Saturday, January 29, 2011

God Prepares the way........week 89

The mission is amazing. Missionary work gives me hope. I am filled with the love of God and I know that people can change their lives. It is kind of funny though how this hope makes us fearless…let me explain.

A few weeks ago we contacted a man in the street and he spoke to us in English. I guess I get used to that in the office because it is pretty common…but not in Nicaraguan cobblestone roads. We went over to talk to him. We had a good talk with him but because of the holidays we could never find him when we went back. Last night we went again and we met his wife and cute little daughter. She said that he would be there tonight so we went by the house.

So we were able to talk to him tonight. It turns out that he used to live in the states but had some problems there. He has a long list of sins we could say. Most likely he has (or has had) problems with most of the Baptismal Interview problems. He is tattooed. He has a colorful language. He has lived through gang violence, jail time, probation, drug abuse, street racing accidents, and the list goes on. But you know what the funny thing is…we feel a special spirit with him. I could have never imagined myself with such a man before the mission. Those types of people scared me to tell you the truth. But the spirit made everything comfortable. He is really a special son of our Heavenly Father and we feel like he is going to change for good. We shared a verse in Ether with him, “Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith.” Ether 12:9

It is amazing to know that God forgives us. He doesn’t see us for who we were. He is only worried about where we are headed because He knows who we can become. I believe that God prepares us, each one of us, for changes in our lives. Maybe he gives us a few experiences that can be recalled later on. This man had a life threatening experience that changed his perspective the very same week that we passed by his house. He was being prepared. He had even prayed asking God to have wisdom and the ability to change his life for his family. Then we passed by. He remembered what he had prayed for so he was ready.

In fact, the mind is an amazing thing. One of its greatest capacities is to recall information from even years before. This ability is put into full effect both by our Heavenly Father and by Satan. When people want to change, Satan tricks them into thinking that their past sins are too big, too unforgivable for complete peace. He flashes over the mind’s eye a vivid image of what sin was committed and the sinner believes forgiveness is impossible because the sin is so memorable. But the Lord many times will help us in our times of need reminding of us past scriptures, lessons, experiences so we can have more strength. Taking the example a little further, the Lord teaches us the true way that revelation comes in Doctrine and Covenants 8. It talks of how Revelation is both a mind and spirit confirmation that something is right. It is more than just a remembering…

Take Alma for example. He was tormented by his sins for days after the angel called him to repentance. But when he remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ” he had a confirmation of his repentance both in his mind and in his heart.

And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my apains bno more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what ajoy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!”

How interesting it is that that Satan uses the same tool to remind us of our sins that God does to remind us that Christ can take away our sins. Satan puts the sins in our minds and we feel sorrow. Heavenly Father leaves us with only a dim residue of a past transgression. It is enough to help us remember we have done wrong but we aren’t harrowed up by the memory of it. He instead reminds us that Christ has taken upon himself that transgression and that we can move on in our life. I know that this is really a true principle. I believe in repentance.

Today I saw a few convert families from La Borgona that we baptized over a year ago. They were in the church building to witness another brother and sister in law be baptized. It was amazing. The family participated in the baptism. I can just see the hand of the Lord in all things. He sees families stretched out into the eternities. He sees how one family can bring another and then another into the true gospel. That is why he insisted that we keep teaching that family. We had already stopped teaching them thinking that they wouldn’t progress. He sent many people our way that made us change our mind. We also felt moved upon by the spirit to go teach them again. And now I see why. He always knows why.

Elder Russell

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Visit from an Apostle........week 88

It has been quite a week to tell you all the truth. I shook an Apostle’s hand this week. Yes, I met in person Elder Christofferson and it has been one of my life’s dreams to be able to listen to and meet an Apostle like I did. It was amazing. He brought with him a special spirit. I guess it has something to do with the special calling he has as a special witness of Jesus Christ.

It was a little nerve racking at first because I helped out on the piano both with the normal hymns and a special musical number. It turned out really well at the end. I am grateful for the opportunities that I have been given in the mission to share my spiritual gifts with others. Accompanying Elder Christofferson was his wife, a Seventy and his wife and an Area Seventy. It was a spiritual feast. He spent an hour answering questions and if you can believe it, we only asked four questions as a group for the whole time period. He had such thoughtful and deep responses to every question that we used up all of the time.

One Elder asked how we could as missionaries become closer to our Heavenly Father and not feel alone in the difficulties. It was a question that hit me strong seeing as I have felt the same desire many times in my mission. I think back on the difficult areas and companions and I find that it was a trial. It was difficult. Elder Christofferson responded after a few seconds. “The Savior felt the same way many times in His life…It isn’t wrong to feel that way. We just have to push forward.’’ Unlike the totally humbling and solitary experiences of Jesus Christ, our difficulties need not be suffered alone. There is always help on the way he explained.

