First off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY ELIZABETH AND GRANDMA!!! Elizabeth, I already wrote you a little something in a letter that I'm sending to the family today, but suffice it to say that I didn't agree with the vote for you to turn 18 and therefore you actually aren't 18! XP But wow, happy birthday! Not 18 though, that's crazy! XD
As far as news with me is concerned, I actually spent Tuesday thruin Adelaide. We were receiving a training by Elder Pearson, a counselor on the Pacific Area Presidency and a member of the Quorum of the 70. All I can say is that Elder Pearson is the man, and even though he spoke for 6 hours, it was the most revelatory training I think anyone's ever had. He smashed the mission, though- the Australia Adelaide Mission is the lowest baptizing mission in Australia, and therefore probably in the world as well, and I think I found out why, but I will explain the "paradox" later on. There are fires everywhere right now, though I'm not sure about specifics. I know that when we were driving back to Mildura we passed a very large fire that had turned the sky black and the sun was casting a hellish orange light on everything due to the smoke, and when we woke up morning the flat smelled like burning wood and the haze was incredibly thick. The Q's went on holiday, or tried to, but never reached their destination because of the fires, and they're actually encircled by the fires now in Victoria, so please keep them in your fervent prayers- they really need some help.
I received mail this week from Ms. Duval, who gave me a very lovely photo book of the last shoot we did with her and the whole family, so THANK YOU JEN!!! I also received cards and letters from Grandma, Mum, Sister Welch, the Betts (when did Cheyenne -now Sister Betts- go on a mission!?), and Andrew, so THANK YOU ALL!!! As always, your letters and cards and postcards and all manner of things is greatly appreciated and really does keep me in high spirits- I definitely love and appreciate the backup. Also, I got a photo book from Mum and the family, along with lists of things that they all love about me! That was a pretty cool deal and I loved looking through the photos, and who doesn't like to be told an accumulative 100 things that people love about them? All I can say is that I just felt really special the last two weeks and very thought of by my family and friends, and I so do love and appreciate all of you and all the effort you put into making sure I know I'm still loved back home =D I'm pretty bad about writing back, but I've made a concentrated effort to write back to everyone whom I haven't yet. Chances are your lives are busier than mine, which makes it even more embarrassing for me having not written you back yet though you've all sent me something of some kind, and for that I have your forgiveness to ask, but I will do better!
So, in Broken Hill this week, we held a fireside last night- Elder P and I organized it for the past two weeks and dished out assignments and picked a theme; we did everything for this fireside and we were hoping to bring some potential investigators to it through the members inviting their friends. As it turned out, the P's, Sister P, and President C showed up, along with two of President P's sons, H and S. Because half of the people who had speaking assignments didn't come, Elder P and I did a lot of improvising. Even though there were probably only 10-12 of us there, we had musical items, film presentations, and a number of talks and testimonies given by those who were there. Despite our few numbers, the Spirit was ever present, blessing us with his sweet and humbling influence. I couldn't help but think that maybe that is how it felt when the Church was first organized in this last dispensation- they were very few in number, but I'm sure the Spirit was overwhelmingly powerful, as it was at the fireside. More less actives came to the fireside than active members (we're going to have to address that sometime), but everything that took place and was shared was just absolutely beautiful, and few people left with dry eyes (I did... not on purpose, I'm just a hard case like that...).
I also got to give a talkabout commitment. All I can say is that where I've got pretty good material, I tend to blast through it- poor Brother C had about 20-25 minutes left to speak, even with the intermediate hymn. I guess I just prefer to be quick and to the point. [Only when he is speaking, I think. :)] That, and I was asked to give the talk night at about , which limited very greatly the amount of time I had to prepare for it. Nevertheless, the Lord is merciful and allowed me to prepare something that was both found in doctrine and backed by the words of the prophets, so all is well. I was also told that it was a good talk. Unfortunately it didn't get the point across- none of the other members came to the fireside, even though they've all committed to do things like that because of their membership in the church, to keep it in a nutshell... what can you do?
This week in my study, I was trying with much effort to explain why -though I was having trouble waking up on time- I was still experiencing success as a missionary. As I studied the White Handbook and mission rules and the scriptures, searching for blessings predicated on obedience, I thought I was getting close to answering the question. And then I discovered a paradox (thus the title).
