Ben's Homecoming Talk:
Good morning Brothers and Sisters! How good it is to be with you in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints! I am grateful for this opportunity to speak. I pray that the Holy Ghost will carry the truth of my words unto your hearts that we may be edified together.
I returned last Saturday from a two-year mission in Minas Gerais Brazil. In the week or so that I have been home, I have reflected on my whole mission and which of the many things that I have learned I should share with you today. As I wrote and re-wrote my remarks, my gratitude for the daily blessings that I received was amplified. I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for the protection and love that He gave me every single day of my mission. There was not one day that passed that did not contain a personal reminder that God lives and loves us all and that He is doing a great work here upon the earth. Everyday of my mission, I saw His hand at work. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord says, “Draw near unto me, and I will draw near unto you.” I want to describe to you in this discourse three experiences that I had as a missionary that show that as we selflessly serve others and preach the gospel of Christ, we will draw unto God and see His face.
I was feeling really depressed the Sunday that we found Selma and Giselle. We had planned to have a baptism that Sunday, but instead, we had no investigators at church. I was heartbroken. And yet, my trainer simply said to me “Elder Jacob, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never give up.” And so, we went out seeking the elect and that is when we knocked on Selma’s door. She graciously let us in and we taught her the 1st lesson. We explained how God is our loving Father in Heaven, how He always called prophets to guide his children and how Christ paved the way for our salvation. We explained that His Church was again on the earth in the perfect form that He intended and that she could know if this is true through the Book of Mormon and personal prayer to God. She accepted our invitation for baptism. We left feeling happy and grateful for her faith.
We visited her everyday, teaching her more principles and explaining more and more about the gospel of Christ. Every time we taught her and her daughter Giselle, we felt that they were happier and more filled with the Spirit. One time we passed by and Selma told us that her sons were very angry at her for her decision to be baptized. At this point, I started sweating and getting worried because that usually meant that they wanted to stop hearing our messages. But then Selma told us that she had read in the Book of Mormon how these things would happen and that she knew that it was true so she would continue her preparation for baptism. She was baptized with Giselle two weeks after our initial lesson. As I left the waters of baptism and saw her smiling face, I felt a greater love than I had before felt. I felt in that moment that God loved Selma. I was a vessel for that divine love that He wanted to share with His daughter. I felt like Ammon who said, “Yea, we have reason to praise Him forever, for He is the Most High God and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell!”
That is what awaits us as we accept the call and become missionaries! We learn how much God loves His children. We can feel that divine love as we become instruments to bring salvation to the children of God. I testify that as we selflessly serve others and preach the gospel, we will see the face of God more clearly and understand more deeply His love for every single child on this earth.
Almost a year into my mission, I was made Senior companion. I was serving in a city called Tres Coracoes, a city of about 70,000 inhabitants. Our area was the whole city and a few smaller neighbor cities. We worked hard – walking every where we went and talking with as many people as we could. My planners from Tres Coracoes are filled with hundreds of names of people that we contacted as we preached the gospel. And yet, initially, our labors bore little fruit. As I labored in this city, I thought to myself often “How is it not possible that in this city of 70,000 there is not at least one person or one family who is willing to accept the restored gospel of Christ?” And yet, day after day we faced disappointment at almost every doorstep. I recall in particular one Sunday when, once again, all of our investigators had fallen through. A whole week of hard work – and apparently nothing to show for it! The temptation to despair came upon me. To explain what happened next, I will quote from the email that I sent to my family that week. I wrote, “We sang Now Let Us Rejoice yesterday in Sacrament meeting (of course it was in Portuguese so I should say we sang Alegres Cantemos) and while singing, I was getting really choked up. There hadn´t been a lot of visible success this week and I was feeling down about how I was doing when we started to sing and I remembered how W.W. Phelps, when he wrote this hymn, wrote it just after a terrible mob had destroyed his printing press and tried to steal a lot of important papers.” Even in that time of despair, Phelps and the early saints found joy in the gospel.
