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When civil war broke out in Liberia in late 1989, eight native Liberian missionaries of the Church were serving in the country. By July 1990, conditions were so bad that those missionaries were shuttered inside their homes, unable to preach the gospel and forced to risk death just to meet with members.

With their work grinding to a complete halt, Elders Marcus Menti and Joseph Myers, zone leaders in Monrovia, determined to go wherever they had to in order to complete their missions and serve as they had been called to do. That meant leaving Liberia, so together with the other four missionaries serving in Monrovia—Taylor Selli, Joseph Forkpah, Roverto Chanipo, and Dave Gonquoi—they devised a plan. With the help of Philip Abubakar, a counselor in the local branch presidency and the missionaries’ driver, the elders planned to travel north to Sierra Leone, cross the border, then continue to Freetown, where their mission presidency had already been compelled to flee.

(Excerpt from article The Lord Provided A Way)

Having served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I realize that it can be dangerous out there. However, when I read the article last year about missionaries who had been caught in a civil war in Africa that had to escape while rebels pursued them, I realized the challenges I faced on my mission are very minimal. The article was very inspiring, and intense. I was excited to learn that there was going to be a movie made from their experience as they overcome severe challenges to escape the country while being hunted down and threatened to be killed by the rebels.

I was able to catch up with Adam Abel (known for Saints and Soldiers and other movies), the producer of the movie, along with Garrett Baty (known for the movie, Saratov Approach), the director of the movie. They were kind enough to allow me access to the press screening of the movie and also do an interview with each of them about the making of the movie.

As I watched the press screening of the new movie, FREETOWN, which is on limited release and opening in theaters on April 8th, I was amazed at the faith of the elders as they were pursued by their enemies during the civil war in 1989. Their faith and desire to teach the gospel is amazing and the way God protects them while the rebels pursue them and nearly capture and kill them on a few occasions is amazing. The filming is great and done in Africa with African actors so it has a very authentic feel to it. It is definitely an inspiring movie that is also entertaining with intense scenes/situations.

As mentioned, I was able to catch up with both Adam and Garrett. Garrett’s interview is included below with some pictures of the filming of the movie. Adam’s interview will be published next week.

Interview with Garrett Baty, Director of FREETOWN

Garrett Baty

What was your inspiration in choosing to direct Freetown?

I read a short article about missionaries caught in a civil war in Liberia. I was intrigued because these were African missionaries, in a situation completely foreign to me, yet their motivations were very relatable. After reading their own accounts of what took place, I was determined to retell their experience in a film.

What are you hoping that people take away from watching the movie?

In addition to being entertained, I hope they appreciate the courage and determination that these missionaries had. I hope that after seeing the film, people will look at their own challenges, and feel motivated to overcome them. A prevalent theme throughout the film is “Keep Moving Forward,” which is really resonating with audiences.

Elders hunted down

What inspirational moments did you have during the filming process?

The production process was incredibly challenging, however I recognized daily “miracles” that enabled us to accomplish what we were trying to do. In researching the story, I interviewed a Liberian refugee, now in Ghana, living amongst some of the very rebels who caused him so much loss and suffering. I asked how he was able to live in such close proximity to those who were responsible for his loss. He taught me about forgiveness and moving forward, in a way that I will never forget. He stated “You can’t replace spilled water. If someone drops the vessel, you work together to get a new vessel, and fill it with new water.” His example is incredibly inspiring.

baptism freetown

What was the most challenging part of the filming process?

It was challenging to be away from family for 6 weeks. Making any film is difficult, and typically it is nice to go home each night and recover from the time on set. When you are half a world away from your loved ones, it give you a lot of time to dwell on the challenges of the day.

What was the most exciting part of the filming process?

It was exciting each day to see the footage that was being shot. We filmed a chase sequence with rebels chasing missionaries through a village, and it was a very exciting day on set. Each day’s footage was like opening a Christmas present, especially knowing how difficult it was to obtain each shot.

Freetown gun

Tell us about the actors in the film.

We auditioned over 125 actors for the film, and were amazed at the talent we were able to find. The film features some stirring performances, and the actors handled these scenes very well. We were also fortunate to have several recognizable veteran actors appear in key roles throughout the film. It was fun to have these famous Ghanain actors show up on set and be swarmed by fans. It’s not often that an independent film attracts that type of talent.

Garrett Baty with the actors

Will the movie be shown at all major theaters, or certain ones?

FREETOWN opens in elect theaters across the U.S. on April 8th. We’re very fortunate that AMC, Cinemark, Regal and Megaplex, along with other national chains have picked up the film. Purdie Distribution is distributing the film.

Where was the movie filmed?

FREETOWN was shot in West Africa, in and around Accra, Ghana.

What makes this film unique?

FREETOWN is unique because it is an important, faith-affirming story, set in a time and place that wouldn’t typically be inspiring. The Liberian civil war isn’t addressed very often on film, and when it is, usually the focus is on the brutality and harshness of the circumstance. FREETOWN is an experience unlike anything that audiences have seen.

How did you select which actors and partners to work with and why did you choose who you did for this film?

I approached Adam Able to be my producing partner on this film because of his vast experience in telling war stories with an inspiring message. I chose to work with screenwriter Melissa Lealani Larson after reading a short film that she had written, and seeing that she had a wonderfully honest and unique style.

FREETOWN releases nationwide on Wed., April 8
It has a limited release so see it on that day/weekend!
To find a theater near you, visit http://www.FreetowntheMovie.com

FREETOWN poster

In Elder Holland’s most recent General Conference talk, he said

elder holland

In keeping with the Savior’s own experience, there has been a long history of rejection and a painfully high price paid by prophets and apostles, missionaries and members in every generation—all those who have tried to honor God’s call to lift the human family to “a more excellent way.

