Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Final Words AKA The Homecoming Talk

Magandang umaga po Brothers and Sisters! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Sister Shalee Brown and I recently returned from serving in the Philippines San Pablo Mission, AKA the best mission in the whole world. I’ve been home for about a month now and I am definitely missing the warm weather in the Philippines. I absolutely love the Philippines and the wonderful people there and I’m so thankful for the experiences I had and for this opportunity to share with you a few of those experiences.

The topic I was given is self-confidence. So I started thinking, where does our self-confidence come from? From our closet full of brand name clothes? From the fact that we have a lot of money? Or from how many likes our selfie gets on Facebook? Sometimes we truly believe these worldly things determine our value. But they don’t.

When I arrived in the Philippines, it was… different. There was no air conditioning, no milk and cereal, and no Wal-mart, but there WERE giant cockroaches and spiders and the people there ate little baby ducks and chicken heads.  Some of them lived in houses made of cardboard and plywood. I’d never been farther than Idaho before the mission, so you can imagine just how different that was for me. On top of that, my companion and I opened an area, meaning we had absolutely no investigators. At first the challenge was fun, but after a couple of weeks, it was just hard. I missed my family and I was feeling anything but confident in myself. I mean, who does when they’re trying to learn the same language the Minions speak? If confidence really came from wordly things, I was left with nothing.  When you go on a mission, you leave all that behind. I really struggled with anxiety and there were days that it was very hard to do what I needed to do. I felt very alone and sometimes I just wanted to quit. I can honestly say that that first month in the mission field was the hardest month of my entire life thus far. But I would NEVER, ever take it back. Because I learned where confidence really comes from.

I had an angel of a Mission President who rather than letting me quit, taught me about the enabling power of the atonement. He gave me a talk called, “In the Strength of the Lord” by Elder David A. Bednar. It explains this second and less familiar part of the atonement like this, "The enabling power of the atonement strengthens us to do and be good and serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity." I felt that I had reached my natural capacity and I now needed His help. So one particularly difficult day, I went into our bedroom and knelt down and I told Heavenly Father that if He wanted me to keep going, I needed my Savior to strengthen me. I needed that enabling power. And I told Him that I was feeling weak and I just needed to be strong enough to get through that day. And you know what? He strengthened me. I felt an immediate peace come over me as I opened my eyes and saw the picture that someone had taped to the wall who knows how long ago of the Savior in Gethsemane and I realized that I could be confident in me because it wasn’t really me. I am nothing. But with the Savior, I am everything. And through Christ, I can do all things. So I got up and it wasn’t easy, but I kept going. And I felt my Savior by my side every step of the way.

When I was still in the MTC, my companions and I came up with a little saying that goes like this, “When you doubt yourself, you are doubting the Savior.” Brothers and Sisters, we were not placed here to fail. He doesn’t just leave us alone. I know that He knows you. He knows the trials and temptations you are facing. He knows what it’s like to feel alone or disappointed or afraid. When He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, I don’t think that it was a group thing. I think that it was very individualized, that He saw your face and thought that even if you were the only one that needed the atonement, He still would’ve done it. Because that’s how much He loves you. He knows who you are and who you have the potential to become.

But in order to really gain this confidence for ourselves, we have to put it to the test. We have to do things that scare us. For me, one of those things was OYMing, meaning Open Your Mouth. After a couple of weeks in the field, I decided I just needed to do it. In the Pines, you ride in Jeepneys, which are like grafittied buses. We had a 45-minute ride. And it took me that entire time to start talking. This is embarrassing but I didn’t know how to start so I dropped my pen hoping the girl next to me would pick it up. It’s even more embarrassing that it didn’t work. So that’s when I had to put my confidence in my Savior and just do it. And I did and it was awesome. She lived too far away for us to visit her but it got easier for me to OYM and that’s how we met Joel and Ariane.

Joel and Ariane are an example to me of how our knowledge of the gospel and who we are really increases our self-confidence. They were a young couple with 2 young children and no income. They loved the gospel from the very beginning and after just a couple of visits, Joel cut his hair and took out his earrings. We hadn’t asked hi to do that, so we asked him about it and he told us that he’d done it because it just seemed right. When we told him he had to stop smoking, he hesitated but then told us he could. And he did. Joel also really struggled with prayer at first. The main religion in the Philippines is Catholic and their prayers are mainly memorized. So investigators are usually really shy about praying out loud at first. But with Joel and with all of the others I taught as well, it quickly became my favorite thing to watch as their confidence grew and he realized that he was really talking to someone who loved him, that he really had a Heavenly Father He gained the confidence that comes from truly knowing you are a child of God. After a couple of months, Joel and Arianne really placed their confidence in the Lord and decided to be baptized in secret at the risk of being kicked out of their home because of opposition from Arianne’s mother.  Because of their choice and confidence in the Lord, their 8-year-old son was baptized yesterday and Arianne’s mom is now being taught by the missionaries.

