behind it…. Be obedient, choose well, have eternal life or be disobedient, do it your way, choose captivity and misery.  The choice is ours and Lehi’s wise counsel to his family was, “And now, my sons (daughters), I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;  And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.”

The beauty of the Father’s plan for us is in the ability to choose, to act, and to receive all that He has.  Satan, the father of all lies, tempts us to use our agency unwisely and as Elder Holland has taught, “Agency will be a disaster if we don’t follow the will of the Father!” In the end, it will be proven whether or not we love God or the enticing’s of the adversary.  While this may be a sobering thought, this is the nature of our mortal state.  The war in heaven simply moved here to the earth and the question for all of us is whether or not we’ll continue to follow the Father’s will or succumb to the adversary.  Thus, there must needs be opposition in all things, and the decision will be ours.  We’ve already chosen well once, let’s not forget the capacity is within us to be wise and keep doing it!

As missionaries, you are taught the principle of obedience the moment you arrive to the MTC (and hopefully for many years before!).  You are taught what it means to be exactly obedient, the miracles that can come, and the why behind it.  I believe every missionary that begins this great experience of serving the Lord has the desire to be obedient, and yet, when missionaries arrive to the field, sometimes their will becomes stronger than the Father’s.  It happens in small ways, we don’t get up on time, we don’t exercise, we don’t plan or study like we should, we don’t use our time wisely, we may listen to unapproved music, we may break the safeguards, etc. etc..  As King Benjamin taught, “And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.” (Mosiah 4:29)   

Some missionaries may say, well, it’s not that big of deal, others do it, it’s too hard, it’s a silly rule, and the list of anti-responsible thinking blooms and grows.  Some may point to the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law not realizing that the spirit of the law always elevates the letter of the law (letter of the law, 20mph in a school zone, spirit of the law, protect children)  Letter vs. spirit of the law rationalizing is an excuse, it’s AR, and it’s not the Lord’s way.   The Savior had a stern warning for this kind of thinking when he taught, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:19)  He also promised, however, “…but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” I believe we have an obedient mission and generally speaking we do very well.  For some, however, the natural man has taken control, we see rebellion, poor choices slow progress, and in turn, the work of the Lord.  We may know what we need to do, but we are not wise (tomatoes dropped into the fruit salad).  

Elders & Sisters, it is my desire to love you into the law of obedience.  I can’t command, force, convince, or manipulate you into doing what the Lord would have you do, nor do I desire to.  I will follow the counsel given in D&C 121 and strive to persuade, demonstrate long suffering, seek to be gentle, meek, and kind, and love you into it.  As the Prophet Joseph said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”  My hope is to help you see and learn for yourselves why it is wise to keep the first and great commandment by loving and serving God.  It is the only way to true happiness and the only way for a missionary to serve.  It is my expectation that you are exactly obedient, that you know the why behind it, the promised blessings you can and will receive, and how it will increase your faith in the Savior.  It is, however, your choice.  You can accept the standards set by the Lord (daily schedule, safeguards, clean the apartment/car, keep sight and sound, all the guidance found in the missionary handbook) or you can disregard them, but when you do, you do so knowingly and willfully.  Be wise, what can I say more?

I love the Savior who gave us the perfect example of submitting His will to the Father.  In 3 Nephi 11:11 we read, “…I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.”  The Savior’s example of obedience helps me see that it is possible to give of my will, even when it seems immeasurably hard.  We will never be asked to go to the depths the Savior experienced, the Father simply is looking for us to give Him a broken heart and contrite spirit.  He is asking us to become submissive as a child, to root out the natural man, all for the purposes of giving us all that He has!  I invite you today to first ask, why do you choose obedience and what is the motivator?  Second, I ask you to evaluate where you need to give your will more fully to the Father.  I testify in the name of Jesus Christ that each of us will receive the promised blessings He has for us.  Let us all do what He asks, it’s the most intelligent (knowledge) thing to do, and there is great wisdom in following His counsel.  Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 5-21-18 (Temple Bound)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya!  What a huge blessing it was this past week to attend the temple with our converts and to see them enter the waters of baptism for their family members.  It has to be one of the sweetest experiences a missionary can have and we desire for you all to be there.  If there was ever an incentive to teach repentance and baptize converts, it has to be found in the blessing of seeing converts progress towards the ordinances in the temple.  The worth of souls is great, give your all to experience eternal joy with them.   

We love to see the temple and we’ll go inside this week! How blessed we are to have a temple in Houston and we are especially blessed to have the opportunity to attend as missionaries.  This is a unique blessing that is not afforded to all missionaries and I pray that you will be prepared, reverent, and ready to receive a spiritual boost that will help you in your missionary purpose and efforts.

Review with me our missionary purpose and ponder how it ties to the temple… We invite all to come unto Christ and teach them what it means to have faith in the Savior and His Atonement.  Faith in the Savior changes their hearts, their views, their desires, and naturally leads them away from the natural man and turns them again towards God.  The wonderful gift of repentance leads them to become more like the Savior and the fruit of this change is found in the making of covenants.  As they are baptized for a remission of sins and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, all blessing of the Savior’s Atonement and God’s full power comes into their life.  As they walk the straight and narrow path they are invited to receive an endowment, to make additional covenants, to be sealed as families, and to receive all the blessings the Father has.  All we do to find, teach, invite, and help is directed towards the exalting ordinances of the temple; we begin with the end in mind…  This is our purpose, our vision, and it’s amazing to think that a loving Heavenly Father trusts us enough to help Him; a true miracle.

With the blessing of attending the temple and participating in an endowment session this week, I wanted to review some important principles for you to ponder.  The symbolism of the temple and the covenants you have made all point to and are centered in Christ.  Our goal is to become like Him, follow Him, develop His character and attributes, and have His countenance in ours.  Look for the Savior, you will find Him in the temple.  It is His house, He has walked the halls, sat in the celestial room, and His presence can be felt.  He is the way, the light, and the life, and in the temple we are being asked to live like Him and to take upon us the heavenly laws that will govern us for the eternities.  Do you realize how amazing it is to have temples on the earth?!?!?!

To help you prepare, it is important to remember the covenants you have made, can you name them?  They include: obedience, sacrifice, laws of the gospel, chastity, and consecration.   I highly recommend you take the time to study each of these covenants in detail.  Each covenant brings promised blessings and if we live them we are exponentially blessed.  

Law of Obedience –The scriptures teach us that there are irrevocable laws that have always existed, and that any time we hope to receive blessings, we must obey these laws.  These commandments have been given so we can understand God’s will for us, give us to direction on how to act before Him, and lead us to salvation.  To love and serve God is the first and great commandment.  We know He loved us first and He simply asks that we return His love by doing His will.  We are asked to be exactly obedient so all blessings that are available to us can be received and enjoyed.  Unless we come to understand the blessings of obedience, and surrender our will to the Father, we can’t progress nor become like Him.  We begin with obedience in the temple as it is the first law of heaven!  The temple helps us recognize the Savior’s perfect example of obedience.   If we don’t learn the blessing of obedience to God’s laws now, how can we ever enjoy being in His presence?  As you attend the endowment session, ask if you are an obedient missionary.  Do you do the small and simple things and is obedience an irritant or a blessing? 

Law of Sacrifice – The law of sacrifice was introduced to Adam and Eve to help them understand the mission and sacrifice of the Savior.  As we participate in the temple ordinances, we too are asked to lay sacrifices on the altar.  Serving your mission is a sacrifice of time, family, finances, education, and other pursuits.  As missionaries you sacrifice sleep, comfort, personal priorities, and give up your desires to do what the Lord would have you do.  Sacrifice is always tied to obedience as they go hand in hand.  The more obedient you are, the more willing you are to sacrifice.  What does the Savior’s sacrifice mean to you and why is it important for you to live this law?  As you attend the temple this week, and walk past the altar of the temple, what sacrifices are you willing to make?  What do you need to lay on the altar that you’re currently unwilling to give up? As the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary [to lead] unto life and salvation.” 

Laws of the Gospel – The Prophet Brigham Young taught, “Our religion is nothing more nor less than the true order of heaven—the system of laws by which the gods and the angels are governed. Are they governed by law? Certainly. There is no being in all the eternities but what is governed by law.

The Gospel of the Son of God that has been revealed is a plan or system of laws and ordinances, by strict obedience to which the people who inhabit this earth are assured that they may return again into the presence of the Father and the Son. The laws of the Gospel are neither more nor less than a few of the principles of eternity revealed to the people, by which they can return to heaven from whence they came.” What wonderful insight from a prophet of God.  If we are to keep the covenant to live the laws of the gospel, we come to understand that the basic principles of obedience, faith, repentance, and the ordinances and covenants are all eternal laws that bring us back to God.  As missionaries we are asked to fully live the gospel, not just teach it.  The Savior lived the gospel he taught, fulfilled all righteousness, and in the temple we are asked to do the same.

Law of Chastity – What have we covenanted to do regarding chastity? We are to have sexual relations only with our spouse to whom we are legally married.  We have also been taught that the law of chastity encompasses more than sexual intercourse.  In the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet we are taught, “Before marriage, do not do anything to arouse the powerful emotions that must be expressed only in marriage. Do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not allow anyone to do that with you. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body.”  The covenant to be chaste brings virtue and power, peace, confidence and self-control.  Garnishing our thoughts with virtue allows us to stand confident in the presence of God.   We are all blessed with sexual desires, they are good, they are strong, and the Lord has asked us to develop self-mastery in both our thoughts and our actions.   Why such a specific covenant?  The Lord knew this would be a great temptation for all, and the adversary uses this sacred power to destroy the lives of families, individuals, and society in general.  You are blessed to be co-creators with God.  Abuse of these sacred powers brings a loss of the Spirit, feelings of guilt and shame, and too many other consequences to name.  Are you virtuous, are you striving to keep clean thoughts, have you resolved any past issues?  We should rejoice in accepting this covenant in the temple as it brings tremendous peace of mind and joy.  You will struggle to feel worthy in the temple if issues of chastity have not been resolved.  (see Personal Worthiness on the portal if you have questions on this topic)

Law of Consecration --  Consecration includes both the laws of obedience and sacrifice.  To be consecrated is to set apart and dedicate ourselves to God and strive to become holy and righteous.  It is a celestial law that we may never be fully asked to live on the earth, but as missionaries, you come closest to it as you consecrate your time, talents, and all the Lord has blessed you with to build His kingdom.  This covenant is both temporal and spiritual and helps us prepare for eternal life.  We strive to become consecrated and can only do so as we are obedient and sacrifice those things that lead us away from God’s work and glory.  As missionaries, this is our personal aim, it is who and what we hope to become (4th missionary).  The Savior consecrated everything and is our perfect example.  In the temple we are reminded that all blessing we ever hope for or desire will come as we consecrate ourselves fully to the Lord.  Are you consecrated and are you using this unique time the Lord has given you to serve with your whole soul?  We desire exactly obedient missionaries, who will sacrifice, and live the gospel, but what we most hope for are missionaries who become consecrated disciples of the Savior. 

Elders & Sisters, the temple is the destination where the doctrine of Christ, our purpose, is taught in its fullness; it is the Lord’s university.  The entire Plan of Salvation is laid before us and we come to know exactly what we must do to return to God’s presence.  The covenants I have reviewed with you above, though in simple detail, can help you remember what you have chosen to take upon you, and will provide you an opportunity to reflect on how you’re doing.  As we each fall short, we are blessed to renew them each week as we partake of the sacrament; never forget them.  I am grateful for the covenants I have made and I strive to honor and keep them.   Each covenant points me to the Savior, His life, example, teachings, and promised blessings for me.  Covenants are my greatest protection, I know the blessings, and I know why they are eternally important to me.

As you attend this week, take note of the special promises given in the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple… “And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them;  And from this place they may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth, that they may know that this is thy work, and that thou hast put forth thy hand, to fulfil that which thou hast spoken by the mouths of the prophets, concerning the last days.” (D&C 109:22-23)  These are the blessings you can expect as you depart from the temple, keep your covenants, and remain faithful and true.  I invite you to leave from the temple feeling renewed, recommitted, and even more focused on your purpose.  I testify in the name of Jesus Christ that the temple is the House of the Lord, and that the ordinances of salvation and exaltation are found within!  Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 5-14-18 (12 Week)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

 Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! Borrowing from the amazing words of President Gordon B. Hinckley, “In this work there must be commitment. There must be devotion. We are engaged in a great eternal struggle that concerns the very souls of the sons and daughters of God. We are not losing. We are winning. We will continue to win if we will be faithful and true. We can do it. We must do it. We will do it. There is nothing the Lord has asked of us that in faith we cannot accomplish.”  I know this to be true and we know the battle has already been won! Go into the Lord’s vineyard each day knowing that the outcome has already been determined and that your faith, commitment, and devotion will bring miracles!