Sometimes that “painfully high price” and “rejection” can hit very close to home.

Recently, the missionaries informed me that one of the people we have been teaching the gospel to, who is ready to join the Church and be baptized, is facing a situation that falls into the category of a “painfully high price”. She is a young lady, 20 years old, who doesn’t live at home. However, she has a great respect and love for her parents. Throughout her life, her parents have told her they would support her with whatever she chooses regarding choosing a religion. However, when she approached them about joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e. Mormon Church), her parents came unglued and told her they would disown her if she joined, based on some things they have read and heard about Mormons. She is shocked and heart-broken. On one hand, she has felt a peace, love and experienced God in a way that she can’t deny and her soul yearns for this relationship and she has a desire to strengthen that relationship and “formalize” it by making a covenant to serve God by being baptized. On the other hand, if she does this without her parents blessing, she fears her family will leave her.

I can relate to her dilemma. When I was a very young man, a very close and dear family member made me promise them that I would never join the “Mormon Church”. At the time, that was the furthest thing from my mind. However, when I read the Book of Mormon and felt the overwhelming sense of peace that comes only from God, I knew that I wanted to join with the Church of Jesus Christ and that it was God telling me to do so. I had a clear vision given to me from God that if I stayed on the path I was on, it would lead to bad things later in life. On the flip side, my mind was opened up to the possibilities if I were to join the Church and follow Jesus Christ. When I shared my decision with my family member, they became very frustrated and when I heard them tell me they didn’t want to talk with me again, it hurt. We didn’t really talk for about 7 years and it was a very hard thing for me as this was and is a very close family member. Years later, after we had made amends and reconciled, my family member told me they hadn’t told me they wouldn’t talk to me, but that I had misunderstood them. Also, as an adult looking back, this family member had read and experienced some very negative things relating to the Church of Jesus Christ (i.e. Mormons), so they were trying to protect me from what they thought was harmful.

Time heals wounds though, as they say, and over the course of years we were able to forgive each other. Looking back, I’m glad that I chose to follow what I felt was right and what God was telling me to do rather than make the easier decision to not join the Church in order to salvage the relationship in the immediate term at the time. We now have a good relationship and have made amends and it is by the love and grace of God that we were able to come back together and re-kindle our relationship.

Having said all of this, based on personal experience, my suggestion for people such as our young friend is to follow what they feel God is telling them to do. If they feel that God is telling them to be baptized, do it. If they feel God is telling them to hold off on baptism for the time being, then do that. Don’t get baptized because it’s what your friends or missionaries want you to do and don’t hold off on baptism if you feel that is what God is telling you to do in order to save your relationship with your family member. Choosing to follow God will always lead to greater long-term happiness.

costs to follow more not to It may hurt in the immediate term, but long-term you will always be glad you followed your heart and what you feel God is telling you to do. I really liked this poster that a pastor put together stating “it costs to follow Jesus, but it costs more not to…”This is all a part of faith and trust in the Lord as it says in the scriptures. Easier said than done, but when we choose to follow God, “all things work together for good to them who love God” (Romans 8:28).

What advice would you give to this young lady or anyone else faced with this situation?

***Update 4/29/14***

For those interested about what the young lady’s decision was, after prayer, pondering and listening to peoples’ advice, she decided to be baptized.

A few weeks ago I was asked by our local missionaries to find some people willing to share their conversion story with one of the people they were teaching. I knew of a lot of my friends from various walks of life who had converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) so I asked for their conversion stories.

I appreciate the responses and will have a little “series” of posts called Mormon Conversion Stories. Each person’s story is unique and very personal, but it illustrates just how personal our Heavenly Father is when we open our hearts up to Him.

The first story I would like to share is from one of my friends named Brandon. He is a gifted illustrator and has a website: http://www.drawingfaith.blogspot.com where he has drawn images from various stories in the scriptures.

Here’s his story:

Brandon’s Conversion Story: From Catholic to Mormon

I was born Catholic, to a great family. My dad is an incredibly family-centered man who has always sacrificed for our family. My mom (with Dad’s support) made sure that my brother and I got a traditional upbringing in our native faith, complete with us going through most (if not all) of the Catholic ordinances, and I remember Mom reading to us from the Bible a lot as we grew up. I believe this instruction helped prepare and build my faith in the Lord.

By the time I was 19, I was in art school and working at a local movie theater. It was a wonderful time of making new friends, learning, and growing. Somewhere around that time a young man completed his mission in South Africa, Johannesburg. He went by “Fritz” and came back to work at the theater. Being ignorant of what being “Mormon” was, I have to admit that when I heard Fritz was Mormon I thought it meant that he was Amish ;) He was a very interesting and cool guy. My best pal from those days and I became fast friends with him. As we hung out, as recently-returned missionaries are wont to do, he shared with us about his faith. I can remember being at McDonald’s as he shared with us about the Plan of Salvation—God’s plan for us that includes our pre-mortal life and choice, as His spirit children, to come to earth. I can’t remember all the details of what he shared that night, but I can say that neither I nor my friend had ever heard anything religious that made so much stunning, intellectual sense as what we were told that evening. After that conversation both my friend and I expressed the sentiment that we were ready to “sign-up,” so to speak. But it would be some time before anything would truly gel for me about the faith.

Fritz also shared with us about the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Eventually I requested a copy from him. One day as my friend and I were working in the box office, Fritz came up to us with two copies of the Book of Mormon, and said, laying them at our stations, “Here’s two free tickets to Heaven.” That makes me chuckle to remember.

