I swear I was sitting at this computer yesterday. My perception of time has completely shifted from long and drawn out at the beginning of my mission to feeling like every week is about 24 hours long. I feel focused the whole week on our various tasks of street contacting, chapel tours, visiting investigators, planning, and studying, and then the next thing I know I wake up and it's time to go write an email. Now people are slowly beginning to remember me and send me emails and letters reminding me that I'm coming home soon, and I'm already beginning to wonder what I've done every day for the past year and a half or so. It's a foreboding thought that being a missionary is not something that lasts forever, yet I'm determined to take the skills learned, experiences had, and matured relationship with God to better bless the lives of those around me for the rest of my life. I love my mission so much.
We had a better week with lessons, although we were dropped by our most progressing investigator. It was rather sudden; I called him on the phone to follow up with him reading the Book of Mormon to which he reported that not only had he not been reading, he did not want to read it or to learn anymore about the gospel. With his baptismal date soon approaching, the first ounce of pressure associated with becoming a renewed disciple of Jesus Christ pushed him over the edge like a seed thrust on dry ground. It'd be much worse to have seen him do the same after covenanting with the Lord, and knowing that Elder Young and I have done our part, I suppose it's better that he has a little time to engage in self-introspection. It's disappointing, but I've come to grips with the fact that I can't and shouldn't ever force someone to follow the Savior. If there's anything my mission has taught me, it's that Peter Parker's uncle wasn't lying when he said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Where much is given, much is required, and nobody has given or is giving more than Jesus Christ.
I used to think a lot in the beginning of my mission about what I'd take from my experience, but as time goes by, I find myself thinking a whole lot more about what I'm leaving behind. I used to think, "Man, it's going to be so sick, I'm going to get pro at Chinese and open up so many opportunities for my future." Now I think, "Elder Young is a new missionary, and I want him to be better than I was, and I hope I can teach him as much Chinese as possible before I leave him." It reminds me of Priesthood Session from the latest General Conference when Tad R. Callister spoke about the Priesthood power in the boy. He quoted an old saying, "Do not die with your music still in you." I think that when I've faced discouraging moments and felt too inadequate myself to get any music out at all, I think I've overlooked the fact that my "music" can live on in others.
On that note, and in addition to the doctrine of grace which I shared last week, I believe wholeheartedly that there is no gift given us from divine hands that are intended solely for our own individual enjoyment. The "mighty change" that can be wrought in our hearts by His Atonement is meant to make us more capable of blessing everyone else.
I want all to know that I stand firm in that testimony of Christ, that His whole life and ministry was selfless and outward, and as His true disciples, we are required to do the same if we ever expect His grace to be sufficient for us. I love this work. I love my mission. It is Christ's.
It's been a little slower with the quantity of lessons taught this week, but as far as quality goes, which is the most important, we've had a great week. I'd rather have one quality lesson and get one investigator progressing towards baptism than to heap on the numbers of lessons taught to disinterested people who get a kick out of hearing white kids speak Chinese. Earlier this week we taught our progressing investigator, Andy, about the Word of Wisdom and the importance of keeping our bodies healthy and clean so that we can be more receptive to the Spirit. When we asked if he was willing to keep the commandment, the best answer we could get was, "I hope." Then yesterday Andy came to church, dressed in a suit as usual, and as he shook my hand he said in his most articulate English, "I did NOT drink coffee! hhaahhaaaaaaaaaaawaahhhh", the last word more or less indicating the full blast of fresh morning breath he blew into my face to prove his triumph. Considering the announcement preceding the attack, I found myself satisfied getting a whiff of his faith and obedience. The Lord was proud.
