The following is a letter that our oldest son wrote to his younger brother who is currently serving a full time LDS mission in Tampa Florida. Michael (our eldest son) served his mission in Sydney Australia between 2009-2011. Elder Nelson sent a request to his older brother for advice regarding the ups and downs of the mission. This was Michael's reply.
Elder Nelson,I have been thinking a lot about your email. Both your emails actually (the one you sent to the family and the one you sent directly to me). Your emails are always uplifting and thought provoking. First, I want to clarify what you want advice on. Is it simply that you feel like you are NOT continually progressing as a missionary? Is it that you feel some days are good and some days are not? Is it that you feel like you are not successful as a missionary? Is it that you are feeling inadequate about your new calling as a zone leader? And maybe struggling with juggling(cool rhyme alert) being a zone leader and still keeping up with your own area? Or all of the above?! Let's pretend it is all of the above and we'll go from there.
(I prayed that I would have the spirit as I replied to your email. I have faith the Lord will give me the words to say.)
WARNING: This email will be long. I hope you can return to it throughout the rest of your mission.
Someone once told me that your mission is a foreshadowing for the rest of your life. This goes hand in hand with "your mission should not be the best two years OF your life but FOR your life." This means, who you are as a full time missionary should tell you a lot about who you will be for the rest of eternity. On your mission you are building a foundation of SELF. You want to create a steadfast and immovable foundation of a disciple of Christ with a clear vision of your mission and calling because HIS mission becomes YOUR mission. I believe the mission is like a "boost button" on your personal pathway to your divine potential. This of course comes from the most crucial conversion story of your mission--yours. As you now know conversion is not one single moment in your life. It is a continual process. A refining process. Where are you at with your conversion? If you are struggling with trials and adversity, how are you using them to carry you forward in your conversion process?
What was one of the most important teachings that the prophet Lehi taught us in the Book of Mormon about the Plan of Salvation? In 2 Nephi he writes- "For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, it must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility." I think the most important thing we can learn from this scripture is that without opposition RIGHTEOUSNESS COULD NOT BE BROUGHT TO PASS NOR HOLINESS. For us to truly understand joy we must understand sorrow. This is not to say that we should look for sorrow and then expect joy, life will take care of that for us. But, we must understand that we are spiritual beings having a mortal/temporal experience. Perhaps, in these difficult times our spirits are crying out for peace and solitude that we desperately miss from the Premortal Existence but we must understand that we asked to come here and that we understood that we would have to be tried and tested to be able to return to live with our Heavenly Father and to become as He is.
In other words expect to have bad days. Think of Alma and the Sons of Mosiah. Do you think every day they witnessed baptisms and success? They spent years proselyting until they saw success. Also, think about the Lord's ministry. The Master Teacher. Do you think everyday of his ministry was fruitful? He explained this himself with the Parable of the Sower. Sometimes the seed falls among fertile soil but sometimes it falls among thorns, rocks and dry ground.
One of mine and Megan's favorite scriptures is Alma 26:27 "Now when our hearts were depressed and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success."
2. Feeling like a successful missionary
This was one of my favorite things to talk about in Zone Meetings while I was a Zone Leader. Preach My Gospel gives us wonderful insight about the criteria of a "successful" missionary. In chapter 1 of My Purpose it says, "Your success as a missionary is measured primarily by your COMMITMENT to find, teach, baptize, and confirm people to help them become faithful members of the Church who enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost." This was especially comforting in a mission like mine where some missionaries went their whole mission without baptizing one person. The same goes for Megan's mission. I know that in missions like Russia and Italy many missionaries go two years without seeing one person get baptized.
My last three transfers I had to opportunity to train Elder Vaivela. I was humbled by the experience to train, especially someone who was so new to the gospel. It also caused me to have great anxiety that we had not baptized one person the first two transfers. In fact we did not really have any progressing investigators. We were teaching one tongan guy who was cousins with some of members and we taught him the lessons. When we asked him if he would be baptized we found out he was already a member. We had been told otherwise before teaching him. At first I felt like I had failed. I had failed to provide Elder Vaivela with the rich blessing of witnessing a son or daughter of our Heavenly Father be baptized in the Restored Church. However, later on I thought of the progress we had made with this wayward, less active son of our Heavenly Father. We had helped him to truly understand the Restoration of the Gospel and we also helped him to quit smoking. Although we had not helped him to be baptized we had helped him to be converted. And isn't that what it is all about?
