We had an amazing week this week. Our numbers doubled in almost everything, and our baptismal dates quadrupled (from 1 to 4). I was shocked yesterday as we counted everything up together, and spent a lot of time on my knees in gratitude, recognizing that both prayer and fasting contributed to the sudden shift for good. When the night comes, the sun always has to rise in the morning. The Lord is blessing our efforts.
If any of you were wondering what happened this week after our huge push for Francis to have the faith to change his shift to allow himself time for church attendance. Our whole apartment fasted last Sunday for Francis to be able to change his job ours and for the other companionship's investigator to get baptized on Sunday. We anxiously awaited Francis to call us, feeling little doubt that he'd have success. When he finally did, however, he began with a rather shaky voice telling Elder Woo that his boss didn't budge. Elder Woo asked him if he had the faith to find a new job, and Francis indicated that he did. A couple hours later, we decided to call his fellowshipper, Danise, to tell her what happened. However, I wasn't sure how to respond when I asked Danise if she had heard what happened and she said, "Yeah, it was kind of a miracle, actually." "What?" "Yeah, Francis got fired from his old job, but I saw on facebook A-Bong [member in Chai Wan Ward] putting up his tutoring position for offer. So I called him immediately and he hired Francis on the spot." "WHAT?!"
Francis called later that night to deliver the news himself, completely elated that he could come to church. It's been a huge change for good in his life, and he is so excited to be baptized this coming Sunday, on the 31st. Yesterday when we taught him about the Law of Tithing, he got really worried and said that he was willing to gradually pay little by little until he got everything worked out with his debts until he could pay a full tithe. However, the members who were with us bore strong testimonies that paying a full tithe always brought greater blessings, and we asked him if he thought the Lord could continue to do miracles after the new job he's received and all the joy he's felt since meeting with us. He said that God would do that. He closed promising the Lord in prayer that although it'd be difficult, he'd pay a full tithe.
It's just been such a great week. So many things keep happening that I don't have time to record: the boy on the street who pulled us away because there were too many people around, and began crying as he asked us where we went after this life. The guy who came to English class and stayed after to hear the Restoration, scheduled us the next day, and said he believed Joseph Smith was a true prophet because the story "was so convincing." The day I worked out too hard one morning by running up 15 flights of stairs in under a minute and a half, and then the next day felt dizzy and sick -- I decided to go out and find anyway and ended up getting more numbers in that couple of hours single-handedly than our companionship had gotten in a whole week previously.
Looking at the success of this week and the incredible blessings we're seeing from the Lord in Chai Wan as the Ward is coming together, I thought back to just a week ago when I felt completely despaired in prayer as I begged God to help us push through. Many ancient prophets describe the feeling of peace and joy that comes to us after the "trial of [our] faith" (Ether 12:6). They describe the exquisite joy that comes only after they've experienced exquisite pain (Alma 36). There is something unique about putting yourself in a position to be completely led by the Lord in all things by serving Him full-time that allows you to gain a very personal understanding of how exquisite both pain and joy can actually be. I testify that God in Heaven allows us to experience both for our benefit and the benefit of others. I testify that the joy that follows our sorrows and our pains is beyond description, that it is real, that we are all meant to experience it, and it drowns out sorrow. I testify that it does so because of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Apparently the announcement is out from the First Presidency that missionaries are allowed to email their friends. Mind you all, I still have only an hour for email. If you would like to send me an email, I will absolutely read it, love it, savor it, and might respond over the course of a few weeks. It's been confirmed, my best bud in Norway emailed me this week with the same news. So, throwing it out there.
This week has been as eventful as ever. We're working hard at developing the strategy and tactics required to increase member-missionary coordination. It's already mid-March and there's only been one baptism in Chai Wan with an end of the year goal of 18. This morning both the CW companionships scheduled a meeting with President Hawks to discuss these efforts, and I believe it's going to help a lot. I can feel the enthusiasm increasing, and in brief, we believe that through specific, simple, and steadily increasing goals and shared responsibilities the work out here is going to become exponential in numbers. President Hawks actually issued out a message through the Zone Leaders asking us to pray specifically that there will be calmness and stability throughout the mission as numbers begin to increase. He also promised us that if we follow precisely the guidelines in Chapter 8 of Preach My Gospel about Using Time Wisely, our short term key indicators will double within 4-6 weeks and our long term key indicators (baptism and confirmation) will at least double in 4-6 months. The attitude of faith and obedience has been present throughout the mission and wonderful things are beginning to happen.
