Wednesday, May 30, 2012

First Letter

After a tortuous week of not hearing anything from Ben,we finally got an email from him!  I don't know if it was a special call from a special man in our ward down to the MTC that got it here or it was just coincidence, but it came and we were SO glad to read that Ben is doing well and is happy.  Then, Maggie, angel that she is, found a picture of him on Facebook and sent that along.  (A girl she knows from Seattle is in Ben's district--miracle!) So now we have a letter AND a picture to show! 

Here are excerpts from his letter: (and yes, he really did ask if he can wash his suit in the washing machine . . .did his mother not teach him anything???)

Well hello family!
Wow! I don't know where to start! I've only got 25 minutes left and there's a lot to tell. 
First of all, I love you and miss you all more than I can say. :) I think about you often and I hope things are going well on your end.
So I'm in Brazil and it is awesome! The plane ride was long and we arrived in Sao Paulo about 8 in the morning. We exchanged some money and loaded up the van with our stuff. There were 11 of us in all. We met with five or six more at Atlanta and the rest at Sao Paolo. It took almost an hour to drive what would take twenty minutes in the states to drive - traffic is horrible.
The MTC is beautiful! The first day was just orientations and stuff like that. It's got like seven stories and is the largest church owned building outside of the U.S. Very great. The food is hit and miss - some days it is really good and other days not so much. I've eaten a lot of rice and beans already! Today, I ate a delightful sausage made of pig intestines. I wonder was Ted would say about that :)
The biggest tender mercy I've had while being here is my first comp, Elder Ryan Reese from Dallas. He's such a hard worker and a very spiritual guy and it hasn't been a problem at all to get along, keep the rules and feel the Spirit with him. I'm very lucky to have him. He went to BYU last year and was actually in my fall semster humanities class! We never talked but what do you know!
The rest of my district is really great - there are 11 of us, soon to be twelve. All elders except for two sister missionaries. Ask Maggie if she remembers a girl with the last name of Sargeant in Seattle. She said she knew Maggie through the singles ward.
Let's see, what else....oh yes...Portuguese. It's hard - I'll tell you what. But I've actually come a long way and I'm feeling optimistic. The blessing and the curse is that there are a ton of Brazilians down here so you can practice with them whenever you want but it often leaves you very humbled and confused about what you or they just said. Seriously though, I'm feeling great.
Not to say that it hasn't been hard. In fact, the first three or four nights were really rough for me. I missed you guys a ton and couldn't help but think of home. But you know what? I found out for myself yet again that the Lord answers prayers. He's really helped me stay focused.  I know that He can and will apply His to me and anyone else who will earnestly pray and repent. I'm feeling a lot better now - still humbled by my call but ready and willing to work.
Honestly, I'm feeling so good right now. I know that this mission was meant for me and I'm very excited and happy to serve the people of Brazil. This morning we went to the beautiful Sao Paulo Temple and got to do baptisms. Six of us elders baptized 95 people! It's a gorgeous temple and I really felt the Spirit there. The gospel is all about self-less service! I love it!
I can't tell you how much your letters meant to me. I've read them through so many times and each of you brough such joy and peace to my heart with your words in your own individual way. I keep them with the rest of my valuables in the safe in my room because they are really really precious. Thank you.
I'll send pictures when I can but right now, I don't really know how. Did you get my letter? I hope you did because it has information on the back about sending letters and packages - which you can't send to the MTC.
Let's see, did I mention I love you all? Because I do!
Funny thing - all the Brazilians are fun loving and friendly. When they see my name tag reading "Elder Jacob" they all go - without fail - "Jacob....Jacob... like in Twilight!" It's funny.
Tell Bro. Francis that he was right - if you make it to the first Monday in the MTC things get a lot better.
Please email me all about your lives. And tell everyone who reads the blog that I love them all and I hope all is well with them.
Guys, I know this is what I'm meant to do. It's going to be hard, I've got to learn a new language and talk to Brazilians about the gospel, but I'm excited and ready. This is the Lord's work and I'm humbled and honored to be a part of it. I've been reading Section 100 of the D&C often lately; I feel like it applies nicely.
I love you all! Please know that I'm praying about you and thinking about you often but I'm mostly focused on the work! :) I love you!
Dad, Mom, Sam, Annie, Ellie - I love you all! Please tell me about your lives and know that your bro is thinking about you in Sao Paulo Brazil!
By the way - the sky and the city are very beautiful here. :)
Ciao! Boa Noite!
Elder Jacob
P.S. can I wash my suit in the washing machine?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Elder Jacob is off to Brazil!