I want you to think for a moment on what you do vs. why you do it…  We often focus on our WHY here in the Great THSM as we know that without purpose and vision, what we do, and how we do it, can feel robotic, impersonal, and checklist oriented.  Elder Bednar spoke on the topic of purpose to lift our sights and used the following examples… “In our customary Church vocabulary, we often speak of going to church, going to the temple, and going on a mission. Let me be so bold as to suggest that our rather routine emphasis on going misses the mark.  The issue is not going to church; rather, the issue is worshipping and renewing covenants as we attend church. The issue is not going to or through the temple; rather, the issue is having in our hearts the spirit, the covenants, and the ordinances of the Lord’s house. The issue is not going on a mission; rather, the issue is becoming a missionary and serving throughout our entire life with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength. It is possible for a young man (woman) to go on a mission and not become a missionary, and this is not what the Lord requires or what the Church needs.”

I love how boldly Elder Bednar teaches using these three examples of church and temple attendance and missionary service.  Not only are they important for us, but so important for our investigators as well.  If we apply his thinking to other things we do, how would we describe our purpose of reading scripture, offering mighty prayers, talking to everyone, inviting boldly, or any other missionary activity for that matter.  If we do, without focusing on the why, we can miss the far greater blessings that are available to us.  As Preach My Gospel teaches, “You need to be a Christlike missionary, not just do missionary things.” In other words, doing without becoming will never bring about the higher purpose we are here for.  As Elder Bednar taught, it is possible to be on a mission, but not become a missionary. 

Over the last several weeks I have asked many missionaries about their experience when they first arrived to the field.  The typical challenges they share are universal; some homesickness, feeling overwhelmed or inadequate, adjustment to mission standards and schedule, language barriers, and wondering if they can measure up.  I have then asked about what they have done in the first few weeks that have helped them become the kind of missionaries they hope to be.   In most cases they answer with activities they have done; more mighty prayers, better study, relying on the Lord, and even the passing of time.  These are wonderful and good and it’s always amazing to me to see what a good and consecrated missionary can learn in such a short period of time.  What I rarely hear, however, is how “The First 12 Weeks” has helped them do and become who the Lord expects them to be.

Review in your mind for a moment your experience of working through “The First 12 Weeks” with your trainer.  Did you do it?  Did you take time each day to review the doctrine, skills, videos, and other activities that would help you become the best missionary you could be?  Sometimes I find that a trainer is not as disciplined as they would hope to be in creating the schedule and commitment to daily 12 Week activities.  In other cases, a new missionary may feel like they are already good with the skills they have and not give their all to this amazing training program to become.  In some cases, both the trainer and trainee feel like it’s a checklist of items to get through (do it all in a day) rather than to practice, study, and become great at.  Sadly, we might do, but not approach the level of becoming if we haven’t applied the principles the Lord needs us to learn and master.

In “The First 12 Weeks” there are eight fundamentals from Preach My Gospel that teach every missionary what to do, how to do it, but more importantly why they do it.  These fundamentals begin with the doctrine of Christ, our missionary purpose, and the WHY behind everything we do.  Until this purpose drives your daily activities, you might do them, but they will feel like a checklist and robotic.  The next critical item is understanding how the Holy Ghost is the Testator, Teacher, and Comforter, and how His role brings about true conversion.  A missionary who understands the role of the Holy Ghost will a strive to be a worthy vessel and do everything they can to create the environment for the Spirit to teach.  The next three fundamentals are about increasing faith and teaching repentance…  We focus on how revelation will come through prayer, reading the Book of Mormon, and going to church.  A missionary that masters these teaching principles, and helps an investigator act in faith, will help men and women come unto Christ.  The last three fundamentals are about your missionary skills… Teaching people and not lessons (needs based teaching), commitment invitations/follow up, and how to begin teaching.  A missionary who develops the confidence to use these important skills will bless many and become a powerful instrument in the Lord’s hands.

I have felt impressed that as a mission we all need to have a refresher and not just do “The First 12 Weeks”, but let the “The First 12 Weeks” reinforce and help us become the missionaries the Savior would have us become.  Some of you had great experiences learning from the 12 Weeks outlines and will enjoy seeing how much progress you’ve made.  Some of you didn’t spend the time you should have each week and it will be a great opportunity to experience and grow from what you already know and improve the skills you have.  We now enter a season of the year where many missionaries will be returning home and many new will arrive.  Some of you will be asked to train and others will be asked to follow up train (weeks 7-12).  As a mission we need to be ready to welcome new missionaries and equally important we need to master the doctrines and skills that help us become who the Lord needs us to become. 

Elders and Sisters, my invitation to you today is to begin “The First 12 Weeks” again this week (if you’re new, continue where you’re at).  I want you to start by taking the personal assessment on pages 13-15 in the booklet.  Be honest with where you’re at and share your assessment with your companion.  I would then invite you to read the introductory pages (1-5), ask yourself if you’re following the guidance given, and then begin week 1.  I would like every companionship in the mission to take a half hour each day in the early afternoon (between 12-3) to follow the suggested study schedule.  Whether you’re going home soon or just finished the 12 week outline last transfer, we can all benefit through the blessing of repetition. 

My promise to you elders and sisters is that you won’t just know what and how to be a missionary, but that you will become even more powerful representatives of the Savior.  If you will take only a half an hour each day, a small and simple thing, your confidence will soar, your knowledge will increase, your skills will improve, your language abilities will progress, and you will become the missionary the Lord needs you to be.  I testify in the Savior’s name that great things will come about if you follow my invitation to not only do, but to remember the purpose behind it.  You all desire to become and be the best missionaries you can be.  I love this about you and know that the tools and resources we’ve been given are inspired and will help you in your efforts to invite all to come unto Christ.  As Elder Bednar taught, “The issue is not going on a mission; rather, the issue is becoming a missionary and serving throughout our entire life with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength.”  Will you accept this invitation? Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 5-7-18 (Transfer Wrestle)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

 Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya!  I begin again today with Elder Holland’s inspired words to us as missionaries, “if this is God's work, and if He still lives, then miracles and angels are still there. We must live up to our potential. God will bless us with whatever we need. God wants us to see just what He sees and know what He knows. He wants us to ratchet up the vision. God is easy to please and hard to satisfy... This is not convenient, easy work. We have got to take things to the edge. We have to move into the realm of the miraculous. We have to live in such a way that we cannot do it alone anymore-where we will resort to the Lord-where we will cry, "without thy help, I will fall," "help me fly." Go to the edge where miracles happen. Move in to the realm of the miraculous. Have full faith. Believe in angels. With the power of the priesthood, push the envelope. Welcome to the apostalic work."  I love this work my dear friends!

Every six weeks I have a wrestle before God.  After nearly three years, you would think that this wrestle would have become easier for me, but it simply hasn’t.  The wrestle that I speak of is knowing the Lord’s will for each of you as transfer week approaches. I plead with the Lord to have the spirit of revelation, in other words, I desire that the Holy Ghost will bring feelings to my heart and thoughts to my mind so I can do the Lord’s will.

I want to share with you what I do as I prepare for transfers, and why I believe the Lord is aware of your needs, who your companion should be, and where you should serve.  Prior to each transfer I do everything I can to prepare myself spiritually...  I begin with a mighty prayer and ask the Lord to let me know perfectly who should train, who should lead, and where all should serve.  I always ask for additional discernment to know what you personally need.  I also pray for the gift of charity so I can look and behold you as God does, to see who you are becoming and who you are destined to be.  I then hold a fast and plead with the Lord to give me the spiritual strength and boost I need to be more in tune with the Spirit to help me answer the questions from my prayer.  When possible, I attend the temple and seek additional guidance, peace, and discernment.  I have learned through experience that I need the powers of heaven to aid me in this process and between continuous prayer, fasting, temple attendance, and direction from the Spirit, I feel prepared to do the Lord’s will. 

Information, leads to inspiration, leads to revelation.  I begin the transfer process following the pattern that the Lord taught Oliver Cowdery in Doctrine & Covenants section 9; I study it out in my mind.  These aren’t in any particular order, but helpful to me as I study things out… I look at how long each of you have served in your area, how long you’ve been with your companion, who’s going home (how many/languages/elders/sisters), who’s arriving (how many/languages/elders/sisters), areas that may need to close/open, those who can drive, those who can’t drive, those with health concerns (emotionally or physically), language needs, how much time you have left to serve, those with companionship issues, those who are struggling with faith or obedience, and those who can help and lift.  To help me with this information gathering process I review in my mind our recent interviews, weekly return and report emails, ongoing thoughts I’ve had, feedback from Sister Hall, as well as feedback from mission leadership.  I always have to be looking one to two transfers ahead and that adds to the complexity of each transfer.  I have come to know that the more information I have, the more inspiration I will receive.

With this information in my mind, I then ask the Lord to guide me on who should train.  Training is the most important assignment given by the Lord to a missionary as it requires the most trust.  I know that a way a missionary is trained has a long lasting effect, not only on the missionary, but on our mission culture and desire to teach repentance and baptize converts.  I look for missionaries who are obedient, faithful, hardworking, good teachers, patient, and humble.  I know these missionaries aren’t perfect, but I also know that when they rise up to the significance of their call, the Lord will magnify their humble efforts.   As I pray to know who should train, I review faces and names.  I want the Lord to guide me, and when I move a new missionary on the transfer board to a potential trainer, the Spirit will witness who the Lord would have me choose.  When the right assignment comes together, I trust the impression, and I go with it.   If you are ever called to train, please know it is not taken lightly and that I expect your best.  I also know the Lord qualifies who He calls. 

I then look at leadership… I recognize that most all who come to serve a mission are worthy of being called to lead.  Leadership can be formal and informal and every missionary in this mission has the ability to lead and should.  When I consider who should lead, I of course look at obedience, worthiness, diligence, teaching skills, and desire.   I review leaders who will be returning home soon, how long leaders have served, and whether or not they will be trusted servant leaders.  I expect our leaders to lead by example first, to be diligent, to hold themselves accountable and to help others do the same.  I know some leaders will need to do some repenting as they begin their service and I’m grateful for missionaries who sustain those the Lord has called.  While it’s not possible for every missionary to serve in a formal leadership position, I do try to rotate assignments where possible.  You may be called for a transfer or two or in some cases longer.   If you are released from your assignment, you should never feel like you’ve not performed well, it’s simply a matter of mission needs and inspiration I receive.  If you’ve never been called formally as a leader, it’s not because I don’t see leadership potential, we simply are limited on the number of leaders that can be called.  You will all lead in your homes one day as worthy husbands and wives, mothers and fathers; your mission is a wonderful way to learn and apply these principles now!

As I work through trainers, leaders, and all the addition information I have, I start to move missionaries based on what I know and what I feel.  I spend hours looking at the transfer board, making a move here, changing an assignment there.  In some cases your picture never moves on the board, in other cases I might move you ten times until it feels right, in other cases I know the one place you’re supposed to go.   I can make one change that disrupts what I have already done, and then I go back to each area, each face, and each need again.  Often times I have to get up and walk away from the board to think.  I have learned that if I am uptight, stressed, or not feeling the way I should, the Spirit is hard to hear.  In those cases I stop and walk away until I’m at peace again.  It is a spiritual process that constantly has me praying, wrestling, and I can’t describe to you how much I seek the guidance of the Lord other than to tell you that I do. 

Sometimes I know there is a specific reason for you to be in an area.  It may be for a companion, a leadership assignment (formal/informal), or a need in a ward or branch.  Other times I don’t have the answer why you are there or why you have the companion you do, other than it simply feels right.  What I always know is that there are people who you have been called to find, teach, bless, serve, invite and help come unto Christ.  Every area is a great area, it’s the Lord’s vineyard, and I have full faith that a missionary can succeed regardless of where they are called to serve.  I am saddened when a missionary lacks faith in their assignment or when a companionship doesn’t work through differences.  I know, believe, and feel that the Lord put you in your area and with your companion to first teach His gospel, to live it together, to become equally yoked, and to do His will.  You should always ask the Lord what He wants from you in your assigned area, how you can bless and serve the people, and how you and your companion can learn from each other and work effectively together.  I don’t just throw you together randomly or on a whim!  If you wonder where you are or why this companion, follow Nephi’s suggestion, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?”

After all the iterations, prayers, walking around the neighborhood, late nights, and early mornings, it all comes together.  I can only describe it as a feeling of peace to my heart and that my mind finally becomes settled.  It is hours and hours in the making and there are times where I throw my hands up and walk away from the board, but it always comes together, always!   After I’m at peace, I review each of your faces, your companion, and your area one more time.  I then take my decision to the Lord and get on my knees to ask if this is what He would have me do. In some cases, I may be impressed to make a change.  I follow the prompting, make the change, and then go back and ask the Lord again.  When I’m done, I’m at peace, and that’s all I ask for.  Like all decisions we make in life, even those that are very inspired, there can always be some lingering questions and feelings of the unknown, but this is where we all walk in faith and we trust the impressions we’ve received.  The same is true for me with transfers…

Elders & Sisters,  I share my experience with you for two reasons today...  The first is to help you know and understand that I know that transfers are a spiritual process and that I give my best to the Lord to do His will.  I am confident that you are where you need to be and serving with who you need to serve.  I also share this experience with you to describe how revelation is received.  We must prepare spiritually, study things out in our mind, do the work, make decisions, fast, pray, attend the temple, listen and act on the impressions we receive, and rely on the Lord. For decisions that are important in life, we can always expect to do some wrestling.  I am grateful that the Lord hasn’t let this process come easy for me, He continues to make me work, struggle in the spirit, and wrestle!

