Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hard week (Jan. 20th)

From the Doctrine and Covenants this week, there were two verses that lifted me up. These verses, written by Joseph Smith when he was confined in Liberty Jail for six months - separated from the saints, his wife and family, are some of the most beautiful verses of scripture ever recorded. "My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high..."

After the trials, come the miracles.

Dean Shimai and I experienced a lot of trials this week. A LOT of trials. I can say without a moment of hesitation that this was the hardest week of my entire life. On Monday, I decided that it would be a good idea to pray for some Christ-like attributes. Including humility and that our faith would be strengthened. The JKM is focusing on relying on the Lord, and this starts with faith. We were humbled...and our faith was strengthened REAL fast.

After a LONG beginning of the week with none of our investigators responding to us, canceling on us, and a lot of streeting in the freezing cold...we went to visit our Philipino convert. She usually answers her phone, so it was weird that we had not been able to get in contact with her. We brought her hot chocolate, and stood outside her apartment in the cold trying to call her and knocking on the door. We thought we could hear her TV on, but we eventually left. We wrote her a note and stuck it on her bike. On Thursday night we went back to her apartment and the note was still there...and we still couldn't get in contact with her. I tried to look through her mailbox slot, and started rattling around the mailbox trying to see into her apartment. My rattling knocked the mailbox down, which made a huge crashing nose that terrified both Dean Shimai and me. We jumped back and the spirit was immediately gone. Her apartment is in a REALLY sketchy neighborhood in Higashi we said a prayer for comfort. After the prayer we looked at each other and decided that we needed to get home immediately. And we felt that we should not look through her mailbox slot.

On Friday morning we had district meeting. After district meeting we called the two elders in our area (they were on a 股間) ... (a companion exchange). And they met up with us because we didn't want to go to our convert's apartment alone. We looked through her mail slot, and her apartment was completely empty. Though the note from us was still on her bike. As we left her apartment, a lady pulled up and asked us if we were the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints...and then she told us that our dear friend had died. They had found her in her apartment earlier that morning. It was a sad moment...and the poor elders just did not know what to do to comfort two crying sister desperation one of them said: "Uhm...I had a potential investigator die once...and I only met her once..." It was heartbreaking to know that we wouldn't see her at church anymore, or that she wasn't going to need anymore 'Book of Mormon Chocolates.' But, her story is a testament that the Lord knows when His children need to be found. And because of this gospel, we know that she is happy and that she is working alongside us now. This was also a testament to me that the Lord does protect his missionaries. We received a strong warning from the Spirit to leave her apartment the night before, and if we had not we would have been the ones to discover her in her apartment. I don't know if that was the only reason that we were warned that we needed to leave her apartment, but I know that finding her ourselves would have been more overwhelming and traumatic than it already was to have someone that I loved and cared about so deeply pass away so suddenly.

Later that night we had MORE appointments fall through. And then Saturday we had some appointments fall through. And then we had a few investigators tell us that they had decided "The Church was not for them, because they would rather find their own way through life."

Sunday morning, our Yakusokusha came to church to return her Book of Mormon and everything that she had learned or been given by us. With tears in her eyes, she told us that she couldn't be baptized, and walked out. She didn't explain why, she just said that she couldn't see us again.

The pain of all of these things is so difficult to explain, and something that I could never understand when I heard about it from other missionaries. I thought that I understood why missionary work is hard - because we are hard on ourselves, because we are away from our families, because we have to change ourselves in order to do this great work, etc... I learned that this is not why. It is hard because sometimes we see people reject Christ. We experience the atonement on a very real level. We feel the pain to know that they do not really know what they are missing out on. We feel the pain that we have brought them this great, eternal truth, and that now they have rejected it.

There is agency and opposition in all things. When we begin teaching someone, it is an exciting and terrifying thing. We know that their road to conversion will not be easy. We know that they have a lot of hard choices ahead of them. We know that these hard choices will lead to their eternal happiness. We also know that we can't make these choices for them. We know that these hard choices are the best choices they will ever make, but they have to make them first. I read a talk by Elder Holland this week that explains what we feel as missionaries incredibly well:

"Anyone who does any kind of missionary work will have occasion to ask, Why is this so hard? Why doesn’t it go better? Why can’t our success be more rapid? Why aren’t there more people joining the Church? It is the truth. We believe in angels. We trust in miracles. Why don’t people just flock to the font? Why isn’t the only risk in missionary work that of pneumonia from being soaking wet all day and all night in the baptismal font?

You will have occasion to ask those questions. I have thought about this a great deal. I offer this as my personal feeling. I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? It seems to me that missionaries and mission leaders have to spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane. Missionaries and mission leaders have to take at least a step or two toward the summit of Calvary.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about anything anywhere near what Christ experienced. That would be presumptuous and sacrilegious. But I believe that missionaries and investigators, to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to know something of this price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same price.
For that reason I don’t believe missionary work has ever been easy, nor that conversion is, nor that retention is, nor that continued faithfulness is. I believe it is supposed to require some effort, something from the depths of our soul.

If He could come forward in the night, kneel down, fall on His face, bleed from every pore, and cry, “Abba, Father (Papa), if this cup can pass, let it pass,” then little wonder that salvation is not a whimsical or easy thing for us. If you wonder if there isn’t an easier way, you should remember you are not the first one to ask that. Someone a lot greater and a lot grander asked a long time ago if there wasn’t an easier way.

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."

As a missionary, I have already experienced the joy of the atonement. I experienced this joy as I watched our dear friend receive baptism. I watched her life change from a mess of mistakes, to a clean slate. I saw happiness and joy flood into her life, and I watched as the very last month of her life became the very best month that she had ever had.

And I have now experienced the flip side of that - because there is opposition in all things - (ironically, this week in Eikaiwa, our English Class, we talked about "opposites" and had our students come up with opposites for every word. The overarching theme was that there is opposition in all things). I have now felt much more acutely what it is like to watch someone not turn down me, or my church, but our Savior, Jesus Christ, who died for all mankind. That pain is like putting your hand on a hot stove, and burning it severely. And then watching as a friend, despite all of your warnings, insists on touching the stove themselves to see if it is really hot. This is the pain of the atonement, the pain of knowing and watching as others turn away in ignorance.

After the trials come the miracles.

I trust that "all of these things shall work together for thy good" (D&C 122).

I will end by quoting Elder Holland from a devotional that he gave at BYU: "I call out, Remember Lots wife. Faith is for the future. Faith builds on the past but never longs to stay there. Faith trusts that God has great things in store for each of us and that Christ truly is the high priest of good things to come.

The mission is the happiest and the saddest that I have ever been, all at once. Every day is a little bit of an emotional roller coaster. We face rejection, we rejoice when the gospel is accepted, we cry when someone accepts Christ, we cry when someone rejects Christ. We cry from joy when we find investigators, and from sadness when we lose them. But the happy moments make every single sad moment worth it.

Grundvig Shimai

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