Posts tagged missionaries
It’s easy to feel alone in this temporal life I live in. It’s easy to forget that my God, my Heavenly Father knows me by name. And not just me but all of us. How can we really know God knows each of our names? How can we be sure that God knows and loves us all personally?
I had the joyous opportuntiy to visit Utah for the first time this past October of 2014. I went because I’d never been, to visit friends, to sightsee, and most importantly to gain a stronger testimony of my Savior Jesus Christ by attending General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
General Conference was an amazing Spirit filled even in which the Prophet of the Lord, President Thomas S. Monson and his counselors, Apostles, and Auxillery Leaders spoke to us over four two-hour session. I was able to attend two of those sessions and be in the same room with these holy men and women.
One of the talks given that hit me the most was by Elder David A. Bednar entitled “Come and See”. If you’ve never watched General Conference before, if you aren’t sure why you are reading this Mormon-centric post, then this is the perfect video for you because Elder Bendar speaks directly to the questions of people who do not belong the the LDS Church.
Come and See by Elder David A. Bendar
But the true highlight of my trip occurred the very first evening I arrived in Salt Lake. By happenstance, the couple I was visiting with that evening had been invited to a Mission Reunion. And this was no ordinary reunion for return missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This was something extraordinary. It was the mission reunion for the missionaries who had served under our Current Prophet over 50 years ago when he was a young man and the Mission President of a large Mission in Canada.
I was so excited to go. Hardly daring to hope that I’d get to see the Prophet up close, I was still buzzing with the mere idea. And I wasn’t disapinted. President Monson came to greet his missionaries!
We were in a small chapel way far out of Salt Lake. Where I sat a mere 4 rows back from the modern day Prophet of God, I was overcome with the Spirit of the Lord. Though the thing that impressed me the most, that strengthened my testimony the most was something that harkened back to my questions:How can we be sure that God knows and loves us all personally?How can we really know God knows each of our names?
How can we really know God knows each of our names?
How can we be sure that God knows and loves us all personally?
As President Monson stood on the stand, something incredible happened. He began pointing to various missionaries aged by 50 years since he last saw them and calling on them by name. He said that he still could recognize and name all his missionaries from his Mission President days. And I could see the love he had for each of them.
What a gift! A divinely bestowed gift. It truly testified to me that if a mortal Prophet could know all his missionaries by name, than our Father in Heaven must have an infinite capacity to do the same. And God’s love for each of us, His children much be infinitely greater than even the Prophets.
Throughout the trip, and even now, that testimony really stuck with me and left me feeling so loved and understood that I felt surrounded by the divine embrace of Heavenly Father’s love for me.
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!
And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!
When that scripture is usually quoted it’s typically in reference to helping bring others to Christ. But today, I thought of it in a different context. Because today was truly a joyous occasion for me. Today, Friday, March 7th, 2014, marks the 4 year anniversary of the day I entered the waters of baptism and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. To this day I know with every fiber of my being that decision to get baptized was the best decision I’ve ever made for myself. That day, March 7th, 2010, I brought my own soul unto Christ, and I have never been more joyful!
It began with a quest like many good stories do. My quest was to find a close connection with Heavenly Father. My problem was I wasn’t really sure He existed. But I wanted to believe so badly. My quest, which originated in the Reform Jewish Synagogue of my youth, took me to lots of different places and to many congregations. Never feeling complete or satisfied. Always searching for something more. I was interested in college in how my Christian friend cultivated a close and personal relationship with Christ and would occasionally attend her college group prayer meetings at her church to see if I could glean how they went about it and apply it to my own quest. I told them straight up that Christ wasn’t for me. I remember that kind Youth Pastor prayed with me that I would find my own truth in my own time. Whatever it was. I appreciated that a lot.
Years later I was going to a Universalist Unitarian Church, but I still hadn’t found what I was seeking. At the same time, I needed to hire a caregiver. I had been in a wheelchair for over a year due to multiple autoimmune diseases causing extreme pain that made it impossible to walk. The new caregiver I hired was Mormon. We would talk about religion all the time. Sharing about our different background. Her being raised in the Church. Me being raised Jewish, Bat Mitzvah’d, Confirmed and having taught Temple Religious School, but still searching. I admired how close she was to God. How personal it was for her. How it was such a source of strength, peace and hope in times of stress and darkness. I wanted that for myself on some level but I didn’t believe. And I couldn’t just suddenly believe in something I didn’t believe in just because I wanted to.
