Sunday, November 1, 2015

Homecoming Talk

HIII hermanos y hermanas!!!  Can you all believe I have been home for 2 months now?!  The blessings of a mission are priceless.  I just want to go back. 

 For those of you who were unable to make it to my homecoming talk/ my sister's farewell talk here it is...
Side note:  A quartet of brethren sang "Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy" and surprised everyone by singing the last verse and chorus in Spanish...YES, I was crying.   

Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

I know that this is THE TRUE CHURCH.  I would NOT let my sister leave for 18 months if I did not know that this is the only true church on Earth. That is why in turn she allowed me to leave for the past 18 months to rescue and save my eternal Ecuadorian friends and above all to rescue myself, a poor fainting, struggling sea woman. The blessings of a mission are priceless and I would not desire anything more for my sister. 

Responding to an invitation from my Mission President and from the First Presidency of the Church to begin I wish to address the youth of the church and my sister, in relation to serving a mission.  Youth, becoming like Christ is HARD.  Becoming HIS representative is HARD.  Discipleship is HARD.  Imagine this: Walking out of an airplane parked on the tarmac, hitting into a wall of humidity that makes you immediately sweat and feel sticky, hopefully praying for air conditioning but sadly there is none, blankly nodding at what the Ecuadorians are saying because you know NO Spanish, being overly fed a heap of rice for every meal with the starter of soup which, SURPRISE has a pig’s foot with its stubby black hairs still intact; and to top it off persistently scratching your face that itches from the five mosquito bites that welcomed you into a new country.  How would you react? 

I felt overwhelmingly stressed, lost and doubtful of my decision to serve a mission and longingly hoping for those eighteen months to be over, even though I had just started day one.  The only relief I found that night involved a shower with bitter cold water and tears.  
In the book of First Thessalonians, Paul counseled the Thessalonians in a moment of doubt that they should be quick to “REJOICE EVERMORE.  Pray without ceasing.  And give thanks in ALL things.”  Honestly my reaction to my first day in Ecuador did not reflect, “Oh, let’s rejoice evermore!”  However, the following months my perspective on such doubtful and arduous instances altered dramatically.  I humbly saw a three year old boy dash out of his bamboo one-roomed home, shirtless with tattered pants too big for his stature, running shoeless with dirt plastered feet and outstretched arms to greet my companion and I.  Eager to reveal his new toy that his mom had so graciously given him, he ushered us to his designated play area where we came upon a freshly dug two inch hole.  His unforgettable smile, exposed his once white teeth now covered in charcoal colored plaque, indicated the pride and personal value of his toy.  He proudly gazed at us with his engaging eyes as he presented his used, sullied and chipped plastic spoon.  His “new toy”, an eating utensil, allowed him to rejoice and unconsciously ignore his state of living. 

I believe in rejoicing evermore.  From that day forward, after seeing true joy, I emphasized this belief and treasured countless plastic spoons that allowed me to “Rejoice evermore” just as the young three year old boy had taught me.  So youth, as Paul invited those in times of old, I do the same today…The mission WILL be hard, however you will LOVE IT if you, “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing.  And give thanks in ALL things.”   The mission will not be the best two years OF your life, it will be the best two years FOR your life.
Brothers and Sisters, as I share a few moments of “Rejoicing evermore” more with you today, I earnestly pray that the Holy Spirit will abide here and astonish each one of you, not from the words that I will say but what the spirit will testify to each one of you.  HE knows you, and WILL communicate with you through the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost. 

“Walk tall you’re a daughter, a child of God.
Be strong, please remember who you are.
Try to understand.  You are part of his great plan.
He’s closer than you’ll know reach up he’ll take your hand.”

As we sang those words to our dear investigator, Katherine, a 20 year old single mom of 2 kids, Christian and Javier, we left her humble home in awe of her incredible faith and the matchless love the Savior had for her.  She would patiently care for her 2 boys until 5:30 pm when she would leave to night school, to hopefully receive at least her high school diploma.  Like many girls in Ecuador, she got pregnant at a young age and gave birth to a still born baby girl who she desperately wished to hold again.  Katherine, like all of us, had made many mistakes during her short 20 years on earth, therefore she was intrigued by the principles of repentance and eternal families and the ordinance of baptism. 

