Yubelkis was baptized this past weekend! It was a miracle! Oh my goodness, I love her so much. I have been waiting for this moment for the past three months! What a beautiful and special service. After she was actually baptized, we were waiting for her at the bottom of the steps with her towel. She had the biggest smile on her face. We asked her how she felt, and as she replied, tears filled my eyes. She said, "I just feel so happy. Finally, I'm able to feel this … really feel it. This is the best day of my life." I wouldn't trade anything for that moment. The most rewarding, amazing way to bring these 18 months to a close. The past year and a half has been the most satisfying and priceless experience.
I was reading in the New Testament where it says: "I have fought a good a fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4)
I can't believe this is all ending next week, but I also know this is just the beginning. This mission has been a training for me; a training that has prepared me for whatever life will bring.
Yesterday we had Concilio. I always love meeting with the leaders of the mission and learning from them. They are all so incredible, but often good things must come to an end. It was my last meeting, and I was the only one out of the whole meeting what is going home this transfer. They asked me if I could go up, bear my testimony and share what the Lord has taught me throughout this sacred 18 months. Here are some of the things I shared and would like to share with each of you:
THE LORD HAS TAUGHT ME …
Whether or not they admit it, or no matter what people say … EVERYONE has the desire to love and be loved. I have learned to see people as God sees them; to see their worth and their potential. I have learned to love those that no one else loves … notice those who go unnoticed, serve those with feeble knees and hands that hang down … who have NEVER receive a helping hand in their life.
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
We love him, because he first loved us.
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (1 John 4:18-20)
Perfect love casteth out all fear. Faith and fear cannot coexist. Love is the essence of this gospel. Do we have faith? Do we have a perfect love for these people? Then if so, we will not fear. We need to be courageous. We cannot be afraid as missionaries. This work needs fearless and faithful messengers of Christ.
There are no such thing as atheists. Everyone wants to believe in something. They know that there has to be something more. For one reason or another they have just lost all hope. We are all born with the Light of Christ and are able to feel His blessings and love. We are the ones who push Him out of our lives. There are so many prepared souls, waiting and longing to hear this great message.
"Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work." (Alma 26:15)
"That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day." (D&C 50:24)
He has taught me to recognize the darkness; that there is a very real force out there. We have to recognize it. No matter what, Christ's light can never be dimmed. If he is on our side, neither will our light be dimmed. We all have this light and we can either brighten it or diminish it. It is a light that swallows the darkness, heals our wounds, and blazes even in the midst of the deepest sorrow and unfathomable darkness. All good things come from God. We will be able to notice the difference, but we have to be worthy of the Spirit to be able to detect it. He has taught me that being worthy of the Spirit is one of our biggest blessings and brings the greatest peace. "Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly, then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God."
The gospel changes people from the inside out, both sinners and saints. Even if I thought I was doing good, there is so much more that is needed to improve and change. It's that whole "good, better and best" thing. I feel like I finally know what the “best” is for me, specifically. Now I just have to put it into action. I don't even remember what I was like before my mission. I feel like I didn't know anything back then … I didn't know what I was doing, where I was going or even, at times, didn't truly know who I was. The mission didn't need me … I needed the mission.
I have learned that anything that isn't eternal or of eternal significance, isn't worth my time. Things like the gospel, families, covenants, the Atonement, etc. are everlasting, and are the things that really matter. If it's not eternal, I don't want it in my life.
I am a daughter of God. He has taught me that fact in a most real and intimate way, a way that is much deeper than I have ever experienced before.
My mission has become Holy Ground for me … a state of higher thinking, living life on a holier plane. Both my mission and Spain are so sacred to me.
Miracles exist! They exist! Each and every day! As missionaries, we have every right to make daily miracles our reality. So much depends on our faith and diligence.
The Lord has taught me to be humble.
There is necessity in prayer. It has never been so real, so needed and so easy in my life. It is that sacred opportunity to talk one-on-one with our Maker. He wants to hear from us and He is always listening. He cares about you and knows the silent, unspoken prayers of your heart.
I have learned to be patient with others because I know how patient God is with me.
I am in control of my own life. Happiness, true happiness, is a choice. We need to choose it and live it every day. We can't control others or the majority of the things that happen around us, but we are the architects of our lives. Create that happiness within yourself.
This is a work and a glory far beyond what we could ever possibly imagine. I have stood all amazed, each and every day of my mission; in awe of the greatness of God.
His wounds heal mine. I have come to understand the reality of my Savior and the power of the Atonement. I have felt it in my life each and every day. He has purified and molded me into the person I was born to be. We need Him. We represent Him. We are his disciples to feed His sheep.
Progression and Repentance are the same. Repentance simply means changing and trying to be better and better every day. We don't have to be perfect, we just have to be good at getting better. It's a daily process; we must endure to the end each day. It doesn't mean we are going to be perfect, we all have our weaknesses, but we just aren't going to fall as hard or sink as deep. We will pick ourselves up, and go into the next trial stronger and stronger, until we finally conquer those weaknesses. We will learn over time, so don't let it immobilize you.
Obedience is a blessing, and being obedient doesn’t hold us back, it frees us. Because of Christ's obedience to the Father, we can receive eternal life. I am obedient because I want to be, not because someone is just telling me what to do. "If ye love me, keep my commandments”. Obedience shows our true love for Him.
This gospel is all about 2nd chances. It changes us from the inside out and shines in our countenance. It can soften any heart, can change any life and save any soul. It's that real.
No matter how far we go, He is always RIGHT there.
If you are reading and praying every day, you will never lose your testimony. It can't go stale.
I have come to understand God's plan, little by little, and accepted His will and been willing to change. Isn't it wonderful to know that God knows and understands us so perfectly? He grants the righteous desires of our hearts, in His perfect way and timing, even if we don't understand why or have to be patient. It just makes sense, and we need to trust him. Sometimes the path might seem a little foggy, but if we just have faith and take one step at a time … everything will be okay.
This race of discipleship is not a sprint; it’s a marathon, and it makes little difference how fast we go. In fact, the only way we can lose the race is by finally giving in or giving up. To die for the gospel is easy, but that's not what God needs. He needs people who will live for the gospel.
The Restoration will continue to roll forth … this is just the beginning. I know this is the greatest news that we could be declaring; at this time, in this place, with these people. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored and it will continue to roll forth forever and ever. He has showed me the Love of God. Because God loves us and we are His children, He has blessed us with all of these things!
There are angels on BOTH sides of the veil helping in this great cause to lift us up.
"I firmly believe and will go to my grave saying that missionaries never rise in their entire life above the stature they carve out for themselves in the mission field."
God trusts us. We are His children. We are the Lord's missionaries and His disciples. He blessed me by having me born into the church, because He knew I would say this:
"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me." (Isaiah 6:8)
One of my favorite talks ever was given by a modern day apostle of the Lord. Elder Jeffery R. Holland spoke about what happened with the Apostles, right after the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
"Then, after such a short time to learn and even less time to prepare, the unthinkable happened, the unbelievable was true. Their Lord and Master, their Counselor and King, was crucified. His mortal ministry was over, and the struggling little Church He had established seemed doomed to scorn and destined for extinction. His Apostles did witness Him in His resurrected state, but that only added to their bewilderment. As they surely must have wondered, ‘What do we do now?’ they turned for an answer to Peter, the senior Apostle.
Here I ask your indulgence as I take some nonscriptural liberty in my portrayal of this exchange. In effect, Peter said to his associates: ‘Brethren, it has been a glorious three years. None of us could have imagined such a few short months ago the miracles we have seen and the divinity we have enjoyed. We have talked with, prayed with, and labored with the very Son of God Himself. We have walked with Him and wept with Him, and on the night of that horrible ending, no one wept more bitterly than I. But that is over. He has finished His work, and He has risen from the tomb. He has worked out His salvation and ours. So you ask, ‘What do we do now?’ I don’t know more to tell you than to return to your former life, rejoicing. I intend to ‘go a fishing.’’ And at least six of the ten other remaining Apostles said in agreement, ‘We also go with thee.’ John, who was one of them, writes, ‘They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately.’
But, alas, the fishing wasn’t very good. Their first night back on the lake, they caught nothing--not a single fish. With the first rays of dawn, they disappointedly turned toward the shore, where they saw in the distance a figure who called out to them, ‘Children, have you caught anything?’ Glumly these Apostles-turned-again-fishermen gave the answer no fisherman wants to give. ‘We have caught nothing,’ they muttered, and to add insult to injury, they were being called ‘children.’
‘Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find,’ the stranger calls out--and with those simple words, recognition begins to flood over them. Just three years earlier these very men had been fishing on this very sea. On that occasion too they had ‘toiled all the night, and [had] taken nothing,’ the scripture says. But a fellow Galilean on the shore had called out to them to let down their nets, and they drew ‘a great multitude of fishes,’ enough that their nets broke, the catch filling two boats so heavily they had begun to sink.
Now it was happening again. These ‘children’, as they were rightly called, eagerly lowered their net, and ‘they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes’. John said the obvious: ‘It is the Lord.’ And over the edge of the boat, the irrepressible Peter leaped.
After a joyful reunion with the resurrected Jesus, Peter had an exchange with the Savior that I consider the crucial turning point of the apostolic ministry generally and certainly for Peter personally, moving this great rock of a man to a majestic life of devoted service and leadership. Looking at their battered little boats, their frayed nets, and a stunning pile of 153 fish, Jesus said to His senior Apostle, ‘Peter, do you love me more than you love all this?’ Peter said, ‘Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.’
The Savior responds to that reply but continues to look into the eyes of His disciple and says again, ‘Peter, do you love me?’ Undoubtedly confused a bit by the repetition of the question, the great fisherman answers a second time, ‘Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.’
The Savior again gives a brief response, but with relentless scrutiny He asks for the third time, ‘Peter, do you love me?’ By now surely Peter is feeling truly uncomfortable. Perhaps there is in his heart the memory of only a few days earlier when he had been asked another question three times and he had answered equally emphatically--but in the negative. Or perhaps he began to wonder if he misunderstood the Master Teacher’s question. Or perhaps he was searching his heart, seeking honest confirmation of the answer he had given so readily, almost automatically. Whatever his feelings, Peter said for the third time, ‘Lord, … thou knowest that I love thee.’
To which Jesus responded (and here again I acknowledge my nonscriptural elaboration), perhaps saying something like: ‘Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples--and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.’
Then, turning to all the Apostles, He might well have said something like: ‘Were you as foolhardy as the scribes and Pharisees? As Herod and Pilate? Did you, like they, think that this work could be killed simply by killing me? Did you, like they, think the cross and the nails and the tomb were the end of it all and each could blissfully go back to being whatever you were before? Children, did not my life and my love touch your hearts more deeply than this?’
My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: ‘Did you love me?’ I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” And if at such a moment we can stammer out, ‘Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,’ then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.
‘If ye love me, keep my commandments,’ Jesus said. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can’t quit and we can’t go back. After an encounter with the living Son of the living God, nothing is ever again to be as it was before. The Crucifixion, Atonement, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ mark the beginning of a Christian life, not the end of it. It was this truth, this reality, that allowed a handful of Galilean fishermen-turned-again-Apostles without ‘a single synagogue or sword’ to leave those nets a second time and go on to shape the history of the world in which we now live.
I testify from the bottom of my heart, with the intensity of my soul, to all who can hear my voice that those apostolic keys have been restored to the earth, and they are found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To those who have not yet joined with us in this great final cause of Christ, we say, ‘Please come.’ To those who were once with us but have retreated, preferring to pick and choose a few cultural hors d’oeuvres from the smorgasbord of the Restoration and leave the rest of the feast, I say that I fear you face a lot of long nights and empty nets. The call is to come back, to stay true, to love God, and to lend a hand. I include in that call to fixed faithfulness every returned missionary who ever stood in a baptismal font and with arm to the square said, ‘Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.’ That commission was to have changed your convert forever, but it was surely supposed to have changed you forever as well. To the youth of the Church rising up to missions and temples and marriage, we say: ‘Love God and remain clean from the blood and sins of this generation. You have a monumental work to do, underscored by that marvelous announcement President Thomas S. Monson made yesterday morning. Your Father in Heaven expects your loyalty and your love at every stage of your life.’
To all within the sound of my voice, the voice of Christ comes ringing down through the halls of time, asking each one of us while there is time, ‘Do you love me?’ And for every one of us, I answer with my honor and my soul, ‘Yea, Lord, we do love thee.’ And having set our ‘hand to the plough,’ we will never look back until this work is finished and love of God and neighbor rules the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen." (Elder Jeffery R. Holland. October 2012 "The First and Great Commandment")
“Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel." (Alma 26:16)
Before my mission, the gospel was a huge part of my life. Now, it has become who I am. It is my identity. It means everything to me. I don't know who I was before, but I'm never going back. The gospel is the solution to literally anything and everything. Any or every question, doubt, fear, problem, trial or need … the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His grace are sufficient to lead us on and bring us home again. The Restoration is not completed; it is rolling forth. It will penetrate every heart and sound in every ear. Anything and everything of worth and value I have understood or learned about my life … has happened here on my mission. I love the Lord and this great work! I've learned that DECISIONS DETERMINE DESTINY. These past few months and these next few months are going to set the tone for the rest of my life. I have made some very big choices and changes in my life. I love the Lord with ALL my heart! I know I can return to live with my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and my family through the eternities. This plan is perfect.
I am excited for the day when we will be able to all see each other again and be able to look into each other's eyes and know that we have kept the faith … that we have stayed true to our covenants and that we continue to be faithful disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I look forward to that day and also the day when I can look into my Heavenly Father's eyes and know that I did all that I could to live worthily in His presence. This mission means everything to me and has completely changed my life forever. I love you all more than you could ever know.
See you soon!
Love forever and always,
Hermana Lydia Pamela Vance