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Monday, June 9

Homecoming.

Coming home from a mission is hard. Life hits you fast. Things get confusing. Everything changes. I imagine an alien species visiting our planet for the first time would act and feel a lot like I did in my first few weeks home.

Yeah, I was that weird.

It's been kind of an interesting journey for me since I stepped off the plane last October. I feel like I've lived a lifetime in these short months between then and now, and most days-- my mission just feels like a dream.

In an effort to feel some of the missionary fire, and rekindle parts of my testimony, I listened to and transcribed my homecoming talk. I've had several requests for it since I actually gave it... and even though it took me more than half of a year to do it-- it's done. So for anyone who wanted it, here you go. Realize, however, this is mostly for me. I think I needed to hear my testimony and my experiences more than anyone. 

This was my testimony then, and it is still my testimony now.  
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October 20, 2013


It is surreal being here again at this pulpit. It’s kinda the same as it was a year and a half ago, except I am so different. I’m not the same as I was when I last stood here. I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to serve a mission. It truly has been the greatest blessing of my life so far. I feel like Alma explains it best in chapter 26 when he says:

“My brothers and my brethren, behold I say unto you, how great reason have we to rejoice; for could we have supposed when we started from the land of Zarahemla that God would have granted unto us such great blessings?”

And then he says: “I ask, what great blessings has he bestowed upon us? Can ye tell?” He asked them if they could tell what the blessings are, and he’s so excited that he doesn’t even wait for an answer, he just answers for them. He says:
“Behold, I answer for you; for our brethren, the Lamanites, were in darkness, yea, even in the darkest abyss, but behold, how many of them are brought to behold the marvelous light of God! And this is the blessing which hath been bestowed upon us, that we have been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work.”

That is the great blessings of missionary work. To be made instruments in the hands of God.  I think missionary work is the only work that, before a missionary leaves, you can look them in the eye and promise that if they are obedient, live the mission rules, and work hard... they will see miracles. They will more than see miracles...they will BE miracles to other people. They will literally see the hand of God work in their lives, and in the lives of those they teach and serve. They will see things that they can’t explain, and they will have joy that is overflowing. Don't be fooled though, because along with that they will have trials and hardship… but they will gain real and tangible relationship with God. There is no cost too high for that blessing.

{Elders Kennedy, Whitehead, Miller, Litchfield, Neumeyer, Sisters Moon, Pond, and Myself}
There was this lady we were teaching and her name was Sarah. She was married to a less active member, he joined the church about 25 years ago and hadn’t been back since.  He went for about a year and that was it. We were teaching her, and she was very baptist. She would tell us all about her faith, and she loved what we had to teach her… but she also loved to talk and she would tell us all about her problems.  (Which, honestly, is pretty typical) See, she had just been diagnosed with some pretty serious medical issues, she was having marital problems, and just so many different struggles and trials in her life.
We had been teaching her for weeks, and I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t coming to church. Every week she half-heartedly promised she would be there, and never came. One day we were teaching her, and in the midst of her telling us about these things that were wrong in her life I had an overwhelming prompting by the spirit. A prompting that allowed me to make a promise-- one that certainly did not come from me, because I would never promise something like the words that came out of my mouth. I said: “Sarah, I promise you, as a representative of Jesus Christ, and in the name of Jesus Christ that if you come to church these problems will be fixed. You will find peace and you WILL find answers.”
She looked at me for a second, and tears welled in both her eyes and mine. The spirit was so strong. She grabbed her calendar and wrote down ‘Church’ on Sunday. The joy that I felt when she walked through those doors was inexplicable….because she was taking a step of faith. Acting on this promise that had been made through me, but by the spirit. I got to stick around to see those promises fulfilled.
The name of Jesus Christ is the most powerful name in the world. He created the world, he loves the world, and he atoned for the world and every soul in it. His name shuns darkness, fear, and doubt, and creates light, peace, and hope.

 
{Pat Graham}

President Holland gave a talk called Missionary Work and the Atonement, and
in that talk he quotes Joseph Smith and says:
“...All things “which pertain to our religion are only appendages” to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In like manner and for the same reasons, every truth that a missionary or member teaches is only an appendage to the central message of all time—that Jesus is the Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, the Holy Messiah, the Promised One, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.”