One day Katherine’s faith was tested when her friend introduced her to a flattering and very charming man.  The man owned a large mansion, fancy clothes, and a temporal substance she and her two sons lacked...MONEY.  Glorifying his wealth, he gave Katherine a tour of his mansion.  The unknown man promised her she could reside there and cleverly persuaded her that her and her two sons would never lack the things of the world.  All could be hers.  Money, food, an education.  However, there was one condition - she could not be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Later, when recounting this story to us with her tear-stained face, Katherine said, "I need that money for my kids, we have little food and clothing and I receive no income to pay for my education or that of my children."  Despite her temporal need for food and clothing, and her desire to have the best for her kids, she declined the offer from the man and with stalwart faith told him, "I would rather have my children grow up and know they are a child of God than have your empty promises of wealth."  After declining the offer, her friends and family ridiculed her for her decision and they persuaded her to go back and accept the offer from the charming mysterious man. 
She traced her steps back to the mansion and only found a spacious field.  The mansion was no longer there.  She was left spinning in circles, in the empty field, confused as to where the mansion and handsome man had gone.   
Katherine said to us, “Hermanas that man…he was Satan – he promised me all the pleasures in the world if only I would NOT follow the example of Christ and become a member of His Church.  Satan wants everyone to be miserable like unto himself.”

But, like many courageous disciples before her, she declared, "THIS IS MY RELIGION!"

On May 31, 2014, Katherine Rosío Reyes Sanchez was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and received the gift of the Holy Ghost.  She has been beaming with the light of Christ ever since.
The gospel for Katherine was wonderful and filled the void of emptiness and lack of physical substance in her humble home. 

Brothers and Sisters, is this gospel still wonderful to you?  Or has it become the “norm” in your life?  Can you yet see, hear, feel, and marvel? Or have your spiritual sensors gone into standby mode? 

I want each of you to think of the first undeniable time that you felt the influence of the Spirit, the first time you entered into the doors of the House of the Lord, the first time you truly prayed with a broken heart and a contrite spirit to our Heavenly Father, the first time you invited someone to hear what you believe, the first tender mercy that you recognized came from the Lord or the first time that you really applied the Atonement of Our Lord and Savior.  Ponder and listen intently and sincerely to the Spirit testifying to you as to why the gospel in this “first time moment” was so wonderful to you.  Do you wish to feel that way again?  YOU CAN!  You can feel that awe and wonder in the small and simple things.  In this past general conference, Elder Causse taught three principles on how we can continue in marveling at the gospel.  First, never tire of discovering or rediscovering the truths of the gospel.  Second, anchor your faith in the plain and simple truths of the gospel. And finally, to seek and cherish the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

The Book of Mormon highlights for many Nephites and Lamanites, their first time witnessing a sign that came from heaven that preceded the coming of the Messiah to the Americas. Suddenly the signs of His birth appeared in the heavens. The people were so stricken with astonishment that they humbled themselves, and nearly ALL were converted. However, only a short four years later, as it says in 3 Nephi 2:1, “the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard of hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen.”

We are blessed to live in a place where the Church is well established, and the majority of those you associate with are members.  I grew up here. I had a discernible and tender testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel.  However, before the mission I was not always anxiously participating personally in the teachings of the gospel, such as reading the scriptures every day or saying my personal prayers, despite what my parents had taught me.  The gospel had stopped being wonderful to me.  It was just normal.  The primary answers seemed so simple to me, that they became less and less important.  In Alma 37:41, my dilemma was highlighted when Alma, addressing his son Helaman, says…“Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works.  They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey.” Alma continued to council Helaman in verse 46, “O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us.  The way is prepared and if we will look we may live forever.”
In my first area, we lived a good 20-30 min away, in walking distance, from our assigned proselyting area.  Every morning on the familiar walk there we passed an eye-catching home with two flower pots outside, full of red flowers nicely kept, and embellished detail on the windows and door.  I remember seeing an older man sitting outside the house in a red plastic chair reading a book and I had the thought, "Hey, he likes to read - give him a Book of Mormon!” After having the thought I would always rationalize it away with something like, "No, you don’t know enough Spanish!” or “You just want to share the gospel with everyone because you are a missionary.  Plus, we have lunch or a visit right now and can’t be late!"  I specifically remember failing at least two times to initially heed the prompting from the Holy Ghost upon seeing this old man.

