Sunday, April 27, 2014

D minus 12 hrs! Goodbye USA, Hello Spain (and some MTC)

     Here I am on the eve of my mission and I am feeling a lot of emotions. I especially feel grateful to my Heavenly Father for helping me get to this place in my life. It hasn't always been easy, but He has always been there for me. I'm also grateful for all those who have helped me along the way, both family and friends (you know who you are :) ). I'm also excited to finally get to Spain and meet my friends there. And yes, there's a bit of sadness at leaving friends and my family (esp. the littlest ones) and of trepidation - it'll be a big change, and a very long plane ride, but that will soon be behind me. I KNOW I am doing what the Lord wants me to do, and that makes all the difference.
     To go back to my MTC experience, to top off Elder Andersen and President Uckdorf, Tuesday Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Sister Oaks came to speak. I was very touched to hear Sister Oaks - she cares so much about the missionaries that she came to speak, even though her mother is on her death bed. As she said, "This church is true!  And if someone asks you how you know, you can just say because Sister Oaks told me so!" She also gave a few pieces of advice:  1) We are not alone - angels attend us.  Don't be too tired or discouraged! Be humble and faithful, keeping the spirit of the Lord. Don't turn away from the still small voice - it will guide you. 2) Be persistent! Life is a calling - what you make of it is up to you. You will make mistakes - use the atonement and never give up!  3) This is our time to unplug. When you go back home, make sure you leave time to listen to the Holy Spirit.  and 4) Love your companions (there were knowing looks and a few snickers between the seniors at that one). She urged us to cultivate Christ-like attributes, then bore her testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was very impressed by her - a great lady for sure.
     Then Elder Oaks spoke, calling us his "fellow missionaries"  :)  and in true Elder Oaks fashion, clearly and plainly outlined our purpose: to 1) Proclaim the doctrine of Christ, 2) Establish the Church, and 3) Affirm and demonstrate with our actions the need to press forward and endure to the end in order to gain eternal life. To do this, he challenged the younger missionaries as they transitioned from teen to mature missionaries. Most apply to those of us a year or two out of our teen years too :) I'm sending this to my son, Elder Nielson, so I'm going to be as complete as I can...
1) Challenge to change.  Break free of prior patterns, work hard, use time effectively, and shed bad habits.
2) Challenge to achieve specific skills and particular responsibilities (learning the gospel, perhaps a language, learning to teach many different kinds of people, and preparing and giving effective talks).
3) Challenge to BECOME. To become a missionary is more than just doing - you need to have a "mighty change of heart", become truly converted, and become what Heavenly Father wants us to become.
     If you're doubting, be of good cheer; as President Monson said, who the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies! It won't be easy, but it will be possible. Desire what is right, and ask/pray for help. Labor diligently that you may be perfected in your ministry (D&C 88:84). You need faith and performance as a missionary (which comes from US!  Our heart, where you are, how well you've prepared).
     The Savior is the Ultimate Good who paid for the ultimate evil of all the sin in the world. Offer all you can offer. We're not here to be thanked, but to serve. Learn doctrine, and how to keep alive (like how to cook), but first you need vision; you need to see the big picture, who you are, and what you are called to do. You are Sons and Daughters of God! Royalty! Don't get bogged down in the little things. Keep your eye on your calling, which is to introduce righteousness and the laws of heaven on earth, and to bless and save the people on the earth, both living and dead. You are here for the salvation of mankind!  Pray for this vision and for understanding.

