I just checked the weather back in Kutztown, my last area, and they are expecting the high to only get to the mid forties. It is good to be home back in the warm dry weather of Arizona.
It was wonderful to be a full time missionary. I got to meet many wonderful members and nonmembers alike and I really grew to love the areas that I served in, well except for the cold part during the winter months, I don’t miss that part at all. In all, I served in eight different areas in four different states with ten companions. It was fun but difficult to learn how to live with complete, or in a couple cases almost complete, strangers. You not only live with a complete stranger, but you are joined at the hip.
One of my first reactions to opening my call to the Pennsylvania Philadelphia Mission was that I was going to freeze. Grandma sent a card to me with two Elders standing in snow on a cold windy day with the caption: Many are cold, but few are frozen. I am here to report, I did freeze, but I survived. Another reaction was that it would be a very beautiful place deep with American and church history, and I am proud to report that is was.
When President Rolf set me apart as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in my blessing, I was told that my speech impediment would not interfere with what the Lord was calling me to do. That promise was fulfilled. People from the Ward and my family have told me that my speech has improved. When we had our first skype at Christmas, Grandma asked if people could understand my speech. I laughed and told them that people thought I had an accent! Can you believe that? I am here to testify that when the Lord gives you a promise, He will follow through if you are faithful to Him.
One of my favorite parts of being a missionary was teaching the people I was called to serve. I have taught people from all different walks of life, from people who don’t have much to people who have done pretty well in their careers. In general, those who didn’t have much had no motivation to change. Those who did well had no desire to change. As missionaries, our challenge was helping them see how the Gospel of Jesus Christ would improve their lives.
During the time I was in Linwood, I was teaching Michael Tomlin. We doubled into the area, or in other words we both got transferred into the area together, so we only had the notes from the previous missionaries to work from. Brother Tomlin first came in contact with the missionaries one day when he was surfing the internet. At some point, the local missionaries were sent over and started to meet with him. He met with the missionaries for a couple of months, and he almost dropped them a couple of times because he felt like the missionaries were pushing him. He didn’t feel ready and does not like being pushed into things.
We talked to the member that normally came out with the previous missionaries. He felt that Brother Tomlin was ready to get baptized, and after meeting with Brother Tomlin the first time, we agreed with the member. There were a few things Brother Tomlin needed to still learn before he could be baptized, so we decided to cover them while we tried to figure out what we needed to teach him before he realized he was ready.
The turning point was when we decided to ask him the baptismal interview questions. After asking him those questions, he gave us the answers that demonstrated that he was worthy to be baptized and we pointed it out to him. The following lesson we asked him the questions that Alma asked the Nephites at the waters of Mormon in Mosiah 18 verses 8-10.
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you? (Mosiah 18:8-10)
As we went through the questions, he slowly realized that he was ready to be baptized. After we finished asking him the questions, he agreed to be baptized. Unfortunately, I was transferred before he was baptized, but the last I knew I he was preparing to receive the Aaronic Priesthood.
One of my favorite couples that I taught was Jing and Yao. They are originally from mainland China and were brought up without any religious background. They are in the United States to earn their PhDs. They were originally referred to missionaries in New York by their neighbor and then the missionaries referred them to us after they moved to Pennsylvania for a job opportunity for Jing.
When we first started to teach them, Jing had a hard time accepting what we were teaching him while Yao was more open. After we taught them the plan of salvation, Jing straight out told us that he had a hard time believing what we were teaching. Jing and Yao asked questions in such a way that we could tell that they wanted to learn and were not just seeking information.
Over the course of time, Jing started to open up to the teachings and we could see progress. We kept encouraging Jing to say the prayer at the end of the lesson, but he normally declined. At some point, Jing felt comfortable enough to say the closing prayer in one of our lessons, and that seemed like a major turning point. In our last lesson with them, Jing told us that when he feels stressed while he is working on his dissertation, he has started to pray for comfort and immediately felt peace and less stressed after he finished praying.
When we think of missionary work, we think about positive spiritual experiences. However, there are some experiences that fall into the category of interesting, weird, or frustrating.
One evening we had a very interesting experience. We were going around contacting people we found in our area book. When got to a person we were planning on trying, it was late. The man came out and asked us to come back earlier in the day and not so late, so we left. It happens that the next person we wanted to try to see lived across the street, so we pulled into his driveway. After we talked to him, we went back to our car. The person from across the street came over and shined his flashlight into our faces demanding to know why we think we had the right to be knocking on doors so late. We told him that we were required to continue working until nine o’clock, but he wasn’t having any of it, took down our license plate number, and told us that he was going to call the cops on us. He then stormed back across the street to his house. Of course there was no consequence, and I joked with my companion that the police must of put the report in the “stupid complaints against the missionaries” file.