Ben is going directly to the Sao Paulo MTC in Brazil. 
We took him to the airport today.  He was so excited and happy! 
He couldn't wait to get on the plane!  His happiness made it almost
impossible to be sad on this day.  We will miss him so much,
but we all know this is what he is supposed to do and
that the Lord will bless and protect him.  Boa Viagem Elder Jacob!!!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ben's Farewell

Ben's Farewell was today. 
Sam played "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing"
on the piano. It was beautiful!  Ben gave a wonderful talk about keeping
our faith strong even when things don't go how we'd like. 
Scott conducted the meeting and spoke a little at the end about the
wonderful assurances we have felt about Ben, his call to Brazil, and his safety. 
It was a wonderful meeting.  A perfect way to send Elder Jacob off.

Ben's Farewell Talk: 

Pinpricks of Faith

        Good morning my brothers and sisters.  It really is wonderful to be here with you today.  I hope and pray that the Spirit will be with me as I speak about my faith in Jesus Christ and share my thoughts about trusting and believing in Him.
        I had the opportunity two days ago to drive up to Aspen Grove with my dad and my brother for our ward’s fathers and sons outing.  I had forgotten how beautiful the mountains, the trees, and especially the stars were.  Up there, away from the lights of the city, you could see thousands of stars and in the quiet of the woods, it was easy to feel peaceful. 
        I’ve always enjoyed looking up at the stars at night.  Personally, it is a spiritual experience; gazing into the heavens always reminds me of my Heavenly Father.  Seeing all those stars, all that space so huge and so infinite all around our tiny earth is a witness of God’s love for us.
        For me, gazing up at the stars is a symbol of faith.   By looking up at the stars, I’m not taken away from my life or my struggles and I’m not shown anything more remarkable than tiny pinpricks of light; I am simply reminded of the unseen wonders of the universe. I have hope for things that are not seen, which are true. 
        I’d like to ask each of you a serious question. Have you seen the Savior in your life?  How do you know He is real? If you’re like me, you haven’t physically seen the Savior and there wasn’t a single defining instant of power and glory where you gained a testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Instead, I would guess that there was a series of infinitely small experiences that prompted faith in Christ. For me, I have gained faith in Christ through a thousand pinpricks of the Spirit, through the most random of situations and in the most varied of methods.  At these moments, I felt a small but distinct physical manifestation of the Spirit.  I felt it. Each time wasn’t definitive and on it’s own, the experience wasn’t life-changing.  But through the sum of all those experiences, I feel like I’ve come to know my Savior Jesus Christ.  Just as the stars are individually very small but collectively produce a powerful witness of God’s love, I would guess that each of us would attribute our faith and testimony of Christ to small, but precious pinpricks of the Spirit that have guided us to a belief in Him.
        What then do we do when faced with instances that seem to contradict what we know to be true?  What about those times in our lives when everything seems to demand that we let go of our faith, that it doesn’t make sense to believe, to hold onto Christ feels foolish and unwise?
        God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  He doesn’t change, but is constant, just and eternal.  Let’s now consider two examples from the scriptures.  Both of these situations deal with powerful testimonies borne by stalwart disciples of Christ.  One is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the other is the story of the Prophet Abinadi.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were righteous Hebrews who were living in a wicked Babylon.  King Nebuchadnezzar had built a huge golden idol and commanded that everyone bow down and worship it.  Any who refused to comply would be thrown in a fiery furnace.   These young men knew they should not obey the king because his commands were a violation of the commandants of God.  When faced with this direct attack of their faith in God, these three said, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand O king.  But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”  Abinadi was a prophet who was called to preach repentance to King Noah and his priests.  King Noah had many wives and concubines and he “laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed” and caused “his people to commit sin and to do that which is abominable in the sight of the Lord.”  Abinadi powerfully chastised these wicked men and expounded all the scriptures unto them with the Spirit.  He said, “I finish my message; and then it matters not whither I go, if it so be that I am saved.” 
        In both of these stories, the heroes defied the commands of evil kings and remained true to their faith and covenants.  Both had their testimonies sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit.  And yet, despite the power of their words, both the Babylonian captives and the holy man of the Land of Nephi were condemned to death by burning.  Now, don’t forget the condition with which we began our inquiry: God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  With our physical understanding and mortal logic, both of these cases should have had the same result. Both cases shared the same core factors.  Yet, the opposite is true.  For Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the Lord chose to protect them from the fiery furnace and minister unto them amid the flames.  For Abinadi, the Lord chose instead to allow wicked men to burn him at the stake.  How can this be if God is an unchanging and consistent being?
