Monday, January 27, 2014

Week 24 - Back to Basics

Aloha friends and family! Also friends of family, or family of friends...whoever reads this!
A lot has been happening here in the Honoka'a Ward on the Big Island of Hawaii. We have the first baptism in about 8 months in our ward set up for this saturday and a lot of our other investigators are progressing well also! You could really say we're seeing miracles, and the ward recognizes that as well. They keep telling us how they're gonna call our mission president and ask him to keep us both here for the rest of our missions.
But in the middle of all these things that are happening, there's one subject I wanted to talk to everyone about, and that's going back to the basics. This, as you might've guessed, includes your typical primary answers: going to church, reading your scriptures, praying at least every morning and night, and going to the temple.
I'm going to share two examples with you that I've seen over this past week of people who do these things, and who don't. There's this lady, her name is Auntie Kipi. She used to be one of the strongest members in the ward. She was the primary president, seminary teacher, and the main person over genealogy work in our ward. She also worked at the temple twice a week. She had such a strong testimony, but over time she stopped doing these basic things. She stopped reading her scriptures, then stopped praying, then was referred to anti-mormon literature by her "friend". Because she didn't do those basic things, when she read this stuff, she didn't have a strong enough foundation to withstand it. You could say every time she didn't read, didn't pray, skipped church, she moved her house from a rock foundation to a sandy one. And when the rains came down, her house washed away. She now doesn't even come to church and won't talk to anyone in the church or have anything to do with it.
The second story is a lot happier. This is the story about our with date, Haunani. She has been an investigator for about 5 months and has made an incredible change over that time period. At the beginning, she'd blow off appointments, and never keep her commitments. But when I came in, my companion and I continually challenged her to read from the Book of Mormon every day, taught her how to pray, and eventually she accepted the invitation to come to church! As she did these things and strengthened her foundation, she had a complete change of heart, and has been able to withstand the many floods of temptations that have been thrown her way. The gospel has had such a profound impact on her. She gave up smoking and drinking, re-established contact with her parents who she hadn't talked to in years, and broke up with her boyfriend, who she depended on for almost everything. But what she always tells us is "I know the Lord will bless me if I give everything up to follow Him." She knows that even though things are hard right now, it's all going to be worth it in the end. And the reason that she has that faith, and that strength to press on is because she does these basic things and daily strengthens her foundation.
I know sometimes it's hard and these things seem tedious or boring, but it really is through small and simple means that the Lord brings about great miracles. I hope we can all revert back to basics so when the rains and the floods come, we'll be firmly anchored on the rock of Christ!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Week 23 - WARNING: Spiritual Feast Enclosed

This week was a good week. We set records for member present lessons in our area, and got a bunch of new investigators, then to top it off, we got to go the the temple today! I really wish I would've had the desire to go to the temple like I do now when I was back home. As missionaries, we only get to go every other transfer, so it's a real privilege and kinda a big deal when we get to go to the house of the Lord! My favorite part is sitting in the Celestial Room. It's such a peaceful place and the spirit is so strong there. We pray for our investigators and seek revelation on how we can better help the work progress in our areas. It's awesome!
I really wanted to focus my letter this week though, on a conversation we had with a member last night at our dinner appointment. We got into talking about choices, and how important it is to make the right ones, especially because we have the knowledge of the gospel. Then he talked about how lucky we are to have that knowledge and be able to share it with people in this life, and the next. After a while, I told him living the gospel is hard sometimes, and then asked basically "Why do we have to live the gospel and keep the commandments, when there's other people who can do whatever they want in this life, then just accept the gospel in the spirit world and receive exaltation as well". Then he gave me the most spiritual dinner conversation I think I've ever had.
He went on to tell us how he had been less-active for 21 years because he got caught up in the things of the world. He figured it was more fun to not live the gospel. He said the whole time, he didn't recognize what he was missing until his daughter dragged him back to church one day. He said he sat in the back of the chapel, hungover, with sunglasses and a polo shirt on. But the spirit he felt there reminded him of why he used to go to church. He said every song, prayer, and testimony that was given, felt like it was meant just for him. However, he said that it was almost as if there were walls or as it mentions in the scriptures "shackles" preventing him from fully partaking of the spirit that he yearned to feel. He could feel the Holy Ghost, but not with the intensity, or in the way that he wanted to. He said he attributes it to his past choices, in choosing to stray away. He told us that even today, after he's worked so hard to build up his spirituality, he'll just remember something of his past life, then all that building up will be torn down, and he'll have to start from square one again. He said he feels like, even though in the spirit world they can accept the gospel, they'll have those same hindrances, slowing down their eternal progression.
A question I always hear from converts in the areas I've served in over here in Hawaii is "Were you born in the church?" When I tell them yes, every time the answer is "You're so lucky". I guess my membership in the church my entire life is something that I take for granted a lot. Once someone is truly converted, like these people, they see the joy and blessings that come from living the gospel, and wish they could've had this their entire lives. We really should be thankful for what God has blessed us with. I think that in the pre-mortal life, it was such an honor, and privilege to be selected by our Heavenly Father to be born and raised in his one true church restored on this earth.
The member continued to say that choosing worldly things is like sliding down a hill. It's fun sliding down, but difficult climbing back up. He pleaded with us to always stay strong, and never let yourself fall into the mindset of thinking you're strong enough to handle temptation "just this one time". He said he admired Gordon B. Hinckley so much because every time he talked about his mission, he didn't mention the number of converts he had, he only talks about how his mission converted him. Then from that true conversion, he was able to go on to eventually become a prophet of God, and his example, leadership, and firm testimony has brought millions to the knowledge of the truthfulness of the gospel.
I'm so thankful for this knowledge and truth that I have in my life, and I consider it such a blessing and privilege to be a member of this church. I know it's not always easy, but by being fully converted, we can do so much good and help so many others. I think of temple work, and how rewarding it's going to be to get to the other side of the veil, and have thousands of people coming up to me and thanking me for doing for them what they couldn't do for themselves. And I just think how much better my life is, because of this truth which I have in it.
And this is all possible through our Savior. I'll never forget our member looking at us through tear-filled eyes and telling us over and over, how thankful he is for Christ and how much he owes to Him.
I love you all and hope you're able to recognize how lucky you are to have the gospel in your lives.
-Elda Merrill