Please remember that first, you are called to serve as a full-time missionary in the Lord’s restored Church, and second, you are then assigned to labor in a part of the Lord’s vineyard.  What matters most is your desire to serve God! (D&C 4).  Where you serve is secondary to how you serve.  I invite you to serve with greater faith in the Lord, in your sacred calling, and in the area and with the companion you are called to serve.  We will all stand accountable before the Lord and give a rendering of our service, be confident you have served Him well.  I testify in the Savior’s name that He knows what you need, where you need to be, and that He will continue to mold and help you become as He is.  Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 4-30-18 (Invested)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

 Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! Behold, YOU are a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. YOU have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life! I Iove that this is who you are and the sacred nature of your call.  Thanks for your continued effort to teach repentance and to baptize converts!

Prior to the mission, I spent part of my career in a private equity firm.  The goal of our firm was to evaluate companies that were ready to scale their businesses and reach the next level of growth.  As investors, we would carefully analyze each company, consider their products and services, the market, the management team, the potential upside and risks.  To understand more about them, we would ask a lot of questions, visit their clients, evaluate their competitors, and get to know their business inside and out. Before we made an investment, we might look at 100 companies before one met our criteria.  In some cases, we wouldn’t choose them, and in other cases, they wouldn’t choose us.  Our ultimate objective was to put investment dollars into the best company, help them grow and succeed, and then sell or exit the business to maximize our return. 

Investing can be described in several ways…  You can invest your money to make a profit, like the example above.  You might make an investment with your time or talents to achieve something greater than what you have today.  You can also invest (give or endow) someone with power or control to accomplish a goal or objective. There are also different levels of investing… I might go all the way in and buy the entire company, or perhaps only a small percentage.  I might invest all my time in the pursuit of something, or I may only give a portion of my time.  I might give someone all the power to control the outcomes, or again, a small portion or somewhere in between.  In all cases, the person investing has something to give with the hope that it will turn into something greater than what they have today.  Generally speaking, the more you are willing to invest, the greater the return. 

In the scriptures, we learn about the principle of investing in the parable of the talents.  The Lord gives one servant five talents, one two talents, and another one talent.  The first servant invests his talents wisely and doubles his return to ten talents.  The second servant invests his talents well and doubles his return to four talents.  The Lord is pleased with the first two servants and says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matt 25:21) Then we come to the last servant… He/She buries their talent in the ground, fears and refuses to invest, is called wicked, slothful and unprofitable by the Lord, and has taken away what they had.  There are few more condemning words found in the scriptures than those who don’t invest their talents and time wisely. 

What I find interesting about fallen men and women, myself included, is that we often struggle to invest in the things that will give us the reward we want.  Can we too be like the servant given one talent?  We might invest a portion of what we could give, expecting a greater return, but become disappointed when the payout doesn’t measure up.  Too many want the quick fix schemes (get rich, lose weight, build muscle, etc. etc.), where little time is spent, only a small portion is invested, and the easiest route is taken.  This is the adversary’s plan for happiness, it’s not the kind of investment that endures.  Don’t fall into the trap of those who entice with claims of short term effort and long term rewards.  Anything of value comes with hard work, time, and a personal commitment to see it through.   

A few missionary examples… A missionary that invests their time in obedience, personal worthiness, mighty prayer, daily scripture study, and faithful covenant keeping is rewarded with an abundance of the Spirit, testimony, peace of mind, and conversion.  A missionary that invests their time in effective study, receives a return of greater knowledge (gospel, language etc.).  A missionary that invests their time in opening their mouth, using all finding sources, and who never gives up, receives a greater return of people to teach and invite.  A missionary that invests their time in improving their skills, receives a greater return of confidence and know how.   We could likewise look at the return gained for a companionship that invests their time in effective planning, study, working through members, and becoming equally yoked.  We reap what we sow, we are rewarded for what we invest.  Are you a wise investor?

Let’s look at an INVESTigator… Someone who is seeking truth will be willing to invest time, even if small at the beginning, to learn, study, inquire, seek, and examine.  When missionaries invest their time in those they teach (plan, study, help etc.), they are hoping to bless them with something greater than what they have today.  The return the missionary seeks isn’t for themselves, but for those who want to invest their time in drawing nearer to the Savior.  Occasionally, missionaries will invest time in individuals who simply don’t want to invest-igate.  If the missionary has sought to understand their needs, invited them boldly, and lovingly followed up, but still see no return on their investment, does it make sense to continue? If an investigator isn’t returning calls/texts, only wants to meet every couple of weeks, are they really investing in what we have to teach?  Each situation is unique, but at times a missionary may lack the faith to invest in others who may be more prepared.  Do you hold on to investigators too long who aren’t willing to invest?

Elders & Sisters, you have made an investment of time to serve the Lord and to build His kingdom; it is a wonderful investment that can and will pay great dividends .  Are you getting the return you hope for? Are you taking the talents you’ve been given and doubling and tripling the possible return?  Is the Lord’s investment in you paying the dividends He would hope for?  The Savior has fully invested in you! As Nephi and Isaiah taught, “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” He has given all and put everything on the line to help you receive an infinite amount of return.  Immortality has been paid for, eternal life, through the Savior’s help, is what awaits.  Will you invest, will you be a profitable servant? I testify in the Savior’s name that the investment you make today will pay off in the future.  I invite you today to evaluate where you are invested… Keep doing what will be enduring and divest of those things that will bring no reward.  You are an investment of infinite worth! I love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 4-23-18 (Needs Awakened)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

 Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya!  The Houston Temple is OPEN! There is no greater blessing than having a House of the Lord available for all to receive the full blessings of the Savior’s Atonement and His gospel.  As those who are called to teach repentance and baptize converts, our work is never done until all are dressed in temple white.  Begin with the end in mind!

In our recent zone conference, we emphasized the importance of teaching to the needs and interests of those we find.  As we began the conference we sang, “Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need?” Should this not be our thought as we go out and serve each day? Every son and daughter of God who followed the Savior and His merciful plan is in need of the message we teach and the hope that it brings.  They may not be able to express this need, articulate it, or even realize it exists until we help them awaken to their mortal and fallen state.  For this reason, we are sent to cry repentance and teach baptism for a remission of sins so we can help awaken them to the need they have for the Savior and His Atonement. 

An awakening and the need to connect God can come in a variety of ways… Like the prodigal son, it may come as someone is awakened to their awful state (sin and death).  It may come as someone experiences personal loss or tragedy.  It may come when the world’s answers leaves them empty or without direction.  It may come when you knock on their door or talk to them on the street.  Or it may come as you ask them an inspired question that leads them to a truth they have forgotten.  However it comes, all will be awakened unto God and will be found wanting for the answers only the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring.  Here’s a few truths that should encourage and inspire you to help people be awakened…

  • Everyone that followed the Savior in the pre-earth life knows the Plan of Salvation, they accepted it, they know the church is true, they just can’t remember…  (a missionary who understands this understands the constant need to find and knows all are an invitation away from being awakened)
  • Mortal amnesia is what we all have and it is the only way opposition in all things works…  (a missionary who understands this is patient as they seek out those who are ready to be awakened and doesn’t become discouraged when they are rejected)
  • Everyone has the light of Christ.  All men, women, and children are blessed with this spiritual light.  (a missionary who understands this will find a way to rekindle this light and let it burn brighter as it awakens their soul)
  • Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is the Christ… (a missionary who understands this knows that the battle has already been won and that all will be awakened unto Christ)
  • Only the power of the Holy Ghost can help us remember the lesson’s we’ve already received… (a missionary who understands this ensures they are worthy vessels for the Spirit to teach, testify, comfort and awaken)
  • A missionaries testimony and the Book of Mormon are the most powerful resources to bring the power of the Holy Ghost… (a missionary who understands this will testify from their heart and use the Book of Mormon to awaken all to the blessing of the Savior and His gospel)

I love the list above as it reminds me that all have already said yes to the Savior’s invitation once, we are blessed to help them remember! As we reviewed in zone conference, there are many references in Preach My Gospel on how we are to teach and awaken our investigators as we seek to understand their needs and interests.   

  • “You have the flexibility to teach the lessons in whatever way best helps people fully prepare for their baptism and confirmation” (PMG, vii).
  • “Adjust the order, length, and pace of the lessons to meet the needs of those you teach” (PMG, 19).
  • Focus on needs. While the doctrines of the gospel apply to everyone, you should adjust your teaching approach to meet the needs of those you teach. As you study doctrine and create lesson plans, identify areas where you can adjust your approach to meet potential needs” (PMG, 20).
  • “[The missionary] may depart from the order of the lessons, giving that which he is inspired to do, according to the interest and needs of the investigator” (PMG, 30).
  • Let the Spirit guide the order in which you present the first three lessons” (PMG 1.1 update to PMG, 30).
  • “Keep in mind that these ideas are suggestions—not requirements—to help you meet the needs of those you teach” (PMG, 41).
  • “You may alter the order of the lessons as you are inspired to adapt to the investigators’ interests and needs. . . . Heavenly Father knows His children, so rely on inspiration to make these decisions as you teach. Pray for the gift of discernment, and pay attention to thoughts that come to your mind or feelings you have about what to teach” (PMG, 177).
  • Good questions will help you understand interests, concerns, or questions that others have. They can enhance your teaching, invite the Spirit, and help your investigators learn” (PMG, 183).
  • When you listen carefully to others, you understand them better. . . . As you listen, you will be able to more effectively adapt your teaching to their needs and interests” (PMG, 185).

As Elder Holland has taught so well… “Missionaries have to be taught how to begin a lesson, how to set the stage for teaching. They need to establish a sincere, warm relationship with their investigators. They need to create an essential environment of love and trust. They need to see these people as children of God and our eternal brothers and sisters, not simply as an object for baptism, much less a mere statistic to be reported to their zone leader. The Spirit will not bear witness of superficiality. It will not bear witness of impure motives. It will not bear witness of phoniness. Sincere concern for their investigators has to begin with the first exchange the missionaries have with them, whether that be on the doorstep, the street corner, the grocery store, or as they arrive to give that first lesson.

Teach the missionaries that second only to the responsibility they have to listen to the Spirit, is the responsibility they have to listen to the investigator. They must have the patience, sincerity and ability to go where the investigator is, spiritually speaking, before expecting the investigator to come where they are, spiritually speaking. We need everyone eventually to get to the Sacred Grove; ultimately, we need them to get to the Garden of Gethsemane and Calvary. But people won’t just leap there simply because the missionaries want them to. The missionaries have to go prayerfully and lovingly out into the highways and byways of these people’s lives, so to speak, seeking to discern their challenges and their concerns If we’ll listen with spiritual ears, just the way we must see with spiritual eyes, the investigators will tell us what lessons they need to hear! Then the elders and sisters can call upon their Preach My Gospel preparation and their scripturally based outlines to “speak the thoughts that [the Lord] shall put into [their] hearts” (D&C 100:5). Cold, memorized lessons or sleep-inducing rote presentations won’t do in the world we face today. We must have enthusiastic, inspired teaching that is tailored to the people who are receiving it.”

Elders & Sisters, we are blessed to help all be awakened to the great need they have to come unto Christ.  Follow the counsel from Elder Holland, seek for the inspiration to discern their needs as you ask questions, listen with empathy, and invite them in the Savior’s name to follow Him.  Each interaction you have is an opportunity for the Holy Ghost to bring to their remembrance a truth they’ve already been taught.  I invite you to ask more inspired questions, to listen, listen, and listen, and then to let the Spirit guide you on what to teach.  Those who are awakened will want more light, more truth, and you will be prepared to teach to their interests and needs.  As representatives of Jesus Christ, you have been set apart and given the authority to awaken the souls of men.  Once awakened, they too will sing, “I need Thee, Oh I need Thee, Every hour I need Thee, Oh bless me now my Savior, I come to thee.” I testify in the Savior’s name that this is true! Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 4-16-18 (Make Ye Disciples)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

 Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! Thanks for your urgency and love for the Savior.  You are among the best that have ever walked the earth, you are disciples of Christ who have been called to Houston to bless God’s children.  Remember how much the Lord loves His missionaries and you succeed everyday as you are obedient, worthy, and give your best effort to invite and help all come unto Christ!

In our October zone conference of last year, we shared the scriptures we find in Matthew 28:19-20 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”  This amazing teaching from the Savior is our missionary purpose and the charge we’ve been given as we have come to minister among the people of Houston.

As we discussed at our conference, it is important to look at the footnote of verse 19 to better understand what we are truly called to do… It says, that we are to, “Go ye therefore and preach to, make disciples of (meaning to make Christians in all nations), baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” We are called to make disciples! This clarification is an important reminder to not simply teach, but to make disciples of those we share the gospel with, and it should permeate everything we do. 