        For the truly faithful, it doesn’t matter what happens in this life because they know they will stay true to their faith.  All the faithful turn their lives over to God and leave the result of the physical battle in His hands; the spiritual battle has already been won, so nothing else matters.  Thus faith is independent of any fleeting physical outcome.  Faith doesn’t rest in what happens today but is found in the eternal Lord and his everlasting plan. We can have faith that the Lord will deliver us when and where and how we want him to, but to have true faith we must also believe that if He doesn’t deliver us when and where and how we want him to, that He still will deliver us.  True faith always has a “But if not” clause at the end, signifying our continued and stalwart faith in the Lord and our submission to His eternal and sometimes unknown will. 
        Throughout the scriptures, there are examples of miracles where the Lord rewarded the faith of the saints – Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Nephi, Mosiah and many others.  But there are also the “But if nots” as Elder Dennis E. Simmons of the Second Quorum of the Seventy called them.  Faithful men like Abinadi, Job, Paul, Stephen, many of the Early saints saw no physical rewards for their faith. 
       Elder Simmons said, “Our scriptures and our history are replete with accounts of God’s great men and women who believed that He would deliver them, but if not, they demonstrated that they would trust and be true.  He has the power, but it’s our test.  What does the Lord expect of us with respect to our challenges?  He expects us to do all we can do. He does the rest. Nephi said, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”
        Brothers and sisters, our struggle in life and in this gospel is to cultivate this faith, true faith in Christ—because it is true faith in Christ that brings lasting happiness and consistent peace in this world.   As faith becomes independent of physical events in our lives, we are given greater strength to deal with adversity as it comes.  Even if we make a mistake, even if we fall short of our goal, even if a parent or a child leaves us, even if a marriage is cut short, even if we cannot make the grade or our strength seems wasted, we can still have our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Thus, Faith in Christ becomes more powerful than any other thing.  Faith becomes more resilient than any earthly influence and more steadfast than any physical situation. Faith is the reason that Job said, “Though after my skins worms shall destroy my body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” Faith is the reason Paul boldly asked, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or peril or sword? … Nay! In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”  Faith is the reason the Lord promises Joseph Smith and, by extension, all of us “Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high.”
        No matter how many people assert that the scriptures aren’t real or how many people claim that God doesn’t exist, we are kept safe by those small experiences of faith that touched our hearts, for no physical evidence can disprove the stirrings within us and the experiences that we each treasure.  I personally believe that as the world becomes increasingly reliant on only what is seen and what occurs, it becomes increasingly important for us to hold fast to those pinpricks of faith that strengthened us and gave us hope.
        If I could leave you all with one message, it would be to not give up on Christ.  Don’t lose faith in Him just because things are hard right now.  Don’t ever deny those pure and beautiful moments of testimony.  Remember that this life is a test and “ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” 
       As a missionary in Brazil, I will work to bring people to the gospel.  I will pray for them, prepare lessons for them, teach them with the Spirit and exhort them to come unto Christ’s church.  But if they don’t, will that mean that my faith in this gospel is all wrong? No. They all have their agency and can choose to live their life as they wish.  I will trust that all things are in God’s hands and all things will work out in His way, probably not in my way.
       The Savior himself showed tremendous faith at perhaps the most intense and excruciating moment of the Atonement.  He said, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”  I hope that we all, myself included, can follow the Savior’s example as we answer the question “Can I trust God even if things don’t turn out the way I want?” I hope that we can always remember those pinpricks of faith, just like the pinpricks of light in a midnight sky that point us back toward God.
      I would like to thank all the wonderful people in my life who have guided and brought me to this point– but man, we don’t have the time for that! There are just too many!  Briefly, I want to express my love for the young men’s leaders who have inspired and taught me through the years – I will be forever grateful for your influence and advice.  I want to express my love and respect for all my friends – you have made my life so rich in memories and given me so many reasons to be happy.  Thank you.  And I want to express my eternal love for my family.   Despite the many things that have blessed my life, my family has always brought me the very greatest happiness.  Ellie, Annie, Sam, Mom and Dad – I love you and I am so so so grateful to be in your life. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Open House

We had an Open House for Ben on 19 May 2012. 
Many friends and family came to wish him well. 
Thanks to all the the sweet friends who helped with the food and decorations!
It was a wonderful night!