This week we had many amazing experiences!
First was with a guy named Joshua in his mid-twenties. The East Cleveland Elders talked to him on the bus and came home and told us what an amazing conversation they had with him. They said he has been prepared and will be amazing to teach (he lives in our geographical proselyting area). We had set up an appointment to meet him on Friday at the library, but some things came up and he never showed. We were a little disappointed, but still found worth in going as we saw our Relief Society President there! We talked to her about some of the great lessons we had had with some less-actives Sisters; she was very excited. Later that day Joshua finally called us and apologized, rescheduling for the following day. He said he would call us tomorrow around 11am to confirm our appointment for noon. Well, we got no call at 11am and when we tried calling around 11:30 he wasn't answering. We were a little disheartened but felt like we should go to the library. We didn't get there until 12:30 and said a prayer like usual before we got out of the truck, having faith that we were there for some reason and we would find a way to fulfill our purpose. Seconds after out prayer the phone rang - it was Joshua! He apologized again for not calling and said he had just arrived at the library. We were thrilled and said we would be in shortly!
Our lesson was incredible to say the least. We sat down with him (mind you this is a tall, built, black guy with these two skinny white kids) and said a prayer. We began to ask him all kinds of questions to see what he was looking for in meeting with us, see how religion or God had played a role in his life thus far, explain to him what we were expecting, etc. After a few minutes of just really getting to know each other my companion began to open his restoration pamphlet (little booklets that outline our lessons that we usually will give to people investigating or read it with them). I had a distinct impression to not use the pamphlets for this lesson, that we needed to teach to HIS needs, not the "needs" of the pamphlet. As Joshua was talking and looking down, I motioned to Elder Hansen to not use the pamphlet. He agreed and we began to go "free-style." We talked about our Heavenly Father's love, of prophets, apostasy, constantly reading from scripture found in the Bible and Book of Mormon. We listened a lot - to him and to the Spirit, and based on those things asked questions to help him internalize what we were teaching or to confirm what he was sharing. We bore testimony to him over and over. When we read from the scriptures, we not only read but broke each verse apart and likened them unto us all. At one point he began to ask us questions about repentance and forgiveness. He told us that he's an African-American male who has graduated high school, has no kids, has never served time in jail, and is trying his best to be a law-abiding citizen. "I've beat the odds" he said. He told us how he's trying his best to live his life according to God's commandments and teachings and that he just feels constantly beat down from the world. To combat it all, he said he focuses 90% of his thoughts each day on God and those things which will bring him closer to Him. We were able to easily bring it back to the lesson we were sharing and explain to him that the answer to all of his questions would be found in the simple truths we had yet taught him. We taught about Joseph Smith - the recitation of Joseph's account was perfect. Joshua said he felt like he was walking in Joseph's shoes and didn't doubt that something that miraculous could happen. The lesson just went so well - this because the Spirit was bearing a very clear witness to us all. It was so powerful!
We began to teach him about the Book of Mormon and had him open up to the Introduction page in the front. We asked him to read the first paragraph, and he instead read the first two paragraphs. When he finished I had him pause there and began to expound upon some of what we read when he put his hand up to me and said "Wait!" We all sat there in silence as he just stared at the Book of Mormon. Some time passed and he said "Are you telling me that this is the record of the ancestors of the Native Americans?" We responded simply, "Yes." He paused again. "So are you telling me that this is the history of some of the scattered 12 Tribes of Israel?" And, probably dumbfoundedly, we answered boldly, "Yes." And the Spirit was SO strong! He just sat there staring at it and was so impressed that he was holding in his hand such a book. He then asked, "Do you all believe in the gathering of the 12 Tribes of Israel?" And we said, "Joshua, we are the gathering. This church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is in that church which is gathering together the scattered tribes of Israel." We continued to read the introduction and he told us, "I know that me coming to know this is true will probably come 10% through reading and 90% through prayer, but I already believe it's true. I'll pray and ask, but I already believe. I'm not one to be convinced easily, but I already believe everything you've told me." We committed him to baptism and set a date for March. His response was "Yes, baptism is definitely something I want. I will prepare myself for that day." Like I've been saying over and over, the Spirit bore witness so clearly and powerfully. At times we were all almost brought to tears it was so strong. Joshua told us as we were leaving that he considers us brothers and that he is so grateful that we have all met. We prepared him to receive lots of anti/false information about the church, and helped him understand that to find out God's will and God's church, one must ask our Heavenly Father - not a website, a friend, or a pastor to another church. He understood and said we didn't need to worry. Our only worry is what influence his brother, a leader in some church in New York, will have on him. We haven't been able to get a hold of him since (similar to the beginning of this story - we just can never get him to answer his phone) but are meeting with him tonight. We are very hopeful and excited for him. Like the Elders had told us, he was prepared and amazing.
We also had an incredible baptism on Saturday! It was for Julia (Hu-lia) Hernandez, our Spanish investigator! This week we (more my companion since I don't speak any Spanish) were preparing her and teaching her the last few principles so she would be ready. In my last lesson with her, Elder Hansen turned to me and asked me to bear my testimony to her about the principle of obedience. He said, "talk slowly." It was interesting what happened. She was listening very intently to me and I knew I had to choose my words carefully, yet I still wanted it to be my true, pure testimony. I did, and I relied heavily upon what the Spirit would direct me to say. And as I spoke, I could feel my mouth being filled as it talks about in D&C 33:8. And we all could feel of that sweet Spirit that was present, just as with our lesson with Joshua above. And Julia understood every word I said. Though my words were simple, they were from my heart and were true.
Her baptism was also all in Spanish. A few missionaries from our zone attended with nonmembers, investigators, and less-actives. And all of us (who couldn't understand Spanish) were touched by the amazing Spirit that was present - as talks were given, as the musical number was performed, and especially as the ordinance was performed and when Julia bore her testimony at the end. Tears were falling down her face as she explained how she had been searching for the right church and had found it. Her confirmation the following day at church was equally powerful.
I guess this week I learned more than anything just the language, power, and necessity of the Holy Ghost. Without the Spirit, we missionaries are not to teach people. We are to do everything by the Spirit (not just us missionaries, us as sons and daughters of God!). For we know that Spirit teaches truth and edifies and that the Spirit is how people will come to understand the truth of the church, the Book of Mormon, of latter-day prophets, etc. - not by the convincing language of some 19 year old kids. I know what I know because of what I have been taught or shown by the Spirit. I know that we can pray and receive answers from our Heavenly Father through the Spirit - direct, clear, specific revelation! I know that this church is true, and though other churches are good and their intentions are similar to the Savior's, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church on the earth with the authority, keys, and Priesthood of God. It's that simple, and it's true. I am grateful for the power of prayer. This week I studied in the Book of Alma and was particularly fond of the allegory of Zenos in Alma chapter 33. I liked what Joshua said "90% of my answer will come through prayer." We can indeed receive answers from God. In the Epistle of James 1:5 we are instructed to ask God of those things we lack wisdom for. He is a loving Heavenly Father and will show us the way to return to Him. The gate to return to him is narrow and there is only one way. I'm grateful for the priesthood, allowing us to perform the necessary ordinances, such as baptism or sealing families to be together forever, that allow us to return to Him. I love this gospel! I love my calling as a missionary. I am one of the luckiest 21-year olds in the world!
I will continue to update everyone on Joshua. We pray that he will continue to seek for this truth, overcome any opposition, and that he will receive the comfort, light, and deep joy that is affiliated with it. Thank you for all the love, support and prayers! Now go read the Book of Mormon :)
"And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." - Moroni 10:5
Love, Elder Dransfield
Julia Hernandez's baptism