Let me tell you why they were able to place such confidence in the Savior. When the Savior performed the atonement, He did it for EVERYONE and everything. In Alma 7:11-12 it says, “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”  There was a sister in my 4th area who really know this is true. We went to Sister Garin’s intending to ask for referrals but instead felt that we needed to share these verses with her. She then tearfully confided to us that she had just been told that she had breast cancer. She wasn’t confident that she could do it alone, but she was confident that she could do it with her Savior. Just like He had felt her pain, He has also felt the pain of your neighbor, your sister, your best friend, and that stranger you sit next to on the bus everyday. But chances are, they don’t know that. They don’t have that confidence in themselves because they don’t know their Savior. But they deserve to know.

We, as members, are the key to helping others understand who they are and what their Savior did for them. In Sta. Cruz, we had so many wonderful investigators and they were all referrals from members. One couple in particular, the Salvadors, is a perfect example of gaining self-confidence through the gospel. When we first met Virgie, she was kind of quiet and nervous all the time. About a week after our first visit, a level 3 typhoon made it’s way through Sta. Cruz, ripping houses apart and causing havoc all night long. When we went to check on the Salvadors, Virgie told us how afraid she had been during the storm and how she hadn’t known what to do. So we taught her to pray. And sure enough, at our next visit she told us that she KNEW prayer worked. She knew because she had prayed that her husband would get rid of his smelly chickens and he did… Haha J After that, she never really waivered. She had full confidence in the Lord’s commandments and in her ability to follow them.

The Lord often gives us missionary opportunities that we fail to recognize because they are so simple. We have opportunities every single day to share the gospel. About a month before my mission ended, the Lord worked in mysterious ways to provide me with a missionary opportunity that I never would have had otherwise. One night we were walking up to the house of an investigator when I stepped on none other than a snake, which sunk its teeth right into my tasty ankle. Thanks to this little experience, I got to spend 24 hours in a Manila hospital. It was a long, boring 24 hours so the mission nurse and I started to OYM everyone that came through the room. A couple of these people were Lorena and her son, Marvin. They opened up to us about a lot of trials they were going through with their family and we were able to share a little bit about the Book of Mormon with them. We got their information and right before I came home, I was told that the missionaries were teaching this family and that they were so excited to hear their message. I know that Lord’s hand was in that crazy experience.

However, sometimes we don’t see success like that. Sometimes we put our confidence in the Lord and then we get rejected, or it doesn’t work out quite like we thought it would. But I promise you that no effort is wasted. I served in each of my areas for a pretty short amount of time and I often left the area feeling that I hadn’t made much of a difference. But Heavenly Father showed me that my effort was not wasted. I had the opportunity to visit one of my areas on my last Sunday in the Philippines and it just so happened that that was the day that 5 of the investigators I had started teaching and left unsure of whether or not I had set a sure foundation for them, were baptized. One of them was Sister Conching. Now remember my struggle with OYMing. This sweet sister was an OYM. In fact, we only went there to buy some ice candy (like homemade otter pops) and she let us in. As I attended her baptism, I felt a really special spirit testifying to me that I had indeed made a difference just as every other missionary that had taught her.  Brothers and Sisters, no effort to live the gospel is wasted. No effort to share it is wasted. We may not be perfect at it, but that’s okay.

When I spoke 18 months ago, I shared one of my favorite quotes with you and I’m going to share it again because it’s even more relevant now. It’s from We Bought A Zoo. “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” I know that if we place our confidence in the Lord and take that 20 seconds of courage, to share the gospel, to make a change in our own lives, to do something that scares us, you will come to know that the Savior really does know and love you and that you can do impossible things. To close, I’d like to bear my testimony in Tagalog.

Alam ko po na totoo ang simbahan na ito. Alam ko po na buhay si Jesucristo at ang ating Tagapagligtas po siya. Nagbayad-sala siya para sa bawat isa sa atin. Alam ko na may plano ang Diyos para sa atin at perpekto ang plano niya. Alam ko na mahal na mahal po tayo ng Diyos at dahil doon, ibinalik niya ang kanyang totoong simbahan dito sa mundo sa pamamamagitan ng propetang Joseph Smith. Alam ko po na totoo po ang Aklat ni Mormon at masasagot niya ang mga katanongan ninyo. Alam ko po na tunay ang panalangin. Lagi naririnig kayo ng Diyos. Alam ko totoo ang lahat ng sinabi ko sa inyo, sa pangalan ni Jesucristo, amen.