As I've been companions with Elder P, who likes to ask hard questions, he came up with something that stumped me (not the first time I've been stumped, but this is a matter that I myself had been trying to solve for a few weeks now, and to no avail). Elder P is a lot like me- he likes to ask the hard questions and he likes to question everything; I can't say it's annoying because I actually enjoy having in depth conversations and figuring out everything there is to know about something, particularly with a companion whom I've really enjoyed serving with (Elder P and I are actually pretty close and we're not looking forward to transfers this week because we're almost positive one of us will have to go -this is our third transfer together, after all). Anyways, the question that Elder P and I eventually ended up asking -after much asking of other smaller questions- was this: how is it possible that disobedient missionaries are baptizing more than obedient missionaries?
Brothers and sisters, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this, and studying this in the scriptures and Preach My Gospel and in the White Handbook and that cursed thing we call the Blue Binder (mission-specific rules... there are LOTS). This is basically what I've come up with, but in order to communicate it effectively, I have to use some examples and explain some things. This will not be brief, but hopefully I can keep your interest.
There are three missionaries that I know of and one that I've heard of that actually started to bring reason to the original quarry of why disobedient missionaries were typically baptizing more often than the obedient ones. I will not mention names. The first elder was notorious for his record of disobedience, but he was also famous for his record of 27 baptisms before he went home. Another elder was disobedient all the time and hadn't been blessed with any baptisms- to my knowledge, he still hasn't had any. A third missionary was one with whom I had gone on enough trade-offs with to call him my companion, and whom I came to love and respect greatly- he had 20 baptisms by the time he went home, and he had established a perfect balance in his missionary work, and was exactly obedient, or at least almost. Finally, a fourth missionary -one whom I met very recently in Adelaide is EXACTLY obedient... but hasn't had a single baptism.
I started to try to connect the dots; why would a notoriously disobedient elder baptize more than an exactly obedient elder? And not just baptize more, baptize heaps more. As I studied obedience and the blessings that came with it, I slowly but surely came to the conclusion that obedience to the mission rules would heighten one's ability to receive revelation through the Holy Ghost's companionship. I reasoned that because one would be more in tune with the Spirit because of their obedience, they would be able to experience success because they themselves would be a more effective instrument in the hands of the Lord. But the example of this EXACTLY obedient missionary trumped that- if he was as effective as he should have been made by being exactly obedient to the mission rules, surely he would have baptized or reactivated someone based on the results of my study. So, I looked deeper, and analyzed these missionaries more thoroughly.
The disobedient elder who baptized 27 was a "loose cannon"- word had it that he did some pretty crazy things while in the field, and it was only through President Carter's mercies that he remained in the field. But no one ever doubted his love for those he taught. Indeed, this was a trait that others would boast about- his Christ-like love was incredible, and he truly cared for those he taught. I then took this attribute of this one missionary and applied it to the others. The second missionary, who was disobedient and didn't baptize anyone seemed to hate everything and everyone, full stop. The third missionary was my zone leader for three transfers (that narrows it down for you)- he sometimes fell asleep after doing push-ups in the mornings and we were five minutes late back to the flat one night, but he followed all the rules with exactness as well, and he too loved everyone. He had 20 baptisms by the time he went home. The fourth missionary I just met recently, and lived with for the space of two days- he is EXACTLY obedient, but he hasn't had a single baptism. It was also clear through his teaching style and the way that he treated others that he was just there to teach the lesson and leave, therefore it can be said that it appeared that he does not love any of his investigators either.