The Bishop asked me to give a 10 minute talk in Sacrament meeting about the importance of member missionary work. There's been a huge focus on that in the recent months, and the Asia Area Presidency is really cracking down on getting the unity going in Hong Kong. The night before I didn't have very much time to plan, and I was very thankful for the Preach My Gospel translated into pingyam, or romanized Cantonese. I've gotten pretty good at making myself sound native when I read from it. Just before I went up to speak, however, I had some inspiration to share with the Ward a little Chinese Proverb I picked up when I was serving with Elder Woo, "Gwok ga hing mong, pat fu yauh jaak," or, "The rise and fall of a nation rests with every one of it's citizens." Chinese people love it when you speak to them in their own ancient proverbs. Then I changed the words to mean, "The rise and fall of the Lord's work rests with every one of the Church's members." I proceeded to share my talk with more ease than usual, and felt very blessed by the Lord to be able to testify powerfully to the Ward in their own language. I know that the Spirit magnified my ability to communicate His message. When I finished, I proceeded back to my seat in the congregation and one of our hilarious old man investigators, Mr. Tam, who is virtually impossible to teach, waved his missing pinky at me and said, "The rise and fall of everybody rests with Elder Hazen."
I've got a quick story. When Elder Young and I were finding about a month ago, we ran into a man with perfect English who is a very faithful Christian, belonging to a church in Wisconsin. We shared with him a lesson about the Restoration of the Gospel through modern day prophets and apostles and gave him a Book of Mormon, and although he willingly accepted the gift and commited to read, he seemed very intent on letting us know what the Bible "really" says and pulled out the scripture in Revelation which says that we cannot "add to or take away" from the book. Knowing that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ, if John the Revelator meant that all recordings of the testimony of Jesus was ended with his revelation on the Isle of Patmos, then I suppose every time I've written a single word about Christ in my weekly emails is adding to the Bible and thus I should have all the plagues he wrote of to kill me sometime soon. But anyway, that's a doctrinal discussion for later.
He told us at the end of the conversation we Mormons believe we're saved by our works, and not by grace, but that grace is a gift from God and it's the only way to salvation. He ended by asking us how we would respond if we got hit by a bus and Jesus Christ asked, "Why should I let you into Heaven?" I responded that if I were standing before Christ at the Judgment Bar, I wouldn't be standing, I'd be kneeling. I said that I would look to Christ and say that I kept His commandments and, even in my imperfection, showed sufficient faith in his Atoning sacrifice through my deeds on the earth, and tell Him that it is according to His will that I am permitted to enter into His rest. Then the man told me that he thought there was a measure of a lack of confidence that I'd be able to make it to heaven in my statement, and that because he fully accepts Jesus' gift of grace he'd have full confidence in entering the Kingdom.
We ran into him again this week, and he asked us if we had thought about his question. He wanted to know if we had changed our answers, supposing that he could catch us in some inconsistency. I told him that grace is a gift, as it is the divine help and strength we receive through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I heard a wonderful analogy once about how grace works, and I shared it. I told him that as a child my Mom provided me violin lessons, a gift that as a child I could never be expected to pay my mother back for. I had a teacher who helped me interpret the notes on the page, and I showed my appreciation for the gift that my mother graciously gave me by practicing diligently. Through time, I began to understand the beauty of the gift that my mom provided when I was able, through my talent, to bless the lives of those around me by sharing it with them. No, I could never be expected to pay the Lord back for His Atonment, but if I were to never act on that gift or use it, how could I ever understand it? In that respect, we "Mormons" do not earn salvation, we learn it. 2 Peter 3:18, James 2.
I know that it is only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ that we are saved. I know that the grace that comes from the Atonement is the product of our choosing to act in accordance to the will of God and apply the Atonement. The Atonement is the gift. The grace is what we get when we use the gift. The pursuit of perfection is not an event for us, it is a process. I know that Christ lives, and that He gives us the power to overcome and have peace amidst all challenges mortality inevitably brings.
The weather is stormy and typhoony over on the Hong Kong Island. The rain can be very sudden sometimes, nailing you like a wall. I sassed my companion today by telling him I was an Eagle Scout when I helped him remember something he'd forgotten, and then I choked on my sass when we got off the bus and I was the one without the umbrella.
