I appreciate all the birthday wishes this week! (and I guess all the "come back home"s and "don't be trunky"s). I can only say that every day I'm simply grateful to still be in the service of the Lord. Regardless of my current experience level, things continue to be difficult in a very satisfying sort of way, because it helps me remain humble and more able to gratefully recognize the blessings that do come. On the MTR ride home last night, I was hit with a sudden pang of, "Dude, I'm going to be at college in a month." That realization was about as startling as facing the reality that I'm now an old and cratchety 21 year old. Where did that come from?
Time flies by so quickly. My whole youth, all the choices that I've made, both good and bad, have really started flashing before my eyes. It's very difficult to articulate the mixed emotions I have every day, which range from a passionate gung-ho excitement about helping the work of the Lord move forward and magnifying my call as a missionary all the way down to quiet and melancholy self-instrospection, asking myself the same question I've asked myself over and over again, "Have I been doing everything the Lord wants me to? I've made a lot of mistakes, some of the fruits of my work have gone sour, is God pleased with my efforts? Am I worthy to be His servant?" I've come to realize that answers to questions like these don't usually come in these pondering segments, at least for me. I tend to be harder on myself than anybody else, and when others do decide to be hard on me, I do my best to accept it humbly and gracefully. There is a lot of growth that comes from not only humbly receiving, but seeking after correction from others. Especially at this point in my mission, receiving correction has been more spiritually uplifting thing for me than perhaps it would have been at the beginning. All of that said, knowing whether we've done our part well for God and knowing whether or not He's pleased with our efforts usually comes when we continue to do our part.
I have two examples of this from the past week:
1) As I was feeling particularly unsure of myself during an unfortunately quiet day of finding, wrestling with negativity and trying really hard to understand why I had been feeling withdrawn from spiritually, I caught hold on the thought that "faith is exercised by mental exertion, not by physical force" (Joseph Smith) and that to maintain a believing frame of mind required continued said "mental exertion", I decided to get over myself and targeted the very next person I saw in the distance, and walked directly towards her. I felt the Spirit begin the well up within me as I thought that stewing over all these thoughts was doing little for me and I needed to believe with greater consistency that the Spirit indeed was going to be my constant companion. That woman was the only woman who talked with us at length that day and accepted a copy of the Book of Mormon. Marcelli from Brazil.
2) We taught a less active family in Mui Wo, the Cruz family, who have been less active from the church for years and regularly attend the Catholic Mass on Sunday mornings. Brother Cruz believes our church to be true, but because of the current family situation and his wife's health condition he has offered us several different and I suppose valid excuses for not attending our afternoon services in Discovery Bay. They are the among the nicest people I've ever met, and are also very sincere. Brother Cruz mentioned that one of his desires is to eventually reactivate the entire family (6 grown children, 3 already married, all included) and get sealed in the Temple. However, he was not very committed to acting for himself to be the leading example in reactivation. So we shared about faith. We asked them if their faith was akin to a mustard seed, which they affirmed emphatically. Elder Chang placed the Book of Mormon on the counter and said, "Then use your faith to move this book." They sat and stared. I followed up, "Christ says that if you have faith like a mustard seed, you can move mountains. This book is small! Use your faith to move it." Brother Cruz was stumbling over his words trying to figure a way out, when quietly his daughter Khorina stood up, walked over to the book, and moved it. And we said, "Exactly." We then shared the following video entitled "Wrong Roads": http://www.mormonchannel.org/video/mormon-messages. We said that sometimes traveling down the wrong road gives us the conviction to turn ourselves around and go back down the right one. We testified of the restored gospel, and the Spirit was strong, and told them that if they really desired what they said they did, then the Lord would enable them to get themselves up out of the chair, go to the counter, and move the book. Khorina, who had been less active for years and has forgotten most things she learned as a child, came to church on Sunday with a renewed determination to the Lord and introduced herself to the Ward by saying, "My name is Khorina Cruz. I was baptized when I was 8 like most of my family, but I have been less-active most of my life. When the Elders came to visit, I felt the Holy Spirit so strongly that I'm here today." In a lesson that was originally intended for her parents, she happened to be at home and the Spirit spoke to her so strongly that it awoke her to a sense of newfound determination to get her life in order and exercise faith in Jesus Christ. I testify the Elders didn't teach that lesson, but the Spirit of God.
I realized after these two experiences that we can be sure that the Lord is pleased with us, His imperfect children, as we continue to do our part. We will always continue to feel his love and the spiritual confirmations of His guidance as long as we hold fast to what we know and do our duty, regardless of our circumstances. May we all continue to be more courageous in simply doing our part.
It's only been about 3 days because of the extension of last week. Everything continues to go forward -- several of the families I mentioned in previous weeks have either faced anti-mormon stuff and family who shut them down, or have headed out of town for the holidays. Haha, I guess that's what happens when you're in International, all the people pilgrimage to their homelands during the winter months. But that's not to say we don't have the privilege of talking to cool people on the street everyday, yesterday I ran into a Jewish couple from Israel. They weren't surprised at all when I raised my missionary, "Whoa, Israel? Really?!"
I just want to share really quick about how it feels right now to be a missionary. The days and weeks are going by insanely quickly, and at night as I pray I find myself repeating (not vainly) to God over and over to please bless me with the Spirit. It's such a good thing to have my last area be a 180 turn around from what I've been used to my whole mission, and I feel more often than not that I'm doing things wrong. I feel no different than most of the China Hong Kong mission now, which is primarily made up of missionaries that have only been sent out for a few months. I feel very new, I feel excited, and I also feel sometimes like I really have no idea what to do. It's very humbling for me to have many people constantly telling me what I should and shouldn't be doing when my natural man tells me I've been here long enough to understand everything. That's why it's so important to have the Spirit.
Going with that, I think that members of the church who have access to "the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost" assume at times that they are like Super Mario running into a magic star and suddenly become invincible (and have really great two-note fast-paced background music). Sometimes we feel like we need to have constant revelation pouring into us guiding us at every footstep. Well, as a missionary, I have the constant companionship of Elder Chang, and I'm here to testify that while he is constantly right at my side I'm not necessarily utilizing his help the best I can. Sometimes I may get carried away in explaining something in a lesson and not give him time to share, or at other times when he gives me his input I don't really let it sink in. Learning to recognize the still, small voice of the Spirit, hear what He has to say and act on it is a life-long process, and my mission has been teaching me that just as much as I needed Him to guide me in the beginning of my mission, I need Him now. As long as we're worthy members of His restored church, we have the right to His constant companionship. Whether or not we act on the input that He has to give us and whether or not we let Him truly speak is really up to us. I know that the Holy Ghost is real and He confirms the truth of all things, and His input is always a bit more profound than ours.
Let us be more diligent in following the Spirit in our own lives.