Saturday, October 25, 2008

Constructive Thoughts: The Elders

Dear Elders Fowler and Marsh:

Thank you for allowing me the pleasure of seeing my old missionary apartment again. I apologize for imposing last night and dropping in like I did. Especially as I was dragging four or five friends along for the ride. I will say, to your credit, you acquitted yourselves well: You took the visit in stride, your apartment was clean, you were gracious hosts, and you behaved quite appropriately in front of my non-member friend who accompanied me. When I awoke this morning, my first thoughts were of you two good Elders and my need to thank you.

While I had friends with me, I am sorry that my wife could not join me on this trip. She has joined me frequently in the past; I am waiting for the day when I can bring my entire family along. That day will have to wait, though. I am only human and can only do so much with these trips at the present time.

It was nice to see my old area and my old apartment again. I have a lot of fond memories for that apartment and that city, as it was my second area on the island. Obviously, as you know, much has changed with the apartment, however, and I have forgotten much about the area. Time was, I could re-walk the streets of that city--each city in which I served--with my eyes closed and never miss a beat. Now? I'm afraid that the passage of time is stealing my memories.

I never thought I would say that.

I thought that my experiences and feelings were indelibly locked in my mind. They're slipping away, however, along with my vocabulary--many of the words and phrases I used on a daily, hourly basis are gone, unreachable through the barrier of time.

Enjoy the time you spend on your mission, in the Lord's service. One thing is clear to me now: you cannot go back to this time, no matter how great your want or need to do so. I remember in my own experience that there were many Elders who returned to the island to try and teach again, or to recapture the happiness and spirit that they felt while on their mission. They all failed; some of them failed miserably. I am not able to visit ofen; it is such a long way to go on such short notice, and for such a short time. Normally, my visits are preceded by a long bout of high stress. While I am there, I can forget all that stress, eat good food, talk and think in a marvelous second language, and immerse myself in my memories. The visits give me a mental and emotional vacation from my real world. I can almost feel the years melting away, the layers of my mind peeling back to return me to places and friends that I have lost.

But it is not the same.

Work hard and keep your focus. That is the best counsel I could possibly give from this far removed, both in space and in time. Work hard and keep your focus. The one is easy if you do the other; they are inextricably linked. I have only one regret about my mission. I can admit this now, although it has taken a very, very long time to be able to express this thought to someone else.

I was given poor advice by a well-meaning older brother who thought he was looking out for his kid brother. Because of the depth of the love and respect I had for him I disregarded the repeated counsel of two mission presidents (one in the Missionary Training Center ("MTC") and one on island) and listened to my brother instead. I can even admit to a bit of hero-worship coming into play in this regard. My brother could do no wrong, and I am afraid that I crowed his advice from the rooftops to all who would listen. I can only pray that I did not lead any other person astray by my transmission of the bad advice. What was this advice? I was told that the mission experience was, first and foremost, for me, for my growth, for my learning. Everything else--conversions, numbers, etc.--was purely secondary.

Wrong. The work is not secondary. Sharing the Gospel is not secondary. Your growth as a missionary, as a person, as a man (or woman, in the case of the Sister Missionaries), as a Child of God: THAT is all secondary. It comes as the work progresses, as you share the love, the spirit, the knowledge that the Gospel brings. Ultimately you enjoy growth and learning that cannot find its equal in any other field of endeavor.

I think this is what my well-meaning brother probably meant. Unfortunately, he did not put it in these terms and I may have wasted a good portion of the short two years alloted to me to preach and teach.

At least, I hope this is what my brother meant. The alternatives are too ugly to consider.

Obey the mission rules and the Commandments. I know this should go without saying, but I watched too many Elders stretch, bend, and yes, even break the rules and (sadly) the Commandments. I broke a few rules of my own, although they were easy to justify. At the time, that is. Looking back, it is not as easy as it once was to rationalize them away. Certainly, these things distract from the service of the Lord, even the little things. Watch yourselves and watch over one another. Do those things that are expected of you and you will be better missionaries and better men for it.

Elders, I hope my letter finds you both well, although I am not sure whether my letter will find you still companions. I have no way of knowing if you even have counterparts in the real world. To me, however, for last night--or a portion of last night--you were both extremely real to me. Elder Marsh: the quiet one with the full head of tall, curly hair, who was from London but had worked Stateside before receiving his mission call. Elder Fowler: the senior companion who did all the talking, yet who managed to talk very little about himself. Thank you for the lessons brought to mind by our brief chance meeting. Thank you for the short piece of your missions that you shared with me, a man twice your age.

Oh yes, Elders, one more thing--a side note, really: enjoy your hair while you have it and your waistlines while you don't have them.

The Gospel is true, Elders. The Book of Mormon is the Word of God, sent to us in this modern dispensation by a loving Heavenly Father as a roadmap to show us the way to return to Him and to live in His presence someday; in His presence with oue families, forever, if we just follow the Commandments we have received. This book was translated by a modern Prophet, who held all the Gospel and Priesthood keys held by Prophets of old. Those keys are held today by another Prophet. What a marvelous thing it is to say: We have a Prophet of the Lord among us, a man such as Moses, Abraham, or Isaiah--a man such as the world knew of old--among us today, sharing the will of God with us, guiding us, teaching us, calling the world to repent and come unto Christ. And most importantly, Jesus is The Christ; He is my Redeemer and Savior, my elder brother.

It is true, Elders.

Believe it and Live it.

I have a testimony of these things, Elders. I share this testimony with you, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

No comments: