Good mornin' brothas and sistas. What a beautiful musical number. It felt and sounded like I was back in Peru. It is soo good to see you all here after 2 short years many things have changed, (change of bishopric, Nate Baker is freakishly tall, many new faces) but the spirt, love and support that I feel from all you is the same and I am very grateful for that.
Those who were present at my farewell might remember that I had commented that my favorite primary song was the missionary one that says I hope they call me on a mission when I have grown a foot or two. I had mentioned as well that even though I had not grown a foot or two I could not wait and I was going anyways. Well I want you all to know how glad I am for going when I did. To my disappointment I didn’t have to let the hem out on any of my pants but in other ways, I feel like I have grown several feet.
On my mission I have learned and grown and have gained many life experiences that will forever help me to maintain a righteous service-filled life. As a missionary our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ and we achieve this objective as WE come to Christ ourselves. As we grow to know him and as we learn to love him and follow him more perfectly, we develop the ability and the strong burning desire to teach all of God’s children how they too can love him and serve him. We take them by the hand and go down the same path that we have walked and are walking to get to know our Savior. The Savior has always asked us to follow him and to become perfected in him. In the New Testament he told us how we could when he was asked which is the greatest commandment of the law? Mathew 23: 36-40 he responded: "thou shalt love The Lord they God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, this is the first and great commandment and the second is like unto it, thou shout love thy neighbor as thyself ." Jesus is perfect. How can we truly follow him, be like him? We must learn to have charity. Charity is the pure love of Christ and he desires that we obtain it so we can feel joy. Many confused investigators have asked me if all that is required of us is charity and love for our Lord and love for our neighbor, then why does tithing matter? Why do we have to keep the law of chastity? or Why do we have to live the Word of Wisdom? Is love not enough? Well love is enough and our love shows through the way we express it. John 14:15 reads: “If ye love me keep my commandments”. and in verse 21 it says, “he that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me, and he that loveth me shall be loved of my father and I will love him and I will manifest myself to him.”
What a great promise. If we truly love the Lord our God, with all our heart and mind we will gladly and willingly keep his commandments. This is how we show our love. This is how we learn how to love. The commandments are one of the greatest acts of charity. They are instructions from a loving Heavenly Father that if are obeyed permit us to return to his presence as eternal families. Living the commandments helps us to apply the atonement in our lives. Christ’s atonement is the greatest act of charity shown to us. As we obey with exactness we will not only feel the perfect love that our Father and his Son Jesus Christ have for us but we will be able to love our Father and our Savior and increase our capacity to love others.
President Thomas S Monson said, "We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey". John 4:8 reads: “He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love.” and later in verses 20 and 21 it says " 20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also."
We cannot claim that we know or love God, if we hate or dislike one of his children. To come to know and to love our Father in Heaven, we must love all of his children.
When I first arrived in Peru, I came to understand what everyone meant when they said that Latin America has believing blood. (meaning that believing is in their blood) I noticed that in every corner there was a church. They were all different and almost all were missionary churches. I was worried that it might be confusing for me having to meet and talk to so many people with different beliefs of God and religion. I was worried about our investigators who may stray when the other religions knocked their doors. My testimony was strengthened of the restoration when I met a great and humble man that I love, named Rony. Rony was the type that just loved to hear the word of God. He let anybody in to teach him who showed up on his doorstep with a Bible. He went to all the churches and read the Bible daily. He had a strong interest in doctrine and was confused by how so many churches interpreted the scriptures to mean different things. By the time we showed up on his doorstep, he was a little confused and unsure of which church was true, but he started to listen to us and as he felt the spirit of truth he accepted and completed all the invitations we committed him to.