That is where I made the connection- the reason a "disobedient" missionary had more success than even the most obedient missionary around was because he loved. I wasn't satisfied with this answer alone, though- it was too simple and unless I could back it up with scripture, any argument made to any other missionary (if ever challenged) would be lacking in support, so I turned my study (and this "study" took place over the course of several weeks) to studying charity, and figuring out just exactly what it was, and if it was actually the thing that had made the difference between the four missionaries I had chosen. I threw in my own example as well- in Darwin I was exactly obedient, but I didn't baptize anyone, and I was actually a pretty unhappy bloke. Here, I can honestly say that sometimes I spend longer than I should at investigator's or less active's or member's homes (never overstaying my welcome, mind you), and because I'm developing some kind of mild sleep insomnia (if you can call it that), I haven't always woken up on time (it takes a really long time to fall asleep, but this is no excuse, I know). Despite these infractions, I've been blessed with two baptisms... curious, isn't it? I found that I have actually started to develop a very sincere love for the members and the investigators here, however, more so than what I felt for them in Darwin, and for that matter, Tennessee.
As I studied charity, I came across a number of scriptures that supported my claim that obedience to mission rules does not dictate a missionary's success. This sounds very apostate, but I promise that I am not an apostate missionary AND I in no way condone the breaking of major mission rules (I can't say I don't condone the breaking of all mission rules because I am guilty of that; I have spent longer than 45 minutes in someone's home teaching them about the gospel... they say you shouldn't do this, but one was baptized and the other is starting to come to church more regularly soooooo... there you have it).
Colossians reads, "And above all of these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness." Clearly we won't be exactly obedient, or perfect, until we have charity, or this "everlasting love" as is mentioned in other scriptures that I forgot the reference to. Furthermore, 1 Corinthians says very simply, "Let ALL your things be done with charity." In everything we do, we should have that everlasting love, no matter what it is that we find ourselves doing. D&C 12:8 says this: "And no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble, and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care." NO ONE can take part in this work and be successful unless they are charitable.
As I studied it out more, I came to some sort of conclusion- until a missionary becomes charitable, he or she will not be blessed with success, no matter the level of "obedience". Again, I don't want to sound apostate; it's my belief that a missionary should be obedient, but he should first be charitable, and in that way, he is being obedient. Ether says that "except men have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou has prepared in the mansions of thy Father." We're so focused on building Zion (or the Lord's kingdom on earth) out here, but if we don't even love the people that we're trying to bring into Zion, we are actually shooting ourselves in the foot because we become disqualified for entering the Celestial Kingdom, which is very far from being "exactly obedient". Indeed, I believe it can be said that to not be charitable is to actually be disobedient in the worst of ways, and therefore success is not reaped. This is backed by the examples of the missionaries that I have picked to communicate my thoughts.
I know that sometimes I have stayed too long at an investigator's house, or a less active's house, or even a member's house; I know that I've in some cases spent more time getting to know someone and trading manly stories than teaching them the truths of the gospel, but in doing so, a gospel conversation has always been made available through just talking to someone normally. Amulek taught that if one did not remember to be charitable, they are "as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth)" (Alma 34:29).
If our success as missionaries really is predetermined by our obedience, we have to learn charity, because being without charity is actually one of the worst sins anyone can commit- that much is evident in Moroni's promise in Ether. If we don't love the Lord's children first, we are nothing, and our success -even if our lights are always out at and even if we keep our lessons to 45 minutes maximum- will be next to nothing because of our severely sinful state. Brothers and sisters, please don't think that I'm trying to look for ways to justify or rationalize disobedience to mission rules- you know me and I hope that you know that I do not enjoy being in a sinful state, so I would not be the one who would rationalize being disobedient; it's dishonest and that is not me.
It's no secret that this mission is one of the lowest baptizing missions in Australia, and therefore probably the world, but this mission has always found pride in being the most obedient mission, or so they say. Is it really? I thought long and hard about the mission culture that I've thus far experienced, and I'm not sure it is. It's my thought that even if every single missionary was following perfectly the White Handbook and Blue Binder, we would still be where we are because a very key something would be missing, and that is Christ-like love for all of God's children. If the majority of the mission behaves as though the end of the world will come because they were at a tea-date with a less active for five minutes too long, and will even step on their less active's toes to get out the door as soon as possible, it's no wonder we're not baptizing or rescuing as much as everyone else is- we're too concerned with being obedient in the wrong way! That is how the culture is in this mission- I cannot count how many times I've been with a missionary who has been so worried about getting out of the house on time, or getting to the flat on time, or whatever it is, that they've rudely ejected themselves out of whatever situation it was that they were in. When I'm with these "exactly obedient" missionaries who will smash anyone they have to in order to get out the door and home on time, I really do feel as though the world will end if we break even the least of mission rules, even so trivial as staying an extra minute in someone's home in order to better clarify a gospel doctrine or principle. Which is the greater sin? To stay an extra ten minutes and clarify a doctrine, or heaven forbid, build a stronger relationship, or to have to end up rushing out the door in order to stick to the time?