When he began talking about the ministry of Jesus Christ I began to think about how it would have been to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in that time. How would it have been to walk the stormy sea or hear his voice among the troubled streets? How would it have been like to see him perform miracles and or feel the marks in his hands when he was resurrected? Then the spirit told me a divine truth. I have had these experiences. I have been walking as a disciple of Jesus Christ now for some time. I have seen miracles and felt his presence. He has shown me his hands in all things. I have felt his love in people’s eyes and met people in the streets that needed to hear his words. I have walked among the storms of worldly sin and I have heard his come from both others and my own mouth at many times.

Elder Christofferson talked about this. He said that we as missionaries are literally the Lord’s representatives with his authority and seal. He said that we don’t profane his name rather that we promise blessings with all of his power and backing. He just counseled us to do so with much care. I feel so thankful to bear His name. I love being a representative of Jesus Christ to promise the salvation to all those who believe on his name and are obedient unto the end. We are members of His true church here on the earth. I know that he directs this church through his prophets.

In one part of the meeting an Elder asked what we should do to be “special witnesses” of Jesus Christ. Then he explained that the knowledge that we have is more sure when it comes through the spirit than by any other means. He said, “Being in front of the Savior himself and seeing him and touching him and hearing the voice of him that saved us all wouldn’t be as powerful of a witness as that which the holy spirit gives to our spirit. It is more profound and deep than any other witness that God can give.” He encouraged us to fortify our testimonies by diligence and obedience and staying in places where the spirit can be.

I can say that I have received that witness in my life. I know that Christ is my Savior and the Savior of all mankind. I know that he is mighty to save. He is all powerful and his atonement reaches all. If we reach toward him, his grace is sufficient. I love the promise that He will forgive us and not remember more what we have done if we truly repent and forsake. God saves us after all we can do. Let’s do the work which he asks of us.

Elder Grant Russell

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Do the right things for the right reason!........week 87

Well Dad, that was a nice surprise. Thanks for writing me! I look up to you father. You are one great dad.

I love your comment about my "desires" to not be home for summer. That is definitely not the case. I hope to have a month home with the family to get caught up and I will be spending as much time as possible with all of you. I just have had the feeling the more and more I think about it that I need to go to summer school. I need to get back into the swing of things. I have learned thus far on the mission that there is no time for sitting still in the kingdom. The Lord needs us to be anxiously engaged and I just feel a need to get back into the Lord's work as soon as possible. I feel that I will have most opportunity to serve at school. I feel there is something waiting for me there. I don't know how to explain it. But that is good news about the scholarships. So if I understand correctly, I could get the fall and winter scholarships like normal but also receive a summer scholarship separately if I apply?? I just need to apply for the an earlier deferment then...okay now I am understanding. Yes, sign me up for as many of the classes that I mentioned as possible and I will decide when I get home what classes to take.

So mom is on facebook now? Wow! I never thought I would see the day! GO MOM! She is so cool. It is really a great tool to keep in touch. I plan on using it to stay in contact with a lot of members and converts here in Nicaragua. It is an amazing gift.

I appreciate your comments about becoming instead of just doing. My mission President actually has had a huge influence on my life since he has arrived in that very aspect. He arrived in July and found the missionaries working hard, very hard. In May we had incredible success and the missionaries all thought that we had hit our peek. However, I feel that his motto has really helped me: Do the right things for the right reason! Many missionaries worked out of fear. Others worked out of the straight obedience principle. He is really focused on getting the missionaries to find, teach, baptize, and retain families because we love the lord and want to obey him. I have felt more joy and success in the work since I have changed my attitude. It has been amazing. At the same time as feeling more happy, I feel like I have had more progress spiritually. I now work just as hard (if not harder and smarter) but i enjoy my work and I am becoming more like the Savior Jesus Christ. I know I have a lot to learn though. So much is still ahead.

This week one of my good friends left the mission. He finished as AP and we entered the office together. It was hard to let him go. He is the Elder that has been the longest with me I think. I look up to him a lot. We have to have these types of experiences I think on the mission though. It is a deep sense of loss but I know that he is now being blessed for his service. Plus I will see him again. It is kind of a sobering way to understand the death process.

On the happier side, I am still in the office. I am still financier and I am still not training a new elder. I don't know when I will leave ha ha. Wow am I in for a trip! I know the Lord is preparing me for greater things. This is a really great experience to be in such a close proximity to the President and his family. Plus, we are having a lot of success in our area. We continue to baptize and the people are really excited to live the gospel. Many are progressing in the Book of Mormon and others are committing to go to the temple and to go on a mission. Today we baptized Juan Hernandez to complete a family. His wife has been a member for years and finally has the blessing she has most desired. The Bishop shared a testimony in the baptismal service today saying that he had promised her less than a year ago that her family would be changed if she just stayed faithful. He marveled that it had happened so soon. Juan hugged my companion after he was baptized today and gave me a big hug afterward. He was so happy to join in the Lord's church and to finally follow Jesus Christ like he has always wanted.