The Bishops of the Chai Wan and Causeway Bay Wards have gotten together to organize the members and missionaries in providing several free classes at the 13 story Wan Chai Chapel. They gave us the fliers, the street displays, and a boot kick out the door followed with a shout, "Go get people to attend." So we went out with a few members and four 8 ft. displays and started inviting. On Saturday, it was amazing to see the Ward members out with us handing out fliers. The Ward surrounded a main park in Chai Wan and Elder Young and I remained in the center, and nearly everyone who passed by was already holding a flier that was given to them by a member. In about an hour and a half, we'd handed out all the fliers we'd brought, and the members came asking for more. When a member approached me asking for more and I responded that I didn't have any, she jokingly asked me where my faith was. That same member got the number of a woman she met who was more interested in church than activities. All in all, the whole experience was a testimony to me of the power that members have when they take even short portions of their time to do missionary work.
Speaking of, there was an amazing worldwide broadcast recently that talks all about member missionary work, and how members can be more effective in participating in this great "hastening of the work". I invite all to go to www.lds.org and click on the opening link to "We Rejoice in Christ", and then look for the link to "Special Broadcast" about the Work of Salvation.
I know that as members of this church, we are all responsible and accountable for the way in which we choose to assist the Lord in this great work. According to both our faith and our deeds will we be judged of the Savior, and it is our responsibility to reach out to those spirits starving for the truth. I have never been more impressed by the sight of spiritual degradation and starvation than I have in my service as a missionary here in Hong Kong. The Adversary's work is the work of starvation, but I testify that this work, the Lord's work, our Savior and Redeemer's work, is the work of Salvation. Obedience to the Lord, as I seem to learn every day, is and should be the result of the faith that we exhibit in Jesus Christ. Because this is His work, we are not alone. Because this is His work, we will have success. Because this is His work and we are His disciples, we must do it together.
The Kingdom of God continues to be established in Chai Wan. Ever since the Bishop lost his job, he just seems to have had a complete turn around. He's constantly meeting with the Causeway Bay Ward's Bishop to coordinate the huge summer activities they're planning. In the meetings I made the suggestion that they get together some street displays and increase Ward unity by getting the members out with the missionaries for a few hours inviting people and families to attend the free summer classes we'll be offering. I figured it nail two birds with one stone if we increased our companionship by 20 people or so and let them have a little fun together while they're at it. Lo and behold, we walked into our District Meeting yesterday with 4 beautiful and professional looking 8 ft. street displays waiting for us. The Ward is signed up to go finding with us this Saturday.
Our investigators are doing well. We have one boy Andy, who's 17, who has now attended church 3 times in a row and has worn a suit every time. I expect consistent progress out of him, and really appreciate his sincerity in searching out truth for himself. Carmen, the woman I shared about last week, has continued to stay in good contact but we were unable to visit her last week, because she continues to have unnatural rhythm in her heart beats and has needed to frequent the hospital. I have a lot of faith in her and her family, and pray constantly that through our diligence and care we will soon be teaching a family.
A whole mix of emotions have welled up inside me ever since I've been informed of my return home date of the 20th of December, this year. I wish that I didn't have to know so far ahead in advance. This is actually more one of those things where you'd rather they just called you up one day after 2 years and said, "alright, time to go home." I've begun to reflect on how my mission has affected me to this point, and what kind of a difference I can still endeavor to effect in myself and those around me with the time that I have left.
A few days ago, during one of these moments of reflection, I failed to recognize something important. I began to let off some stress as I talked with my companion in companionship study, and told him how it felt knowing what you have left and wondering if what you've done has really been worth anything. There have been poor choices among those people that I've worked with throughout my mission, and they seem to be failing to hold on to the joy that they had when they chose to follow the Lord. In my frustration, I told my companion that I didn't want to leave my mission being that missionary who says, "Everybody has their agency, but hey look at you, at least you're better now." I told him that I didn't want to come to Hong Kong for me, but I wanted to come for everybody who needed God. I looked back and saw how much of my life has just been me, me, me, all the time. Even with all the success we're having now, for a small moment I felt worthless. I don't want anything to be about me anymore. I want my life to be about everybody else.
A scripture came to mind. "For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it: and whosoever loseth his life for my sake shall find it." (Matthew16:25). I see now, through experience, that when our life is about ourselves, it is a lot less meaningful than when it is about everyone else. The Savior gave his life a ransom for many, and completed the most selfless act of kindness that only a perfect being could, which is to atone for the sins of mankind. I realized the things that continue to change in me as I serve the Lord are the desires of my heart. Think of how infinite, eternal, and magnifiscent our desires are when they are not limited to only ourselves! When we lose our lives for the Lord, we begin to follow His example. We begin to forget ourselves and only care about everyone around us. It is so simple, but it is one of the most profound fruits of my labor as a missionary. The desires of our hearts are the beginning of real change and eternal growth. I believe that when we knock on the doorway to heaven, we'll be asked by an all-knowing and all-loving Savior not about how many points we got in the game of life, but rather about the desires of our hearts and how we acted upon them. We will be given according to our desires, and I can testify that we find true joy when our desires are rooted in selflessness.
I have very little time, but I have a short experience I'd like to share.
3 weeks ago, shortly after I began training Elder Young, I felt burdened with the pressures of helping a new missionary become as powerful and effective as possible in the least amount of time. We were sitting on the double decker bus going back to Siu Sai Wan in our area, and I was exhausted out of my mind. I had been intending to take the bus all the way to the end of the route to get some sufficient shut-eye while it lasted, when all the sudden the pressure of keeping my companion always on his toes and being an example of diligence came over my mind with enough intensity that I rubbed open my blood-shot eyes and grumbled to Elder Young, "Ok, let's get off here." I didn't know why I really needed to get off the bus until the first person we talked to was a woman in her 40's who stopped to talk with us. Her name is Carmen. She said that she'd been praying with her son a lot, but she didn't like any of the Christian churches she had associated with before because she felt like they were fake or in it for the money. She didn't like sharing her special experiences about God with people that she felt wouldn't appreciate it. It was a short contact in which we exchanged numbers, and Elder Young and I both felt impressed that the person we had just met was very important.
For the past 3 weeks since meeting her, we'd scheduled her twice but she ended up not being available. We still felt good about her, and finally we met with her this past Friday. When she met with us, she invited us to her home and began to share with us that ever since she'd met us on the street, she's been praying more with her son and telling her family that they need to meet us to learn more about God. She said she used to always ignore church people, but in order to prove to us that she trusted us, she took us to her home (which is a HUGE gesture of trust in Hong Kong). She said that she had had heart surgery twice and that she told God if she lived through it, she'd do anything. She's married with a 10 year old son. She said that she could see the innocence and sincerity in our eyes, and when she was "warned" about us by other family members, she didn't listen. She believes that with all the experiences and events that have occurred in her life up to this point, she believes that God has sent us to her to tell her what she needs to do to follow Him and Jesus Christ, and that she really wants to join our church with her son.
Of course, Elder Young and I were blown away at this announcement and also the several spiritual experiences that she shared with us. As we shared our experiences together, it became evident that she recognized us as servants of the Lord. I know that the feeling to get off that bus was a prompting from the Holy Spirit to find Carmen. It was so sudden, and although it initially felt like an almost annoying reminder from the Lord to be diligent, it was also a divine arrangement to meet a precious soul the Lord has been long preparing to receive the true gospel of Jesus Christ. We told her that learning the gospel is a family affair, and something that can be a huge blessing to our families. So she invited us to come over later this week for dinner with her husband and her son.
I have prayed hard daily to find families, and have come home many days feeling very empty-handed. But we have been diligent in our prayers and the offering of our patience, diligence, obedience and faith in the Lord. I am a witness that it always pays off in the end, that the Lord listens to our prayers, and He knows the thoughts, desires, and intents of our hearts. If we are faithful, He will always fulfil His promises to us.