I began to read the book, every night going through a chapter or so. The book had been prepared with tabs to key chapters. There was a tab at Moroni 10:3-5, still a favorite for me. As I opened to the tab and read those yellow-highlighted verses, I understood I needed to pray to know if the book was true. (It is interesting to me just how much my faith was growing at this time. I was at a point where I feared that God would actually answer me. Funny, I know. But the gravity of actually connecting with the Divine was a very new and startling idea for me.) That scripture in Moroni promises that an answer will come to those who ask in sincerity of heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ—that the answer will come, “by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Now, over a decade later, I understand better how the manifestations of the Spirit can be sometimes subtle and small, or sometimes dramatic, warm, and unmistakeable. But as a younger man I didn’t know what it would mean to get an answer, or how it would come.

With the best faith that I had at that time (certainly like a grain of mustard seed), I began to pray and ask. I believe I had only (or very mostly) Catholic training regarding prayer, so each night I would pray the Our Father and then add some of my own words to ask for the truth of these things.

Nothing happened right away. I read through quite a bit of the Book of Mormon, night by night. Then, when I was somewhere into the Book of Alma, while reading one of the war chapters, I began to envision the armies, the scenery, as I read. When I finished reading, an overwhelming feeling of warmth and peace came upon me. It was a better feeling than I had ever had. I was by myself in my bedroom. I looked up at the ceiling and said something along the lines of, “Wow. There is a God.” The feeling was so wonderful that I did not want it to leave and it stayed with me for quite some time. It was enough for me to recognize not only the existence of God, but also the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

I learned that the next natural step, having received a witness that this is true, was to be baptized. My pal, Fritz, was at BYU during this time, so we would write letters to each other. I asked what I needed to do to be ready for baptism, and he helped to guide me (I wanted to be worthy of it and had some behavioral clean-up to do). I soon began to meet with the missionaries, got baptized, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience I do not regret. My membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been life-changing and so very positive.

I must add, among so very many other things I could share, that in recent years I have pondered why, though I was nightly praying and reading, I had to wait those many nights before I got an answer from God (I had made it into the chapters of Alma for Pete’s sake). And why was it that I was reading a war chapter on the night He gave to me to feel the Holy Spirit that first, dramatic time? As I pondered this while driving home from work on a wintry day, I received a distinct impression in my mind about how important it is to fight for those things that are best in life. Anything worth it is worth fighting to obtain. In fact, if you’re fighting through life to stay true and/or to gain truth then you’re on the right road. The things we struggle to obtain are often the things we treasure the most. To anyone who is pondering about the Book of Mormon, or wondering whether joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the right move, I say hold on. Seek the Lord about the truth of it. He will answer, in His time and way—in the best and most instructive way for your needs.

I also believe that John 7:17 shoots us straight, that the proof is in the pudding: “If any man will do (God’s) will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” We should try these things out, try to live what we’re reading in the Book of Mormon to know the truth of it. Walking the path of truth paves the way for the Holy Spirit to find us.


Brandon Miltgen
Illustration & Design
drawingfaith.blogspot.com
brandonmiltgen.blogspot.com

I recently came across an excellent conversion story from a person I don’t know who emailed me and shared his conversion story with me.

As you read this story, you will see that life hasn’t been easy for him and like all of us who choose to follow Jesus, he has had to make some sacrifices, but he has been blessed in return.

Enjoy his story:

Daniel’s Conversion Story

I was called many times and I would not hear (Alma 10:6)

 

I was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. My parents moved  to Florida when I was about 3 and a half. I was raised in a Jewish household in which Judaism played a large cultural role but a rather smaller spiritual one. We would go to synagogue for the high holiday services, and then go back home and eat shrimps and pork. My father is a very secular individual, and his lack of belief in God is rooted in the Gas Chambers of Auschwitz and multiplied by heartbreak and loss. My mother was the more spiritual of the two. She taught me to believe in God and to love the spiritual. And yet, she also believed in a God that did not know or care about the little things that we did. “God doesn’t have an IBM computer” she would tell me whenever I would ask why we didn’t keep the same commandments my orthodox friends did. I went to a Jewish private elementary school and had my Bar Mitzvah at the age of 13, but religion was not a very large part of my life.

 

Nonetheless, I had a lot of experiences that led me to spiritually wonder about the purpose of life. I remember as a small child asking my mother what happened after death, and she didn’t really have a response. She said she hoped there was something after this life, but wasn’t entirely sure. I went to the library and read books for kids about death, but didn’t find any answers there either. My grandfather died when I was 6 and my grandmother when I was 8. Death seemed like an awful force that I could not fully understand.

 

As I got older, my father who had long suffered from heart problems began to have serious health issues. One night when I was in fifth grade he got taken to the hospital by ambulance late at night. When I was 11 he had his third open heart surgery. The possibility of his death was always ever present in my life.

 

Amidst this background, I continued to search for spiritual answers that would help me understand why. After elementary school I stopped attending a Jewish Private School, and went to a public middle and high school. There, for the first time I was surrounded by people of other faiths and began to take an interest in christianity.

 

One of my best friends at the time Sarrah was a strong believer in Christ and she really helped me to learn more about him. She had a lot of light despite a life filled with darkness and trials and I was drawn to that special light. She prayed for me that I would always be surrounded by strong Christian individuals and that prayer came true in a myriad of ways. Wherever I traveled and however far I got away from God, people of faith seemed to literally find me. Thanks to her influence and that of several others, I began to more and more strongly believe in Jesus Christ. I also had a lot of personal experiences such as spiritual dreams that led me to believe in a God and in Jesus Christ. I remember reading Isaiah 53 and trembling with awe at the description of the lamb of God suffering for the sins of all mankind.