You can imagine how ecstatic I was when we found Jay Nathan. We spent countless hours contacting. Most of our days were spent contacting on the streets and then visiting less actives. We fasted and prayed for someone to teach. I was at the end of my mission. Elder Vaivela was just starting. We still had not baptized one person. It was the last two weeks of my mission when we gave Jay Nathan a pass-a-long card. She was very standoffish and she did not seem interested. We received a text from her a couple days later. At first I thought Elder McConkie was pranking us because the text was too perfect. She said something like, "Hey, is it too late to learn about God? I am not in a good place and I want to be happy. Can you teach me?" I was like YEEEAAAAAAHHHHH! But really I was so excited. We met her and the first lesson went okay. She did not like to be asked questions during the lesson. She was very shy and she seemed to be a little embarrassed to be sitting at a park bench with two missionaries when we first taught her. We left her with a commitment and told her we would meet with her a couple days later. We followed up on our commitment and she had done everything we asked and more. We gave her 3 Nephi 11 to read and she read a few more chapters too. We asked what she liked about what she read and she recounted the story of the Lord visiting the Lamanites very well. We asked if she had prayed and she said she had. We asked if she got an answer and she said, "I know it is true." We invited her to be baptized and she said YES! I was on cloud 9. I truly felt like Ammon when he said, "my joy is full, yea my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God(Alma 26:11)." Jay was baptized on my last saturday and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on my last sunday. I left the next day.
I believe my joy was so intense because I had remained faithful and diligent through this great trial of patience and perseverance. "bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success."
I am not gonna lie I was discouraged at times. I learned to fight discouragement because discouragement is Satan's favorite tool to break down our Faith. It is our faith that gives us power.
This scripture also motivated me 2Nephi 31:20 - "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, ye must press forward, feasting upon the words of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."
3. Being a Zone Leader
I was literally a Zone Leader for half of my mission. 12 months exactly if I remember right. I'll be honest, being a Zone Leader was one of my favorite things about my mission. I learned to love my fellow missionaries and to desire their success as well as my own. In fact as a zone leader (as a leader in any stewardship) I learned that I needed to put the success of those I lead above my own. "He who is the greatest among you, let him be your servant." This was hard at times especially when my mission president was encouraging us to have an "example" area for the rest of our zone. I learned to exercise my faith because it was only the Lord that could bring to pass the miracles necessary for our area to thrive and be an example area as my mission president desired. Time after time I saw miracles in my own area as I put my zone's area's first.
I have more to say but Elder Bednar says it better than me. For the sake of time I won't expound my thoughts but listen to Elder Bednar's talk from conference. He talks about Alma and his brethren asking the Lord to ease their burdens. They were slaves to the Lamanites. Did the Lord take their burdens from them? No. "He did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease and they did submit cheerfully."
Also read Elder Bednar's talk called "The strengthening and enabling power of the Atonement" This talk changed me as a missionary and played a HUGE part in shaping me into the man that I am today.
4. Continually progressing
This email has gone on long enough so I won't spend much time on this vast topic of progressing. I just want to make one point. While I was in Alaska I had a lot of time to ponder on my mission and discover more about myself. I read one of Neal A. Maxwell's books (I can't remember the name and his books are SO hard to read because he is a genius) and there was one sentence that has stayed with me. He said, "It is the plateaus of life that allow us to ponder on how far we have come." Whenever I think I am not progressing or I am looking for reassurance I remember that sentence. I think of how I was before my mission, who I was on my mission and who I am now. After that all I can do is express my gratitude for all the miracles and blessings the Lord has showered on me. And after I sincerely express my gratitude to the Lord I feel peace in where I am. I think we don't express our Gratitude for the Lord enough. They also addressed that in Conference. The Lord made it a commandment to express our gratitude to Him. Why? Because he knew it would only strengthen and comfort us.
That must be why the Lord says REMEMBER so many times in the Book of Mormon.
Finally, I want to say that Abinadi has always been my favorite Book of Mormon prophet. The way he laid down his life for the Lord and how he stood up to the wicked King Noah. I mean he had a Hammer Time moment! "Can't touch this..." One of the most inspiring things about his story is that he did not witness one conversion. Neverthelss, Alma heard his words and believed. And look what happened. Thousands were baptized because of Abinadi's unwavering testimony.
Love you Elder,