Sunday, August 25, 2013

My Mission Farewell Talk

Good morning brothers and sisters! Well… this is it. Four months ago, I received the call to serve as a missionary in the Ecuador Quito North Mission and now the time has come to answer that call. Tonight, I will be set apart as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I leave for the Mexico Missionary Training Center early Tuesday morning and my one and a half year long adventure begins.

Thinking back on the day that I received my call in the mail I don't remember exactly what I said as I held the white envelope in my trembling hands, but I do remember what I was feeling. At first, it was nervousness as I stared at the envelope… Questions came up in my mind - Would I be disappointed with my call? Would it feel right? Was this really what I was supposed to be doing with my life? What if I had gotten the wrong answer to serve when I had prayed and this wasn't what the Lord wanted me to be doing at this time?

But then I read aloud the familiar first words of any mission call  "Dear Sister Wright. You have been called to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." It was at very that moment that I felt an overwhelming sense of just absolute gratitude.  I knew right then that the answer to my prayer had been correct, that this is what I am supposed to be doing with my life at this time. The gratitude I felt that day is something that I don't think that I could ever forget. I felt so grateful that I had been found worthy to have and accept this opportunity to serve God and His children. This was the right thing for me to do. This was an essential step for me in my eternal progression. After reading those words, it didn't matter what was in the next line about where I would be serving, a question that had occupied my mind a lot in the few weeks beforehand. I was going to serve the Lord where He needed me the most. And I would be happy to go anywhere to serve Him.

And standing up here today, I still am so grateful and feel so blessed for this opportunity to I have serve and to lose myself in the work of the Lord.

One of the many questions I have been asked when I tell people about my mission call, is if I am nervous…. Well, of course I am!!

I don't know how anyone could not be! It's true I have had the experience now of being away from home as I went to BYU this past fall, but I could always come back during vacations, I could always call my family whenever I would be feeling anxious or nervous for an exam or if I needed help with anything. There was always the comfort of friends and roommates and the knowledge of teachers. Now, however, I will be the teacher! And I'll be in a completely different country with a different culture, different foods, even a different language! I mean, Provo was definitely different from Maine of course, but not that different! I will be far away from the help of my family and the comfort of my friends. And yes, it makes me nervous to think about.

But then I think about how close I will be to the Lord. And I remember the promise of the Lord, given in the book of John when He says, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." And I remember the words of Moses to Joshua and all of Israel when he says, "Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid… for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee." And again, the words of the Lord to Joshua, "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." The apostle Paul then elaborates on this, saying, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power and of love, and of a sound mind."

And so, I know that the Lord will be with me in Ecuador.  I know that I will not be alone. And my nervousness and fear is replaced with faith. Faith in the Lord and His promises and faith in the words of Helaman to his sons that "it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, that Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his might winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down… because of the rock upon which ye are build, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fail."

It is through trust and obedience in God that I will not fail, that I will be able to "testify, boldly, [of] repentance and remission of sins through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ." and I will be not ashamed.  

Over the past few months that I've had my call, I think that is what I have learned the most, is that I need to have faith, not fear. It's easy to be scared of the unknown and of the future, but I have made the decision to choose faith over fear and doubt. I have faith that the Lord knows what he is doing as I go out into the mission field and as I chose to follow the Proverb to "trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."

I don't know how many times that I have heard from friends on missions, or from returned missionaries that a mission is the hardest thing they have ever done, but it was also the most rewarding thing they had ever done. And it makes sense that missionary work is hard.

Elder Jeffery R. Holland said this, "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 His is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never easy for Him?" He goes on to say, "I believe that missionaries and investigators [and all members of the church] 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 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 faithfulness is. I believe it is supposed to require some effort, something from the depths of our souls."

Difficulties are a necessary part of life. They are faith-building experiences. When we experience trials, we are given an opportunity to rely on a power far greater than our own and to build our faith in the Lord and His plan. It is through the Atonement that we can receive strength to meet our most difficult of trials and when we are uncertain of the path ahead, we fill up our hearts with faith, go forward into the unknown, and pray and stop and pray again and again..

Elder Boyd K. Packer said this about faith, "Faith, to be faith, must center around something that is not known. Faith, to be faith, must go beyond that for which there is confirming evidence. Faith, to be faith, must go into the unknown. Faith, to be faith, must walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness."

And then another powerful quote by Elder Holland, "First and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe."

And then it is by this faith, "that miracles are wrought." … For Christ hath said: "If ye will have faith in me, ye shall have the power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me."

I know that as I have faith and trust in the Lord as I go out into the mission field, that nothing will be impossible.

Another one of the questions that I have gotten a lot as I tell people of my choice to serve is this - Why did you decide to serve a mission?

It's hard to explain all my thoughts on this seemingly simple question. Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to serve a mission. Ask any of my friends- I was determined that I was not going to get married before I was 21.

So when, this past October when President Monson announced that the age for the eligibility of sisters serving went from 21 down to 19, I knew that this divine revelation from our beloved prophet was meant for me. The Lord needs more missionaries to hasten His work at this time, and in D&C 4 it says, "Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God, ye are called to the work.." And I have that desire. I have the desire to serve the Lord and His children.

Looking back, I think that this desire to serve others on a mission sparked from a recognition- that I had it relatively easy compared a lot of people in the world today.  I have always had a circle of friends and family and a support group in the Sanford Ward and in the church in general that has made me so grateful to be a part of the church. I have been taught since primary about the simple truths of the gospel that bring happiness to our lives.

