Hey Everyone! This is my talk from today. I'm posting it for all of those who couldn't make it to sacrament meeting. It's a blessing to be back in Dothan with my family and dear friends. I tried to capture some of the things that I learned and why it made me so happy to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This isn't exactly how my talk went, but it's the general outline and the stories that I shared.
Homecoming Talk \
December 24, 2017
I realized when I was thinking about what to say today that a lot of people have been coming up to me and asking me how my mission was. I usually say something like “I learned a lot and it was awesome” and they’re pretty satisfied to know that I did actually learn something and I was happy while doing it. Then, I realized that basically this talk is the deeper version of the answer “I learned a lot and it was awesome.” However, even in writing this talk, I couldn’t contain a hundredth part of what I learned and how awesome it was.
I was thinking and I guess that might be why we don’t remember the pre-mortal life. If so, we would just go around asking each other about our pre-mortal lives and we would just say “I learned a lot and it was awesome,” even though that wouldn’t cover an infinite part of it. I guess short answers are easy to give, but doesn’t the human soul yearn for the deeper solution? That’s exactly what the gospel of Jesus Christ gives us.
Even though I was supposed to be speaking Russian on my mission, I had investigators who ranged from Finnish to Pakistani to Mexican and everything in between. One day, our Finnish investigator, Vesa, told us a joke to prove his point.
A priest walks up to the pearly gates and St. Peter tells him that they are running out of space in heaven. He tells him that he wants to talk to the next person in line before he decided to let him in. The next man was a simple bus driver, and St. Peter immediately let him in. The priest was rebuffed because he didn’t understand how he wouldn’t get let in for preaching the gospel for 40 years to his congregation. St. Peter told him: “I let the bus driver into heaven because when you were preaching, your congregation was sleeping; when the bus driver was driving, the people in his bus were truly praying to God for their welfare.”
Now, we know that that’s not exactly how it works, but the point is that our diligence and efforts cannot be entirely meaningful if they aren’t genuine, patient, and full of love and good intentions. There is always a higher and deeper level that we can be striving for in every aspect of our lives, especially prayer. As I was saying before, I believe that the human soul yearns for deeper connections, especially with our Heavenly Father. That’s exactly the purpose of missionaries, to help people find their connection to God, other people around them, and to their own divine potential.
One of the ways that I connected with God everyday was writing in my journal. I never missed a day for the entire 18 months.
President Henry B Eyring said: “I never missed a day for years, I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” as I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day.”
I knew a sister in the mission that would just look up at the sky after something good happened and vocally praise God, thanking him for that blessing, no matter how small. I saw the joy in her eyes, and knew that I wanted that in my eyes as well. I remember times when I was not so sure and not so joyful too. In fact, one year ago today, December 24, 2016, I was feeling nervous about the next day being Christmas, skyping my family for the first time, spending Christmas away from them, and basically being in such different circumstances than I had ever been in before my mission. Turns out, December 25, 2016 ended up being one of my favorite and most miraculous days of my whole mission. Our progressing investigator had come to church and sisters had been working with him for months to help him accept a date to be baptized.
This is what I wrote in my journal that day: “After church we wanted to show Michael the baptismal font. He was in a hurry, so he told Sister Christensen “As long as I see it before my baptism on January 28th, it should be fine, right?” Basically puts himself on date! So exciting. We showed him the font anyways, and Elder Karpukhno was telling him how it works. It was so awesome, I’ve never felt joy like that.”
Brothers and Sisters, that’s one of those obvious moments when you can look up at the sky with tears of gratitude in your eyes and thank your Heavenly Father for all of His tender mercies over you. Sometimes, we are in a moment, and the future is uncertain. I think that it takes courage in every single moment to trust in God and lean not unto our own understanding.
There is a quote from Galileo that says: "All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them."
Revelation and understanding come in movement, not stagnation.
Speaking of revelation, I wanted to talk about the 3 main things that I learned on my mission.
1) Miracles happen
I could list off miracles for hours, but I’m sure that you’re not interested in sitting out there for days. On my mission, I attempted to read Jesus the Christ, a book written by James E Talmage. It’s 793 pages of pretty deep stuff and pretty fancy language…This is my favorite quote from the book:
“In the contemplation of the miracles wrought by Christ, we must of necessity recognize the operation of a power transcending our present human understanding. In this field, science has not yet advanced far enough to analyze and explain. To deny the actuality of miracles on the ground that, because we cannot comprehend the means, the reported results are fictitious, is to arrogate to the human mind the attribute of omniscience, by implying that what man cannot comprehend cannot be, and that therefore he is able to comprehend all that is.” King Benjamin said: “Believe in God, believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth. Believe that he has all wisdom and all power, both in heaven and earth, believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” 2 Nephi 2:24, says: “all things are done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.”
I can share an example or two of this concept. One night, it was 8:45. Literally 15 minutes before we were supposed to be home and it was a 5 minute drive. We could have gone home honorably, but we decided to follow the spirit to a spot and knock on one house and then go home. We ended up in a culdesac, knocking on the door of a sweet Chinese family that ended up coming to church and happily receiving the lessons from the Chinese Elders. Did God send us a miracle so that we could just say that we found a miracle? NO! He sent us to be a miracle for that family so that they could receive the gospel. It was part of His purposes, and if we hadn’t have followed the spirit to that house, I don’t know what would have happened to that family. Just a couple of weeks ago, we ate with about 15 missionaries at Chick-fil-a. There was this amazing, happy, awesome woman there that brightened all of our day. She made an impact on me of just pure light and happiness. The coolest part is that me and my companion were driving through an apartment complex when we saw someone that we thought was Russian. When that happens, you park asap and get out to talk to them. By the time we got out, she was gone. We started looking for this woman, walking in the direction that would make the most sense. The whole time, I couldn’t stop thinking that we needed to turn around, go back the way we came, and check behind this random building with basically made no sense. But, we decided to act on the thought, and she was back there. She turned out to not be Russian, she turned out to be the lady from Chick-fil-a! It was such a cool “godincidence” or in other words, a miracle!
