It was another wonderful week.
Are you sick of me saying that? :)
I guess it's really just a matter of perspective. I was looking back on earlier emails from Wichita Falls and recognizing that I used to admit when certain weeks were hard, but now it's just a matter of perspective. We can't afford to get too down in the dumps if something hard happens because it wastes too much time, and it causes us to dwindle in unbelief. If we really trust God, it's hard to assume that anything that happened was an accident. And I've started to see patterns. Anything that we perceive as bad always ends up well in the end. This truly is the Lord's work.
But with all that being said, it really was a marvelous week.
Last week, we met a sweet girl named Shiyun or "Shi" for short (Pronounced "She"). She [or Shi, whichever you prefer] lives in our apartment complex and just moved here from mainland China. She goes to school at the community college across the street and we met her while doing service at the Christmas Connection, a free department store for people with financial needs. I've had very few experiences teaching people who don't believe in God, but Shi was the first person I'd taught, especially in Oklahoma, who didn't have any understanding or knowledge of who God or Jesus Christ were whatsoever.
Sister Garner and I were baffled as we planned for her because the Gospel can either be complex or it can be simple. But teaching her about God, you have to teach her about her purpose in life. And teaching her about Jesus Christ, you have to teach about Adam and Eve, you have to teach about WHY we need a savior, you have to teach about the commandments and their attached blessings. So what seems simple to us becomes complex in no time.
But the most important part of teaching is the spirit. We've come to that conclusion over, and over, and over again. Especially this week.
And as we taught basic truths to Shi in her living room, she tried to find words in her limited vocabulary of how she felt. I thought the words she used were thought-provoking. "I feel warm. Moved. Inspired." That's how the Gospel makes me feel too. We brought Conor with us and he was able to explain the spirit. He was able to explain how it feels to go from kind of feeling the spirit, but not identifying it as such, and knowing that the spirit testifies of truth.
Then we taught Shi how to pray. Shi/e offered up a powerful, peaceful prayer. Her first prayer ever. I tried to hide my tears, but there's something so sweet about hearing someone talk to their Father in Heaven for the first time, especially as resolutely and inquisitively as she did.
We had a lot of wonderful teaching experiences this week, and most of them really forced me to rack my brain. On Tuesday, we taught Vania and Rob and their friend Mike again in their living room. They have so much knowledge about the Bible, that their questions have a tendency to bombard the dynamic. But I've been in situations where it feels like people are trying to defend their faith and disprove ours, Vania's questions aren't that way at all. She sincerely has a desire to learn and know if this is true.
She explained it to us last night, "This has eternal consequences. If what you're teaching me is true, I want to know it, because it's the difference between salvation and damnation, and I want to teach my children the truth!" Then she started to tear up. She has such a desire to know that it's true. But she's struggling to unlearn the things that she's known her whole life as a protestant and replace them with what we're teaching her. So the Godhead, prophets, eternal families, these are all such foreign concepts to her, and the challenge has been to help her set aside knowledge and focus on faith.
Yesterday, Vania came to church, and after church she and her husband and their five kids came over to our Bishop's house, who has six kids, and we all ate dinner and had a lesson in their home. It was noisy, but it was powerful. Our Bishop has a general authority demeanor about him, I guess you could also call that the spirit. ;) And our lesson went all over the place. Their questions are so deep and the vocabulary we use is completely different than that which they are used to, everything from the light of Christ to testimony to grace to et cetera et cetera et cetera...
Finally, it was evident that they need to pray about Joseph Smith. If a person can get a spiritual witness that Joseph Smith was a prophet, everything we teach makes sense. Baptists believe that if you believe that the Bible is the word of God, then you can believe that everything in it is true. This is no different. If we can help someone receive an answer as to whether or not Joseph Smith was called of God to restore His church, then they can't deny that it IS God's church, and that He still loves and speaks to us today.
I love being able to look from the outside at people's lives and see the Lord's hand in their lives. It's a special ability we have as missionaries to recognize God's presence in the lives of others, even when they struggle to recognize it themselves.
I know that this is The Church of Jesus Christ. The church that, if you actually try it out, if you actually live by its standards, you can know that it is true. And there is no other way to know it. Until you see that His Atonement can change you through living advanced and higher commandments, it is hard to recognize that those elevated commandments are from God, given to us for the enhancement of our lives. The Spirit has testified to me too many times that this is His church, that He governs it, and that it teaches the principles of eternal life.
66 ¶From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
This is, alongside Peter, my testimony. I believe and am sure that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God. And that he still offers us the words of eternal life. When we study them and gain them for ourselves, it is a path to eternal bliss and blessings. I love you all. So much. So much.