Elder Oak's council:
1) Physical Health:  Take care of yourself!  Think safety, nutrition, physical exercise, take your medications if needed, and follow the safety rules to prevent accidents. We need to do all that we can do before depending on the Lord's help.
2) Instruments in His hands:  Alma 17. Have no desire than to do His will. Do His work and do it in His way!
3) Prepare yourself to act in His service:
     - Keep yourself clean and worthy. Keep the commandments and obey your leaders.
     - Study the scriptures.
     - Be intense and consistent in your prayers for assistance.
     - Keep away from pornography, course language, loud music, etc.
     - Honor and listen to your two lines of communication with your Heavenly Father, your personal line, and your priesthood line (through which you are guided and directed). Be worthy and obedient so that you can be taught and directed.
4) Remember who you are!  (No silly pranks.)
5) Work to establish the church. This isn't measured by baptisms (although they are important), which is an incomplete measure. Think of this in all of your activities: teaching, retaining, and reactivating.
6) Teach and testify. Brigham Young said that only a testimony brings light, knowledge, and repentance. Carefully prepare and learn the principals of the restored gospel. Act under the Spirit. Use the language that fits the needs of each individual investigator. Teaching must be individualized, in the order they need them to be.
7) Get commitments. Sometimes you need to lovingly leave those who aren't really interested
8) Nurture. Teach them to study pray, pay tithing, and go to church each Sabbath day.  Help converts and immature converts especially to overcome addictions (which takes several months to totally overcome).

Conversion is not an event, it is a process that is ongoing throughout our and their lives.
This is "The only True and Living Church", but that doesn't mean being arrogant, nor that God loves members more, nor that there is no truth elsewhere. It is "true and living" because it has the fullness of His doctrine and the power of His priesthood, needed to bestow the Gift of the Holy Ghost and other ordinances. It is also a unique testimony of Jesus Christ.

Then Elder Oaks went over some of the lessons, specifically the fullness of doctrine, Priesthood authority, and his testimony of Christ and His relationship to Heavenly Father and us. Christ is the Savior who cleanses us and is the source of strength to bear the burdens and infirmities of this life.
Remember the fundamentals of the church are embodied in Christ. We are the followers of Christ and we are His servants. Work and testify in His name!

I absolutely love the MTC - it was a great experience and I'm already plotting my return ;).  I learned a lot, made a lot of good friends, and absolutely feasted on the strong spirit there. Like I've said before, I highly recommend it!

So - next post will be on the other side of the ocean!   Have a good one!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Glorious Easter Morning at the MTC - with President Uchtdorf!

What a glorious Easter this has been! To be able sit at the feet of a true and living Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ as he recounts the Easter Story and brings added meaning and joy into that beautiful account! It is a beautiful, warm, sunny, blue Easter morning here in Provo, Utah and my heart and spirit are full.  We had a special Easter Devotional here at the MTC and what a joy to go into the auditorium and find that we were going to be able to feast on the Spirit, love, and words of President Uchtdorf! If I were able to chose who I would like to hear out of anyone on this earth, he would be in the top two or three. I feel so blessed! And to think I almost didn't get to hear him!  I am truly blessed. 

A view of the MTC (center and left) from the temple

He first spoke of how sometimes people question whether we as a church celebrate Easter enough - but that we celebrate Easter EVERY week as we partake of the sacrament, and should ALWAYS keep Him in remembrance as we say our prayers every day. He broke the bands of death and provided the way for us to be purified so that we may be worthy to return to live with our Heavenly Father!
Then  Pres. Uchtdorf spoke of how Christ's rising from the tomb changed a frightened, confused group of disciples into a dynamic group of missionaries and leaders, and how He can do this for us, too. Right after the Savior was crucified His disciples huddled in unbelief, frightened and in grief. Then Pres. Uchtdorf gave a beautiful overview of Christ's resurrection - the coming of the angels, the appearance to Mary, and to his Apostles... and the change it wrought in those Disciples. He told of Peter, who had faith to walk on water, and then feared. Who declared he would never deny Christ, and yet who did so three times... changed to one who declared Christ Risen boldly and without fear to common people and rulers alike, no matter the consequences. One who was a champion of faith!
So keep preaching! Be bold! Why fear?  Christ is risen! Death is conquered!  So there is no need to fear! We are ALL (you included!) disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, spreading the happy and glorious news of the gospel. Keep teaching! Keep testifying! Then we all, like Peter, will be able to see the fruits of Christ's Atonement and Resurrection in our lives. We have to ask ourselves - will I take a few sips of the water of Life, or will I let the Living Waters spring up and fill me with energy and divine power? Catch the vision!  Serve with all of your might, mind, and strength! 