2) God answers prayers
The prophet Alma says: “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good. Yea, when thou liest down at night, lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when though riseth in the morning, let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s existence can be attributed to an answered prayer in which a 14 year old boy received guidance through a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith asked with a sincere desire for an answer, and he received one, what makes us think that we cannot receive an answer too? When I was in the last week before coming home, I was praying in my heart that I would find a way to have missionary opportunities in the airport and in the course of my travel home. The answer came in some unexpected ways. I want to share a story from the airport. We were sitting there, waiting to board our plane. I was with another Sister who was also flying to Atlanta. We decided a couple of times to either go to the bathroom or get up and walk around to pass the time. We went and sat down after that, and I opened up my scriptures to John, hoping to get in a few minutes of study time. You wanna know what happened? Heavenly Father straight up answered my prayer, because the lady next to me, named Lillian, piped right up, asking me if I was doing my daily Bible study. We then were able to have a 15 minute conversation about the importance of the scriptures in our lives. I shared several Book of Mormon verses with her and she shared Psalms 19 with me, which was the psalm of the day. We read it together right there in the airport. She was so excited about Light the World. God literally plopped the missionary opportunity into my hands, and she was the one who talked to me first! When does that ever happen? It doesn’t. Answers to prayers can also come through confirming feelings from the spirit. I remember a time when we were teaching an investigator and he just couldn’t get over his idea that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet. He really couldn’t believe that he continued to receive revelation from God for his entire life. After a slightly disheartening discussion with him, I went home that night and simply prayed telling him that no matter what had happened that day, I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I hadn’t asked for a confirming feeling, but I got one of the most overwhelming amazing feelings washing over me. I don’t think that we always get an answer when we want it, we get the answer when we really need it.
3) Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World
There is a sweet story of a girl named Ariel. She is 5 years old. She has down syndrome, and I met her and her mom in the airport on Tuesday. There’s this certain feeling that you have when you’re a missionary. You feel a responsibility to inspire those around you. So, I was trying to smile, even though I was feeling a little sad after saying goodbye to everyone. Suddenly we hear the familiar “Oh Sister missionaries!! What brings you to the airport today?” Of course, Heavenly Father sent this amazing little family right to me when I needed that extra boost of happy. Ariel’s mom told me a story of Ariel at the visitor’s center of a temple. In the visitor’s center, there is a statue of Jesus Christ, life size, and you’re allowed to touch and go near it. She said that Ariel immediately started signing the ASL signs for Jesus Christ by touching her hands where there would be nail prints and saying “Jesus, Jesus” over and over and then she took tissues and began washing and kissing the feet of the Savior. It was a sweet and spiritual story, but the part that really gave me chills was the fact that Ariel’s mom told us that Ariel has never heard the story of the woman who washed and kissed the Savior’s feet from the Bible. Ariel was so perfect, so pure, and she had an inspiring testimony of Jesus Christ, even though she is only 5 years old. We’re not quite so innocent or perfect; therefore, we need the Atonement more than ever.
“However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you don’t think you have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s atonement shines.”-Holland
“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slum. Christ takes the slums out of people, and the they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”
The atonement is really about change.
-Testify here and talk about this song:
For all who wait
For all who hunger
For all who've prayed
For all who wonder
Behold your King
He is the song for the suffering
He is Messiah, the prince of peace has come
In closing, I want to share my favorite chapter from the Book of Mormon. It’s Ether 6. I want to invite all of you to take out your scriptures or your gospel library and follow along, because I am going to change the words a little bit and apply it to myself. I’m going to start halfway down verse 2 of Ether chapter 6.
And, Sister Jenne came down out of the mount of Provo, Utah. And, she did put forth her scriptures into her suitcases, which were prepared, a Book of Mormon and a Bible and behold, they did give light. And, thus the Lord caused them to shine in darkness to give light unto all missionaries that they might not serve a mission in darkness. And it came to pass that when Sister Jenne had prepared all manner of rain jackets and Vitamin D pills that she might subsist in Seattle, and also skirts, and dresses that she might fashionably represent the Lord. It came the pass that when she had done all these things, she got aboard an airplane, and set forth to the MTC, commending herself to the Lord God. And the Lord caused that the furious Russian language drove Sister Jenne toward humility and thus she was tossed upon the waves of Russian grammar. And it came to pass that she was many times discouraged in conversations with Bible bashers and slammed doors because of the mountain of responsibility which weighed upon them and also the dark and dreary tempests of rain which happened in Seattle. And it came to pass that when she was buried in the deep, there was no man that could hurt her, her testimony being tight like unto a dish and also it was tight like unto the ark of Noah; therefore, she was encompassed about by temptations, she did cry unto the Lord and He did bring her forth again upon the foundation of Christ. And it came to pass that the Russian language never did cease to drive her towards humility while she was on her mission and thus she was driven forth. And she did sing “I am a Child of God” to all of the babushkas and they did sing praises to the Lord. And she did thank and praise the Lord all the day long and when the night came she went to bed at 10:30 every time. And thus she was driven forth, and no apartment complex manager could shoo them away, neither were there any no soliciting signs that could stop their knocks and they did have light continually whether it was teaching the elect or being hardcore rejected. And she was driven 566 days upon the freeways of; Seattle. And she did gain an abiding testimony of her Savior, Jesus Christ and when she did this, she bowed herself down upon the face of the land and she did humble herself before the Lord and did shed tears of joy before the Lord because of the multitudes of his tender mercies over her.