Establishing Priorities, Making Checklists

March 25th – April 28th

Well, I’m really sorry for the extended delay in my writing. These last weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster. The last time I wrote we were in the process of preparing for a transfer. Right now we’re coming up on the second-to-last week of this transfer, which may well be my last in the office. Nobody’s really sure how the President will make his decisions, but in preparation for the new President in June, many of us Assistants are thinking that the President will leave the classic “2 AP” organization and let the new President make his decisions. I’m itching to get back into the field as a normal missionary. (Currently, we do actually pass most of time in the field, but the difference we pass almost all of our time in someone else’s area). That being said, I’m still awed and humbled by the way in which the Lord guides our work in divisions.

I did a division with the Elder who trained me in my first transfer on the mission, Elder J. Vargas. It was kind of a weird flashback, the two of us working together again, but at the same time everything was different. It was pleasing and impressive to see the significant changes that have occurred in the both of us. About one year and 6 months ago, Elder J. Vargas was serving the first time as a Trainer with little over 3 months on the mission and I was fresh out of the Missionary Training Center. Our teaching was mechanical, our understanding comparatively little, and our faith fledgling. This time, I worked side-by-side with a missionary who had quite literally transformed over the course of his two years on the mission. His grasp of doctrines, our ability to work together as a companionship and in general his attitude about missionary work had changed.

The mission passed through some hard times in the end of the month of March and the beginning of the month of April. Perhaps due to logistical complexities in taking investigators to General Conference or some other reason, the quantity and efficiency of the mission’s teaching fell, and with it the general morale of the missionaries. From our perspective in the office in particular, the changes were troublesome. We all sat together with the president, analyzed the work of the missionaries, and put together a training for the Zone Leaders and Sister Leader Trainers (a new addition to mission leadership, for those unacquainted – they do divisions with the Sister Missionaries and help in training).

What we came up with was that by and large the missionaries were having trouble making clear, concise, and firm invitations to those they taught to be baptized. It’s a question of faith, of focus, of courage, and of technique, and we tried to address all the issues in our training. It’s hard to find something you’re not looking for, and when the missionaries are focused on “just teaching” or “just finding”, our purpose – which is not just to “work” but to produce change and conversion in those we teach, can quickly fall by the wayside. And when that happens, the mission becomes a group of “Mormons” who “not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, [missionaries] who pat [people] on the head, make [them] giggle, then tell [them] to run along and pick marigolds.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, The Cost–and Blessings–of Discipleship, April 2014 General Conference) In other words, unless we continually remind ourselves as missionaries of the what, the why, and the how of our purpose, we run the danger of becoming missionaries with pretty messages that ultimately leave people exactly where they were found.

I wax rhetorical…The whole process of analyzing effort and performance on a large-scale (200+ participants) and planning the large-scale training meeting and power-points, together with organizing a catered lunch, and the projector, and the slides, and the schedule, the minutes of the meeting and the transport for all the participants – sometimes it can seem like the work I did in the first year and a half of my mission is completely disconnected from the work I do know. I don’t think I’ve ever had to handle so many administrative details in so many different aspects all at once, but the challenge is an interesting and gratifying one. I don’t think planning or keeping a planner or making a checklist ever made so much sense or seemed so important to me. Good life skills, I guess…

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this already, but the President here in our mission maintains a certain distance from the Assistants. It’s not that he doesn’t like us (I hope, he he) but rather that he gives us a lot of space to work. Whereas some Assistants spend their time glued to the president’s side (going to Firesides, talks, visits to other zones, etc.) we spend probably no more than an hour a week with the president, and the rest of the planning, and working, and divisions, and transport we organize for ourselves. Instead of saying he “maintains distance” I should say he “gives us the power to direct our part of the work as we find most adequate, so long as we follow the Lord’s guidance”. In that sense my time in the office has been not just an executive but also a creative exercise. And I find myself struggling sometimes, searching beyond just the “How” to the “What”. As a missionary in the field, the objective seemed so simple, and the schedule so well organized. My responsibilities as a District Leader or Zone Leader were predetermined and I simply had to figure out how best to perform them. Now I sometimes find myself asking the question, “What really are the responsibilities of District Leaders in our mission?” So then we put together some new analytical and teaching tools, plan mission-wide trainings, travel to meet with leadership of each zone, and execute companionship exchanges to implement our ideas. I “grew up” on the mission being fed with orders and guidelines and checklists and all of a sudden I got into the office and searched for a “Checklist for Assistants” and couldn’t find one and had an existential crisis. So I’ve been passing these last few transfers trying to figure out how to most effectively use my time here, and writing everything – everything – down. All in a hope that the one that comes after me can find benefit in the trail that I blazed.

In that sense, my time as an AP has been unique – ever since I got into the office, I’ve known that I would soon be leaving to make way for a new assistant who would make way for the new President. Sometimes I feel like John the Baptist, trying to prepare the way for something even bigger. And as I’ve done so, I’ve come to appreciate more and more the idea of leaving family legacies and family journals. I’ve come to feel more urgently and poignantly the fleeting nature of thoughts and memories. And I’ve had to check my priorities. More than ever there are so many things I could do and so few things I can do.

But I’m comforted by the words of the Lord to one of his servants:

For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of most worth unto you. …And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. (D&C 15:4,6)

When I find myself feeling like I’m spinning my wheels without any traction or that my efforts are fruitless, there are always endless opportunities to do what I was called to do – Preach His Gospel.

This last week we did another round of divisions in the interior. It seems like just yesterday we packed up our bags to go to the Interior zones to pass Carnaval, but the president wanted us to return once more and pass the special training we were doing with the leadership of the zones closer to home. We slept in Caruaru, the second farthest-interior zone of our mission, and did a division with the District Leader there. As we left Caruaru for Palmares, our next zone to visit, I started to feel a little sick. I felt some uncomfortable movements in my little belly, and thought that maybe it was just some indigestion. We had eaten yogurt in the morning that had a funny taste, but I didn’t think much of it. As we looked at Palmares’ plan for the day, I’ll admit that I became a little bit discouraged… the area had passed through some recent changes and the missionaries in Palmares didn’t have a whole lot of people to teach, which would mean that our day would be largely a finding day, which meant that the day would be almost entirely on foot. After lunch, my twisting and turning became stronger and I started to feel weak, but I said a little prayer that the Lord might help me carry on throughout the day’s work so that our time in Palmares could be worthwhile. I’d be lying if I said that I miraculously started to feel better from that moment on, but I found that I wasn’t quite so distracted by the uncomfortable nausea. It didn’t get any worse, and I felt added will and courage to press forward. We worked the day through, and met some incredible new investigators that had insightful comments and questions that showed real potential for spiritual growth. We marked one of their investigators for baptism two weeks from now and she seemed excited about the opportunity. Our last commitment was their most important – the girl that would be baptized that very week. We ran through everything she had learned and worked on a list of friends and family she wanted to invite for her birthday. When we left the appointment, it seemed like all of the weakness, and pains, and aches that the Lord had been repressing for the whole day came all at once, and I started to feel really, really sick. But I recognize that the Lord was sustaining me, literally lifting me up and holding my hand so that we could find and teach all of those people we taught that day. I prayed that night that the Lord might help me heal, so that I might continue in his work the next day. I slept like a rock, and the next morning woke up completely better. I felt as though I had never been sick. Being a missionary – it’s incredible the way the Lord takes care of us. It seems he is always protecting us and curing us so that His work can move forward.

Thank you for all your love, and prayers, and support.

I send my best,

-Elder Fleming-

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