Then Pres. Uchdorf told a story of a couple of missionaries - one bold, and one not so much, and used 3 Nephi 5:13  "Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life." We are ALL disciples of Jesus Christ, called to serve His people! (Yes, even you!)
Be bold, but not overbearing, and do all things with love, and you will not offend. Listen to the Spirit and follow its guidance. If you want to "punch Satan in the mouth" - preach the gospel!
Work hard! Depend on the Lord! Seek the Spirit! Be obedient! Fear no man!

Then he pronounced an awesome blessing on us missionaries in the name of Jesus Christ that I shall treasure. After the closing song and prayer he went back up to the mike, and told us how very much he loved us -  you could just feel the love radiating from him!  Then he went out amongst us and shook as many hands as he could. He came right next to me (I was separated a bit to the side just as a precaution in the very off chance I might have something catching), and offered his hand, but I told him I'd better not - but we bumped elbows ;)  Almost as good!  I'll tell you, that man loves the members of the church sooo much. We are VERY lucky to have him as one of our leaders!
All in all a totally awesome, Spirit-filled morning.  I love being a missionary!

After lunch I took a walk up to the temple and around the neighborhood a bit. The Provo temple is growing on me :)

And finally - the building (2M, the Jacob Hamblin building) that I call home.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

MTC PMG: Week one in the Missionary Training Center

Hurray! I finally made it into the MTC!   I thought I'd keep a blog (we'll see how THAT goes) to keep everyone who's interested up to date on my mission. I may get a bit long winded on here as this is how I plan to keep my "travel journal", so you're welcome to skip through it :)

I had planned on entering the MTC on Mar 1, 2014, but Spain had other ideas. As soon as I got here (I planned to spend about a week with Marie and her family), I found out that the Spain consolate had decided it needed an additional two forms to add to all the stuff I had already sent for my Visa. So they decided to delay my entry into the MTC until it came. And I waited. And waited. I was kind of worried I might not be able to get back in time to be home for Sam (who is on a mission in the Central Salt Lake Mission), so they set a firm date of April 14th (a Monday) and the week before that, my visa came!  It was great cause for celebration!

Entrance to the MTC:

Marie and Joshua drove me down (thank you Marie and James for all your help and hospitality!) to Provo... it was so exciting to enter the gates of the MTC!  I got my official "missionary badge", security and meal card (you have to swipe to enter the grounds and all the buildings), and misc. information, dropped my bags in my room (with the help of some very nice Elders), then headed to the chapel for orientation. Btw - I'm staying by myself in a very nice room, much like a small hotel room, on the third floor of the building that houses the MTC book store. Orientation was the normal introductory stuff, plus they divided us up into "districts" that stayed together for classes etc.

All the "senior" missionaries in our group :

My district consisted of the Bradshaws, who were from Alpine Utah and was going to serve in their stake as Leadership Support; and who had already served a mission in Hungary; the Maynards, who were from South Jordan, UT, and were headed to France to serve the Young Single Adults of the area; the Martins, who were on their second mission in the Family History Archives division, photographing records in Olympia, the capital of Washington; my companion, Sister Tilley from Colorado, who was going to the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii to do whatever they wanted her to; and myself, from Medford, Oregon, going to the Spain Malaga Mission, as office support.  We had two wonderful young teachers that were students at BYU, Sister Holland, who had her very last final Friday and was moving on to the "real world", and Elder Lystrup.

This week was dedicated to "Preach My Gospel" training, which is similar to what the younger missionaries go through. First we learned our purpose - to teach PEOPLE, not lessons, with love and simplicity, where they are at. Next we learned how to teach the Restoration of Jesus Christ's true gospel, using quick summaries, scriptures, and questions, with some experiences and our testimony thrown in. Then we practiced on each other, and the next day practiced on some volunteers from the community who pretended not to know anything about the church, which was quite scary for some people, but since I'd already done some of it (thanks Kelly and Dee!) I thought it was fun! One of the most challenging parts was learning to work as a team with your companion. I had lots of practice developing this talent as I kept getting new partners as my companion got sick and missed a fair amount of time. It kept me on my toes! Then we taught the Plan of Salvation as a followup lesson to volunteer "investigators", which was really easy with ours - he kept saying "I have a question about (something), and then proceeded to tell us all about it and state that it made total sense to him!  The challenge was sneeking some teaching of our own in!  Finally, each couple made up a scenario where we pretended to be members who weren't coming to church any more, then we had an introductory meeting with another couple (not of our group), and each couple had to come up with a lesson to teach to that particular couple's needs. We were encouraged to use true examples in our lives, and the couple we "taught" was a family where the mom had fibromyalgia and was using that to abuse prescription pain pills and get as much money/support as she could from the government and church. It was interesting! (How to be tactful and yet helpful.... we ended up encouraging her to try other doctors and to  try out the church's Addiction Recovery Program. We also reminded her of the help that comes from Christ's atonement).  Finally they went over working with Stake and Local church leaders. All in all it was a very interesting week - great teachers, and great information. The hardest part though was staying awake that hour after lunch, no matter how good the teachers were!