 

And yet, something held me back from fully committing to Christ. In part, it was the opposition of my parents whose heart broke as I told them about my interest in Jesus. On the other hand, there were several nagging questions that I just did not feel were settled. I wondered what would happen to the generations of my ancestors who had lived and died Jewish. They had faced the gas chambers and pogroms because of their faith. I could not accept the notion of a God that would condemn them to hell, and yet my Christian friends offered little hope. I began to slowly drift away from Christianity

 

When I was 15 my mom was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. It came as a total shock to me, because she had always been the healthier of my parents. Even though she fought valiantly, she died shortly after I turned 18. The last months were especially difficult even though her faith in the face of that trial was also inspiring. The loss was absolutely devastating to me and in time it continued to gnaw away at my faith. As I began my undergraduate at Brandeis University, I began to read Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and fell under their spell. I didn’t know how to accept a God that would allow my mother to suffer, and so I went to the opposite extreme of denying his existence

 

Around this time, I became friends with a girl named Tatiana who I later found out was Mormon. She was one of the only two undergraduate members of the church in the whole university! She wasn’t active at the time, but she still held many of the same values. She wouldn’t drink and had a very traditional view about the role of women which stood out in a very ‘progressive’/ feminist friendly university. I became really intrigued by her values. We dated for a while, but ultimately things didn’t work out between us.

 

I spent a summer studying abroad in China, and while there had an instructor who was a strong member of the Christian community there. We began to talk about God and religion, and those lengthy conversations with him really opened me up to the possibility of a God again. I noticed the vibrant spirituality that people had in China, and I began to yearn for something more in my life. When I returned, Tatiana had decided to begin going back to church and I felt for some reason prompted to check it out. Up to that point I knew next to nothing about mormonism, but I went to Barnes and Nobles and I sat down and picked up Mormonism for Dummies and the Complete Iditot’s Guide to Mormonism and I sat down and began to read. As I read, I was really struck by the power of the doctrine I read. I began to read about the pre-earth life and the plan of salvation and it just felt right…It filled a hole in my soul. It immediately made sense to me. It answered all the question I’d had about how one could believe Christ was the way and yet also believe that those who didn’t know him could be saved. I went to my friend Tatiana and asked her if I could go to church with her.

The next day was a sunday, and I went with her to the Cambridge University Ward. We were late for sacrament meeting, so I ended up going only to Sunday School and Priesthood, but what struck me was how friendly people were. I was warned to wear a suit and tie, so it took people a while to realize I was not a member. I was asked to give a closing prayer, and when I expressed that I wasn’t a member, people were a bit shocked. Pretty quickly however they set up a meeting for me with the missionaries.

Blessed is he that believe in the word of God and is baptized without stubbornness of heart. (Alma 32:16)

The first time I met with the missionaries, I had thought through a whole bunch of questions relating to the doctrine of the Church. I asked them difficult or near impossible questions such as why are there transvestite and hermaphodidic individuals if gender is a pre-mortal trait, and what happens to those that have more than one husband or wife in this life. My poor missionaries did a great job though of deflecting the questions and inviting me to read and prayer to God sincerely.

 

Even at that early point I knew I was feeling something special. I told my friend Tatiana that she shouldn’t expect me to be baptized quickly or anything, but that I could really see myself liking the church. I had some hang ups with the Church’s conservative political position on things like gay marriage but I felt myself drawn towards it more and more

 

I began to read the Book of Mormon and I remember liking it but also finding some things about it strange. It was strange to me to think of Israelites talking about Jesus Christ, but it also made so much sense to me. It was weird to imagine that Jesus had been hid like a big secret of some sort from the people of Israel. Indeed, it made much more sense to realize that he had been taught about all along  I continued to read everything I could find about the church ( both pro and anti-Mormon) but felt drawn more and more to the church.

 

One day, I was talking to a non-member friend who is really opposed to the Church. She began to bash the church and especially focused on how awful the LDS Temple was. She had a good friend that was married in the temple and that friend’s family could not attend the wedding since they were not members. My friend was absolutely disgusted by this practice. As she spoke to me, I was pretty taken aback and wondered why that was the practice. While thinking about it, I felt strongly prompted to go to see what the temple was like in Boston.It was 9 at night, but I got into my car and drove to the temple ground.

 

When I got to the temple, I got out of my car and I felt an overwhelming spiritual presence.  I had never felt something quite so powerful. I felt it through every fiber of my being. I felt as if the God was talking directly to me. In my mind, I heard his voice telling me that the church was true and that he was there. I was stubborn, and so I got back into my car and I drove to the nearby Catholic and Protestant churches to see if I would feel the same way there. I didn’t feel anything of the sort ( in fact I felt rather negative spiritually in front of the Catholic Church). I then got back to my car and drove in front of the temple, and when I got there again I went to one of the sides and knelt down in front of one of the stained glass windows. There, I poured my heart out to God and I felt transformed by the spirit. My whole being was filled with light. In that moment, I could clearly see the person that the Lord wanted me to become. I could see my potential as his son. I knew without a doubt that God loved me and wanted me to join his church. Since that moment I have never doubted the truthfulness of the Gospel. Even in my darkest moments, that experience has been like a beacon of light.

 

I knew that I should be baptized

 

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up. (Psalms 27: 10)

 

Telling my father about my decision to be baptized wasn’t an easy thing to do at all. Luckily, soon after that, we met in New York for the Jewish high holidays. The weekend before, I had been with my ward to a camp out up in Sharon Vermont at the Joseph Smith Birthplace and I got up to bear my testimony that i knew the church was true. Telling my father of that testimony was much harder though. We walked around Manhattan near Lincoln Center, with the Manhattan temple nearby, and I finally worked up the courage to tell him. His reaction was of course quite negative as I would have expected. He strongly forbade me from getting baptized and told me that if I did he would not want to have anything to do with me.  I compromised with my father and agreed that I would wait six months before baptism so that he could know that it was a sincere desire of my heart

 

I spent the next semester studying abroad in London and it was a pretty challenging time in many ways. Throughout it all, however, I went to church every Sunday and bore my testimony each month during fast & testimony meeting. At times, I felt quite alone, but my faith in the atonement of Christ got me through it all.