In our mission experience, I have observed missionaries who have come to understand the difference between baptizing and baptizing converts.  These missionaries, while urgent about finding, teaching repentance, inviting, and helping people to the waters of baptism, understand that we are to build the kingdom of God, strengthen wards/branches, and help people truly change and become like the Savior.  To that end, they have recognized that teaching the gospel is not a series of checklists or things an investigator has done, but they are more truly concerned with who the investigator has become. 

A missionary who is focused on making disciples understands that discipleship comes through not only what we hear, but more so through what we experience and feel.  Discipleship comes through a desire to learn, improve, and become a student of the gospel and a great missionary helps an investigator through this process.  To this end, a missionary will do whatever it takes to help the investigator immerse themselves in the gospel, just as much as we hope they will immerse themselves in the waters of baptism.  They will do whatever is required to help the investigator have an experience and connect them to heaven.  They desire and believe with all their hearts that the Holy Ghost will witness to the hearts and minds of their investigators that what they have been taught and what they feel is true.

Here are a few things I have seen great missionaries do as they make disciples of their investigators…

There can be no greater understanding than to know we are truly sons and daughters of God.  Why does this matter?  In the Bible Dictionary (pg. 707) it states, “As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand before God (namely God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part. Many of the so called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship.” A missionary who understands this important truth, not only for themselves, but for their investigators, will spend as much time as needed teaching our divine relationship to the Father and the importance of prayer.  A missionary who will take the time to make sure an investigator is truly praying, asking about their experience, how they feel, how prayer is answered, and that God is always listening, will be in the process of making a disciple.  On the other hand, if prayer is seen as a checklist, as something an investigator has to do to be baptized, we will have fallen short of our call to make disciples.  A great missionary will testify of prayer, teach it, model it, and go back to it again and again until the investigator understands who they are and how prayer will open the windows of heaven for them.  Prayer is a firm foundation for lasting discipleship.  

A missionary’s testimony and the Book of Mormon are the most powerful resources to bring the power of the Holy Ghost.  In the process of making disciples, a great missionary will teach from the Book of Mormon, testify of it, read from it, and help an investigator personally connect to it.  Converts who have come to love, study, and read daily from the Book of Mormon live in gratitude for the missionaries that taught them to do so.  A missionary who is making disciples reads the Book of Mormon with them, finds passages that are specific to the investigators needs, involves members to read with them, asks about their experience, and their feelings as they read it.   Great missionaries know that it will fill an investigator with the Spirit, testify of Christ, witness that Joseph Smith is God’s prophet, and that this is God’s kingdom on the earth.  If a missionary sees reading the Book of Mormon as a checklist of things that must be done before baptism, true conversion is weakened, the keystone of our religion becomes an afterthought, and discipleship is not their goal.  A great missionary not only loves the Book of Mormon and reads from it daily, but does everything in their power to help their investigators do so as well.  The Book of Mormon is a firm foundation for lasting discipleship.

Partaking of the sacrament is the most important thing we do all week.  Repentance is our desire, covenants are renewed, the Savior’s Atonement is in our hearts and on our minds, the Spirit is promised to be our constant companion.  A great missionary understands that making a true disciple will require faithful Sabbath day observance, and specifically the importance of being at sacrament meeting.  To this end, great missionaries will move heaven and earth to help an investigator attend church each week.  They will teach and testify of the Sabbath day, the blessings of it, and the reasons why we would never want to miss it.  They invite boldly, they involve members, they give tours (physically/virtually), they follow up, they notify the ward council, and they help overcome obstacles.  Missionaries who know how hard it is for investigators to take this leap of faith don’t leave this invitation to chance and never do it as passing thought as they’re walking out the door.  A great missionary has come to love and understand why the sacrament is vitally important to them, they then help an investigator come to know this for themselves.  Church attendance and partaking of the sacrament is a firm foundation for lasting discipleship.

My dear elders and sisters, we are to make disciples of those we love and teach.  We ourselves need to be disciples of Jesus Christ who have personally come to understand and know how our mighty prayer, Book of Mormon study, and sacrament meeting attendance will keep us on the path of discipleship.  A missionary who hasn’t gained a personal witness of these firm foundations will struggle to invite boldly and testify from their heart that these heavenly principles will bless those they teach.   A missionary who is focused on a checklist towards baptism versus repentance and heavenly connections will miss out on the blessing of making disciples of those we have been called to serve.  I invite you today to reflect on your own discipleship and what you are doing to help make disciples of others.  Are you event and checklist focused? Are you number focused or activity driven? Do you spend the kind of time that is needed to teach prayer, the blessing of the Book of Mormon, and why sacrament meeting is so important? I invite you to slow down to speed up.  Teaching is not going to lead to discipleship alone, it must come from the experience of acting in faith and showing our investigators how to do so.

As Mormon taught, “Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.”  Elders & Sisters, your sacred calling as disciples of Christ is to help all receive the blessing of eternal life.   Begin with the end in mind and remember that we teach repentance and baptize converts who will also be prepared to receive the blessings of the temple, to be endowed and sealed for the eternities.  I invite us all to make disciples of those we have been called to serve and to become even greater disciples of the Master we serve.  In the Savior’s name, I know this is true! Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 4-9-18 (Strangers?)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya!  I am still basking in the glow of the spiritual feast from General Conference last week.  I testify that we have a living prophet on the earth and that God speaks from the heavens.  The Lord, through his prophets, has asked each of us to labor with all our might and to declare repentance and baptism for a remission of sins.  I love that God is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow and that He loves all of His children. Let’s go to work!

Each of you are assigned to labor in a specific area of the Lord’s vineyard.  As a companionship, the Lord trusts you to know the vineyard well, to care for it, to work it, and to love it.  You are the only servants who have been given power and authority to care for and harvest the fruit that comes through the work of your hands and hearts.  How well do you know your part of the vineyard and do you feel like you belong to it?

I had an insightful conversation recently with two priesthood leaders regarding missionaries.  It was their observation that there are two kinds of missionaries in a ward/branch… Those who arrive in a ward/branch and become part of it, and those who are strangers, visiting by assignment.  For the first group of missionaries, the bishop becomes their bishop, the relief society sisters become their sisters, the quorum becomes their quorum, the families become their families, and the members are their friends; they are home.  For the second group of missionaries, the ward/branch is somewhere they are assigned, where the work is done, where they wait out their time, and as mercenaries or temporary visitors. 

Their conclusion was that for those missionaries who made the ward/branch their home ward/branch, more success was seen and greater trust was earned.  For the missionaries that had come only by assignment, well, they couldn’t remember their names nor was their influence felt.  I agreed with them and felt inspired to share some thoughts with you…

How do you currently feel about the ward/branch you serve in and have you become a part of it?  When I travel throughout the mission, I am always watching for how missionaries interact with the members.  Recently, I watched a pair of elders not simply hand out the program at the door, but go from pew to pew shaking the hands of each member, welcoming them and connecting.  Their investigator in attendance was sitting with a member, and it was clear that they had planned this interaction long before the meeting.  As the meeting began, these elders separated and sat with other members in the congregation.  Following the meeting, I watched their interaction as connections were made and plans for visits were discussed, and they included the youth.  These elders belonged to their ward, it was their home, and they love it.  You might say, “these elders are probably very outgoing, social, no fear kind of elders.”  Actually, the opposite is true, especially for one who  admittedly does things scared most of time and is not a social butterfly. ☺

I have also observed missionaries who smile and shake hands at the door, but that is where it seemingly ends.  I see them sit with their investigators instead of connecting them to the members.  I see them sit together, often towards the back of the chapel, as if they had just come into the ward as a pair of visitors.  I see very little interaction, other than those few members they have come to know by assignment or by dinner appointment.  These missionaries aren’t bad missionaries, they just haven’t made the ward/branch their own.  They are in the vineyard, but only because that’s where they’re supposed to be.   

In the scriptures we find the word stranger(s) as a term that denotes a foreigner, from another town, someone unknown or unacquainted, a guest or visitor.  It can also be used to denote someone who does not belong to or is kept from the activities of a group.  When we arrive to a ward/branch we arrive as strangers, unknown and unacquainted, but it need not remain so. 

King Benjamin in his inspired address gives us some insight on how one remains a stranger, “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” In this context, we understand that we can become strangers to God if we don’t serve Him, come to know Him, or keep Him in mind.   Would the same not be true for us if we choose not to come to know, serve, or have the members in mind in the units where we serve?  As it is says in John, “And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” (John 10:5) Do the members know your voice or are you a text message?  Do you make 10 daily member connections that are real, or are they weak sauce lame fry connections?

In Handbook 2, there is some wonderful instruction given on how we can all become ministers and friends and no longer strangers.  Four points for you to consider: 1) remember the names of those we visit and become well acquainted with them (see Moroni 6:4) 2) love them without judging them (see John 13:34–35). 3) watch over them and strengthen them spiritually “one by one” (3 Nephi 11:15; 17:21) and 4) become friends with them and visit them often (see D&C 20:47).  This is inspired instruction and will bless you in any ward/branch you serve in throughout your life, not just your mission.  There is no such thing as a bad ward/branch, what we put into something (friendship, study, efforts, service) is what we get out of it!

The work in the vineyard begins with the bishop or branch president.  If you want to become part of the ward, tell the bishop that you are there to serve, bless, and become his true and devoted servants.  As it says in PMG, “The starting point in building strong relationships with members is the bishop. Offer to help and serve in any righteous way that he asks. Regularly ask yourself, “Am I a blessing or a burden to the bishop?” Develop a “How can I help?” attitude. If you will look for opportunities to love, serve, and teach, the bishop and ward members will be more likely to trust you with their family members and friends.” To emphasize this point, please watch “Working with the Bishop” from District 1 found in your gospel library app.  Will you do it, like right away?  To test your knowledge of who and what you know about the members in the ward (without going to LDS Tools) see if you can complete the attached document as a companionship. ☺

Elders & Sisters, the time you spend in each part of the vineyard, whether brief or long is sacred time.  As we are taught, “Therefore, I, the Lord, have suffered you to come unto this place; for thus it was expedient in me for the salvation of souls.” (D&C 100:4)  When you are assigned to a ward or branch, I can testify it is because I have fasted and prayed to know where the Lord would have you be for the salvation of souls.  I invite you to become member missionaries in the wards/branches you serve.  Learn names, become acquainted, judge righteously, strengthen and watch over one by one, and become friends.  I also invite you to use the principles taught in the Susan Fulcher case, use the family mission plan (both on the portal), and make sure the bishop knows you are his most excited member in the work.  Mass texts, impersonal connections, and distant interaction won’t cut it, we need you to be all in and at home in the ward/branch you have been called to labor in.  I testify in the Savior’s name that we are all brothers and sisters and that there is no need for there to be strangers among us, especially you!  Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 4-2-18 (Epic, Wow, Inspired)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! Wow!  What an amazing general conference.  The Lord is hastening His work and I feel so blessed to be a part of it.  We are His hands, let us all continue to serve with all our heart, might, mind, and strength.

We’re you inspired?  What a historic conference, I’ve never seen anything like it and it was simply amazing! General Conference is always a feast and a reminder that God speaks from the heavens and that He loves each of us individually.  Like you, I always feel like specific messages are directed at me, as if I was the only person on earth that was intended to hear it.  Elder Hales shared the following as we are left to ponder on what we were taught from on high…  “We accept the Savior’s invitation when we ponder and pray to understand what we have been taught and then go forward and do His will. Remember President Spencer W. Kimball’s words: “I have made up my mind that when I go home from this general conference … there are many, many areas in my life that I can perfect. I have made a mental list of them, and I expect to go to work as soon as we get through.” 

As I pondered the messages we’ve received the last two days, here are a few of the thoughts the Spirit has brought to my heart and mind… First, I am a beloved son of God and that He knows me.  I am a child of God.  In my notes I wrote… The most powerful knowledge we possess is knowing our own identity and that God sanctifies us on our most difficult days.  The invitation I accepted was to seek God and His divine Son and to do so through the my continued study in the book of Mormon.  The promised blessing is that I will come to know God and more fully cherish my noble birthright.

I was reminded that mistakes are a fact of life, that they are temporary, and that perfection is gained line upon line and precept upon precept through the small and simple things.  In my notes I wrote…  Success isn’t the absence of failure, but going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.  I can repent and not lose enthusiasm because I know it is the plan and that through the Savior and His grace, I will be blessed as I keep striving.  I need to remember that my spiritual growth is best perceived with the passage of time and that growth will be found in looking backwards.  The small and simple things I do every day build a pattern for righteous living and my prayers, scriptures study, sacrament meeting attendance, and service will continue to strengthen me.  The invitation I accepted was to be thankful that the Savior offers countless second chances and that I need to do my part to keep learning, growing, and succeeding.  The promised blessing was that in time, my human heart will become divine through the Savior and His Atonement.  

