This week has been incredible. We had a young man of 20 years old come on a mini-mission with us for the week. The story goes as follows:
For the past 4 or 5 years, Michael has been a less-active member or the church. Recently, his family has been put on President Monson's "the rescue" plan where missionaries will teach less-actives as if they are investigators. The idea is that in the process of teaching and understanding doctrine further, they will have a greater desire to become active and temple worthy and will be pulled out of their inactivity. Michael and his family were put on this list many months ago, his grandfather being the only evidence of success. When I got here, I came to know Michael as one who stays home all day, plays video games all night, and I supposed you could say is merely existing. No matter what we did as missionaries, it seemed impossible to spark that desire in him. About a month ago, after a discussion in our Ward Council meeting, two former young-men's leaders were assigned to talk with him, encouraging him to better engage himself. He accepted the challenge and began to read the scriptures and pray every day, and began to come to church each Sunday. What the members didn't know was that Michael had previously been praying for guidance and help. Michael began to see the blessings of the gospel come back into his life; a void was being filled. Our lessons began to actually matter to him and a friendship between the three of us started to grow. A few weeks later in a Stake Coordination Meeting, the Stake President (who is in our ward) asked who this new investigator was. We told the above story and President Sorensen had an impression to allow Michael to come on a week-long mini-mission - something he usually isn't to keen on. We passed on the idea to the Bishopric and Ward Missionaries and there was some doubt, but an overall agreement that this could be life-changing for Michael. The Bishop went over to his home a few days later and posed the idea to him. Michael was thrilled with the idea, though he didn't know why - it was almost as if something was encouraging him to do it. Now a quick description of Michael - he's skinnier than I am, a little shorter, glasses, hair long and shaggy, a little bit of chin scruff (looks kind of like Shaggy from Scooby Doo I guess)... The Bishop encouraged him to cut his hair a bit and ensured him that the ward would help him get the necessary supplies and clothes for the mission. He got a haircut, but it wasn't very noticeable - his hair was still on the long-side. Monday evening came, and we picked him up.
What happened next has been a very humbling and special experience to my life. As missionaries, we teach and leave commitments with investigators and then have to rely on their agency for growth to take place. With Michael, we had the privilege of being right along-side of him the entire process. Michael started out Monday evening very timid, shy, unsure of himself and nervous, yet enough excitement was present to distill the fears and doubts he may have had. We had another Elder (who was in a 3-elder companionship) from a neighboring ward come with the three of us and we worked our area in twos - Michael switching off between me and Elder Parkinson. He would wake up with us, exercise with us, study with us, role play with us, teach with us, perform service with us, plan with us, he even went to our last Zone Conference in Youngstown with us. After a couple days, he asked if we could take him to a Great Clips. His hair is now missionary-short. At the beginning of the mission, as we would eat or interact with members they would ask if he is preparing for a mission. His responses went from "I don't know" to "If this goes well" to "Possibly" to "I think so" to "Definitely" to "there is nothing that will get in my way." I get emotional even writing this now.. Gosh. I wish you all could see the change! By the end of the week he was teaching lessons! He was asking inspired questions! Talking to people at their doors, bearing powerful testimony to our investigators, and inviting our less-actives to come back to church! A night and days difference! When we showed up at church, members didn't even recognize him. He was beaming with light and the Spirit and looked like a missionary. When the end of the week came, he expressed to us his gratitude telling us that we have changed his life. He said he is serving a mission no matter what it takes. Again it's been humbling to watch. Every night as we went to bed, there was a different person climbing into bed than that morning. I'm remembered of King Benjamin's people who said "because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (Mosiah 5:2). As the Spirit touches the peoples hearts, a mighty change takes place - they become more like the Savior.
We also had more great appointments this week with Erica and a former investigator Bobbi. Erica has been progressing so well and is seeing the blessings fill her life! Her family is giving her a hard time but she isn't letting them get to her. She is keeping her commitments and is thus having her life be filled with the Spirit. She is seeing herself change and become happier. She has a baptismal date for December 3rd and we are so excited for her! Bobbi we got a hold of again this week - we met her tracting a few months ago. She was/is undergoing a difficult divorce and when praying about the Book of Mormon would hear "you're on the right path." When she'd pray about her baptismal date, she'd hear "wait." We lost contact as she was moving a few cities over (now lives in the ward that attends our building at a different time) but finally taught her again. In tears she expressed to us how torn she was with the divorce, not knowing if she should break the marriage which she swore to God would be through better or through worse. As we bore testimony of the love of God and the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, she asked if we could find her an answer in the Book of Mormon about breaking this promise with God. Elder Hicks and I sat in silence for probably a good 2 or 3 minutes, silently praying and searching for that answer. Our fellowshipper, a 20-something year old who was recently reactivated and is working on getting on a mission (similar to Michael), spoke up and talked about his parents' divorce and how much happier they were once they were separated. He told her that God wants her to be happy. She then asked, Does the Book of Mormon teach that? That God wants us to be happy? --I knew the answer to that one!! 2 Nephi 2:25! We shared a few verses from there and she talked about forgiving herself, wanting her guilt to be swept away. Enos!! And this is the most interesting part - we shared about Enos and how he came to receive a remission of his sins, and after a few tears she kept reading on, asking about who the Nephites and Lamanites were. We gave a brief history and showed her where they split in the Book of Mormon. She silently read to herself and tears streamed down her face. "There's my answer" she said, "Nephi and Sam had to leave their family in order to be safe, to live the gospel, to be happy. Had they stayed, they too could have turned into this savage, blood-thirsty people in Enos." It was incredible to see her find her answer - and an answer that I would have NEVER thought of! The connection of her and her family and Nephi and his family - evidence of the Book of Mormon's ability to answer all of life's questions. She told us later that as Elder Hicks and I sat in silence, frantically skimming through the Book of Mormon for an answer, she was praying for us that we'd find it. The whole experience helped strengthen her small testimony of the Book of Mormon. She came to church the next day and met with the Bishop to receive further counseling on the matter. She is awesome and I'm sad that we'll have to pass her on to the other Elders. I'll just have to go on lots of exchanges with them ;)
At church yesterday, Erica came, Bobbi came, a couple Part-member families came, and a couple less-active families came. It was so exciting! We have another family who we've been working with who moved into the ward last summer. They have been so close to coming to church the past two weeks but legitimate problems keep arising. This Sunday they weren't there and I texted the husband to ask where they were. He told me that one of the kids had his tonsils removed on Friday and still wasn't feeling good. I invited them to a ward social that night (a pie night - I ate way too much) and asked how his work has been going (which has been the main issue for coming to church. He owns/manages 3 or 4 Chipotles and they just suck the time out of his life whether he likes it or not). He replied with, "That sounds great! Well, I let go of my other three [Chipotles] so that I could get that quality of life with my family back. I was still struggling to get to church and be with the family so I have taken leave until Dec. 2nd, and will leave chipotle. I have sacrificed my family time and spiritual needs for the company and I realize now what is important in this existence. I want to be sealed to my family in the temple and there was no way I could while at chipolte. We will be at church next week, we are out of the routine and struggle with time lol! Thank you for hanging on to us!! We will make it through this challenge." Again we see a mighty change take place. A father humble and loving enough to change careers for his relationship with his family and Heavenly Father.
I'm so thankful for the many experiences I've had on my mission that have helped me change. I'm thankful for the opportunities that I've had to grow and "become." I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving and can see the many blessings that you have in your life. I know that our Father in Heaven is real. He loves and knows us.
Love, Elder Dransfield