Mom, it's funny what you said in your last email to me about thinking I was being pushy with Francis. There's more to update on his story this week. I may have had the "pushiest" lesson of my life this week. It started in our Weekly Planning session -- Elder Woo and I felt really strongly that Francis was going to make his baptismal date this month. We planned for it, and later that night we had a text from his fellowshipper saying that Francis was not willing to be baptized until 2014 after he worked out his debts. Apparently he also sent her an article written by a Christian that challenged the doctrine of baptism. That same night I had been texting a new investigator, who, within the 30min time period that I messaged him, got completely anti'd by his parents and went from saying he'd read the Book of Mormon to "I don't need religion, I'm strong enough to face my own challenges, and my parents want me to be myself." He concluded nigh accusing us of telling him to disrespect his parents. Needless to say, that night I was frustrated with what seemed to be failure on every side.
I prayed and studied hard about what we would do with Francis. We decided to finish teaching him the Gospel of Jesus Christ, including the doctrine of baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. Elder Woo and I taught with much unity as we expounded him the scriptures and taught him the need to be baptized and the danger of procrastination. I've never spoken to someone with so much authority in my life, and told him in essence that I did not care what the internet said. No matter how persuasive a man can be, God is the most persuasive. We did not speak to him in anger, nor did we look down on him, but we spoke as men having authority from God. I told him that if he tried to wait until next year, he'd forget the feelings that the Lord has blessed him with. We told him that now was the day of his repentance, now was the time to exercise his faith, and now was the time to prepare for baptism.
At the end of the lesson, Francis had changed from skeptical towards the importance of baptism to a deep desire to change and commited to change his schedule in order to accommodate coming to church. He's scheduled to be baptized on the 31st of March.
Without much time to explain, this week I have felt closer to the Savior than I think I may have ever felt my entire mission. I mentioned the hard night with the new investigators anti'd and Francis putting off what the Lord was giving to him. I got on my knees that night, and it would be impossible to describe eloquently the mixture of devestation and the feeling of immense love for these people that I hardly even know. As I prayed about the difficulties, I told God in tears how personally I took it when many of his children unrighteously use their gift to choose. Almost as plain as day I pictured in my mind the Savior standing before the jeering crowd of hundreds who hatefully begged that a sinful man be freed and that He be crucified. I thought of how the Savior did nothing but serve and love every moment of his mortal ministry on the earth. I thought of how personally He must have taken the condemnation to crucifixion.
Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. He suffered the sins of the world through his Atonement. He bled from every pore in the Garden of Gethsemane, suffered death by crucifixion, and is now forever risen from the tomb. He conquered death, and took upon Himself the sins, pains, and sicknesses of His people. He lives today, and enables us to face the trials of every day and to return to the presence of our Father in Heaven.
It's been another busy week as Elder Woo and I have prayed and searched for new investigators on the streets of Chai Wan. Moves happened this week, and the other Chai Wan companionship had a change, and Elder Parker from Anaheim, California came in. I didn't know how fluently I spoke Californian until he came in and reminded me that what I thought was funny actually was.
I suppose one of the difficulties out here is actually being willing enough to recognize that people actually are busy. You just want to say, "Hey man, you don't get how awesome this is! Get over the fact that a white kid wearing a suit is spewing rapidfire whisps of truth in your native language, and listen to how your family can be together forever!" But I gotta give it to them, people really do have a lot to do. And I suppose that's the tricky part in stopping them briefly to talk. We're limited to talking to people on the street because all the tower estates are closed off by guards and we aren't allowed to knock on doors. Most of the people on the street are out because they need to buy groceries or go to work, so it takes a lot of faith to issue out power statements at people and hope it gives them a bit of incentive to listen for a moment.
However, one day this week I managed twice to get a young mother to give me her complete address (the only way into the estate). We've rescheduled both of them, which made the miracle of it even more exciting -- Elder Woo blurted "Chi sin!" (crazy) when I got them, telling me how rare it is for people to give their address, especially on the Island. We're still working hard for new investigators, and I know the rather frequent full-day street finding efforts will soon begin to pay off.