Juan Hernandez's baptism

I am happy. I feel content to know that the Lord is blessing us. I am more content to know that He is blessing his children for being obedient. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has changed my life completely. I know that it changes all those who humbly seek and obey his will. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Elder Grant Russell

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Change of the Atonement........week 86

The Lord blesses those who wait patiently. I feel like we are finally having the success that we have been wanting for in our area. Elder Gardner and I have been really good about getting to the area and going to the appointments on time and the people are progressing wonderfully. Let me fill you in on a few of the things that have happened this week.

We have been preparing Samael for some time now and a month ago it looked as if he weren’t progressing. He is a 20 year old man who is focused. He just graduated from college in Communications and he is now thinking about starting a foundation. He is a reference from a member in his class. As we visited him at first we felt a good spirit. But the first few visits were to answer a lot of questions and so we thought that maybe he was just interested in knowing a lot. An intellectual person like the rest of them… But he has exercised incredible faith since then. He has stopped drinking coffee without knowing why. He also has come to church when it was really difficult. He had to travel by bus at 6:30 am to come to Managua to come to church last Sunday. He always reads the Book of Mormon and has gained a sure testimony of the restoration. He wants to be a missionary next year. Today we are going to baptize him. While we were in the lessons with him this week I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the spirit which has made this conversion possible. The mother also has begun to receive us and soon we will be teaching the whole family.

Samael's baptism

We also have been teaching Juan Hernandez who will be baptized next week. He is the husband of an ex-sister missionary and for years he has come to church. He loves his family and we talked with him about how his family could be eternal. He put the goal to go to the temple with his wife next year after his baptism. We also have continued to work with Mecerdes and Rodolfo for the 22nd of January. They are super excited after coming for the first time this last Sunday. She had an amazing comment after we taught them the word of wisdom. She shared her testimony like this:

Years ago I smoked a lot. But now after having dropped smoking I could never go back. I guess it is like a sacrifice in my life. Nothing compares with the sacrifice that Jesus Christ gave but he asks us to do this for him. I think that if I smoked again it would be like opening the wounds of Jesus Christ again right now. You could put 50 cigarettes in front of me but I wouldn’t smoke because I love the Savior. He has done too much for me.

She and her husband committed to stop drinking coffee as well.

These and many other miracles are what come when we just trust in the Lord. I am thankful that He has given me this opportunity to serve him. I know that through him we can receive a remission of our sins. How wonderful it is to know that people through his atonement can change our lives for good. May we stay firm and strong.

Elder Grant Russell

Saturday, January 1, 2011

This year will be the best........week 85

This week has been an incredible opportunity to step back and take it all in. I can’t believe that 2010 is over and that the New Year has begun. I have been thinking a lot this week about everything. I thought about this year and how much I have grown. I said a simple prayer the other night thanking the Lord for another year of life and experiences. Life is wonderful!

A year ago I was tread the high, dusty roads of Matagalpa with my first junior companion. We spent our days working hard to raise the attendance in a struggling branch and the branch’s worries and problems became ours. I learned the lesson of faith. I learned that I depended completely upon the Lord for everything in my life. I learned that with him all things were possible.

From there I went to Las Palmas. There my companions and I experienced new trials in combating gossip and member struggles while trying to raise the faith of the missionaries in the zone. My experience as Zone Leader proved to be rewarding because I saw the Ward change completely. Many joined the church and many came back who were lost.

Six months ago I returned to Monserrat to finish the job that I couldn’t do before. We have spent the little time after office hours finding, teaching, baptizing and retaining the members and the Lord’s principle of grace has come into play. We have little time but it is blessed time. I couldn’t have expected anything better than what has happened to the ward. I have learned how to love church leaders and challenge the recent converts to think beyond the normal.

Besides the transfers of areas, there have been monumental changes in me and in my character that will shape my eternities. I feel happier and I feel like for the first time in my life I am living the Gospel of Jesus Christ as I should. I am thankful that this change has come over me.

God guides our steps from day to day. He puts in our path the people, the places, the things that will most benefit us and help us to be more like Him. Many times they are trials. In other times He gives us the blessings. I know that God lives and that He works among His children daily. He knows each and everyone. He wants the best for us.

This year I expect greater things. I look forward with faith in Christ for He is my redeemer. I know that in his strength I can do all things. I plan on taking things seriously this year. There is no room for mistakes. I am going to challenge myself in ways I never thought I would before. I now am putting goals for myself that I wouldn’t have considered last year. The gospel of Jesus Christ is progress and we have to make the first step.

May this year 2011 be the best year of our life because we accomplish what the Lord wants with His help.

Elder Grant Russell