Tuesday, March 21, 2017

We have only seen the beginning

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session from the October 1975 Conference.
I've been thinking about missions and missionaries lately. I don't know if it's my developing understanding of all the things missions are besides just teaching discussions and baptizing people—the frustrating down time, the wondering what to do next, the necessity of serving so many people who are weird and unlikeable and needy, the fundamental and discouraging disagreements with companions or leaders about how the work should proceed—because I've never been on a mission myself, I guess I'm only recently starting to think about those aspects. And maybe it's also because I'm starting to have friends with children on missions, and I'm beginning to see them from a parent's point of view. How much you want your children to hold to their faith, whatever happens, and not let discouragement overcome them—and at the same time realizing how little you can DO about it, because it's something they themselves must choose to do.

I've talked to a few missionaries lately who didn't participate in any baptisms at all on their missions. And I've realized it's not so unusual. These missionaries have talked about finding other joys and blessings on their missions, other ways to measure God's hand in their lives, and other pathways to maintain their optimism. And I thought about how much faith it sometimes takes to believe, as I've talked about before, not only that God will at some time in the future guide and bless us—but that he is doing so NOW despite the "local cloud cover" that blocks our vision of it.

In this same vein, Elder James E. Faust describes his own mission, one that must have been tremendously discouraging. He said,
As I stood last week on this site where this [new church building] will stand, I recalled how difficult and unpromising the future of the Church appeared in South America thirty-six years ago. In all of our mission we had only three baptisms in one year, despite the conscientious labors of over seventy missionaries. We did not have the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, or the Book of Mormon translated into Portuguese. We held our meetings in rooms that were small and unfit for the lofty message we were trying to teach. We often had to sweep out these rooms before meeting to remove the empty bottles and trash from the revelry of the night before. It was always difficult and often discouraging.
But then he describes the growing of the gospel in South America. The increase in members, leaders, buildings. And most amazing of all, the building of a temple—outside of North America! Elder Faust was not the only apostle to express amazement at this evidence of the miraculous blossoming of God's kingdom. Reading their words, I could just feel their immense surprise and joy that such a thing was even possible. And, of course, that was only a portion of the joy felt by the South American members themselves:
I remembered being told by one of our great South American stake presidents that when he comes to general conference in Salt Lake, he and his wife will have to decide which two of their five children they will bring to be sealed to them in the Salt Lake Temple. It takes forty-three soles to make one dollar. Now their plans have changed. They are planning to take all five children to the first temple in South America.
It adds another layer of meaning to all this, of course, reading about it forty years later. To us it seems almost old-fashioned, that delight in a temple outside North America—why, of course we have temples all over the world! I'm so used to that fact I forget to be amazed by it. But seeing how Elder Faust felt at the thought of even one other nation being blessed by a temple's presence reminds me that this is how our vision grows. We may feel overwhelmed by the odds against us. When things look bleak, we start to doubt first our own ability to follow God, and then perhaps even His presence there leading us. But all along, He is steadily doing His work, steadily sending His miracles, until those who have kept up hope—those who have kept trying to assist in God's work even though they couldn't see it making any difference—suddenly SEE what has been going on before their very eyes all along. And then they must exclaim, as Elder Faust does repeatedly:
Having seen it all from close range, I cannot doubt that this is the work of God…
How can anyone who has seen what I have deny that this is the work of God?…
Contemplating all of this I could not doubt that this is the work of God upon the earth…
Having seen what I have seen in South America, I cannot deny that this is the work of God.
And as this surety grows in us, instead of looking ahead and seeing storm clouds and bleakness and uncertainty, we can see what Elder Faust saw as he looked ahead:
In my mind’s eye I could see young couples clean and pure, hand in hand, and with smiles on their faces, many with brown skins handsomely contrasting their white clothing, who will come to this sacred spot to be married under the power of the holy priesthood of God for time and for all eternity. It was easy to imagine the great joy of whole families who will come to that spot to be sealed and bound together under the same authority into an eternal family association through their worthiness… 
Here will come the children, full of the mirth and excitement of youth, to perform the sacred ordinances of vicarious baptism for those who have not had that opportunity in their lifetime. It was easy to imagine the pleasure of those coming to be baptized and the great joy of those who have waited so long for this saving ordinance in their eternal journey… 
How does the work of God go there now? Problems—there are many; challenges—they are great, but the progress is almost unbelievable. What I have said about South America can be said of many other parts of the whole world. This is a great worldwide Church, and so far we have only seen the beginning.
I love that vision, and I hope it's what a discouraged missionary can learn, with the help of God's Spirit, to see. It's what I hope I can learn to see when things look bleak. The growth of God's kingdom. His goodness and love. Our joy in the souls, however, few, we manage to affect for good. And most of all, the triumphant rolling forth of the Father's plan, blessing and saving all His children, in every way they will accept, forever and ever. Because I'm pretty sure that even forty years after Elder Faust said these words—compared to the glory that is coming, so far we have only seen the beginning.


Other posts in this series:

3 comments:

  1. I love this! Just such a hopeful and encouraging concept -- miracles happening and occurring constantly in everything we are a part of. So often just hard to see or piece together until you look back from some future place in awe.

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  2. Abinadi didn't seem to have much success on his mission either. But missionary success can't be measured by the response of others, but by the obedience of the missionary. I served a mission and was moaning the blues about not having lots of baptisms and my mission president said, "Baptisms are brought about by circumstances that only the Lord can control." Pres. Curtis taught me a lot about the obedience factor in measuring success. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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    1. I'm so glad that was your mission president's response! So wise. And Abinadi is such a good example of this. I think it's a good idea to evaluate your own obedience instead of others' responses. It's so much more under your control!

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