But not everyone has it like me. Not everyone has the comforting reassurance that when a close friend or family member dies, that you can see them again. Not everyone knows of the truly amazing and humbling healing power that the Atonement can have in our lives, that we can wash our garments free of the guilt of a past mistake, or we can make it through even the worst of trials with the help of Our Savior and His sacrifice for us. Not everyone knows that they are never alone, or that they can always have the guidance of a trusted companion, the Holy Ghost, who will guide them in the right path of life. Not everyone in this world, knows even about the simple power of prayer, that divine guidance that can be given, that for anyone that "seek[s]… [they] shall find," and for any that "shall knock, it shall be opened unto [them]."

The happiness and light and comfort and guidance found in these, to us, basic known truths, are yet unknown to others. They have yet to come to know of the pure light of Christ and to "shake off the awful chains by which [they] are bound." And how could I not have the desire to share this light and the hope and happiness of the gospel with those who are still wandering in the mist of darkness? How could I not want to share the light that I had been blessed with all of my life?

I'm always reminded of the hymn, Because I Have Been Given Much, I too must give, and I'll just read the last verse, it says, "Because I have been blessed by thy great love, dear Lord, I'll share thy love again, according to thy word. I shall give love to those in need; I'll show that love by word and deed; thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed." And then the words of revelation given from the Lord to the prophet Joseph Smith, "For to whom much is given, much is required."

President Ezra Taft Benson taught: "We are commanded by God to take this gospel to all the world. That is the cause that must unite us today. Only the gospel will save the world from the calamity of its own self-destruction. Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family."

In my Junior year English class, I remember one book that stood out to me a lot. It was a non-fiction book called Into the Wild. And the book revolves around the life of a young man who decides to leave everything behind and live in the wild terrain of the west in his search for happiness. Eventually, after short spells of working when he ran out of money or food, he made his way to Alaska, where he died from lack of edible food. But, throughout his journey in his search to happiness, he kept a journal of his travels throughout the US and the people he met and the experiences he had. And in one of his very last journal entries, as he is all alone, dying in the Alaskan wilderness, he writes what seem to be the findings and conclusion of his entire journey and search for happiness. He writes,  "Happiness is only real when shared." For some reason, that phrase has always struck with me, and I feel like it applies to the gospel as well.

Just as we find our happiness through the simple truths of the Gospel, we can only feel that true happiness when we share our knowledge and light with others as well.

One of the most well known missionary scriptures illustrates this,

15 And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

 16 And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the akingdom of my Father, how great will be your bjoy if you should bring many csouls unto me!

That simple joy of helping others to come unto Christ sure sounds like real happiness to me. And of course, sharing the gospel, the happiness that I have already been blessed with in my life, is the way to attain that rejoicing with Heavenly Father.

I think all of the sister missionaries that have ever come here to the Sanford Ward, have been such a huge influence and support in my decision to serve a mission as well. They have been such an example to me. Always, they have been the happiest, most cheerful people I know who will go above and beyond to serve the needs of the people in the Sanford area. Their examples have furthered my desire to serve a mission and experience the happiness that they found in loosing themselves in the work, for the Lord gives this promise, "he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it."

I will always remember the story I heard as a youth about the young President Gordon B. Hinckley on a mission in Preston, England. He was sick when he arrived in the mission field, and he quickly became discouraged because of the opposition to the missionary work. At a time of deep frustration, Elder Hinckley wrote in a letter to his father that he felt he was wasting his time and his father's money. A little while later, Elder Hinckley received a reply from his dad. It said, "Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work."

What inspired words to live by.

President Gordon B. Hinckley later said, "The happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others."

The missionaries here in the Sanford Ward and around the world have always been an example of this concept and I can't wait to join them in loosing myself in the work. "For behold, the field is white and ready to harvest… Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that you may stand blameless before Him at the last day."

So, at the end of the day, and to summarize what I have said, why am I serving my mission?

It's just as simple as this –


Love of God. Love of the Gospel. Love of God's children. I know that as I teach the people of Ecuador, that I will come to love them. For as the Pharisee asked the Savior, "Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all they mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. " 

And I think that this is very true in the Gospel. All the principles and teachings of the Gospel stem back to the simple fact of God's love for His children. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosever should believe on His name, should not perish, but have everlasting life."

 In advice from a returned sister missionary regarding missionary work, and this can really be applied to any member of the church, whether serving a full-time mission or not, she said, "Love fosters everything else – obedience, diligence, patience, humility and happiness. Love is the answer.

 Love your companion. Love the people you serve. Love the work. Love yourself. Love God."

 I'd like to end with the Standard of Truth, as written by the prophet Joseph Smith Jr. He said, "The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done."

 I know that with my mission call I am a standard bearer to the nations. The Lord has said, "Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations." The Sanford ward has helped me so much to be here where I am today and I could not thank each and everyone of you enough. Your love and support and unity is truly amazing and I am so grateful to be a part of that.

 I know God lives. I know that the power of the Atonement is real. I have felt it in my life. It has the power to bring peace to those that let it, for "His hand is stretched out still." I know that we have a living prophet on the earth today, President Thomas S. Monson, who leads us and receives divine revelation from the Lord that has the power to change lives. I know it has changed mine. I know that Joseph Smith Jr. restored the gospel on the earth today and that this gospel is the true gospel of Jesus Christ. I bear testimony of the scriptures and that the words written in them were written by prophets of God, to lead and guide us in these latter days. I know these things to be true with all of my heart. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

***Mosiah 3:19 ***Romans 12:2

Friday, August 23, 2013

Mission Pictures

Just a few of my pre-missionary photos taken by the lovely Sarah Wright. Man, I'm going to miss my backyard forest... oh and Sarah, of course. :)