One kind of funny thing:  I wrote how I've been without a partner for the last couple days - well, they decided it was okay if I just did the community teaching thing by myself, so I went in there, introduced myself, and start teaching. Suddenly another sister appears and sits down with me...apparently they realized I was "alone" with a single (married but w/o his wife) man  (it's in the gym with partitions between everyone but open to the middle where the instructors were so I didn't think it was any big deal) and decided that wasn't a good thing after all! 
Some more about the MTC:   The food is served in the cafeteria, and on the whole is excellent (or as excellent as mass produced food can possibly get). There is always fruit and salad, and usually several choices. It's easy to find way too much that I want to eat! We've had Mexican, Chinese, Papa John's pizza, the Creamery (college) icecream (all you can eat!), wraps, all kinds of burgers, chicken steak sandwiches, and on and on...  I found the luggage scale Wednesday, and decided that a bit less food and a bit more exercise was in order ;)  I also "found" (or he found me) L.T. Hoak Thursday. It was so fun visiting with him!  He looked great! The Elders here are SO nice - I rarely have to open a door, and they (and the Sisters) always have a big smile and cheerful greeting. There is an exercise room with 2 treadmills and 2 bikes on my room's floor, and a big exercise room in the basement everyone uses, so I have no excuse not to exercise (which I've been trying to do). And there are beautiful flowers everywhere outside, and beautiful pictures everywhere inside.

 There is also a world map where it's a tradition to have your picture taken while you point to where your mission is. I couldn't resist :)

Another tradition - every Tuesday we have a "devotional" in which one of the church leadership comes to give all the missionaries an inspirational talk. This last Tuesday  Sister Kathy Andersen and Elder Neil Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke. Sister Andersen spoke on treasuring the words the Lord has given us through His Apostles during conference (it was interesting to hear an insiders report on how much care and thought and prayer go into the talks). Elder Andersen spoke on Laying Hold upon the Doctrine of Christ - Follow, and Do! Understand the Atonement and put it into your own life - live it, and it will make your faith immoveable.
Something really neat - they had a bunch of missionaries (mostly the young folk, with a few older) form a missionary choir that I got to sing in. It was TOTALLY AWESOME!  Think of all those men's voices (usually a rarity). Very powerful. And the director was VERY good - he really gave us a sense of the meaning of the hymn. A great experience.
What was funny though, although we were having an apostle come to speak to us Tuesday, all that day the whole MTC was abuzz about what a GREAT devotional we were going to have on Easter Sunday. I can't wait to see what they have planned for us!  At least hopefully I can go. Remember I wrote about my companion being sick?  Well, she apparently was generous enough to share with me, because I woke up with *ahem* bowl problems this morning. So far it's only been the one time (it's 5pm right now), so if it stays fine, I'll be able to go tomorrow, but they think she may have norovirus, which is VERY contageous (we found this out Thur, after I've been partnering with her for 3 days) and she is under quarantine, so we'll see.  It kind of tanked all my plans for today, but at least it's a nonteaching day, so I'm only really missing exercises, temple, and shopping. And I made time to go to the temple here Thursday night (what a beautiful temple inside!), and it gave me time to write up this blog, so it's all good.

The very best thing about the MTC is the spirit here - I love feeling the Holy Ghost bear witness to me that what I am doing and what I am teaching is very true and that I'm doing what the Lord wants me to do. Can't get better than that!