I have always heard that going on a mission changes lives. People always told me about how much I would learn and about the person that I would become. I always loved listening to returned missionaries and hearing all of their amazing experiences, knowledge of the scriptures, and testimony of the gospel. I wanted what they had. The desire to go on a mission began to grow in me. I knew that there would be hard times and that it would take a lot of effort. I was willing. I knew I would have to walk countless hours, carrying heavy books, wearing out many pairs of shoes. I was prepared. I knew that I would have to learn a new language and communicate this precious message of the gospel in a way that I had never done before. I knew that many people would not listen. I knew that many of my brothers and sisters that I had come to rescue would close the door in my face, and by doing so, reject their Savior. I knew I would have moments of fear, discouragement, and loneliness. But I also knew that the Lord would help me. I knew, as it says in the book of Alma, that He was pouring out His Spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds and hears of the children of men to receive the word--the word which would be given through my very mouth. I knew that I would see miracles, that I would feel joy and satisfaction in my labors, and that I would be an instrument in the Lord's hands in bringing souls to happiness and salvation.
And yet, knowing all of this, I never could have really comprehended just how deep the disappointments would cut into my heart, but in contrast, how much happiness and gratification I would receive to fill in all the little wounds. It is amazing to me how, when coming closer to the Savior, one comes to realize in a very personal and profound way just how far they really are. Many times I have felt that I have been swimming against the current, running against a strong wind, feeling as though I wasn't making any progress. But, in reality, realizing just how strong the Lord was helping me to become. He has truly been preparing me to face the challenges and trials of faith of the future. If I haven't learned anything else on this mission, I have learned that faith does not exist without a trial of faith beforehand. The words of Ether have been my constant guide on the pathway leading up to my mission, as well as throughout it: "I would show the world that faith is the 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." I am grateful for the many trials of faith that I have experienced, and I know that there are plenty more to come. It is in these moments that we are truly being refined, when we learn the great lessons of life which could be learned no other way.
A strange concept I have noticed is that many times it is when I see the people I serve go through their own trials of faith that I have felt the most love for them. I feel the desire to do all that I can to help them overcome their challenges, doubts, and addictions. I try to do everything, then realize that no matter how much I offer to them, they must do these things on their own. They must choose to follow the Savior and have their own personal relationship with Him in order to to progress. I suppose sometimes the Lord feels the same way about me. He has given all that He has to help me to be happy and return to live with Him again. But He cannot force me. He cannot automatically place a testimony in my heart or make me be converted with a snap of His fingers. This is not the plan. The plan is that each person has the opportunity and privilege of choice. And so by seeing those whom I have been serving exercise their agency in unwise ways, I have felt a pain in my heart that makes me realize how much I really do love these people and want what is best for them. And, on the other hand, as I have witnessed others progress and make meaningful changes in their lives, I feel that same love-the pure love of Christ-inside of me, but manifested in a different form. It is a feeling of satisfaction that comes in no other way, except through the Savior Himself.
I have been home for almost a month now and many ask me what my favorite part was from this eighteen month adventure. I think it would be impossible to sum up the answer in one experience. It is a combination of every day, small moments that have helped me to increase my knowledge, faith, love, and testimony. I know the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored through the prophet Joseph Smith. I know Thomas S. Monson is a living prophet today and that he receives revelation from God to guide us. I know that God is my father. He is your father. And he loves us! I know that He sent His son, Jesus Christ to make up for all of our faults, mistakes, and shortcomings. He came to help us to become more perfect and to prepare us to live with Him again. I love this gospel! I KNOW it is the only way to achieve true happiness in this life and exaltation in the life to come. And I am so grateful!
So, what's next?
"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."