That is the message that we carry as missionaries. President Holland continues:
“The central message of the gospel, the starting point to all other truths is from the Master’s own lips ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man commeth unto the father but by me.’ Thus, the Atonement of Christ that makes that return to the father possible is rightfully seen as the central fact, the crucial foundation, and the chief doctrine of the great and eternal plan of salvation. Our Heavenly Father’s plan, which is what we are called to teach."
The gospel literally means “good news” or “glad tidings”, and the good news President Holland explains, is that death and hell can be escaped, that mistakes and sins can be overcome, that there is hope, that there is help, that the insolvable can be solved and that the enemy has been conquered. The good news is that everyone’s tomb can one day be empty and everyone’s soul can once again be pure, and every child of God can return to live with Him again.
I want to tell you about another woman I taught named Kelly. She was amazing. I can remember one lesson in particular, where we had extended the baptismal invite… she said no. We sat there for a minute and talked about the reasons why. She said no to baptism because she felt like there was no way that she could be forgiven for the things that she had done. How many of us feel, or have felt this exact same way? I had the opportunity to testify to her of the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and see that work through her... I got to see the spirit work in her heart at that moment… and ask her that question again, and she said that she would.  The day that she was baptized was one of the most incredible experiences of my whole mission. And like Kelly, we can all be forgiven and clean... no matter what we have done or how badly we think we have blown it. The Atonement of Jesus Christ works for EVERYONE. EVERY TIME.


{Mechanicsville}
In that same talk by elder Holland he talks about why missionary work is so hard. I would ask myself that on occasion: Why is this so hard? Why isn’t it going any better? Why aren’t we having success? Why aren’t more people joining the church? IT IS TRUE. We believe in angels, we believe in miracles, we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior… why aren’t people flocking to the font?
Elder Holland tells us why we have occasion to ask these 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.” 


He says: “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…”

I know that is true because I felt the hand of God very literally in my life. I have been carried by the Atonement, and I know that this same concept translates into our lives. That every day, no matter what we are doing, we can feel this power.
 
{First friday}                 {Franklin, WV}
I want to address for a minute those who struggle-- maybe struggle with sharing the gospel, maybe struggle with missionary work, but especially those who struggle with faith. I want to share with you three specific lessons that my mission taught me.
1. The first one is in Mark, it comes from chapter 4, when the apostles are in the boat and the waves are coming over and they say “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” Don’t you care? We’re here! Don’t you care if the waves are coming on board? We are going to drown! Can you see what's going on? Then Christ rebukes the sea and says “Peace, be still.”
I would often have a phrase whispered to my mind: Sister Skousen...Remember who’s in your boat.”
REMEMBER WHO IS IN YOUR BOAT. You cannot sink with him. You cannot let this storm distract you from your purpose in life, or your purpose as a missionary.
2. There are few scriptures that bring me peace of mind like 2 Nephi 2:24. It says “All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.” I know that is true. I know that every storm, every trial, every good thing and every miracle is done in the "wisdom of him who knows all things." And it is with him that we can get through all things. When we focus on the foundation-- the foundation of our faith, the foundation of the work, the foundation of the gospel, we will find strength and the periphery will work itself out.
It’s simple. Either it’s true or it’s not. And IT IS TRUE.
3. Another lesson that stuck with me is that the world is full of broken hearts. And sometimes the Lord allows our hearts to be broken because it’s when we are broken that we realize the need to be carried
John 16:33 says: 
These things I have spoken unto you that in me you might have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
“Be of good cheer” isn’t just “grin and bear it”. Not even close. It’s be of good cheer because He knows what it’s like, he knows what you’re going through, and he is in your boat. He will help us, and we need to understand that sometimes... it's okay to be carried.
 
                       {Teta}                                       {Elaina}
I know that this work is the work of God. So many people search for so long to find what we have. The gospel has been restored through the prophet Joseph Smith. He prayed and wanted to know what to do, so he knelt down and he asked God, the same way all of us can do when we are searching for direction and truth in our lives. I know that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him. And I know that it is through that experience that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth--because God loves us.
Paul says in Thessalonians 2:8:
“Being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.”
That’s how it is. We preach the gospel but we also impart our own souls. And that’s when people change. That’s when we change. That’s when the work changes us. And just like Ammon from the beginning said “I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things...”
I know that God is mighty to save us. That he does and he WILL save us. That is the message we share. The gospel changes lives, it changes hearts, and it saves people. It has saved me. There is nothing more important that we can be a part of.


 
{Terry Clark}

I want you to know how grateful I am for this work, for the privilege I had to be a part of it. It will bless my life forever. It has changed me forever. I hope you know that. I hope you know what you have being a part of this church. Never let go of it. 

I love the Lord with all my heart. My witness is of the reality of the Savior. He is real, his love is real, and he is always in our boat. The fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is on the earth, and it is found right here. It is never too late to repent. There is nowhere we can stray that is beyond the reach of the Master, and no wound too deep that He cannot heal if we will let Him. He has never failed, and he won't start now. Not with you, not with me. Whatever you are looking for to fill the holes in your heart and in your life, it can be found eternally in Him. 

That is my testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

2 comments:

skousenmom said...

I loved this when you gave it. I amy even love it more now. I love you. Amen!

Shannon said...

That was even better the second time. Your insight profoundly points to Him who gives hope...a hope that is everlasting. You surely have a way with words.
Much Love,
Shannon