Monday, September 8, 2014
Sister Franks in the Philippines - September 7, 2014
I don't know why starting this is always the hardest part. Maybe because I still feel like I just emailed not that long ago (true). Time goes so fast, of course, but don't worry, lots has happened since I last wrote.
Firstly, we had MLC (Mission Leadership Council) on Friday. It was a little different than usual, but because of STL tsismis ("gossip"), we knew why. Our mission goal for the year of 2014 was to have 100 baptisms a month (compared to the average of 50/month last year). Of course, we care about a lot more than just baptisms (we aren't here to convince people to join the Church or to just add to our numbers) but we know that baptism by proper priesthood authority is a sacred covenant and ordinance necessary for exaltation in the Celestian Kingdom of God, and is one indication of how successful we are in fulfilling our purpose to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive His restored gospel. The mission has been working on a lot of things this year to reach that goal: improving our individual obedience to be worthy of the Spirit, improving our teaching skills, developing and learning to exercise our Faith in Christ, and better understanding the power and authority of our calling as His representatives. During the first half of the year, we had an average of about 75-80 baptisms a month. The month of August was the first that we actually reached (exceeded) our goal--reaching 124 baptisms! 124 precious souls, our brothers and sisters, who have gained a personal testimony of the Savior and the restoration of His gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith, and made the covenant to honor and follow the Savior throughout their mortal and eternal life. :) To celebrate this groundbreaking occurrence, President and Sister Revillo decided to do something different for MLC. In the morning we did all the regular discussion things, the trainings and workshops, then we took a picture (on the mission Facebook probably, if any of you have found that), loaded up in some vans and went out to lunch at a fancy buffet, then to a park/zoo in Pasig to play games and explore. Though I was sad that it didn't feel like MLC (not quite as spiritually filling as I am used to), it was a lot of fun. Especially getting to bond with the other missionaries that I've never had the chance to serve in the same zone with. The best part, though, was bonding with President Revillo (he played all the games with us). It was so fun because he is usually very formal and professional (of course, as our leader), but he has a great personality and with the missionary leaders he readily opened up and showed his fun-loving, fatherly self. :) It struck me how much he really loves and trusts us; like we are his own kids and he just wanted to do something special for us to celebrate the happy occasion. 14 months after our initial meeting, I am finally learning to see President Revillo as a real person, a friend, and not an intimidating power figure. #progress
One thing I kept thinking about during MLC is something that came up in our Stake Conference a few weeks ago regarding Hastening the Work of Salvation (not sure if I shared this already. Sorry if it's a repeat). It occurred to me that "Hastening" doesn't just mean improving our own teaching skills as missionaries or working harder, or longer, or more efficiently, or with more energy. There have been thousands of incredible missionaries before us who have done all of that. We are here to CHANGE THE CULTURE of missionary work. We are here to renovate the whole process. We aren't here just to involve members in missionary work; we are here to make members INTO missionaries (so they can do the work on their own, alongside us). The Assistants kept saying during their workshop in MLC that "there are only two of us in an area...there are only two of us in an area..." Having the help of the members is the only way to change that. I'm still not 100% sure I know HOW to accomplish that, but I hope as I continue to study and apply the guidance from PMG and other mission resources, the Spirit will be able to tutor me in that area. :) I really need to master it to the best of my ability during the short time I have left though, because I will only have one "transfer" (6 weeks) in the branch in the Soo when I get back to apply everything before I leave for college. More and more, I really feel like a major reason I was supposed to come on this mission was so that I personally could learn how to be a missionary, and realize all that I need to do to help the Church grow at home.
Another thing I was thinking about during my personal study on Saturday morning is the principle of our personal conversion. They say that the best way to know if you understand a concept is to try to teach it clearly to someone else. We used to talk about that a lot when I was a tutor at BYU--we need to understand the topic inside and out to be able to teach it in different ways according to the needs of the students we are helping. I realized that probably, that is a major reason (if not one of the main reasons) why the Lord sends us young people to serve missions. Honestly, we don't really know that much, and salvation is a big deal--it is a big thing to entrust to a group of "kids"--but the Lord sees more than we do and He knows that the way we learn the Gospel here on the mission, especially how we learn to live it (teach others the doctrine, inviting them to live it, promising blessings from obedience, and testifying of the truth of what we teach), helps us understand and internalize it in a way that casually living the Gospel as a member of the Church never would. Of course there are many members who never serve full-time missions who are able to become fully converted to the Gospel, but I believe that even those members are involved in missionary work in some form or another, whether within or outside the Church. There is just something transformative about giving of yourself in the service of others. I don't know what it is, but basically, I am just so grateful that the Lord arranged things in my life to get me to come on a mission. Only here have I come to realize the importance of all that we do. And as Elder Crowther (one of my zone leaders) mentioned in our conversation after MLC, the Lord expects a lot more from us members of the Church than we often realize. He expects us not just to live the commandments. He expects consecration of EVERYTHING, including our time, talents, and TESTIMONIES (i.e. sharing them!).
The work in our area is still going great. Brother R.J. is still one of my favorite investigators and is rapidly progressing in his testimony and preparation for baptism. It is so fun to teach him every week and see how much he loves what he is learning, and how his understanding is enlightened through the power of the Holy Ghost. :) He truly is one of the Elect of God. I am so excited for his baptism and their eventual sealing next year! He has taught me so much about treasuring the many simple but profound Gospel truths that I have so often taken for granted. Yesterday, he taught us the Plan of Salvation (that is how our lessons usually go with him--we just ask a few questions and he shares what he learned in his study....he is so great!), and said that it blew his mind when he first learned that we didn't just come "from our mothers." We actually lived as spirits before we came to this world. We lived with our Heavenly Father, as His spirit children, alongside our brother and future Savior, Jesus Christ. We were all given agency, or freedom to choose, and were taught how to be righteous. A plan was presented in which we could come to earth, gain a body (to become like our Father), gain experience and be tested. We knew all that we would go through, that we would make mistakes and eventually die, but we also knew that our Father would provide a way--a Savior--for us to be able to overcome both Sin and Death. Every one of us used our agency to choose whether to follow this plan. Those who had Faith in Jesus Christ and chose to follow Him (ALL OF US HERE ON EARTH) were blessed to receive a chance here in mortality. For R.J., this was all new knowledge. He had never been told anything about a life before this life. Seeing things from an eternal perspective, getting a taste of this new and additional knowledge, was like a new favorite dessert. He just couldn't get over how wonderful it was. Hearing his explanation of the Plan of Salvation felt like listening to a kid describe his favorite movie or TV show---so excited about every plot twist, and the genius of it all! It was definitely a very humbling experience for me and a great reminder of how blessed I am to have the knowledge I have.
I am almost out of time so I will just close by saying that I have the greatest companion ever! Sister Faka'osi is so sweet and kind and humble and patient and loving---I woke up on Friday morning (at 4:30am, mind you) to get ready to go to MLC and found breakfast waiting for me on the table. She is just like that though. Always looking for opportunities to serve. She's such a great example, and I am determined to be a great companion in return. :)
That is all for now! I love you all and miss you and pray for you always! Hope you have a great week!!
Sister Emma Franks