I had the pleasure to be serving in Philadelphia at the same time that Pope Francis came for the World Meeting of Families. Due to the security measures, and because my apartment was outside my area, we were unable to proselytize in the area for that weekend. We were unable to ride the train as you had to have special passes that needed to be applied for and gotten in advance of the papal visit. That was frustrating not being in our area. One evening, it was getting late and the station we thought where we could catch the train was closed. We didn’t even know how we could get back to our apartment in time, but we started to walk in the direction of our apartment even though it was over an hour away and it was almost nine. Not to long after we started, a person chased us down. It turned out to be a less active member. He called a taxi and gave us the money that was needed to pay the fare. Due to the papal visit, the direct route was closed so we needed to take a detour which made the fare needed higher than what we had. The driver took what we had and called it good because that would have been enough without the closures. Prayers are truly answered.
Every now and again I talked to some interesting people on the street. One of the most memorable was when we talked to a drunk African American. Not knowing he was drunk, we said hi and asked a question to engage him in conversation. He proceeded to lecture us about racism and ended up repeating himself three or four times. Another one happened when someone stopped us. We talked about who we were and what we do. He wasn’t interested, so we tried to end the conversation and leave but he wouldn’t let us. At some point we said something about our beliefs he took offence to and stormed off without giving us a chance to explain ourselves.
During my mission, there were a couple of significant dedications for the church, the Priesthood Restoration Site and the Philadelphia Temple.
The Priesthood Restoration Site underwent a major reconstruction and was rededicated on September 19, 2015 almost half way through my mission. The location is what is historically called Harmony, Pennsylvania. Although President Anderson tried, missionaries were unable to attend the dedication due to the limited space at the ceremony. A few weeks later, we were able to go and visit this important site. Some of you many have seen a few pictures on my blog taken at the site. We got to see the reconstructed homes of Joseph and Emma Smith and Isaac and Elizabeth Hales, Emma’s parents, as well as where John the Baptist restored the priesthood and the baptismal site at the Susquehanna River. The Spirit was so strong there!
One of the most exciting parts of my mission was the completion of the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple, partly because I barely missed the dedication of the Phoenix Temple. Construction started a little over three years before the start of my mission, and was being worked on for most of my mission. As the temple got closer to completion, the members got more excited to have a temple closer to them then the Washington DC Temple. They were also excited to be able to invite their friends to see the inside of the temple before it was dedicated to the Lord and His Holy Work. The missionaries, including myself, were really excited for the temple because it was a once in a lifetime experience to be a full time missionary during the time when a temple of the Lord is dedicated in their mission.
Two features to note are these. When you walk into the foyer, there is a beautiful picture of George Washington and other members of the constitutional congress signing the constitution. The other feature is at the baptismal font. There they have a picture of Joseph Smith being baptized in the Susquehanna River rather than the more often used picture of the Savior.
Before the general open house, I got to attend an open house tour for missionaries. We were not required to go with members or investigators for this tour. It was a wonderful experience and I am grateful for the opportunity that President Randall gave us. I have been to the Mesa and Provo temples, so I haven’t seen a lot of temples, but I will never forget this temple.
The members shared many miracles about the time that they volunteered. One couple was able to see a grandchild that they have not had any contact with in years. Others members felt the Spirit by being silent ushers and admiring the fine details and the precision that the craftsmen used in the building process as well as the furniture.
Unfortunately, I was unable to have any of my investigators go to the open house, but I heard many stories from other missionaries that their investigators decided to be baptized because they were so impressed with what they saw. More importantly they wanted to feel again what they felt when they were inside the temple.
Unlike the cultural celebration for the Phoenix Temple, the missionaries did not participate in the cultural celebration for the Philadelphia Temple. We were able to watch the celebration at the church with Jing and Yao. It was fun to see my newly released mission president in one of the shots of the crowd attending.
As missionaries, we were able to watch all three dedication sessions at the church with members holding the dedication recommends. Almost a week before I left, missionaries returning home on November 1 were able to attend a session in the temple. The temple matron gave each of us a white hanky embroidered with a picture of the temple and the date of the dedication.
I am glade that I had the opportunity to serve as a missionary. I know that Jesus Christ lives and loves us. Missionary work is not our work, it is His work and we can't do it without His help. I don't know how much good I did as a missionary, but I know that it will be much greater then what I was able to see while I was a missionary and I know that I was and still am a tool that the Lord will use to bring people unto His Gospel.
Something people think about missions is that the mission is a bed of roses and I will tell you that it is. However, we must remember that roses have thorns. People not showing up for appointments and having people threaten to call the police on us are examples of the thorns. As missionaries, we learn to expect the thorns but concentrate on the roses - members, inactive members, investigators, teaching the gospel, and special events such as the Restoration Site, the new temple, and places of interest that we are able to visit.