One evening we passed the house with the two flower pots and there was the old man in his red plastic chair reading another book.  I thought, "Hey, look he is reading again...he really does love to read...the prompting came again…give him a Book of Mormon."  My companion had a similar feeling so we both looked at each other and approached the man in the red chair!  So I introduced myself and asked, “Do you like to read?”  He looked at me and pondered the strange question from the foreign girl, and responded “Yes, why?” “We have a book that you will just love! May we come in and present it to you?”  Carlos Pacheco invited us into his home we had a PERFECT first lesson and he accepted to be baptized in 2 weeks.  Like GOLDEN INVESTIGATOR ALERT!! (In the back of my head I was thinking why I didn’t listen to the spirit earlier this guy is golden)  HE even gave the closing prayer PERFECTLY.  We asked him if he was a member of the Church and he said no.  Still doubting because it was a seriously perfect and organized prayer we asked him again and he said no.  The next day we came back and he apologized for not telling us earlier that he was baptized about 40 years ago and had been inactive for more than 30 of those, so he didn’t think he was still a member of the Church.  His wife had died 4 years ago as a faithful, active member of the church, but they were never sealed in the temple to each other or to their 11 children because at the time, there wasn’t a temple in Guayaquil and they didn’t have enough money to travel to the temple in Lima, Peru.

His son was the current Stake Presidency’s secretary and had sent MANY missionaries to invite him to church again, but he NEVER let them in.  Carlos and his son expressed their gratitude believing that we were an answer to his prayer as we reminded him of the great plan of happiness and that Heavenly Father loved him.  The Spirit had told me beforehand to stop and give him a Book of Mormon but I did not listen and quickly rationalized away the prompting.  We were just beaming when we found out he was already a member - all he needed was a loving and helping hand to bring him back to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As we told Carlos, it does not matter how long you have been inactive, you are a member of His church!

May we always go straight way without fears or any inconvenience and rescue the one!  The lost, the last, and the least.  God is aware of each of us.  God was aware of Carlos Pacheco and placed him in our path so he can become, Carlos Pacheco in the red plastic chair, reading the Book of Mormon!  He later entered the Temple in Guayaquil to do baptisms for and behalf of his loved ones and is preparing to be sealed to his wife and their 11 children in the coming months.

Carlos over 30 years ago, stopped marveling at this gospel.  But remembered that wonder and his “first timers” years later.        
In D and C 20: 32-34 says, “But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God:  Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation; Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also.”  Do each one of us need to take heed, in Spanish it says cuidar which also means to watch out for, ourselves?  Yes.  Does the Bishop need to?  Yes.  Stake President? Yes.  The prophet?  Yes, of course.  Brothers and sisters please do not be swayed by the easiness of the way.
  At some point maybe we have felt like the prodigal son did as recorded in Luke chapter 15 verses 20 and 21,
“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”
Have you ever said this or something similar before?  Perhaps when your heart was broken and your sprit contrite in prayer with our Heavenly Father?  Have you ever felt unworthy to be called HIS son or daughter?  LISTEN to what the father’s response was...
“But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the BEST ROBE, and put it on him; and put a RING on his hand, and SHOES on his feet:

And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry...
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
Our Heavenly Father and HIS son saw you and will have compassion and RUN and embrace you.  In his talk, Elder Holland taught,
"Only the Father and His Only Begotten Son can do that. Salvation is in them only. So we pray that they will help us, that they will “come out” to meet and embrace us and bring us into the feast they have prepared. They will do this!"
Why the BEST ROBE, a RING and SHOES?

Our Heavenly Father, in those moments of "I am unworthy to be called thy son or daughter" will clothe us with the ROBES of HIS son.  The BEST ROBE he could ever offer us.
Elder Holland said, "I know that if we will be faithful, there is a perfectly tailored robe of righteousness ready and waiting for everyone, robes … made … white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Then the RING.  A ring is a symbol of love something eternal and commitment in marriage. The truth is, is that when we are baptized we are ALL married to, or better said, become part of the family of Christ.  After our baptism we express our love and commitment to Him by keeping the commandments and continuing the process of changing, repenting and constantly renewing our covenants with Him.  
The SHOES allow that we may walk in the footsteps of HIS Son and follow His example continually.  And, I will add that they are the GREATEST brand of shoes ;) because they will ENDURE TO THE END. 