On one of our first visits, we gave him a Book of Mormon and a couple days later we went back to visit him and he had already read up to 2 Nephi. He went to church and even accepted the baptismal invitation but he was hesitant to put a date because he was still not sure that it was the true church. We did everything we could to help him resolve his doubts with scriptures and powerful testimony but nothing seemed to work. One day I was on splits with another Elder and we had an appointment with Rony. I was a little nervous because we had planned on inviting him to be married to the woman that he was living and expecting a child with. To be baptized you need to be living the commandments. I was a new missionary, only 18 years old, with little experience and I was now counseling a couple that they needed to be married. We had a great lesson and the spirit was strong, strong enough to fill me with courage to invite him to be married and baptized. In my broken Spanish, I communicated what the spirit wanted him to hear and to my surprise he said yes to the marriage and baptismal date. Even his wife, or rather girl friend, who had listened to the lessons but never had shown great interest in the church said yes to marriage and baptism. Feeling so happy but a little confused at the same time, I had asked what had changed? His response impacted my perspective of the Gospel. He said that at first it was tough to accept the doctrine of the church, having a religious background and having taken the lessons of missionaries from many churches. He explained that in these churches he felt something was missing. He could comprehend the message but sometimes felt fear or nothing at all but in the Church of Jesus Christ he felt love. He said for the fist time he had felt the love of God and the love and fellowship from the members. He said the people there really cared about him, they visited him, talked to him in church, served him, and did not judge him for his weaknesses and past sins. We loved him and desired his happiness and salvation and he was able to feel it and knew it was the true Church of God. He was married and baptized a few weeks later with his wife Gloria. Soon after he was baptized, he brought us to his mother’s house so we could teach her and his sister the Gospel. His first calling was a home teacher and he served with all his heart full of this new love and charity that he had experienced.
As a missionary knocking doors every day, we ran into many people with strong personal beliefs. Some would let us in, others would try to contend, some would yell and slam the door. I have been assaulted, chased and even have had logs of wood thrown at me. After all these experiences I would ask myself, if they believe in God and love him, why do they treat us this way? Aren’t we their neighbor? aren’t they Christians? trying hard not to judge them, I was always led back to a scripture that is found in John chapter 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." I learned that a requirement to follow Christ and be his true disciple is to have charity. It is easy to hate when you are hated and much harder to love those that persecute you. As with all of us, I learned that the principles of charity needed to be applied by me and my companions. By judging and hating those that rejected us, those who would disagree with us, or those who are different from us, would disqualify us as being true representatives of Christ, true disciples of the Savior. I found it very easy to love those that loved me, those that let me in and listened and fed me but hard to love those that despised me and rejected me. Jesus condemns that way of thinking. In Mathew 5:44,46 "44 ¶Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?" For a while a had a prideful habit of saying !Gracias, Que tenga un buen dia! or thanks, have a nice day after every time a door was slammed in my face, and one of my companions would always say, Elder Harper, was that sarcastic? I learned through loving companions that I needed to humble myself and strive to love others. As I prayed daily to have charity, the anger that I once felt when I was rejected turned into a sorrow, realizing that although I didn’t know them, they were not rejecting me but the blessings of our Heavenly Father.
President Thomas S. Monson said, “Forgiveness should go hand-in-hand with love. In our families, as well as with our friends, there can be hurt feelings and disagreements. Again, it doesn’t really matter how small the issue was. It cannot and should not be left to canker, to fester, and ultimately to destroy. Blame keeps wounds open. Only forgiveness heals."
As the prophet says, "forgiveness has a healing power, a power that is only produced by charity and a deep love for the Savior." This was a lesson that I was able to learn from recent converts. When I arrived in my second-to-last area in the mission, La Victoria, I was stoked to see that my companion had been teaching a great family. While teaching them they accepted a baptismal date. We prepared them to be baptized. It was incredible to watch the spirit change them so much in such a short period of time. They decided to leave their worldly life and accept the Gospel. They are a very humble couple and don’t have much. When we met them they lived in a one-room adobe house that he rented from his father. Hebert, the husband, was low on work and they barely had enough to get by day-by-day. Knowing their circumstances, I was super impressed because they were the most happy and loving couple. The gospel of Jesus Christ changed them, gave them purpose and filled them with happiness. They were fired up with a strong testimony of the gospel and were anxious to be be baptized. They trusted in the Lord’s promise that they would be blessed as they would make this sacred covenant with him. They had plans to be married and then baptized on the same day . I learned from them that happiness does not depend on what you have, how much you have or even the circumstances around you that one cannot control. Happiness is a decision that is a result of living the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
After this family was married and baptized they faced many trials. The next week Hebert lost his job. There were days where they only had one sole to their name. (sole is the money system of Peru and one sole is equivalent to about 30 cents). Not once did I hear them complain and not once did I see their faith waiver. Living the Gospel and demonstrating charity, they were fulfilled, and they were truly happy. Under these dire circumstances they paid a full tithe. They had faith in the commandments and did not doubt that The Lord would pull through and bless them. Days later Hebert shared how the Lord blessed he and his family for paying their tithing. He shared with accounts of random old friends that would come to his house, out of nowhere, to offer him day jobs. He was able to obtain consistent work for many days on end.