As I sang that wonderful hymn, I felt a tangible sensation of love from my Heavenly Father. In that hard time, when my heart was weary, the Lord blessed me with perspective and encouragement to keep going. I continued my email, “I know the Lord lives and this is His Church. I know it with all my soul. Many people may talk about the blessings that come from serving a mission but I know that the great blessing is to serve a mission - even when it is hard. I am very grateful to be here serving.”
Being a missionary is hard. It was never meant to be easy nor do I believe that it ever will be easy. Yet as we heed the call to become missionaries and face the challenges and disappointments in the mission field, we will receive a measure of God’s grace even greater than our difficulties. I testify that our difficulties are the foundation for some of our greatest blessings. I know that our most important lessons are learned as we faithfully endure the challenges that come upon us, always looking to our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ. Even for Him, who did no sin, the way was rough. Isaiah teaches, “…We did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” Although Christ was afflicted for doing God’s will, we know that He endured and because He endured, salvation was won for all of us. So as we selflessly serve others and preach the gospel, we too will have moments of affliction and sorrow. But we will receive grace and divine help, just like I did as I sang Now Let us Rejoice in Tres Coracoes.
My final experience occurred at the end of my mission, when I was transferred to my last area, right in the center of Belo Horizonte. On my second or third night in the area, my companion took me to visit an investigator named Joao. When we got to his apartment, I was greeted by a very large, bearded 30 something man in a dirty T-shirt. He introduced himself as Joao and we began our visit. Joao had been through some big problems and had lost a lot of the faith that he had once had. He had no desire to keep the commandments. He told us outright that he did not want to follow the gospel path. Although he was reading the Book of Mormon, he had no faith in God. We struggled for fifteen minutes just trying to get him to say a prayer. As we left that night, I thought to myself – how will Joao progress in the gospel? It seems as if he has no desire to change. But even though it looked like Joao was hopeless, I felt a spirit of confidence inside of me. I remember feeling as if the Spirit whispered to me that it all would work out.
What happened afterwards has become one of the greatest miracles that I witnessed while on my mission. We did not give up on Joao and neither did the Lord. We continued to pass by on Joao to see how he was doing. And everytime we visited, he was just about the same. For three months he continued to break the commandments, continued without prayer and showed little faith in God. It wasn’t until my very last month in the field that one day, Joao changed. It was in early April. He came to us and told us almost unexpectedly that he had decided to start doing what is right and that he wanted to be baptized. Out of the blue, he told us that he repented of what he had done wrong and he wanted, in his own words, “to seek holiness.” We listened to him bear his testimony to us about the veracity of the Church and the goodness of God. I remember looking into that round face, a face that had been void of hope and happiness for so many months, and seeing his smile and his pride at making the decision to follow Christ and be baptized. Two weeks later, he was baptized and confirmed and has already received the priesthood. A man that to the outside world appeared without value or hope was transformed by the powerful grace of God.
This is what awaits us as we enter the mission field. These kinds of miracles happen everyday. As President Monson has said, “Ours is the privilege to be not spectators, but participants on the stage of priesthood service!” We too can have the privilege to bring light and salvation to those in need. How marvelous is our calling!
A missionary message is not complete without an invitation to act. To conclude, I would like to share three simple invitations.
- 1) I invite us to consider and ponder the fact that we all have been called to be missionaries.
- 2) I invite us to study Preach My Gospel regularly.
- 3) I invite us to invite more of our friends or relatives or even strangers to come to Church and learn with us.
I promise you that as we complete these invitations, we truly will draw unto God and feel of His love for us.
God’s work and God’s glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. As missionaries, our work and our glory is the same. I know that as we selflessly serve others and preach the gospel, we will draw near unto God and truly see His face. Before my mission, I loved the sweet principle taught in the musical Les Miserables – “to love another person is to see the face of God.” But now, I know that as we truly love others enough to invite them to come unto Christ, we will see the face of God and become one with Him.