Maybe it's just because the situation is current, but I feel as though I haven't prayed harder for an investigator than I have for Francis. This week as I prepared with Elder Woo to teach him the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I decided that what we really needed to do was just focus on repentence and focus on how it relates to obedience to God's commandments. I really liked what the first page of this month's ensign says: "We aren't obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see." I have seen the truth of that principle with greater clarity as I've served the Lord out here, and I felt that teaching Francis about keeping the Sabbath day holy would be a way of helping him gain a testimony by living the gospel. We ended up having a 2 hour long discussion because we had discovered the night before that he got a new part-time job on sunday. He kept telling us that it wasn't because he didn't want to come to church, but rather that he had some things he needed to take care of. After a long discussion about having the faith to keep the sabbath day holy, I said, "How about we just pray together right now." It was a bit noisy because a random, ridiculously fit couple was practicing kung fu right in front of us, so we said we'd walk up the stairs to the little overlook point and pray on it like Nephi prayed on the mountain. As we sat there and patiently waited for him to pray, he said, "You guys don't understand. ... When I was younger, I was a really bad person... I gambled a lot of money on horse racing. When my family found out, they were really upset. I need another job because I need to get myself out of debt. It's not that I want to do it, but I have to. Even when I tried to stop gambling, sometimes I'd go back to it just because I hoped it'd help. It didn't." He then began to cry and said, "I haven't even told my best friends about this. But I'm so grateful that I ran into you guys last month in Shau Kei Wan. I've been really bad and I've been wanting to change, but since I've met you both I've realized that God really cares about me, and is giving me an opportunity to repent."
I know that God has led us to meet his prepared children, one by one. When we keep the Lord's commandments, are faithful, and serve our fellow man, I know that people will recognize the light that accompanies the truth of the Gospel. This is His work, and these are His children, and I am His servant, and I thank Him for it every single day.
I felt pretty restless as I laid in bed last night.
It was not until we met again with our investigator yesterday that I realized the Spirit had been preparing me all week to address his concerns. It began with my personal study in chapter 5 of Preach My Gospel, that deals with using the Book of Mormon to respond to objections and as the main resource for people's conversion. I didn't know why at the time I felt so pressed on studying it. Then came the subtle feeling on Saturday a few hours before our appointment that prompted me to ask, "Elder Woo, do you think he is going to show up today?"
"Of course," came the reply. I supposed he was right; he has always been honest and good about keeping his commitments.
Not long before the appointment was meant to happen, he cancelled in a simple text. We said it wasn't a problem, and would see him at church the next morning. 9:00am at the chapel came around yesterday morning, and something told me he wasn't coming. He didn't.
Long story short, we met him later on a bench nearby the estate where he lives. He got a lot of biased material from the internet. I appreciated the fact that he wasn't there to argue, but really did want to understand. I asked him to consider for a moment the small church that the apostles were running at the time proceeding Christ's resurrection and return to Heaven. I asked him if it had ever occurred to him that what the internet might have said about the "Christians" had it existed in that generation. The only reason that struggling church prevailed and was preserved (at least in principle) through all of the persecution and violence and false rumors in that time was because of one simple reason: it was true.
In the end, after a long and very detailed discussion, I asked him if he was willing to read the Book of Mormon every day and truly figure out for himself if it was from God. The concern came out that the past week he had stopped reading. Elder Woo said that it was alright and he could do better next week. But something inside me told me not to leave it at that. With a wave of seriousness and a sudden deep concern for the welfare of his soul, I looked him in the eye and said, " as a representative of Jesus Christ, our purpose is to declare to the world that Heavenly Father is real and that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. Our purpose is to tell the world that the Book of Mormon is true. As a representative of Jesus Christ, I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and that if you read it every single day and ask Heavenly Father with a sincere heart if it is true, I promise you that He will personally answer your prayer." With a changed demeanor on his face, he said he'd pray. Last night towards the end of his prayer, he told Heavenly Father that he had intended earlier that morning never to attend church with us again, but that the enthusiasm and the sharing of the missionaries had helped him increase his desire to truly find out.
I went home last night and begged God to answer his prayer. I wondered to myself how many times I've made a simple promise in the name of Jesus Christ without realizing how much I relied on Heavenly Father to ensure that promise to came to pass.
I know that this is the work of God. We need Him. Jesus Christ is our Savior. The Book of Mormon is true.