However, she convinced me to start praying on a regular basis. I’d never said a personal prayer before. I didn’t even know how to go about it until she explained it to me. It felt super awkward at first but slowly more comfortable.
It wasn’t until I decided to try an experiment that things started to shift for me. I decided to try adding “In the name of Jesus Christ” to the end of all my prayers, just as an experiment to see if it felt any different. I was amazing to realize there was in fact a subtle but significant difference. It brought a sense of calm and peace, love and comfort into my heart.
I remember telling my caregiver, “I wonder what kind of miracle it would take to get me from not believing in Christ as the Redeemer of the World to accepting Him as the Savior of all Mankind. What would it take to change my whole belief system?”
So when my caregiver asked me yet again to attend Church with her and to get a blessing for healing I finally agreed.
I loved Church. I remember feeling such a sense of peace and warmth come over me the entire time. Then it was time for the blessing of healing. From the moment the two missionaries giving the blessing put their hands on head, I felt Heavenly Father’s love for me so intensely I thought I might pass out. The way I experienced His love for me was so all encompassing and so complete, it was just sooo awe inspiring to know that I am that loved and that known by God. And that He is real. And that He lives.
In that instant I knew that I wouldn’t have had this experience if I wee not the in the right place to have it. I knew it was a signal from God to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I started taking the missionary discussions and was baptized 6 weeks later. And I walked into the baptismal font (with the help of my caregiver) having started walking the same week of the blessing. My baptism was held during the 3rd hour of Church, so my whole Young Single Adult Ward attended it. My Dad and his girl friend were also able to attend. My baptism was so special. I’ll never forget those tender and elated feelings I had coming out of the waters of baptism, feeling more pure than I’d ever felt before. I will treasure those memories always.
The last four years, haven’t been the easiest, but they’ve been richer and more joyful with the gospel in my life. Through the hard times and all the hospitalizations especially, it’s given me so much strength to endure. In the happy times, it gives me so much more context in which to enjoy each moment. The gospel truly is the greatest gift in my life. I’ve learned so much, gained so much, my life has been so blessed in every way!
I’ve received my my Patriarchal Blessing, a piece a personal scripture and revelation that is individual to each person who receives it, given by men ordained of God to give such blessings. I’ve held multiple callings (or volunteer positions) in my Ward at Church. And I’ve gone to the Temple, the House of the Lord.
To celebrate, today I went to the Los Angeles Temple with a dear friend and spent some quality time there. There was no place I felt that would be more appropriate to send commemorating my baptism, than in the House of the Lord where I can reflect, seek peace, calm, protection, and revelation from on high.
I am so grateful for this gospel and this Church. I’m grateful for my baptism. I am so thankful for the chance we all have to repent of our sins, enter the waters of baptism, be cleansed, and start fresh. I am grateful for my Savior, Jesus Christ. And I’m grateful for my Heavenly Father and the chance I have to return to Him through this work.
Today I gave my first ever talk in Church! I got the topic, faith, almost a month ago now, and I’ve been preparing ever since. It was exciting to get up there and share my thoughts on faith with everyone. And in honor of Easter, I ‘ll share it here:
Developing and growing your faith in life often occurs in the midst of great trials. One of my favorite scriptures on faith is from Ether 12:6:
“faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”
This really resonates with me and my own experience with faith and trials. First of all it defines faith as things “hoped for and not seen”. Faith is when we believe despite a lack of tangible or concrete reasons to do so. The second part of this scripture talks about the “trial of your faith” which tells us not to question due to the lack of evidence because we won’t have that evidence until after that trial. During trials we have the opportunity to exercise our faith or act in faith. Our faith then grows. And as our faith grows we receive witness confirming our faith through the power of the Holy Ghost.
But how do you start to develop faith when it isn’t strong in your life or even when it seems to be totally absent? Most of my life I considered myself to be a person of little faith. Though I was raised as a Reform Jew and was Bat Mitzvahed, Confirmed, and even assistant taught Sunday school at my temple in high school, I didn’t really believe in a higher power. And a belief in Christ wasn’t even on my radar. As a child I never felt I was loved unconditionally, so the idea that something I couldn’t even see could love me unconditionally was beyond my understanding.