I was taught the importance of continuing to improve upon my character and to develop the Christlike attributes that come as spiritual gifts.  In my notes I wrote… I will work on my righteous responsiveness, willing submissiveness, and stronger self-restraint.  This will help me develop meekness, a Christlike attribute that is strong, active, courageous, restrained, modest, and gracious.  The invitation I accepted was to become meek and to put God’s wisdom above my own.  The promised blessing is that I will become more like the Savior and enjoy the peace and blessing of living a purposeful life.  I want Christlike attributes to possess me so that what I do becomes who I am.

As I raised my arm to the square in the solemn assembly, and sustained President Russell M. Nelson as our prophet, seer, and revelator, the Spirit flooded my mind with peace and affirmation.  As President Nelson spoke throughout conference, the Spirit witnessed again and again that we are hearing the mind and the will of the Lord.  I was inspired as he directed us to sing as men of the priesthood, “Rise Up, O Men of God” following the announcement of how quorums will now be organized to bless others.  In my notes I wrote… The Lord desires to assist me and I need to pray daily for revelation and give thanks for what comes into my heart and mind.  I choose to receive the Spirit and it is up to me of how in tune I will become as I strive to receive the Lord’s direction.  I need to practice and practice the ability to receive revelation from on high.  The voices of the world will continue to get louder and louder and the more practice I have listening and responding to the Spirit, the more capable I am of surviving an increasingly wicked world.  The invitation I accepted was to continue to increase my spirituality to hear the voice of the Spirit.  The promised blessing is that the most important truth will be revealed to me; that Jesus is the Christ!  With this knowledge all things are possible in and through Him!

I am to minister! I was taught the higher law of making sure love and charity direct my actions as I seek to bless those I am called to serve.  In my notes I wrote… I need to better extend a warm hand of friendship and seek to continually strengthen the faith of others.  I need to care for others in bold, new, and holier ways. I also need to do this more fully as a teacher in my home, gather my kids more often, and minister to them more individually.  The invitation I accepted was to let the Spirit guide me in the way I minister one on one and to seek out the needs of those I serve.  The promised blessing is that I will feel the Lord laboring at my side and that my life and the lives of those I serve and love will be changed for the better. 

Of all the things the Spirit witnessed to my heart and mind this weekend, the one I am most grateful for is the reality of the Savior and of His Atonement for me.  The countless testimonies born of Him lifted my faith.  He has overcome death and sin and through his matchless love, I have the hope and assurance that I can overcome the natural man.  In my notes I wrote… The most important day in my life is when I truly learn to behold Him and bring Him even more abundantly into my life.  The invitation I accepted was to more fully commit to living His gospel and to create the only culture that matters, a Christ centered culture in my life and in my home.  There are more promised blessings than I can count, but my life will have greater meaning, joy, peace, and the hope of eternal life. 

Elders & Sisters, these are just a few of my thoughts as I reviewed and typed up nearly ten pages of notes.  I look forward to reviewing the talks again in the coming days.  What President Nelson taught on the pattern of seeking and receiving revelation was simply amazing.  Revelation will continue to flow if we return the words and counsel we just received.  President Monson once taught, “I encourage you to read the talks … and to ponder the messages contained therein. I have found in my own life that I gain even more from these inspired sermons when I study them in greater depth.” As President Nelson concluded he said, “I exhort you to study the messages of this conference repeatedly…  Your desire to obey will be enhanced.” 

I invite each of you to treasure up what you heard this weekend.  We have a prophet on the earth that will keep pace with the Lord and it is up to us if we want to keep up.  You simply can’t do what you’ve always done and expect different results, that was apparent in the inspired direction we received.   Will you be the same or will these teachings work a mighty change in your heart?  I testify in the name of Jesus Christ that we have heard what the Lord needs us to know, to keep us safe, to bless us, and to direct us on the path we should follow. God speaks from the heavens and We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet! Love ya!

President Hall

 

President's Pen 3-26-18 (Faith Lifted)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! Thanks for another great transfer and for your ongoing faith, obedience, and diligence to do the Lord’s work.  Have sufficient faith to know that your success is truly manifested in who you’re becoming and in your effort and commitment to teach repentance and baptize converts!

He is risen!  This coming Sunday we celebrate the one thing of most importance; the Savior has come to do the Father’s will and that His matchless love, mercy, and infinite Atonement has been extended to all.  I testify and know He lives, that He is my Redeemer, my Savior!  There is no more important message we can share than that of His birth, His life, His ministry, His suffering in the garden of Gethsemane, His death, and His triumphant resurrection.  All things are centered in Christ and this message, we are His representatives, and how blessed we are to teach of Him and of His gospel. 

Elder Neil L. Anderson said the following in the 2016 Missionary Broadcast, “As a missionary, always keep His name on your lips, and be prepared as the prompting comes to testify of Him. I know you talk to everyone who will listen to you. Wherever you are—in a bus, on the street, in a teaching situation, or in a home with a member—if you are ever unsure of what to say, speak of the Savior. Testify of Him. Speak of His doctrine, of faith in Him, of His Atonement, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. This is your purpose. This is your charge.”  I love his simple words as he reminds us to always have the Savior in our hearts, our minds, and on our lips.  Regardless of what we do, we always can remember that the reason why we open our mouths is to testify of Him, to invite others to come unto Him, and to help them do so. 

Elder Anderson further taught, “Your first responsibility is to help lift the faith of a man, woman, or child from wherever they are to a greater faith in Jesus Christ and in His Atonement. I love this statement in Preach My Gospel: “As your understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ grows, your desire to share the gospel will increase.” Ask yourself, “What do I really believe about the Savior’s Atonement? Am I personally experiencing every day the Atonement?” By increasing your own understanding of the Atonement, your effectiveness as a missionary will increase. Do you see why this is so important?”

Elder Anderson’s teaching and invitation is critical for all of us to keep in mind.  Our first responsibility is to lift and increase the faith in the Savior and His Atonement.  We personally prepare to do this through our personal worthiness, our obedience, our effective planning, our focused personal and companionship study, our teaching by the Spirit, our commitment invitations, and our continuous follow up.  If our responsibility is to lift the faith of others, what are we doing, as Elder Anderson teaches, to understand the Savior’s Atonement in our own lives and are we personally experiencing it?  We can only lift others if we are higher than where they currently stand.  As the Savior taught His Apostles, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Is your faith in the Savior where you want it to be so you can lift others?

I am often asked, “How do I increase my faith in the Savior, or how do I come to know Him better?” These are two wonderful questions and we can find answers from the Lord’s chosen prophets and apostles.   If you will study the two talks below, I promise that you will find answers for yourself and for your investigators. 

Finding Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – Elder Robert D. Hales (What do you learn from Enos’ experience and what pattern can you follow to increase your faith?)

If Ye Had Known Me – Elder David A. Bednar (What things can you do today that will help you come to know the Savior better?)

Elders & Sisters, this coming weekend you will hear prophets, seers, and revelators testify that Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, and our Savior and Redeemer.  They will lift our faith and increase our understanding of His Atonement and love for each of us.  I invite you to ponder the following questions as you prepare to watch conference… How can I increase my faith in the Savior and experience His Atonement more fully in my life?  How can I lift the faith of those I teach to have greater faith in the Savior and in His Atonement?  If you will ponder these two questions, spiritually prepare to be taught by the Holy Ghost, and prayerfully seek the answers you desire, the spirit of revelation will bring feelings to your heart and thoughts to your mind.  Of all that we study and desire to know, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Atonement, is the most important thing for each of us. (Alma 7:7)  We are faith builders and faith lifters and it is incumbent upon each of us to be prepared to always teach and testify of Him.  He has come among His people to save and redeem us and He will come again.  I testify that you are His representatives, honor His name, wear it with courage, and testify boldly that He is risen and that He lives!  I love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 3-19-18 (Miracle Mile)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! Thanks for your effort to talk to everyone this week and every week.  What you have been called to do is not easy, and yet when you go in faith as a disciple of Christ, you have no need to fear.  Trust that the Lord has prepared those who want to change and come unto Christ!

In 1954 the unthinkable happened… On a May evening in Oxford, England, the once fabled myth of breaking the four minute mile barrier had finally happened.  Runners had set their sights on breaking the four minute mile barrier as early as 1886 and for decades had failed at doing so.  On May 6th, however, Roger Bannister, a young English student at Oxford University, came across the finish line in three minutes, fifty-nine and four-tenths of a second.  The unthinkable was now a reality.

In the day, breaking the four minute mile was considered an impossible goal for anyone to achieve.  As a British journalist wrote, “For years milers had been striving against the clock, but the elusive four minutes had always beaten them.  It had become as much a psychological barrier as a physical one. And like an unconquerable mountain, the closer it was approached, the more daunting it seemed.”

The coaches, trainers, and even athletes of the day had planned for the perfect moment to break the barrier.  It would need to be a day where there was no wind, a perfect temperature of 68 degrees, a hard and dry clay track, and a big frenzied crowd screaming the runners to push harder and faster.  On the day it actually happened, it was cold, the track was wet, and a small crowd had gathered at the track in Oxford. 

Once the barrier was broken, however, within forty-six days the four minute mile barrier was lowered again, this time by an Australian runner who did it in three minutes and fifty-eight seconds.  What unfolded next? Only a year later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race. Since that amazing day, more than a thousand runners have conquered a barrier that had once been considered impossible and out of reach. The current world record stands at three minutes, forty-three and thirteen-tens of second.  That’s screaming fast!!!

The amazing fact in this story is that Roger Bannister, the first to ever do it, wasn’t considered the best miler of the day.  He was a full-time medical student and didn’t use all the conventional training strategies as his peers.  He had participated in the 1952 Olympic Games and had not lived up to his or others expectations.  After the Olympics, he spent two months deciding whether to give up running and then came to a decision…  He decided that he would set a goal and make a plan to be the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. 

To reach his goal, he intensified his training, increased his interval work outs, and in May of 1953, he made an attempt on the British record at Oxford. On that day, he ran 4:03.6 and shattered the old record.  After the race, and nearly a full year before he would accomplish the goal,  he said, "This race made me realize that the four-minute mile was not out of reach.”  Other runners also had their sights set on breaking four minutes and a handful of athletes had dropped the time to 4:02.  They were getting ever so close, but it was still just out of reach.  It wasn’t until a cold day in May,  that the barrier that couldn’t be broken, was now not only possible, but accomplished.

What do we learn from this? There have been a number of academic papers written and books published over the years on this amazing feat.  There is admiration for how the record was broken given the lack of training, technological, and nutritional expertise they had at the time.  There are lessons of triumph, positive thinking, the will to succeed, and the human spirit to achieve the impossible.  I love, however, what one author summarized regarding the idea of “mindset”.  He wrote, “How is it that so many runners smashed the four-minute barrier after Bannister became the first to do it? “Was there a sudden growth spurt in human evolution? Was there a genetic engineering experiment that created a new race of super runners? No. What changed was the mental model. The runners of the past had been held back by a mindset that said they could not surpass the four-minute mile. When that limit was broken, the others saw that they could do something they had previously thought impossible.”

A mental model… “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) Does our mindset, like these athletes of old, lead us to feel that we’ll get close, but never break through? Do we look for the perfect conditions, when all is right in the world, and say, “when that day comes, I’ll be able to get there?” If that is the belief we hold, we restrict ourselves of seeing progress on the wet and cold days where miracles may be waiting if we simply run the race. 

An additional thought… As our mindset reaches heavenward, and breaks new barriers, can it aid the progress of those we’ve come to bless and serve? Can the faith of one, your faith, lift the faith of another to heights they never thought possible?  Could the example of one, your example, allow another to change and become someone they never thought possible?  As you personally break barriers that seem out of reach, could it inspire others to do the same?  Imagine if your dedication, faith, effort, and your decision to make a goal and set a plan to do something truly amazing could have the same effect as the “Miracle Mile”. 

Elders & Sisters, each of you in your own way are running to break the four minute mile.  There may be things you feel that are impossible to accomplish and there may be days when you want to quit and hang it up.  What I love about this story of human triumph, is rather than feeling defeated, Bannister set a new goal and plan to break a barrier.  He modified his training, worked harder, patiently persisted, and then on a day that was the unlikeliest of days to succeed, his effort and determination paid off.  I have no doubt this is true for you and for all of God’s children.

The greatest “miracle mile”… The Savior broke the barrier that was truly impossible for any of us to overcome.  With His triumph, a new mindset for all of mankind was formed.  No longer is the barrier of death and sin unconquerable; the heavens are now again within our reach.  The power of the resurrection will bring us all forward to immortality and to stand before our Maker.  The blessing of repentance and the enabling power of the Savior’s grace will lift us to greater heights than we could ever imagine.  Because you believe in the Savior’s name and on His redeeming and saving power, your witness of these truths to the world can have the same barrier shattering effect in the lives of those you teach.  When you boldly testify in the name of Jesus Christ, and of His power to heal, forgive, comfort, bless, and make us whole, you inspire others to reach for what they once felt was impossible.  As His representatives, you help others understand, feel, and know that any barriers that hold them back can and will be broken as they come unto Him. I invite you to apply the Savior’s victory in your own life and trust that because He did it, it is now absolutely possible for you and for all of us to triumph.  I also invite you to always testify of the Savior’s infinite Atonement and love for each of us.  Never leave a lesson without sharing your witness of the Savior and how the unthinkable became a reality.  I testify in His name that all barriers have been broken, and that through His help, we will all finish the race with a record time.  Love ya!