 

After six months, my father was still as opposed as ever to my being baptized, and so I rather painfully ended up postponing my baptism again. Even though I was over 18, my father’s approval was ultimately very important to me and I wanted to try to respect him. I returned to the U.S. from Israel and as I was about to leave Florida to drive up to Philadelphia where I would spend the summer my father finally gave me his permission to be bapitzed. I went up to Boston then next weekend and I was baptized into the University Ward there. I still remember the joy that I felt when I was baptized. I felt cleansed from all of my sin and like an innocent child in the eyes of God. It was such a wonderful and unforgettable feeling.

 

Although there were challenges after baptism and confirmation, I felt a new energy and ability to cope with trials. My co-workers that summer were strongly critical of the Church because of its stance on gay marriage, and I struggled with internal doubts over that same topic, but I kept on striving and struggling. My ward had a trip to palmyra and while there I prayed in the sacred grove and felt the Lord confirm to me again that everything I had come to believe was true. That summer was one of great growth and development ( and I met my future wife while living in Philadelphia as well!).

 

Behold, verily I say unto you, go from them only for a little time, and declare my word, and I will prepare a place for them. (D&C 31:6)

 

Still, one of the hardest decisions loomed before me. Even before baptism, I had begun wondering whether I would have to serve a mission. I began rationalizing and telling myself that since I was older than most missionaries I wouldn’t have to do so. Nevertheless, I felt really strongly that I should serve and that service would transform my life for the better in so many ways. It was ultimately a difficult choice knowing how strong my father’s opposition would be, but I realized that whenever I thought about serving I felt incredible peace and calm, while when I thought to stay home I felt selfish and ill at ease. I felt a burning desire to share the gospel with others and to help them feel what I felt. Ultimately, I knew that I had to serve. I filled out my papers, deferred from law school, and told my father about my choice to serve.

 

Of course, he didn’t take that well and he threatened me once again with disowning. The hardest part wasn’t the threat, rather it was seeing the pain that I knew I was causing him Yet, I understood that serving would be ultimately what would secure for me an eternal family. Still, I remember feeling so physically and spiritually ill when I put in my papers. I had to remember to ‘cast not my confidence away’ and rely on the Lord. For weeks I felt discomforted and filled with despair. I was certain I’d never see my father again if I went to serve a mission. I didn’t know how I would pay for schooling once I got back. Yet, I put my faith in the Lord. When I got my call and heard that I would be serving in Novosibirsk, Russia I felt the spirit fill me with an overwhelming sense of peace and a confirmation that what i was doing was right.

 

I had the most incredible mission experience. I loved serving the Lord and I am so grateful for that experience. I know that the call was inspired of God. On my mission I gained a far deeper testimony of the savior and his church. I came to know him as I learned to love and serve his children. They were far and away the best two years I have ever spent, and I am so grateful to the Lord for the opportunity. I am thankful I was able to touch and teach some of my precious brothers and sisters and to help them enter the waters of baptism.

 

While on my mission, I felt strongly prompted to apply to law school at BYU Law. I had already been accepted and deferred at a higher ranked law school, but I still felt a strong prompting to apply there. I ended up getting offered a full scholarship and was able to come to law school without having to take upon myself massive debt. I am currently finishing up my first year of law school and absolutely loving it. I am also engaged to Jessica who I met back in Philadelphia. Perhaps most importantly of all, my testimony is still burning strongly and I am filled with conviction and the power of the Lord. I am grateful to him for all of my many blessings and for the opportunities that yet lay ahead. I know that my redeemer lives and I am so grateful to him!

I know that joining the church can be tough and that Satan often puts challenges in the way. However, I also bear witnesses that if we follow Christ and show our faith everything will work out for the better. Every good thing in my life today has come because I showed faith. Because of my faith I have a scholarship at a law school, a wonderful fiance and I had the most incredible opportunity to serve God on my mission. All the things I was afraid I would lose have not been lost. Although not perfect, my relationship with my father continues to improve and I was blessed to be able to see him again after my mission. If you have faith and not fear and follow the savior I promise that the Lord will pour down his blessings from heaven!

 

In the Book of Mormon, there is a story about a lady named Abish.  For those of you not familiar with the story, I’ll summarize it for you, or you can read about it here.

Abish is a Lamanite.  At that time in the history of the Book of Mormon, Lamanites are not followers of Jesus Christ as a whole.  Therefore, Abish had hidden her testimony of Jesus Christ for many years.  When the Nephite missionaries come and preach of Jesus Christ and perform miracles, she runs throughout the land sharing her testimony and bringing people to the location where the missionaries are.

 

Recently, I attended a beautiful wedding followed by a baptism of a nice young lady and her boyfriend/husband.  I felt it an honor to be able to baptize her as she expressed an outward desire to enter into a covenant with the Lord to take His name upon her and keep His commandments.

When I asked her what brought her to the point of wanting to be baptized, she said it was her boyfriend.  Her boyfriend had been baptized a number of years ago, but hadn’t been attending church for quite a while (Mormons label this as being “inactive) when they met.  They had a child together and moved in with each other.  Over the course of four years, he would talk with her about his testimony of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Over time, she grew to have a desire to be a part of the Church of Jesus Christ, but didn’t know what to do.

