President's Pen 10-19-15 (Adversity, Expect It)

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 and the best missionaries in the world!

Elders & Sisters,

We love you!  It was great to be with you at the temple this past week.  I hope the peace and joy you felt in the temple has carried into your missionary efforts.  We were blessed to have President Crane pray for you and our success as a mission at the altar of the temple.  He was prompted to pray for us to find the tens of thousands the Lord has prepared to receive the gospel message.  Will you have sufficient faith to see the blessings of his prayer come to pass?  If you are planning to find through members, less, active, current investigators and opening your mouth at every opportunity, you will find those the Lord has prepared. 

I wanted to share a personal story with you this week of an experience I had on my mission, that was not only difficult, but one that helped me stretch and grow more than I thought I was capable of. 

The first six months of my mission I served in a small mountain town in Futrono, Chile.  From the day I arrived in my first area I was serving as a counselor in a small branch. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I had a senior companion that was helping me learn and take on the weight of the branch.  I was learning a lot, having a great experience, and life was good. 

Then my first transfer rolled around and my life would be changed in a flash.  I was assigned to Lanco, another small town in southern Chile.  Not only would I be a senior companion, and follow up trainer, but I would also serve as the branch president.  I was excited and slightly terrified that I’d be taking on this new assignment. 

When I arrived in the area I learned that it had been white washed.  The only thing left for me to come up to speed was a cassette tape to listen to, a hand written member list, and a few important instructions.  What I heard on the tape not only shocked me, but had me wanting to escape on the next bus out of town. 

In the recorded message, I was informed of a number of issues that had taken place within this small branch.  The first problem; the previous branch president had stolen the sacred tithing funds and had sold some of the church property that belonged to the small home we met in for church!  He had been excommunicated and the entire town seemed to know about it.   Among several other challenges, the recording also informed me that a previous set of missionaries had not locked their hearts and had been dating young women throughout the town; both were sent home.  The town also seemed to know about this unfortunate example of missionary work and I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to receive us. 

My companion then arrived, he was 28 years old, looked a lot like my dad, and was engaged to be married when he returned home (he wore his engagement wedding band!).  I thought my life had literally ended and if I could have curled up in a ball and disappeared it would have been better than what I had just landed in. 

Here I was, 19 years old, still working on my Spanish, and now responsible for a dysfunctional branch that had more issues than I had every imagined possible in my young, now coming to and end, life. 

I remember writing a letter home full of despair, grief, and anguish; questioning why the Lord and mission president wanted to punish me!  I really needed Adjusting to Missionary Life at that moment and nothing like it even existed!  I sat down with my new green companion and wondered how in the world we would be able to do the Lord’s work.  I had little faith, I was overwhelmed, and wanted to jump ship like Jonah, and I would have been fine if the whale had just eaten me alive.

I gathered myself and did the only thing I knew how to do; pray like I’d never prayed before.  It was a serious 911 call to my Father in Heaven and I was pleading for help.  What should I do, where should I start, how could I do this?  

The answer came, go visit the members…  So that’s what we did.  It was a branch of about 60 members and for the next three days I knocked on every member door to see if they were alive and interested in coming to church that Sunday.  Many let us know that they were no longer interested; they no longer had faith that the missionaries nor the leadership could be trusted.  We found a few that showed mild interest and so we invited them to join us at church.

Church rolled around that Sunday and I was excited to see who might come.  Not knowing what to expect, but feeling hopeful, I was saddened to find that it would be only three of us that day; my companion, me, and an older brother who had kept the faith throughout.  I was distraught and at feeling more weight on my shoulders than I’d ever felt in my life at that point.

At the time, sending letters home was a three week journey one way, and nearly six weeks round trip to receive a response.  I didn’t want to call and let down the mission president with my complaints, and six weeks was an eternity, so I decided to use this amazing technology called a fax machine to see if I could get some guidance from my dad.  He’d been a bishop, stake presidency counselor, a high councilor, and elders quorum president, surely he would have the magic answer to make all my issues go away.  His response was short and sweet…  I would be fine, and that I was to read D&C 122:5-8.  I literally thought, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!”  I am in the depths of despair and you send me a scripture to read?

With nothing left to lose, I opened my scriptures to these well-known verses and the counsel I needed was laid out before me.  While it was not the answer I had hoped for, all of the sudden I had perspective that my suffering was small in comparison.  The Prophet Joseph was clearly distressed and had a lot more going against him than I did, but even he hadn’t suffered as much as the Savior. 

Reading the words, “know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good,” somehow gave me strength that I could endure.  While I still felt a level of despair, I decided that the only thing I could do was go to work.  It wasn’t easy, desirable, or much fun some days, but somehow I would get something out of this.  My favorite scripture became Alma 26:27, I think I read it multiple times a day.

The next week we had 10 attend church and before I left we had 20 coming out.  I wish I could tell you that we brought everyone back, that we built a chapel, and that all was well in Zion, but that didn’t happen.  The branch would continue to struggle and it is still a branch to this day. 

The lessons I learned in this transfer are memorable and forever etched in my mind.  I have drawn upon this experience countless times when life’s difficulties have come my way.  It was an important refiners fire and one of many the Lord has given me over the years.  While this experience isn’t as challenging as the death of a loved one, family crisis, serious illness, or other life difficulties, it was a game changer for me in my personal development, growth, and relationship with my Heavenly Father.  

You’re all having these wonderfully stretching, challenging growth experiences, which will also be “for thy good”.    Some of you faced significant challenges before the mission, others like me, are experiencing your first growing pains as a result of your mission experience.  I am grateful that the Lord is blessing you with these opportunities, which stretch and prepare you for the difficult challenges life will bring your way.  Today, some of these challenges seem beyond your reach, but you will look back in a future day and recognize that they were indeed for your good. 

Perhaps a few of you needed an email like this today.  Some of you have already recognized that this is the Lord’s work; it won’t be frustrated, only man is frustrated. (D&C 3:3).  Some of you have also come to know that the Lord is hard at work with us.  Jacob 5, the great allegory of the tame and wild olive trees, teaches this message…  “And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.”  God is at the Helm, we press on, move forward, hold steadfast, and recognize that the Lord hastens His work in His time, and in His way. 

Be of good cheer, the Lord is with us and this work cannot be stopped.  Be faithful, be obedient, and trust in God; He will always deliver us.  We love you!

Mission Update

We have had 19 souls enter the waters of baptism for a remission of sins this month.  At the temple trips this week I met four recently baptized members where the missionaries had prepared them to come and participate in baptisms for the dead.  Two of the members had been baptized three weeks ago and the other two were baptized just over a month ago. Full purpose missionaries find, teach, invite, retain, and activate!  Celebrate when you find, celebrate when you teach, celebrate when you extend bold invitations to come unto Christ, celebrate when we go to the temple, and celebrate when the less active come back!  Keep up the great work.  

Saludos y abrazos, have a great week!

President Hall