Monday, May 16, 2016

God Is Our Loving Heavenly Father

I always wish you could feel heat through pictures. This is in the slums along the railroad. The trash and all the corrugated tin just radiate heat and humidity combined with with a stinky force. If you zoom in close you can see the sweat dripping off my nose.

I've thought long and hard why missionaries must end after just two short years. I mean two years really isn't that long after all. Wouldn't it make sense for the Lord to call us for longer? At the two year mark you're just starting to get into the groove. Only then do you really feel like you're beginning to understand how to contact, how to teach, how to work with members. A simple answer came to me though as I pedaled to an appointment a few months ago: missions are just two years in order to keep in harmony with what the rest of a mission is, that is, an experience that's always stretching you and kicking you out of your comfort zone. Truly the mission is a custom-heated refiner's fire.The Lord is always ready with a new companion, a new area, a new assignment to help you reach for greater heights. So how fitting that the mission's final gift to a missionary is one last great kick out of your comfort zone back into civilian life?

Now when I say "civilian life" I am careful not to equate that with "real life". That is in honor (and fear) of Elder Holland, who told us back in August, when he came and visited our mission, "I hate when missionaries say 'I can't wait to get back to real life.' Real life?! The mission is as close to real life as it gets!" 

Elder Holland didn't elaborate further, so I've pondered what he said a lot since then. Why is the mission real life?? I think it is simply because you see what life really is. Life is not a plodding monotony of work, school, sports, and social media. Life is a meaningful segment of eternity! Like President Uchtdorf shared at Conference, "Forever is composed of nows." We came to Earth to gain a body, learn, change, grow, and prove our loyalty to God. In the mission you readily recognize that everyday as you labor side-by-side with the Master in your assigned corner of the great vineyard of souls. We did not choose to come to Earth because we wanted to score touchdowns, get a huge salary, or rack up Twitter followers and Facebook friends. We chose to come because God loved us, we loved Him, and we knew He would follow through on His promise to make us as He is, as long as we would follow through on ours to remember and obey Him. A mission helps take those sometimes myopic lenses of life's day-to-day doldrums and corrects the prescription to fit our eternal eyes.

In that respect, I am full of gratitude for my mission and what it has done for me. The mission has blessed me in every way I could have imagined. "I cannot say the smallest part which I feel." I like the way Ammon puts it best: 

"How great reason have we to rejoice; for could we have supposed when we started from [our homes] that God would have granted unto us such great blessings? And now, I ask, what great blessings has he bestowed upon us? Can ye tell? Behold, I answer for you; for our brethren...were in darkness...but behold, how many of them are brought to behold the marvelous light of God! And this is the blessing which hath been bestowed upon us, that we have been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work."  Alma 26:1-3

There is no greater blessing in a mission than knowing that you were an instrument in the hands of God. Before my mission I always assumed that we would instantly become instruments, just like that. But that isn't totally true. God "makes" us into instruments. He constantly shapes us and forms us by giving us certain companions, certain areas, certain assignments, molding us into the exact instrument He needs us to be.

I know the Lord is with us every second of our missions. He praises us when we do well and He comforts us when we're down. He says, "Bear with patience thine afflictions and I will give unto you success." And so "we have entered into their houses and taught them, and we have taught them in their streets, yea, and we have taught them [in their fields]" and occasionally, "we have been cast out, and mocked...and we have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some.
Now behold we look forth and see the fruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many; Yea, and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us.”  (Alma 26:27-31)

I feel the sweetest happiness as I think of those to whom God sent me to invite to come unto Christ. As their faces come into my mind, I can't help but yearn that they'll stay faithful to that which they know to be true. But I am comforted as I reflect on the scripture:

"Behold, they are in the hands of the Lord of the harvest, and they are His; and He will raise them up at the last day. Blessed be the name of our God; let us sing to His praise, yea let us give thanks to His holy name, for He doth work righteousness forever."  (Alma 26:7-8)

Another that brings me peace is this: 

"And he gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth; and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture." (1 Nephi 22:25)

I am grateful for the greater understanding I now have of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I have began to understand just how personal and individual the Atonement really is. I really think that if I was, or you were, the only person on the face of the Earth, Christ would still have come and performed the Atonement, just for you or me.  Nothing will bring us more joy than the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that through His Atonement we will all overcome death and return to His presence. The only thing more wonderful than that fact is that not only may we return into God's presence, but that, if we diligently strive to repent and follow the Savior in this life, we will discover then that we will have become like Him. I know that grace, the strengthening and enabling power of Christ's Atonement, has the power to change us for the better as we submit to the will of the Father, especially as we participate in catalyzing experiences such as missions. I know it has changed me forever.

"And also our lives passed away as it were unto us a dream."(Jacob 7:26) This verse rings true for a mission. I couldn't have imagined a more fulfilling experience. A few months ago, a companion asked me what my favorite thing I've learned from my mission is. It didn't take too many seconds for the answer to surface. My favorite thing about the mission is seeing and feeling that God perfectly knows and perfectly loves every single one of His children. I have felt His love for His Cambodian children as I've taught them in their homes and on their streets and in their fields. At times I've felt it so strongly that I have felt that I must be glowing with His wonderful power and light. I now know what Nephi means when he says, "He hath filled my soul with His love, even unto the consuming of my flesh." (2 Nephi 4:21) I just thank my Heavenly Father for letting me come here and show my love for Him by serving and loving my Cambodian brothers and sisters.

"Yea, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a foreign land.Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen." (Alma 26:36-37)

I love y’all so much.

Love Elder Burger

With Seihaa, a guy who was baptized in my time at Chaktomuk. I actually taught him the first time the elders taught him because I was on an exchange way back then too. He is one of the people I have seen change the most through the Atonement. It is a miracle.

My "death card"

Elder Khiev took the machete out of Elder Try's hands yesterday during impromptu service so he could show him how "us ricefield people" cut bark off trees. Hahaha, those two make me bend over laughing like fifty times a day.

Just the view out the Tuolsangkae Elder's study-room window

Guards at the AP's condo building were all passed out when we got there. Gave me some Book of Mormon flashbacks.