Around that time, the missionaries knocked on her door and she gladly let them in.  The missionaries told me about the nice young couple that they had met and also that her boyfriend was a member.  They had been living in our ward boundaries (every congregation is divided into what we call “ward”, or a territory so we can take care of each other better) for nearly a year and we hadn’t even known it!  We were glad to welcome them into our ward and she started taking the lessons.

The lessons went by very nicely because her boyfriend had done such a great job of preparing and teaching her, even though he didn’t attend church at all, or associate with members of the congregation.

I realized that although people may not be “active”, they still have testimonies and if given the chance, they, like Abish, will gladly share their testimonies.

 

Every Wednesday I go visit members of our congregation and our community who we haven’t seen in awhile, who have fallen away, or who haven’t learned of Jesus Christ and His gospel yet.  My intention is to help them feel God’s love in their lives as many times they have chosen a different path in life.   I do this in a number of ways, but it always includes praying and reading scripture together along with challenging them to take action and move towards God.

When I prepare for these visits, I spend a few days contemplating and praying about who God would have me visit.  Once I have an idea of who to visit, I then spend a few days praying and reading scriptures with these people in mind so God can prepare me for what they need at that time in their lives.

A God of Miracles

There is a great scripture in the Book of Mormon that discusses how God is still a God of miracles today.  Here’s part of the chapter:

7 And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;

8 Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them.

9 For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?

10 And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles.

11 But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are.

I love these verses!  The other day I was able to witness a God of miracles.

Dreams from God

As I was reading scripture and preparing for one of my visits, I felt an impression in my mind from God that I needed to visit an active member of our congregation and tell them I had felt that God wanted them to invite someone close to them to their home and listen to a message from the missionaries about the gospel of Christ.  I didn’t know anything more than that.  Just that I needed to challenge them to do this.

For me, this was something that would normally be a bit awkward.  First, I don’t usually receive answers to prayer to challenge other people to do things.  Secondly, I wasn’t sure how they would take the news with me showing up on their doorstep telling them God wanted them to do something.

However, my experience has led me to believe that I should never turn down a prompting from God and that if I follow the promptings things will work out for the best.  Therefore, I visited this individual in our congregation and informed them of my experience I’d had.

To my surprise, the person told me they knew exactly who they needed to ask to come to their home.  They went on to tell me about a dream they had had a month or so earlier.

The Dream

The dream was pretty cut and dry.  In the dream, the member of our congregation had seen a certain family sitting around their (the members’)  living room.  There were missionaries there teaching them the gospel.

When the member woke up, they said they had felt a spiritual confirmation that they needed to invite this family over.  However, for various reasons they hadn’t done so yet.

When I showed up and told them of my experience, they knew right away that they needed to invite the family over and accepted the challenge without a problem.

He Cares

From this experience I learned a few things.  First, God cares for each one of us and wants the best from us.  He is watching over all of us and those of us who know Him are the ones He uses to bring his other children back to Him.  Next, I learned that miracles definitely still happen today and God is a God of miracles.  Finally, I learned once again that if I trust in God and act on promptings from His Spirit things will work out for the best.

Do you have any experiences that you consider to be miraculous?  If so , please share!

I was out with the sister missionaries the other night visiting a family they are teaching.  The family is a great young couple just starting out in life in their early 20’s.  They are very new in their careers and have all the aspirations that young couples have such as: earning enough money to live comfortably, raising children, and making their dreams come true in life.

While I was there, I felt that I needed to ask them why they are meeting with the missionaries?  She said it is because she sees how happy people who have faith are and she wants that in her life and in the lives of her children.  Her husband, once was an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (i.e. Mormon).  He said that he decided around the age of 18 that he wasn’t going to stay active as a member of the church.  However, after a few years he notices a void in his life and said that he also shares the same desire and knows he will “come back” someday.

They also shared experiences they have had learning about the Gospel from his parents, who are active church members.  We read scripture together and I shared some stories of my conversion.  He then shared a story of revelation that had come into his life at a young age and shared a witness of God answering prayers.  He also said he felt a desire to pray and read scripture with his wife, which they never have done.

jm_300_BOM3.p-P1.tiffAfter the meeting, I couldn’t help but think that this meeting must have been an answer to the prayers of his parents.  I also thought of my own conversion story as well as that of Alma the Younger’s in the scriptures, where the children, who are rebellious are saved through the faith and prayers of their parents.

Since you can read about Alma’s conversion story, I’ll briefly share my story and how it relates to my father.

My Conversion Story

After my parents’ divorce I became very rebellious at a young age.  Although I was very young, I was getting into some very bad addictive habits and I was angry at my father, God, and especially anything related to the Mormon Church.

One summer, my mother persuaded me to go and visit my Dad, which I did reluctantly.  The one thing I didn’t want to do was go to church, which I knew my Dad was actively involved in.  Upon my dismay, he told me that as long as I was staying with him, I had to go to church.  So I did and hated it.

However, after a few days I started to notice something and my heart started to change.  I noticed my Dad wasn’t what I thought he was and he actually cared for me.  I noticed a feeling of love and peace in his home that I hadn’t felt in a long, long time.  After staying with him for a couple of weeks, my heart had changed so much that I knew I wanted to live with him in an environment that was away from the bad friends and influences I had without a father figure in my life.  I also started reading scripture and praying and God softened my heart through the power of the Holy Spirit.

When I told my father all of this, he started to cry tears of joy and told me he had been praying for this to happen as he saw me slipping into a dark place.  As I look back on things, I realize that it was indeed a miracle because I had no intentions of ever coming back.  It was solely through my father’s faith that I was blessed with the grace of the Good Lord to experience what I did at that time and have experienced many times since then.