But I saw the way that my Christian friends felt connected to God. I saw that the connection they felt was a deep and profound source of joy, comfort, and surety in their lives. I longed to have that in my own life. The question was where find it. Up to that point, Judaism had never given me that sense of a personal connection with our Heavenly Father. I wanted more than anything in my life to feel close to Him and to know Him as my Father in Heaven who loved me unconditionally. So I began searching for the religion that would bring me to Him.
I began to research and check out other religions. But the fundamental problem I kept encountering was that I just plain didn’t believe in God. However, I realized that my life would be so much happier if I could just believe. I wanted to feel connected to something larger and feel unconditionally loved. I realized that if I could just believe in God, my life would be better for having this faith in it. Logically I figured (and I tend to be a very logically minded person), that if I could just make that leap of faith and believe it wouldn’t even matter if God really existed because the act of believing in Him would bring me so much intrinsic happiness.
So one day I made a choice. I chose go forward from that moment in my life as if God existed. I figured I had nothing to loose. So I made that great leap, and I was rewarded. I didn’t have the context to understand it at the time, but that act of faith of choosing to believe was soon rewarded with increasing genuine certainty that God existed.
Upon reflection it was much with me as it is described in Alma 32:27:
“exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.”
It goes on to say that finding faith is like planting a seed inside of you, and if you do not resist it and allow it to grow inside of you…
“will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.
43 Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.” Alma 32:28-43
So I made this choice to believe in God and let Him into my life, and the seeds of faith were planted inside me and began to grow.
In the meantime, I was going through probably the most significant trial of my life to date. When I was 18, I started getting sick. It started with strange but fairly mild symptoms like fevers and joint pain that the doctors couldn’t explain. But as the years progressed, so did the symptoms. By my mid 20s, I was spending sometimes months at a time in the hospital. And the diagnoses started to pile up. I didn’t have just one illness. I had five of them. All of them were autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases are a type of illness where your immune system starts thinking your own body is a foreign invader and begins to attack your own tissue. There is no known cure and the only medications for it have serious and sometimes life threatening side effects.
It was a very difficult time, going through the years of not knowing what was wrong. I lost a lot of friends who just didn’t know how to be there for me through my illness, so it was a very lonely time. And at the time I didn’t have my faith to lean on. I had no knowledge of Heavenly Father and his love and plan for me. So it was very lonely in that way as well. I did, however, have an an unidentifiable feeling that I would get through it and that somehow everything would be okay. At the time I didn’t know how to label it other than faith in myself. Now I know that sense of peace with the situation came from my Heavenly Father, but at the time I didn’t even know what it meant to have faith in someone other than myself. And I certainly hadn’t a inkling that my illness would be the thing that lead me to this Church and the Gospel. That through my own infirmity my prayers would be answered.
There came a point where I could no longer completely care for myself due to my illness. My joint pain was so severe that I needed to use a wheelchair full time, and I no longer could preform basic tasks by myself like dressing or making meals. My mom who I live with couldn’t do this every moment for me, so I ended up hiring a caregiver to help. The second caregiver I hired is the one who first introduced me to the Gospel. At the time I knew very little about what it meant to be LDS, but we would talk a lot about it. She shared her faith with me and her testimony almost every day. I was fascinated. I shared with her my religious background and it led to some amazing conversations. I also shared my own quest to find a way to have a close relationship with Heavenly Father.
She encouraged me to start to pray. I had never really done so before. At least not in my own words with my own personal hope and dreams, wants and desires and needs. At first it felt so strange. So unnatural. But it soon became more and more comfortable. And also a comfort. But I still sensed that something was missing. And I deep down I think I knew what it was. So I did an experiment. I started adding the words “in the name of Jesus Christ” to the end of all my prayers. The difference that made was subtle but profound. So I planted that next seed of faith inside myself. But I didn’t really believe in Christ at that point. It was just something that I was trying on. But that is how it started for me.
There’s one conversation that I had with my caregiver that stands out in my mind. I said out loud that “I wonder what kind of miracle I would have to experience to make me go from not believing in Christ to believing in Him.” At that point I honestly didn’t think it would be possible to experience that kind of miracle in my life. Fortunately I was wrong.