This last missionary that I mentioned was one with whom Elder P and I went on trade-offs with when we were in Adelaide. We went to follow up with a potential investigator, whom we had met on the street. His name was Mr. Read, and he had actually been given a Book of Mormon ages ago, recognized it as scripture, was reading it, and wanted to be taught more about it. A "golden investigator" had fallen out of the sky- this never happens.
When we went to teach Mr. R, and he poured us glasses of Pepsi inside of very unorthodox cups (all very dirty), and began to heat up some garlic bread- it was all the humble man had. He told us his life's story, basically, and just an hour or so earlier, we had received a training from Sister Carter on listening. During this training, she explained some things about herself, told us she had just mentioned 25 things about herself, and asked us to record all of them from memory. I only got six, and most other missionaries accomplished only that much as well. She explained that half of the mission probably didn't care what investigators had to say, and that may have been a reason why we weren't teaching as well or baptizing as much. With this in mind, I tried to pay extra close attention to what Mr. R had to say, and he was a talker- he spoke for a long time, and literally told us everything about him. Elder P saw a teaching opportunity and seized it, and after he had started teaching, the missionary we were with interrupted and insisted we start with a prayer. I felt that the time for a prayer had passed, though we should have begun with one anyways. This interruption actually stalled the flow of teaching, but we conformed and the elder said a prayer. We were "exactly obedient".
We were lucky that Mr. R wanted to learn and was excited to- I'm not sure how we would've started again otherwise. The elder we were with, upon hearing Mr. R start up again, interrupted and explained that we had 30 minutes to teach him and that we wanted to teach him about the Book of Mormon. Elder P and I exchanged some dumbfound expressions- what on earth was this elder doing? We're taught to establish the grounds of why we're there and to make sure our investigators know, but Mr. R already knew! He had QUESTIONS! And they weren't all about the Book of Mormon, though he was particularly interested in it.
Well, we taught him a doctrine, and he told us even more about himself and just why he agreed with that doctrine. The unnamed elder brushed over his comments, explaining with emphasis that we only had 20 minutes remaining and that we wanted to talk about the Book of Mormon. Elder P and I were shocked- Mr. R had given us hundreds of teaching opportunities for things such as the Plan of Salvation, eternal families, the Priesthood, even baptism, but this elder was so focused on teaching the exact lesson, getting all the points in, and being sensitive to time that he was ignoring all of that! Mr. R was concerned for his family, worried about his friends, fearing for the welfare of his very life... but we were going to explain to him that the Book of Mormon was a record of ancient peoples recorded in the Americas from about 600BC to 421AD... Elder P and I did our best to use the Book of Mormon to answer his questions, but this unnamed elder was making it very difficult by wanting to cram the above information -and things like unto it- down Mr. R's throat, rather than actually teach FROM the Book of Mormon.
Well, the same cycle repeated a few times- Mr. R would tell us something that greatly helped us understand where he was at (therefore helping us to know what to teach him at that moment) and this elder continued to blast through it and smash the Book of Mormon. It came time to eat, and we offered a prayer on the garlic bread. Then, this elder stood from his seat, clearly stated that we had run out time, grabbed a piece of garlic bread, and we were out the door- talk about eating on the run. Elder P and I were saddened. We followed the rules with exactness, and in the process, probably offended a man who had come to us with questions of his own and an interest in learning. We had sat down, listened to him tell his life's story, basically ignored it, taught him about the Book of Mormon, then offered a closing prayer and ran out with his food... but we were "exactly obedient."
This is what I'm getting at - without having a Christ-like love for everyone, no missionary will ever experience success, regardless of how "obedient" they are.
"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 thy soul, and with all they mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matthew 36-40
I love you all heaps and I hope to hear from you all soon!