President Hall 

President's Pen 3-12-18 (I am Bound)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya!  Thanks for your goodness and for your ever increasing desire to teach repentance and baptize converts.  We do this for our God, our (religion) faith in Him, our freedoms (agency), our peace, our families, and for the families we’ve come to invite and help.  I love being a missionary with my whole soul!

In Proverbs we are taught an eternal truth, but also a dilemma for mortal and fallen men and women, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Prov 3:5)  The counsel to trust the Lord in all we do is logical, rational, and clearly the correct choice.  Our problem, however, is we often lean to our understanding and perhaps better said, our way of doing things.  Why do we do this!?!

Mormon does a brilliant job of summarizing this point as he describes the wickedness of the Nephites.  “Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths!  Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide. (Hel 12:5-6)  In other words, we know better, we’ve got this, no help required, I can figure this out on my own…  (911 call though just in case it doesn’t go my way, please answer :)

The Prophet Jacob saw this same pattern with his people and taught, “Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.” (Jacob 4:10)  And we also learn from Alma that we should, “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good…” (Alma 37:37).   Very simple teaching, the Lord stands ready to bless us, and yet, we can be quick to turn from the Lord and walk our own path.  Dumb, there I said it, it’s dumb. 

How in the world can we be so foolish and not trust the being who gave us life, is all powerful, and knows perfectly what we need if we just trust and follow him?  Why, the natural man is an enemy to God, that’s why.  So, God knowing this says the following…  “And again, I say unto you, I give unto you a new commandment, that you may understand my will concerning you.”  In other words, “Hey, natural man, listen up, I’m going to help your natural self out.  Let me give you some guidance and you’ll know what you need to do.” He then goes on to say,  “Or, in other words, I give unto you directions how you may act before me, that it may turn to you for your salvation.”  In other words, “I’m going to spell it out for you so you’ll understand, do these things, listen to my Spirit, be good, and I’ll save you from yourself!” And then comes the moment of trust, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” Oh snap (as the kids are known to say), you mean I have to do it your way or I don’t get the blessing?  And then the battle within rages and we have to decide whether we’ll do it God’s way or our way, even when we know that it’s the only smart and logical thing to do.  (D&C 82:8-10, thanks for allowing my liberal interpretation of the scriptures)

We can bind the Lord… It is a 100% guarantee of blessings being poured upon us if we simply do what he asks of us.  There has never been nor will there ever be a better contract written.  We accept the terms, do it His way, blessings in the bank.  And yet, we waffle and wonder if there’s a better, more simple, easier, or convenient path.  We look for a loop hole, or an out clause where we get to make our cake and eat it to.  Dumb.

As missionaries we have this same contract given to us, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say…”   We know the prophets and apostles speak the will and mind of the Lord, so let’s take this one for a ride… “Now is the time for members and missionaries to come together, to work together, to labor in the Lord’s vineyard to bring souls unto Him. He has prepared the means for us to share the gospel in a multitude of ways, and He will assist us in our labors if we will act in faith to fulfill His work.” (President Thomas S. Monson -2013)

If it were a commandment from the Lord, and it is, He might say, “My dear missionaries, I give unto you a new commandment, that you may understand my will concerning you regarding member missionary work… In other words, I give unto you directions how you may act before me, that it may turn to your benefit as you go about doing MY work.”  In President Monson’s quote we find the Lord’s counsel and direction (work together), how to act (ways are prepared to share and act in faith), and the blessing (He will assist us in our labors).  It is then up to every missionary that walks the planet if we will follow this inspired counsel.

There are a multitude of ways for us to do it… plan to work with them, every lesson a member present lesson (video or face to face), real daily member connections (not just a group text or thought), working with the ward council, asking for assignments, teaching, inviting, and following up.  Included in our member effort is a focus on less active and part members (children of record 9+, prospective elders , etc).  At times we think this route is too slow, we’ve tried it before, the members don’t help, I want it to be easier, they never have referrals, we can’t eat with them, and on and on… So, we go about it our way.  We don’t get to know them, connect with them, teach or invite them, we hang out with them, or avoid them all together.  Yes, it takes time, and trust is needed, and we earn their referrals, but when we do these things consistently and well, the Lord blesses us because we are doing what He says!

Another topic, glad you asked… “My dear missionaries, I give unto you a new commandment, that you may understand my will concerning you regarding technology use… In other words, I give unto you directions how you may act before me, that it may turn to your benefit as you use the safeguards for using technology.”  Do I need to restate the blessing of being one, guided by the Spirit, staying focused on your purpose, and becoming disciplined? Some might say, “Thanks for that great recommendation and I’ll see if it works out for me, but in the interim I’m going to keep doing what works for me, or it’s just too hard, marshmallows are too delicious to pass up…”  Ay, caramba!  The stated promised blessings from the Lord’s prophets, seers, and revelators, “As you learn to follow these safeguards instinctively, you will become a more effective instrument in the Lord’s hands, and you will unlock the door to blessings in your life and in the lives of those you teach.” Boom, enough said, drop the mic, peace out!

Now I could write for pages on other examples, but I think you get the point.  Obedience to mission standards, effective planning, focused individual and companionship study, effort and diligence are all choices and all bring promised blessings.  We can do it our way, or we can do it the Lord’s way, but the blessing will only come if we bind the Lord.  Some may say, however, I know of missionaries who are disobedient, don’t do it the Lord’s way, and they still baptize, I don’t get it.  The question I would have you ponder is… Is that missionary any better off, any more converted, any more aligned to God and His will? Are they any less of the natural man/woman? If that missionary baptizes a thousand souls, but is no less converted to the Lord, was their mission a success? If you are tempted to feel or think this way, may I remind you that, “…for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (Samuel 16:7)  You serve with all of your heart, your might, your mind, your strength and let the Lord bless you how and when He sees fit, but trust that He will. 

Elders & Sisters, I know the Lord’s way is the best way and the only way.  I too struggle with my dumb moments, and like all of you, am easily beset with temptations and the desire to lean unto my own understanding.  I have found through experience that this route never lifts, fills, or gives peace to my soul.  I can testify that when I do what the Lord says, I always receive the promised blessing, always.  I invite you today to ponder on areas of your missionary service or in life where you can trust in the Lord with all your heart.  In some cases, that may mean you need to start doing things that you know you should do, but for some reason choose not to.  For some of these things it will likely require an AR list check as we are good at rationalizing or justifying why we don’t do some things (i.e., tried it, doesn’t work, going to do my own thing).  In other cases, it may mean that you need to stop doing things that you know keep you from receiving all the blessings you desire.  Repentance is beautiful… The Lord delights in blessing His children, do what He says, and He will ALWAYS keep His promises.  Your conversion to Him and His gospel is what I desire most for each of you; that will be the true measure of your mission.  Our Heavenly Father knows and loves us, the Savior enables us with His grace, the Spirit changes our hearts and helps us put off the natural man.  The Lord is bound as I do what He says and I commit today to do better!  I know these things are true.  Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 3-5-18 (Overcoming Ourselves)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! Thanks for the great week of zone conferences and for all you’re doing to invite and help all to come unto Christ.  I love that we have the blessing each day to increase someone’s faith in the Savior and His Atonement, help them change, make promises to God, feel of the Spirit, and walk the path back to His presence.  What  a blessing it is to be one of the Lord’s chosen representatives!

A topic that has been on my mind for the last several weeks is one that I hope will help us all in our effort to invite all to come unto Christ.  It is a critical aspect of our mortal experience and an area we must all work on if we want to become like the Savior.  In most cases, it will determine whether or not we will be successful in this life and the life to come.  The topic can be labeled as self-control, self-dominion, self-discipline, or self-mastery, and however you choose to describe it, it is ultimately about the test of agency and how we choose to use it.  In its simplest terms, self-mastery is doing those things we should do, and avoiding those things we should not do. It requires strength, willpower, and above all, the Savior's grace; enabling us to do things we otherwise can't do on our own.  

A few thoughts first to get your mind around the idea…  Plato said: “The first and best victory is to conquer self; to be conquered by self is, of all things, the most shameful and vile.”  We see this all over the earth, men and women who are conquered by addiction, debt, self-pity, entitlement, and with seemingly no responsibility or ability to dig themselves out of the pit they choose to enter.  Leonardo da Vinci stated, “You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself.”  He then went on to say that, “the height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. … And this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.” In other words, how can you hope to lift, inspire, and bless others, if you choose not to do it for yourself?  This is why the Savior stated, "But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." (Luke 22:32)

Can we expect to see success in life if we are unwilling to overcome weaknesses that confront us?  Self-mastery is associated with our thoughts, actions, appetites, passions, language, emotions and in most cases it is the struggle of our spirit striving to overcome the weaknesses of our flesh.  President James E. Faust stated, "Self-mastery is a challenge for every individual... it cannot be bought by money or fame. It is the ultimate test of our character. It requires climbing out of the deep valleys of our lives and scaling our own Mount Everest's."  We all face some battle of controlling self.  The issues are too numerous to name, but you're all familiar with what they might be for you. (anger, procrastination, pride, slothfulness, etc. etc. etc.)  Isn't this the great test of our mortal probation, to do all we can to overcome these challenges, to then be proven worthy to return and live with God again?

During your missionary service you have the ability to define your character and truly develop patterns of self-mastery that will bless you for the rest of your life.  You determine how hard you work, study, find, and serve with all your heart, might, mind, and strength.  It is the principle of not only coming to understand what we should do (knowledge), but how we apply it (wisdom). The problem, we are all prone to weakness of body and mind and the question then becomes will we allow our weakness to dominate or will we do all we can and seek divine help along the way.  Consider then a few examples of missionary life where we demonstrate self-mastery each day…

Our exercise in self-mastery begins every morning at 6:29…  You are tired and your body does not want to get up and exercise.  At that point you have a choice, does the spirit or the flesh win?  Will you be overcome or will you have the willpower to start the day on the right foot?  Do you choose to have a productive and effective morning planning effort by setting real goals, by making solid plans, or do you just hope for the best?  Will you have a fruitful personal study?  Will you stay focused and sit at your desk, or lie on the floor, going through the motions, giving the appearance of study when your heart is far from it?  Will you get out of the apartment on time and look for ways to serve and teach or will you stay in the comfort of the apartment and wait until early afternoon to go about your efforts? Will you be engaged in companionship study and lesson planning for the well-being and progress of your investigators, or will you skip it and hope for the best ?  When your companion is getting on your nerves, do you go quiet and avoid, get upset and lash out, or do you demonstrate self-restraint, patience, kindness, and seek to understand?  Do you have the courage to talk openly and lovingly with your companion or do you just avoid? Throughout the day are you anxiously engaged, teaching, improving, and focused, or do you let the day simply come and go lost in your own desires and needs?  All of these can be answered if you have your purpose written on your heart or not…

A significant test of self-mastery for some of you is the phone in your hands.  It is true what we have been told… It accelerates a missionary in either direction, positive or negative. We speak often of keeping the safeguards and the importance of having the Spirit direct your efforts, being focused on your purpose, being one with your companion and the big one… discipline.  Even with this, some can’t help but go to the feed and scroll through what’s going on with friends at home or liking posts.  Some get up on time, and then go right to messages or notifications to see who’s liked their post or sent them a message.  Some endlessly look at their phone throughout the day, without their companion, or with any purpose in mind.  If your phone controls you here, imagine how it will control you at home.  I love those who’ve said, “I can’t trust myself or I don’t even want the temptation, so I’ve simply deleted Facebook.”  Others have turned off all notifications, email, Facebook, any anything else that will cause them to become undisciplined or distracted.  The AR list is alive and well for those who are undisciplined, and any excuse is a reflection on your progress and personal integrity.  I invite those who can and should be better to remember whose time you’re on.  As Nephi taught, “the guilty taketh the truth the be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.”

You are all faced with the choice of how you serve and who you will become.  The natural man/woman within us wants to default to the path of least resistance.  This path of course leads to little growth, unfulfilled dreams, and regret.  Unfortunately, it is the simple areas of self-mastery that can hang us up well into the future (small and simple means for good or destruction).  When I return home, will I have the discipline to study the scriptures and pray daily?  Will I be faithful in my callings, go home/visit teaching, take care of my physical body, attend the temple, make the Sabbath Day a delight?  You will reap what you sow and there is no better time than today to sow personal strength and self-control.