Herbert's father was not happy about the changes his son had made in his life. He missed his old son that would drink with him. He started to create great problems for Herbert and his wife and eventually kicked them out of the house that he rented them. Herbert's dad and brothers disowned him and his wife. Even though life seemed impossible, Herbert chose to keep the faith and the happiness they felt by living the gospel. Months passed and Maria and Hebert had found a place of their own. Because they continued to pay their tithing and trust in The Lord they received great blessings. They were given callings in church and fulfilled them happily. One day they received news that Herbert’s father had gotten sick and was living alone and needed help. Despite the terrible treatment that their father had given them they eagerly tended to his needs and were with him in his sickness. They had forgiven him for what he had done to them and loved him for who he was. Herbert and his wife Maria were able to apply charity into their lives and feel of the blessing and joy that comes from it.
In Moroni chapter 7:45 it reads:
"And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” In their hardest time Mariah and Hebert were able to be happy as they were kind, as they bore all things as they believed in all things and endured all things.
President Thomas Monson said, "Brothers and sisters, some of our greatest opportunities to demonstrate our love will be within the walls of our own homes." Love should be the very heart of family life, and yet sometimes it is not.
I served in a very family-centered mission. My president wanted us to find families that were prepared to receive the gospel. We had strict rules like we could not teach youth unless their parents were present as well, and they could not be baptized until they were 18 unless their parents were already members or baptized with them. These rules motivated us to find prepared families and to teach the proclamation to the world.
One day when my companion and I were knocking doors we came upon a man who opened up to us. At first he was not interested in our message but when we shared the proclamation and testified of the eternal nature of families, he said we could try to come back later. It seemed like he was just being nice but not interested. The next week we were contacting on the same street and had forgotten about this man. Suddenly we saw his head pop out of the little window on his front door. Many homes in Peru have a little opening on the door that they can open to see who is there. Kind of a big version of the peep holes that we have but not as discrete. It can be funny when they stick their heads out the opening, see you, and close it quick pretending they are not home. This man looked at us and then closed it real fast. I felt prompted to go knock on his door. My companion protested saying that he had already seen us and that he wasn’t going to listen to us. The feeling would not leave me so we decided to go anyways. He opened the door and let us in. When we sat down he asked us where we have been and that he had been waiting for us. His name was Marco and he was alone at the time but we felt prompted to teach him about the proclamation to the world on marriage and family. In the first lesson he opened up to us and told us that he was having family struggles and that his marriage was going downhill. He asked us to come back so we could meet with his wife and kids.
A few days later we returned and were able to meet his wife Jessica. She was super loving and receptive from the start. She insisted on making us a snack every time we came over. Since the first lesson they were excited for a change in their family and began to read the Book of Mormon and pray as a family every night. They even attended church weekly. Jessica always would tell us how surprised she was that her husband let us in that day. She said he would slam the door in all of the other churches faces and wanted nothing to do with religion. Before we met Marco he drank heavily, he was unkind to his family and was generally unhappy. When Marco felt the spirit of the proclamation he stopped drinking right away. He was super into coffee but after teaching the Word of Wisdom he dropped that as well, shocking the whole family. One day Jessica was talking to the mother of her little 4-year-old daughter’s friend form school. Jessica's daughter, Valeria, had told her friend that her house was like heaven. She said her parents didn't fight anymore, her dad didn't drink anymore. She told her friend that they went to church and prayed and the hermanitos (what they called us, little friends) always visited them. Valeria responded,...can the hermanitos come to my house so my house can be like heaven? The Savior taught that we must become as little children to inherit the kingdom of God. The simple testimony of a 4-year-old has left a lasting impression on me. When the gospel principles are applied in the home, charity is found and love is felt and any home can be just like heaven.
Brothers and sisters, may we make our homes heaven by our daily demonstration of charity, the pure love of Christ.
I am so grateful to have served God’s children in Peru over these past 2 years. I have learned to love and to have charity from so many humble and happy people in Peru who have so little earthly possessions. I love the Peruvian people. My mission has been the two hardest years of my life but also the two happiest years of my life, and I would go back today if they would let me. A mission truly is... the best two years. I know that I am not perfect and that I have many defects but I know that my Father in Heaven and my Savior love me and that when I apply the atonement in my life and have charity I can be happy, regardless of any circumstances that could bring me down.