This message is to all of you parents out there who may have a child who has made some wrong turns.  My heart goes out to you as I am a father of young children.  At their tender ages, I can’t imagine them making bad choices as they are so innocent and full of love and life.  If you have older children who have strayed, I’m sure you see your older children and remember them when they were young and so close to God.  Don’t give up hope.  The lives of the young couple I met with this week with the missionaries, Alma the Younger in the scriptures, and my own life are testimonies that through the faith of parents’ sincere prayers, our children can return once again to light and truth from God.

saarbruckenThis is an article I wrote that was published in Meridian Magazine this month.  It was inspired from an article I wrote on my blog a couple of months ago:

You May Not Be Interested in God, But He is Interested in You

In the mid-90’s when I served my mission in Germany, we would often listen to cassette tapes where people would re-enact, or role play, various scenarios that we were likely to encounter.  The actors on the tape would share a “less effective” and then “more effective” examples of how to teach missionary lessons, approach people, find people to teach, etc.  We would always strive to use the more effective approach.

One day I was trying to use a “more effective” approach to finding new people to teach by going through our Area Book to find the names of people who prior missionaries had taught.  As I scanned the notes, nothing special was standing out to me until I came across a name and an address.  All it read was “Hr Neuhaus” and an address.  There were not the typical notes or comments left by missionaries on what they had taught, the person’s reaction to the lessons, how many lessons they had taught, etc.  It was simply “Hr Neuhaus.”  Although there wasn’t much to go on, I knew we needed to stop by that particular house, so we mapped out the address and full of faith and confidence got on our bikes and pedaled to the address.

When we knocked on the door, a gruff old man shouted angrily at us from inside, “Keine Intresse,” meaning “not interested.” Usually I would walk on down the street to the next house, but this time was different.  I felt moved upon to keep on trying.  I called back and said the first thing that entered my mind, “You might not be interested in God right now, but God is interested in you!”  That comment immediately sparked the gentleman’s curiosity and he came to the door and let us in.

The room we entered was filled with the haze of smoke from countless cigarettes Mr. Neuhaus would chain smoke.  I could almost feel the smoke wrap around my skin like a blanket.  I had never baptized anyone in Germany and I was confident that this gentleman would soon become another of our “one-teach-wonders,” where we taught one lesson and then never got invited back again.

Before we had a chance to get introduced, Mr. Neuhaus blunted stated, “I hate God.”  I had never started a conversation this way before, but I could sense that he was in great pain, so I asked him questions about why he felt that way.

Mr. Neuhaus went on to describe how he had lived a great life with his wife for many years but suddenly she had taken ill and had recently passed away.  The loss of his wife was too much for him to bear, so he had turned to alcohol and cigarettes to help numb the pain and loneliness.

Germans are bold so I boldly told him that if he listened to our message and did what we asked him to do, he would soon find God and his heart would be healed.  That resonated with him ever so slightly and so after praying and reading, he agreed to have us return for another visit.

Our next discussion was much better than the first one.  He had read several scriptures and had even started to pray.  Although he was still very lonely and sad, his demeanor was much lighter as we taught him about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months and Mr. Neuhaus made slight spiritual progress with every visit.

As missionaries, one of our responsibilities is to teach people about the “Word of Wisdom,” which is the law that distinguishes Mormons in that they cannot drink, smoke, use drugs, etc.  The day finally came where we were to teach Mr. Neuhaus about the Word of Wisdom.  I was sure he was going to quit having us over when we asked him to stop smoking.  However, to our pleasant surprise, he not only wanted to quit smoking and drinking, but he also wanted to get baptized as well.

In order to help Mr. Neuhaus stop smoking and drinking, we bought him some candy and also told him if he was ever tempted, he could contact us via telephone no matter what time it was.  I didn’t realize that Mr. Neuhaus would keep me so honest with my offer.  He called about every other night so he could talk with us when he was tempted to smoke cigarettes, or drink alcohol.  I would help strengthen his resolve by him by telling him scripture stories and praying for him over the phone.

This pattern went on for several weeks.  I noticed that gradually I grew to love the gruff man who initially had told us to leave him alone and never come back.  Like a young flower gradually opens its petals, this was a miracle slowly unfolding before our eyes as Mr. Neuhaus’ testimony started to blossom.  I also noticed that I had gradually grown to love Hr Neuhaus with a deep love that can only come from the grace of God.  I had learned to see him as God saw him: a son of God most valuable and precious in His eyes.

On May 11th, 1997, I felt humbled as Hans Peter Neuhaus and I stepped into the baptismal font together and I offered the baptismal prayer.  We went down into the water together and I lifted him back out.  Immediately there was a change in his countenance and I felt a deep love sweep over me as I knew that God had approved of Peter’s baptism.

This experience happened about 8 months into my two-year mission to Frankfurt, Germany. Although I met many people during my mission who appeared they would be good candidates for baptism, none of them took the necessary steps that Peter Neuhaus did.  At the time of Peter’s baptism, I did not know that it would be the only time in my entire mission that I would have the opportunity to baptize someone I had found and taught.

I learned that God looks on the heart and even though someone may not appear “ready” to hear the gospel, it is up to God and the individual to receive guidance and promptings from the spirit which leads eventually to baptism.  As a missionary, it was my privilege to be allowed to participate as the Spirit bore witness to a “gruff old man,” who embraced the gospel, which in turn changed his life and mine forever.

ldsmissionariesI have the great opportunity to work as a Ward Mission Leader in my Mormon Church congregation.  It is great going out with the missionaries and sharing the gospel with friends and neighbors who may not have a relationship with God.  I have seen some amazing things in the past few months as the Holy Spirit has worked miracles to ignite faith in people as they pray and study the scriptures.