So what do you do to gain self-mastery?  We are sons and daughters of God, endowed with power, enabled by the Savior's grace, to do and become whatever we choose.  We fall on our knees and wrestle with the Lord in our weakness so he can make us strong. We set personal goals and plans to help drive us, cause us to act, and progress.  We lean on and ask for the support of others where we struggle.  We own up to our weaknesses, poor decisions, ask for forgiveness, drop our pride, and do the best we can.  We recognize when we fall victim to becoming an object vs. an agent and seek to change our ways (repent).  To gain self-mastery we ultimately have to give our will to the only beings that can make us strong and help us overcome, our loving Father in Heaven and our Savior.   What do we gain by obtaining self-mastery, all that the Father has!

Elders & Sisters, my prayer for all of us is that our mission experience will enable us to develop patterns of self-mastery that will last a lifetime.  We have the ability to overcome the natural man/woman as taught by King Benjamin.  The formula he gave us was to yield to the enticing’s of the Holy Spirit, and become a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and become as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.  I invite you today to have more self-mastery, first as a son or daughter of God, then as a missionary, and finally as a lifelong disciple of Christ.  Thanks for your goodness, your efforts, and desire to become who you are destined to be.  Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 2-26-18 (Called to Arms)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! I trust the promise we find from the Frist Presidency in Preach My Gospel, “The Lord will reward and richly bless you as you humbly and prayerfully serve Him.” Whether the blessings come now or later are not of concern, I simply trust that they will!

From the Lectures of Faith, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “…unless a person has an actual knowledge that the course he/she is pursuing is according to the will of God, he/she will grow weary in mind and faint…”  So it is true for us…  Unless we know the course, direction, or why (knowledge/understanding) behind what we do, we too will tire, grow weary in mind and faint.   This is true for anything in life, be it missionary work, education, career, church service, and family life. 

As missionaries we are given a vision statement, our why, our message, and our direction…  “Our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end.”  We memorize it, recite it, and even sing it, but unless we truly know and have an actual knowledge that this is the course God wants us to pursue, it will be nothing more to us than a nice slogan or a rally cry that has little meaning and effect. 

In the scriptures we see a people, and in particular a leader, who understood their cause and the direction they should pursue.  Their vision statement… “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children.” (Alma 46:12) Captain Moroni raised the “Title of Liberty” to bring focus to his people, motivate them to act, and inspire their behavior.  What was the result of this inspired vision? “And when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent part of his garment in the air, that all might see the writing which he had written upon the rent part, and crying with a loud voice, saying: Behold, whosoever will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them.  And it came to pass that when Moroni had proclaimed these words, behold, the people came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God…”(Alma 46:19-21)  Moroni’s inspired vision stirred the hearts of the people, gave them direction, and they wrote it upon their hearts by making a covenant to abide by it.  Because they individually knew the course to pursue, they had purpose, they gave their all, they knew their why!

A missionary must come to understand the vision for what the Lord wants them to pursue… Our “Title of Liberty” for the souls of men is to invite and help them… We are to teach them the restored truths of the gospel insomuch that they will have a desire to increase their faith in the Savior and in His loving Atonement.  Our vision is to invite them to repent so they can feel at peace, forgiven, and clean.  Our purpose is to invite them to receive a remission of sins by entering the waters of baptism.   Our why is to help them receive the gift of the Holy Ghost so they can connect to heaven and receive loving guidance and direction.  Our message is to help them understand how to keep the commandments, continue in their faith, repent, keep covenants, enjoy the Spirit in their lives and endure to the end.  This has to become our WHY!  Does this purpose inspire and motivate you to come running, write it upon your heart, and make it the course you want to pursue?

Spiritual vision, when in harmony with the Lord’s will, always answers the question “Why?”  Where there is no vision “the people perish” (Prov 29:18), they lose motivation, grow weary in mind, and faint. The vision will always produce the reason behind what we do, and how we do it.  Without a strong vision or belief in the cause, we might do things out of duty, but it won’t be sustainable over the course of time.  Case in point on a subject where few have a vision: home teaching…  It is a struggle for many brethren in the Church because they do not know their why.   The why for home teaching is to bless and help families increase their faith in the Savior, repent, keep covenants, feel and recognize the Spirit in their lives, keep commandments and endure to the end.  If the “why” behind home teaching isn’t understood at a personal level, there is little motivation to go and do and it becomes a wearying and time consuming activity.  No vision, and no why, will lead to halfhearted attempts and going through the motions. 

A vision statement that is understood will always lead to goals that are inspired by the vision.  Goals answer the question “What?”  In other words, “what” will I do to accomplish the vision.  For Captain Moroni’s people it was to take up their arms, go to battle, and to make covenants.  A vision cannot be measured or counted, but a goal allows us to see progress towards the desired cause we are pursuing.  As an example… If my vision is to feel better about my health and well-being, I may set a goal to lose weight, exercise more, eat better, and get more rest.  These goals can be counted and measured and allow a person to begin feeling and seeing the results they desire.  What is often true, however, is many set the goal to lose weight or eat better, but grow weary of the effort required, and having lost sight of their vision (if they had one), fall back into old patterns.  A goal without an inspired or higher purpose (vision) will not be as meaningful or anxiously pursued.  No goals, and no what, will lead to halfhearted attempts and going through the motions.

A vision statement that has clear goals and objectives will always lead towards a plan.  Plans answer the question “How?”  A true plan will lead us to the details of how, when, where, and who.  For Captain Moroni, his plan was to gather his troops, march them into battle, and to specifically cut off the armies of Amalickiah. (Alma 46:31) Using the example of heath, a specific plan will include the time you’ll exercise and how, the kinds and quantities of the food you’ll eat, and even who you might make an accounting to.  No plans, and no how, will lead to halfhearted attempts and going through the motions.

You all know what I’m sharing above is true, it is not new to you, and you hear it often.  The question I’m often asked is how do I get there?  How do I make this vision become something that motivates, inspires, and gives me the direction I need?  How do I let this vision truly make a difference in the goals I set and the plans I make?  How can I hear Moroni’s cry and want to join in with all of my heart?  The truth is, you have to come to it on your own.  A brief example below…

In a recent letter from one of our returned missionaries, she shared how she came to understand the missionary vision/purpose and how it became personal and real.   While serving, she went through a very difficult few weeks… Her grandmother unexpectedly passed away, there were troubles with family at home, her companion was experiencing some real challenges, and she wasn’t seeing the success she had hoped for.  She was very down and was on the verge of calling me and asking to go home.  In her letter, she expressed how the doctrine of Christ was something she had heard taught over and over, but it wasn’t until she realized that she could apply it to herself that the light went on in her mind.  On a particularly difficult day, she recognized what she needed was greater faith in the Savior and His Atonement for all that was going on at home and on her mission.  Rather than losing hope or turning to despair, she turned towards the Savior and let Him carry the burden she simply couldn’t.  She shared how repentance took on a new meaning, and that it wasn’t simply about turning from sin, but changing the way she thought about her relationship to God and how He could and would bless her.  She realized that the covenants she had made would help her focus on the Savior and become more like Him; patient, long-suffering, obedient, and humble.  She prayed more mightily for the Holy Ghost to be with her and then allowed the Spirit to comfort, teach, and testify that what she was doing as a missionary mattered, that her family would be well, and that she could endure not the current and future challenges.  The vision she proclaimed and taught suddenly became real!  She realized that it wasn’t just something she said or read about, but that it actually helped her in a meaningful and personal way.  This experience was like hearing Captain Moroni call her to arms; to take up the fight, and to make a covenant to serve with more heart, might, mind, and strength.  I can witness to you that she did and that it changed her mission.  She had found her why and it became her motivation to study, plan, find, teach, invite, follow up and do what missionaries do.  They weren’t just activities, they were purposeful experiences on helping others come unto Christ.  The challenges did not go away, but she blessed many and she expressed that it has forever changed her. 

Elders & Sisters, unless you come to an actual knowledge of why you’re here, you too can grow weary in mind and faint.   A vision does not mean that things will become easy.  Moroni still had to fight the battle, but he knew what he was fighting the battle for.  Going through the motions will never bring peace of mind, growth, or happiness.  It is when we jump in with both feet, surrender our will, and apply the vision to ourselves that our missions change.  The understanding of the vision, and belief in it, makes all the difference on the days that don’t go well and when all seems to fall apart.  Having a “Why” inspires you to keep pressing forward, to pursue your goals, to execute your plans, and to stay with it through the ups and the downs.  Vision truly does motivate, inspire, and direct…  I invite you to do three things today: First, go back and read chapter 1 of PMG and make it a goal to study it at least once a month for the rest of your mission.  It has been written to help you understand your why.  Second, study the doctrine of Christ in the scriptures and liken what you read to yourself.  How did Nephi, Jacob, King Benjamin, Abinadi, Mosiah, Alma, Alma Jr., the sons of Mosiah, Amulek, Mormon, and Moroni apply the doctrine of Christ to themselves and how can you do the same.  The third invitation will come at zone conferences this week… if you accept this invitation, and truly ponder what is asked of you, it will lift your vision and all that comes with it.

As the cliché says, “There are two great days in a missionaries life, the day they get their call, and the day they find out why!”  I invite you to write doctrine of Christ in your heart; it is the purpose of our work and the only way.  God’s vision is to bring all His children home, His goal is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, His plan is the Plan of Redemption, Salvation, Mercy, and Happiness.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and living prophets and apostles call us to arms.  We have accepted the invitation to go to battle, to fight for a cause more noble than anything else we can do. I pray that we will all find our reason and why to fight with them.  We know the battle has already been won, but there are many who need our invitations and help to bring them safely home.  I testify in the name of Jesus Christ that this is God’s work and that it is true! Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 2-19-18 (Font to Font)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! “Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.” (3 Ne 5:13). There couldn’t be a better description of who we are and what we all strive to do!

An amazing blessing is soon to return to Houston…

“Behold, the field was ripe, and blessed are ye, for ye did thrust in the sickle, and did reap with your might, yea, all the day long did ye labor; and behold the number of your sheaves! And they shall be gathered into the garners, that they are not wasted” (Alma 26:5).

“Therefore, I must gather together my people, according to the parable of the wheat and the tares, that the wheat may be secured in the garners to possess eternal life, and be crowned with celestial glory, when I shall come in the kingdom of my Father to reward every man according as his work shall be” (D&C 101:65)

Two amazing verses of scripture! What do we learn?  The Lord will gather his people into the garners (sheaves represent newly baptized converts) to the end that they may not be wasted and that they might be secured.   What does this mean? Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Clearly, when we baptize, our eyes should gaze beyond the baptismal font to the holy temple. The great garner into which the sheaves should be gathered is the holy temple.”

Today I met with President Hayes of the Houston Temple and he shared with our coordinating council the exciting news regarding the rededication and opening of the temple.  On April 22nd,  the Houston Temple will be rededicated by President M. Russell Ballard, and on April 24th the doors will open for all saints who desire to be gathered in and secured.  I can’t wait!

Since the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey, we have had over 100 new converts baptized, but very few have had the blessing of being gathered in the garners of the temple.  Can you imagine what it would be like if all 100 converts were able to join us at the temple in the months ahead?   One of the greatest blessings of seeing a new convert in baptism white, is helping them prepare to be baptized for their ancestors in temple white.  When we help an new convert go from baptismal font to the temple font, we are ensuring that they are not “wasted” and that we help “secure” them. We know that when we help a new convert do their own family history work, and then take those names to the temple, they are more likely to stay active and progress towards greater saving ordinances for themselves.   Gathering and securing are vitally important in our daily efforts…

How do we help secure them?  One of my favorite scriptures that teaches the promised blessings of attending the temple is found in Doctrine and Covenants 109:22. This scripture comes from the Kirtland, Ohio Temple dedicatory prayer offered by the Prophet Joseph Smith and promises four specific blessings… “And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them”.  I love the promised blessings found in this scripture and what it offers all of us as we enter the house of the Lord.  Every new convert needs to be armed with God’s power, His name upon them, His glory with them, and angels that have charge over them!  How secure would a new convert feel with these promised blessings?  How desirous would they be to get to the temple soon and return often?  Sign us all up, we all need these blessings!