Monday, January 13, 2014

Week 22 - Aloha from Hawaii

This week was really good for us as missionaries. We had our area 70 and our mission president come do a fireside for the stake on hastening the work. There was the broadcast back in July, but not much has happened since then and members haven't really been doing much as far as helping missionary work progress in their area goes. So this fireside was sort of a wake-up call for the members to help the missionaries. They told the stake the full-time missionaries are there to help them in missionary work, not to do all of it by themselves. They shared some really good almost motivational videos then talked about how if you really love and care about someone, you'd want to share the gospel with them even more because you desire for them to receive the blessings and happiness having the gospel in your life has brought you. President Warner also talked about how when you receive a prompting from the spirit, you usually have about a five second window to share that prompting before it's gone, or the conversation has moved on. You have to be in tune with the spirit and willing to share it in the moment it's given you. 
He shared a story about a senior missionary in our mission who met a person on the street who agreed to meet with the senior couple and accept a Book of Mormon. The senior couple went to the library where they had decided to meet, and waited for an hour, but the guy never showed up. They got up to walk out the door, Book of Mormon in hand, and walked past the librarian. As they passed him, he called out to the missionary "What've you got there?" The missionary instantly replied "a history book" The librarian said he loved history and asked if he could read that book. The missionary gave him the book, shared with him a little about the history of it, then invited him to read and pray about it. The missionary said he has never introduced, or even thought of the Book of Mormon as a history book, but in that moment, that's what the spirit gave him and that's what that man needed to hear.
In addition to this fireside, we had one of two missionaries from our little ward return home. He was a super solid missionary, and gave a great homecoming talk, urging the members to more actively participate in missionary work. 
With the fireside and a still on-fire returned missionary, things are starting to pick up for our Honoka'a ward. We have members calling us to go out with us whenever they have free time. We'll get a phone call saying: "Elders I've got some people we need to go see, come pick me up in 15 minutes" I think members really are the key to missionary work. They're the ones who can make the relationship and connections with the local people here, and they also know those who might be ready to hear the gospel.
My old companion was from an island, and he told a story I like to relate to missionary work. He said the first time his dad took him out fishing, he drove their boat out a ways into the water, then stopped, and looked around with his hand over his eye. My companion asked "Dad, why are you looking up? The fish are under the water" His dad payed him no mind. My companion dropped his line, but caught no fish. Then suddenly, his dad started up the engine and jetted off. He was driving right toward a flock of birds flying around on top of the water. He cut the engine, dropped his line, and immediately started catching fish. The birds knew where the fish were.
I think this is the same with members and missionary work. The full-time missionaries are the fishermen looking for fish. But the ocean is so big, it's almost impossible to catch a fish without the birds(members) to direct you to where the fish are.
I'm so grateful for loving members who care enough about their friends to share the gospel with them! I hope you all have a great week, and remember to share what matters most to you, with who matters most to you. Jeramman!
-Elder Merrill