One of the things I look forward to nearly ever day, are the stories that the missionaries tell me of their daily adventures as they meet with people from all walks of life.  My favorite ones are ones that involve members of our congregation as they help people in the community.  The missionaries shared an example of this the other day.

In our neck of the woods (the Seattle area) it tends to rain in waves this time of year.  For example, it will be sunny for 20 minutes then a cloud will roll in and pour rain and it goes on like that throughout the day.

One of the ladies that our missionaries have been teaching decided to walk to the store with her little child while it was sunny and on her way back a cloud rolled in and started pouring rain on her and the young child.  She was very concerned about her child’s health and wondered if she would be able to make it home.

Just then, a van pulled up to her and the door slid open.  A large Samoan man looked at her and said “Get in the Van”!  She said at first it was startling, but she had a good feeling so she got in the van.  There were a few kids in the van along with the gentleman’s wife.  They asked her where she lived and told her they didn’t feel right about having her left out in the rain.  She told them where to go and she arrived safely at home.

The next evening, the missionaries invited her to come to a woman’s activity at the church.  She went and had a great time meeting members of the congregation.  When she entered one of the rooms she looked up and noticed the same lady who had been in the van.  They both did a double take and then got excited and hugged each other and started talking.

I was so impressed with this Samoan family.  Their actions were an example of the pure love of Christ that we preach about when we are out in the community with people.  It is one thing to talk about helping others, but it is another thing to quietly go about doing good as Jesus did without recognition, which is exactly what our Samoan friends did.  This left a greater impression on our friend who is investigating the Mormon Church than any sermon could have done.

When I heard this story, the words of President Hinckley come to mind.  When asked why no Mormon Churches have crosses on their buildings, he stated:

…The lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship. (Ensign, 2005)

I am very grateful for the opportunity I have to work with these great members in our congregation along with the great missionaries and people they teach.  I have witnessed the hand of God working through all of us who give of our time and try to live as Jesus would have us live.  When we do this, miracles happen and lives are changed.

ldsmissionariesI’ve been very busy working with our full-time Mormon missionaries in our ward the past couple months and have been very impressed with all the work and effort they put in.  It has been a while since I have been this heavily involved in missionary service.  Some days can be very awesome and others can be very trying.

I am reminded of experiences on my mission when I meet or speak with the sister missionaries in our ward (congregation) nearly every day.  There are many, many people out there who have little or no concept of who God is and who Jesus Christ is.  Many people when asked say they are Christian, but when speaking more in depth they rarely pray and have little or no concept of what the Atonement of Jesus Christ is and how it applies to our lives.  I have been re-ignited in my faith as to the importance of this message by actively going out and meeting people in my community and seeing the challenges they face and the struggles they have trying to rely on their own strength rather than Gods.

This week was particularly difficult for us.  We had been working with a great family the past few weeks who had begun to embrace reading scripture together, coming to church, and praying as a family.  The father of the home even made the comment of how different his kids were (in a good way) since coming to church.  However, things changed pretty quickly when his ex-wife heard about her kids going to the Mormon church and meeting with the Mormon missionaries.  Although she hasn’t ever gone to church (according to her kids and ex-husband), she was very passionate that they quit going to the Mormon church and start going to the Catholic church she was raised in.  Needless to say, when the sister missionaries went to visit Rick and his kids and found out about their mother’s concerns and also that the kids and Rick wouldn’t continue on with lessons, we were pretty discouraged.

It was during times like this when I was on my mission that I reflected on the inspiring times in my life so I could stay positive.  With this in mind, I thought I’d share an inspiring story from my Mormon mission in Frankfurt, Germany during the mid ’90s.

Inspiring Mormon Missionary Story

The most inspiring moment on my mission was working with a man named Herr Neuhaus.  Hr. Neuhaus was an older gentleman who had lived a very rough life.  When we came across him, he was very angry at God.  His wife had recently passed away and he was very depressed.  Life for him when we met him was drinking and smoking and staring at the TV.

I learned on my mission in Germany to be very direct and bold.  That was their style over there.  So when we first met him and he bellowed out that he didn’t have any interest (they all said that initially), I told him that he might not have interest, but God had interest in him.

He replied that “God doesn’t love me…” which gave me a window into his tortured soul.  I immediately felt compassion for him and I feel that by the grace of God I was able to feel for Hr Neuhaus a small amount of love that God has for each of us as sinners.

I engaged him in conversation on why he thought God didn’t love him.  This is when he shared with us his story of his wife dying despite all the prayers he had offered in her behalf that she would live.

That first day, we just listened mainly and I really felt so awful for him.  However, I knew that through the power of the Atonement, he could be made whole again and Jesus could fill him up with love once more.

I testified of this and challenged him to read the Book of Mormon, especially the parts on the Atonement of Christ and faith.  I promised him if he did this that he would feel God’s love once more.

To make a long story short, God was true to His promise to those who show faith in Him.  Not only was Hr Neuhaus healed from his suffering, but he was also healed from his addictions of smoking and drinking.  I felt honored when he asked me if he would baptize him, which I did on May 11, 1997.

This was the only person I baptized while I was on my mission.

When I reflect on this experience, I am once again reminded of the importance of being a witness for Jesus Christ.  I have seen personally and many times have witnessed other people such as Hr Neuhaus who chose to embrace the teachings and gospel of Jesus.  Their lives are renewed and the cares and struggles of this world are swallowed up in hope and deliverance.

Please take a moment and share your favorite missionary experience either as a missionary, or a pastor, or just in your daily walk with God.  I think it would be very beneficial for other readers of this blog.

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