To gather them in and help them prepare to enter the temple we need to begin sharing with them a vision for how the temple will bless them and their ancestors.  How do we do this? “And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.” (D&C 2:2)  When we begin to share how the temple will bless their fathers, mothers, grandparents, and beyond, the Lord will plant in the new converts hearts a desire to come to their rescue.  How does this happen?  Elder David A. Bednar taught that the spirit of Elijah is a “distinctive influence of the Holy Ghost (that) draws people to identify, document, and cherish their ancestors and family members – both past and present.”  When the Holy Ghost penetrates their hearts, they are moved to bless their families, and they are drawn to them.  As they respond to the call of their fathers, by finding, preparing, and taking ancestors names to the temple, they literally become “saviours on mount Zion.” (Obadiah 1:21)   

To prepare for the opening of the temple, to gather them in and help secure them, we need to do the following… First, identify all new converts in our areas from last year (even beyond August) and invite them to prepare to go the temple when it opens.  Second, we need to make sure we are helping them prepare by finding their own family names to take.  If we are to do this, we need to know how to find names ourselves; do you?  When new converts take their own family names to the temple it has a far more powerful effect than if it is someone they don’t know.  Third, we need to make sure men 12+ are working with their bishops to receive the Aaronic priesthood.  You can help them by teaching them the importance of the priesthood and how it blesses all of God’s children.  Fourth, we need to make sure they receive a limited use recommend, involve member friends, and prepare a date to attend.  As a mission we have scheduled the third Friday of each month from 5pm onward to bring as many new converts to the temple as we can.  If they are your converts, you can join them and we want you to be there to celebrate with them.  Will you prepare as many new converts as you can? Will you seek them out and get them excited about the promised blessings of attending the temple and turning their hearts to their fathers? (We will also hold our quarterly temple trips again – date to be determined)   

Elders & Sisters, some of the most amazing mission experiences we have had here in Houston have been at the new convert temple nights.  Not only does the beauty of the temple inspire them, but what they feel and experience broadens their views and expands their horizons.  They see the great Plan of Salvation at work and how God’s love extends to their immediate family.  We have seen daughters baptized for their mothers, grandsons baptized for their grandfathers, and siblings baptized for their siblings.  Gathering these new converts into the garners is part of our sacred callings.  Our work is among the living and our blessing is to help secure them through the blessings that are uniquely found at the house of the Lord.  I invite you today to prepare yourself.  Your personal worthiness is always a requirement to attend the house of the Lord.  I invite you to learn or improve your ability to help new converts find their own family names (see Family History training on missionary portal).  I also invite you to think font to font and to begin with the end in mind.  Only when our new converts are safely gathered in and secured can we feel comfortable that our efforts have been full and complete.  How I love the sacred blessings that come from the holy temple, let’s help all we teach come to feel the same.  Love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 2-12-18 (I Know of Myself)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! Thanks for your goodness, for your faith, for your diligence, and for your desire to help all feel the joy and gift of repentance.  You represent the Savior, you teach, testify, and invite in His name.  Be worthy of this blessing, be grateful to serve Him, and continue to become converted to Him and His gospel and help others do the same!

Do you know?  Of all the wonderful teachings we find in the Book of Mormon, I love the assurance that Alma gives of how we can come to know the truth for ourselves.  After teaching an amazing sermon to the people of Zarahemla, he asks, “Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself?”  He then goes on to answer his own question, “Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?  Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.” (Alma 5:45-46)

Have you personally followed Alma’s pattern to gain your own witness of the truth? Has the Spirit confirmed to your heart and mind (spirit of revelation) that what we teach, preach, and live is true? Have you fasted and prayed to come to a knowledge of the truth? Have you entered into your own sacred grove and asked God if He’s there, if Jesus Christ is your Savior and Redeemer, if Joseph Smith truly is a prophet of God, if this is His Church, and if the Book of Mormon is the word of God? 

Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge of the Seventy taught the following. “How can we know the answers? There are different methods of learning including the scientific, the analytical and the divine methods. All three methods begin the same way, with a question. Questions are important, especially the primary questions. (The primary questions are: Is there a God who is our Father? Is Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Savior of the World, Was Joseph Smith a prophet? Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-­‐‑day Saints the kingdom of God on the earth?)

With the scientific method a hypothesis is framed in response to a question. Experimentation is then conducted to test the hypothesis. The results are then analyzed and conclusions are drawn that either confirm, disprove or modify the hypothesis in which event the process continues.

The analytical method involves gathering, organizing and weighing the evidence relevant to a question. Based on the weight of the evidence, conclusions are drawn as to what the truth may be.

The divine method of learning incorporates elements of both the scientific and analytical methods but ultimately trumps everything else by tapping into the powers of heaven.

As for the scientific method, Alma invites us to “experiment upon (his) words” and the Lord said: “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”  In regard to tithing He also said, “…prove me now herewith…if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Truth can be discovered by doing, which is faith.

The analytical method also plays a role. The Lord instructed Oliver Cowdery saying: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right…”  Reason, studying things out in our minds, plays a role in preparing us to know the truth.

Ultimately, however, the things of God are made known by the Spirit of God.  The Apostle Paul taught that men only know the things of men and that the things of God are known by no man except by the Spirit of God. He said: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Jesus said: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost… shall teach you all things...”  Part of the great promise of The Book of Mormon is that “…by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”  Ultimately, the things of God are made known by the Spirit of God.”

Elders & Sisters, many of us were fortunate to be raised in a home where gospel principles were taught, church attendance was the norm, and we came to believe what our parents, teachers, and leaders taught us.  This is good and it laid the foundation for our faith, but as President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “Every man eventually is backed up to the wall of faith, and there he must make his stand.”  We will all have to come to a knowledge for ourselves, independent of the testimony of others, that what we believe is true. 

I vividly recall arriving on my mission, and for the first time in my life, I realized I had to know what I was teaching was true.  Sadly, I had waited to be in the field before I actually got down on my knees and asked if Joseph Smith really did see God the Father and Jesus Christ.  I was teaching it, I had always assumed it was true, I hoped that it was, but I hadn’t actually done what Alma taught.  For the next several weeks I asked God if Joseph Smith really was a prophet of God. 

The answer didn’t come immediately, but it did come.  I was teaching a lesson on the Restoration in our small, rented church house in Futrono, Chile.  We were showing our investigator an old film strip of Joseph Smith’s experience, his desire to know what church was true, his study in the book of James, and his journey into a grove of trees to ask of God.  I listened to Joseph’s own words as he testified of seeing a pillar of light, that descended gradually until it rested upon him.  When the words were spoken, “This is my beloved Son, hear Him”,  the Spirit witnessed to my heart and mind like never before that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.  Light filled my mind and I knew without a doubt that what I was teaching, what I believed, and what I hoped for was true.  To this day I remember the feeling… it was peace, it was joy, and it was heaven sent.  I know of myself that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.

I know of myself that God lives. I have felt His love, I see His creation, I know he hears my prayers and knows me by name.  I know of myself that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer, that He lives, and that He personally atoned for me.  I have felt the enabling power of His grace, His forgiveness, His peace, and His love.  I know of myself that this is God’s Church on the earthy today.  I know this because I have experimented, weighed the evidence, and have felt the reassurance that this is the only Church that has the priesthood authority, ordinances, and God’s chosen prophet to lead and guide us.  I know of myself that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.  I know this as I have read, pondered, and prayed and have received a witness by the power of the Holy Ghost that it is true.  I know of these things because I have done what Alma taught.  I have prayed, I have fasted, I have experimented, I have nurtured, and I continue to act in faith.  I do not doubt, I do not wonder, I know these things are true.  I testify in the name of Jesus Christ that what I have come to know is true. 

Elders & Sisters, I invite you today to ask if you know of yourself if these things are true.  Have you experimented, analyzed, but most importantly had these things made known unto you by the Spirit of God?  Have you had your own sacred grove moment where the spirit of revelation has brought the feelings to your heart and thoughts to your mind that you desire?  I am eternally grateful that my mission backed me up to the wall of faith and that I came to a knowledge for myself.  If you have had this experience, write it down, treasure it, remember what you did, and how you came to this knowledge.  If you are still working on it, good for you, keep asking, keep acting, keep believing.  I have had to continually nurture my testimony, it hasn’t been confirmed by only one experience, but by many acts of faith and continuous effort.  I believe in Alma’s words.  I testify that the Spirit will make manifest the truth of these things by the power of the Holy Ghost.  I invite you today to know of yourself.  In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.  I love ya!

President Hall

President's Pen 2-5-18 (Positivity for Performance)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

I love ya! Thanks for increasing your urgency and desire to help all come unto Christ.  We have the greatest message to share the world will ever know.  Keep your wonderful desires to find those the Lord has prepared and your purposeful efforts to teach repentance and baptize converts!

Although it is out of sight and out of mind for us as full-time missionaries, the world’s nations will soon gather in South Korea for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.  The best from around the word will compete in their individual disciplines and aim to reach their goal of winning a gold medal.  These athletes have put years into their craft, spent hours and hours in training, sacrificed leisure time, avoided distraction, and will put it all on the starting line.

Athletes of this caliber, however, don’t get to this point on their own.  There is tremendous family support, government backing, and coaches who help them hone their skills and abilities.  The beauty of the Olympics is watching how mankind can push themselves higher, faster, and stronger through discipline, continuous improvement, technology, and an absolute desire to become the best.  I am inspired as I watch them compete, learn about their sacrifices, and see the human spirit soar to new heights.    

With all the amazing talent on display, I am fascinated by what separates the good athletes from the great athletes.  When you get to this level of competition, physical prowess and training are similar for most athletes.  They have similar builds and body types, the best coaches, diet, resources, and all the necessary tools to be successful.  What makes the difference for those who will win?

In a recent study on human performance, there is a new body of evidence that suggests we are all capable of pushing beyond our perceived physical and psychological limitations.  Physiologists combined all the reliable predictors, such as muscle strength and movement, lung capacity, oxygen in the blood, strength of the heart, and any other measurable factors, but they couldn’t predict who would win.  Athletes who hold the same characteristics, that train and measure as equals, could be seconds or minutes apart when it comes to crossing the finish line.  Why?

Since the early 60’s, psychologists have proclaimed how key the human mind is in our performance.  Very early on in their studies, they observed how an athlete’s mind could overcome the fatigue, pain, and discomfort to push harder, further, and endure beyond what the body was willing to give.  Now 60 years later, the research on how the brain figures into performance, clearly suggests that what makes the difference between equally qualified athletes, is what they believe they can do, versus when their bodies tell them to stop.  All the athletes they studied suffered, their bodies are tired and want to give in, but some have just enough mind over body to make the difference.  The research has found, that athletes who are able to provide themselves with positive motivational statements like, “Keep pushing, you’re doing well” or “You have more to give, keep going” have the ability to push through finish line while others may falter. 

In 2016, a study was performed with world-class cyclists to prove the hypothesis that the mind could overcome heat, fatigue, and other negative environmental conditions.  They were given two weeks of positive self-talk training before a grueling all-out ride in 95 degree weather.  The evidence of positive self-talk on the physiological impact was impressive.  Athletes boosted their time to exhaustion from eight to eleven minutes, controlled their core temperatures, and pushed harder and further than ever before.  The mind pushed beyond any limits the athletes had previously imposed on themselves.

Another example of going beyond perceived limits is quoted in the Wall Street Journal… “Former Boston Marathon champion Amby Burfoot once described the “absolute, no-doubt-in-the-world best running workout you can do” as a series of all-out mile repeats where, after you think you’re finished, your coach tells you to do one more at the same pace. The surprise? You can. Most of us don’t have sadistic coaches, or indeed any coach at all, but this general approach—setting a tough but achievable finish line for yourself, and then raising your sights once you reach it—is a powerful way of pushing beyond what seems initially feasible.”  I love this! If you believe you can, you’re right!

It comes with no surprise, that if we believe, we can achieve!  The examples of the Olympic spirit are not limited to the super athletes.  We see people from all walks of life accomplish remarkable results as they put in the hard work, and then positively push towards their desired outcomes.  Is missionary work any different?

I have seen missionaries that are like the great athletes described above…  Some go into a so called “dead area”, and with hard work and belief that the Lord will help them succeed, achieve amazing results.  They push through the hard days, the factors outside of their control, they keep pressing forward and stay positive.  Their faith in the Savior and His work inspires me.  I see it in their weekly emails, interviews, their work with the members, local leadership, and with their companions.  I also see missionaries who give all they have, stay positive despite limited outward results, and stay tenacious and purpose focused wherever they’re assigned.  They don’t become discouraged, lose their faith, drop their expectations, or slow their pace.  They also have the ability to harness the power of positive self-talk and keep the faith and belief that the Lord is in the vineyard. 

Elders & Sisters, we bring the ultimate message of positivity and hope.  The gospel of Jesus Christ brings strength to all with feeble knees and for all who carry burdens on their backs.  It is the differentiating factor for all who aspire to become better than they are today, and especially when they need to go beyond their own physical and mental limits.  It is our faith in Christ that allows us to be steadfast and press forward with a perfect brightness of hope, feasting, pressing forwarding, and enduring.  The goal is eternal life and the good Shepherd whispers to our hearts and minds, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light, you can do this, keep pushing, keep fighting, I’ll give you rest”. 

I invite you to develop a mindset that accentuates the positive!  I invite you to push a little harder, run a little faster, and dig a little deeper when you begin to tire or feel like you can’t go any further.  I invite you to rid yourself of negative self-talk and listen the voice that builds, strengthens, and edifies.  I invite you to recognize that you have prayers coming from the prophet, the apostles, the temples, members of the Church, your family, and I believe the Savior Himself still prays to the Father on your behalf.  You have the best tools, technology, and resources to help you be successful.  Choose to eliminate excuses, choose the harder right over the easier wrong, choose to believe you can achieve.  I know the Savior’s grace is indeed the divine help and strength that allows ordinary men and women to do extraordinary things.  That is what my mind needs to know and believe.  You are the Lord’s representative, your divine potential is real, and there are no limits to who you will become. Love ya!

President Hall