If I recall correctly, it was only a few days later that my caregiver convinced me to attend Church with her and getting a blessing for healing afterwards. When I entered the Chapel I had this sense of peace that I had rarely experienced before. But it wasn’t until I got the blessing that things really shifted for me. From the moment the missionaries put their hands on my head I was overwhelmed with such an intense sense of Heavenly Father’s presence that I nearly couldn’t bare it. It was so intense that I thought I was going to pass out. I felt God for the first time in my life. And I knew that He lived and that He loved me. More than that I knew that this experience occurred where it did for a reason. I was suddenly sure that it wouldn’t have happened anywhere less than His true Church. And that church must be called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for a reason. I knew that Jesus was the Christ. Heavenly Father had heard my words spoken a few days prior and granted me that miracle that would allow me to believe in Christ as the Son of God and my Savior.
But the miracle of that blessing didn’t end there. I was surprised a few days later to notice that I was suddenly in much less pain especially in my joints. And so I started walking again for the first time in over a year. I walked “by faith , not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7
That week I also started taking the missionary lessons and I was baptized about 6 weeks later.
It reminds me of D&C 63:9-10
“10 Yea, signs come by faith , not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God.
9 But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe.”
I’d like to conclude with this quote from Richard G. Scott from October 2010 General Conference:
“Thus, every time you try your faith—that is, act in worthiness on an impression—you will receive the confirming evidence of the Spirit. As you walk to the boundary of your understanding into the twilight of uncertainty, exercising faith, you will be led to find solutions you would not obtain otherwise. With even your strongest faith, God will not always reward you immediately according to your desires. Rather, God will respond with what in His eternal plan is best for you, when it will yield the greatest advantage. Be thankful that sometimes God lets you struggle for a long time before that answer comes. That causes your faith to increase and your character to grow.” (The Transforming Power of Faith and Character)
I’d like to bare my testimony that it is through trials that we are able to develop our faith in Heavenly Father and Christ. As we act in faith we will be rewarded with increasing faith. I have a testimony that Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us and loves us all unconditionally. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
One year ago today I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was a decision that surprised many least of all me. I was raised Jewish. In fact, I was Bat Mitzvahed, Confirmed, and even taught religious school while I was in High School. And although I always felt a strong cultural connection to my Jewish heritage, I never felt spiritually fulfilled. I wanted to feel close to God, but didn’t know how. So I in my mid-twenties, I began to search for a faith that would help me find what I was looking for.
At the same time I was battling a serious physical illness. I was diagnosed with multiple autoimmune diseases that kept landing me in the hospital. And among other symptoms, I had joint pain so severe I had been in a wheelchair full time for over a year. I also had lost a lot of my independence due to my illness, and required a full time caregiver to help me with basic things.
My caregiver was a girl about my age and she was a member of the LDS church. We would have lots of discussions about faith, and she taught me a lot about the church. As a result, I decided to start praying. I had never really done so before. But at first prayer didn’t make me feel any closer to Heavenly Father. So I decided to do an experiment. I decided to try adding the words “in the name of Jesus Christ” to the end of all my prayers. Suddenly I started to feel connected to Heavenly Father in a new way.
Around this time my caregiver invited me to attend church with her and get a blessing for healing from the missionaries after church. From the moment I entered the church building I was filled with a sense of happiness and peace.
But the true miracle of my conversion occurred during my blessing. The missionaries placed their hands on my head to impart the blessing, and I was overcome with an overwhelming feeling of connection to Heavenly Father. I felt His love so intensely I nearly passed out. It was so strong! Up until that point I had no idea that it was possible to really feel God. And from that moment on, I KNEW that Heavenly Father lived and that Jesus was the Christ. I started taking the missionary discussions that week.
That week another miracle occurred. I suddenly had a lot less pain in my joints. I decided to try and start walking again for the first time in over a year. By the time of my baptism six weeks later I was able to walk for the whole thing!
My baptism was an amazing day. My whole ward at church attended it, and my dad and his girlfriend were also there to support me. What I remember most was the feeling of pure love I felt. The love that Heavenly Father has for me. I felt it so strongly that day, and I was just so happy I couldn’t stop beaming.
Since then my decision to become Mormon has been confirmed many times over while doing things like reading scripture or attending church each week. I have also found an amazing support network in the church. I have made amazing friends who have been there for me through some really difficult times and really wonderful times. My decision has brought me so much peace and joy in my life. I have never been happier.