I know with ALL my heart that if we come unto our Father in HEAVEN and ask for forgiveness, like the prodigal son, HE will give us THE BEST ROBE, a RING of promise and SHOES top follow in.  I also know that HE will, like the scripture says in Spanish, throw a "fiesta" because HIS son or daughter has been found!

I will forever be grateful for my Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ, and for these 3 gifts that were given to me as the gospel became wonderful for me again. 

   Our investigator, Hermanegildo, otherwise known as Poleto, suffered from depression.  And when I say depression, I mean HE was DEPRESSED.  During a visit, Poleto told us of a time where he almost took his life.  He said, “Hermanas I almost tied the rope around my neck...but I saw a LIGHT and heard a voice tell me that I was needed here on earth.  So I dropped the rope.”  Poleto continued by explaining how, even after this experience, he STILL did not feel like God needed him here.  We were then prompted to share a short video with him called “The Hope of God’s Light” that relates a very similar story about a man named Todd Sylvester.        

After the video ended the Spirit was so strong in the room and I asked him, “Poleto, do you believe that we are sent from God?”  He paused, thought for a moment, and then said, “You could be...I don’t know?”  On this day, I had exchanges with Hermana Jaimes, and we both looked at each other without saying anything then knelt down.  As we were kneeling on the ground, we invited Poleto to PRAY right then and ask our Heavenly Father if He had sent us there to help.  With our eyes shimmering with tears and hopeful faces, we waited until he slowly got down on his knees and offered the most fervent and sincere prayer.  He expressed his sadness, frustrations and everything that was troubling him...and innocently asked if God would let him know if we were sent BY Him and if this was HIS true church.

There was a pause in his prayer as Poleto was unable to speak and tears ran freely down his cheeks.  He finished the prayer, and we looked around the room which included Manuel Santana (who was recently baptized), his best friend Johnny, and Hermana Jaimes and I, ALL with tear stained faces.  I mustered the question again..."Poleto, do you believe that we are sent from God?"  He looked us both in the eyes and said, "Yes I do!"  And of course the next question was..."Do you believe that this is the church of God."  He replied, "It is undeniably the truth, Hermanas!" 

Afterwards I testified, and now testify to ALL of you, that as missionaries, we ARE sent from God to answer His children’s prayers.  The hope of God’s light is REAL.  In that moment, MY words were HIS words.  The Savior understands us all.  Poleto also needed comfort and so God, just like that night, sent an ANGEL to comfort him.  God DOES listen, and wants us to act on our faith to FIND His light.  We can come to know Him by serving Him.

 Now, to close, I would like to quote from the late Elder Boyd K Packer’s poem called “These Things I Know”, as I feel that his words have become mine as I have served my Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ…

I now can say with all certainty
That I KNOW and LOVE the Lord.
I can TESTIFY with them of old
As I preach His holy word.

I know what He felt in Gethsemane
Is too much to comprehend.
I know He did it all for us;
We have no greater Friend.

I know that He will come anew
With power and in glory.
I know I will see Him once again
At the end of my life’s story.

I’ll kneel before His wounded feet;
I’ll feel His Spirit glow.
My whispering, quivering voice will say,
“My Lord, my God, I know.”

Y yo si lo conozco! Jesús vendrá otra vez con poder y Gloria.  Espero de seguir conociéndolo para que en el último día me conocerá como uno de sus siervos. 

Dios es un Dios de amor, ira, milagros, El ama la justicia y aborrece la maldad, es celoso, requiere sacrificio, no puede mentir, es perfecto.  Sé que Él es nuestro Padre Celestial y tiene un plan perfecto para cada uno de nosotros.  En su infinito amor, mando a su hijo para que en aquel que en El cree no se pierde más tenga vida eterna.  Su expiación es suficiente para cada uno de nosotros.  Sé también que hay un don impecable que nos ha dado del Espíritu Santo para guiarnos e inspirarnos a donde debemos de ir.  Sé que José Smith fue un profeta, lo sé porque lo he defendido y sentido el poder de sus frutos.  Uno de estos siendo El Libro de Mormón.  Ese libro es perfecto y es la clave de mi testimonio.  La historia de mi vida está aquí, el suyo también.  Sé que Dios revele sus secretos por medio de sus siervos los profetas.  Siéguenlos. La Iglesia es verdadera. Les Amo. 
En el nombre de Jesucristo, Amen.        

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