I’ve had a series of experiences these last weeks that have caused me to reflect a little on my role and the role of the scriptures and the Holy Ghost in the teaching environment.
I suppose I’ll start by saying that, in the beginning of my mission, I began to see a side of the scriptures and a power in the scriptures that I had never before seen or experienced. The scriptures take on a whole new meaning and purpose when seen as a tool for conversion, and I think I got so excited about that fact in my first few months in the mission field that I began to base most of my teaching out of the scriptures. Scriptures that had a lot to do with a lesson, scriptures that had somewhat to do with the lesson, and scriptures that I thought were just too interesting to pass up even though they may have had little or nothing to do with the lesson – I would share them all with the investigator. Between the difficult language of the Bible (perhaps even more so in Portuguese than in English) and my thick American accent, the result was fatal. Looking back, I see that much of my teaching must have seemed dry and unintelligible to those whom I taught. So I started to move in the other direction. But as I began to memorize the scripture passages we most often used and as I began to feel more comfortable with the doctrines of the lessons, I think I may have swung a little too far in the other direction. These last few weeks, I’ve come to feel the power of the scriptures in the teaching environment, and the role they play in helping those we teach feel a personal connection with the Word of God.
The first experience was one of the most recent. There’s a less-active in our ward who was in the process of becoming active but had a little bit of a fall and started to drink a little bit again. His mother, a faithful member who also has passed through the process of reactivation, asked that we visit her struggling son. As we discussed his experiences and the fact that he feels weak and vulnerable because of what he’s done, but also feels as though he sometimes feels the need to be prideful or the temptation to not humble himself and repent for fear of the vulnerability required in making his return to church activity. As he spoke, the scripture Ether 12:27 came into my mind. We opened the passage and read together. He read it out loud. Then read it more to himself, mouth the words but without producing sound. Then he just sat there and stared at the passage for a moment. After a few seconds of silence, he looked up at the two of us and said, “That verse is exactly for me”. He committed to go to church this Sunday (tomorrow) and resolved to do better this week.
The second experience was, in fact, not my experience but the President’s experience in his conversion. In this series of “Farewell” meetings, President Lanius has left a time open for the missionaries to ask both doctrinal and personal questions. One of the questions that was asked in every meeting without fail was, “What’s your conversion story?” The President explained that for 20+ long years he lived with his wife, Sister (Tanya) Lanius. He explained that Sister Lanius, as a member, always went to church by herself, and that he (Pres. Lanius) sometimes visited other churches with his daughters. There came a time in his life when he fell very ill and lost much of his strength. He devoted himself to reading the Bible and was marked by the passages in Hebrews chapters 5 through 7 that discuss the concept of the Priesthood following the order of Melchizedek. He said that, in a sort-of-prayer, he directed his thoughts toward God and felt that he should be baptized, but didn’t know where. In that moment, the thought came to him, “In your wife’s church”. So that day, after 20 years of Sister Lanius waiting for her husband to accept the missionary lessons, Sister Lanius came home and President Lanius, said, “I’m going to get baptized”. Sis. Lanius said she laughed and asked, “in which church?”. Pres. Lanius responded, “in yours!” Sis. Lanius laughed even harder… She had joked that in the day that Pres. Lanius was baptized the whole city would show up at the baptism just to see if it was true. President Lanius purposefully marked his Baptism on a quiet Wednesday afternoon so that nobody could attend but his wife, his home teacher, and the mission president. Pres. Lanius expressed the fact that his conversion and his feeling the need to be baptized came wholly through a careful study of the Bible.
The third experience was perhaps one of the most powerful experiences I have had with the Book of Mormon while on the mission. We were teaching the wife of a less-active man whose son is currently serving a mission. She had visited church the previous Sunday and felt a peace and solace ever since her experience there. We wanted to try and help her understand exactly what it was that she had felt, so we turned to 3 Nephi 11. I won’t go into great details, but suffice it to say that without us needing to say hardly anything, she came to understand through the Spirit exactly what it was that she had felt at Church (the power of the Spirit of God, bringing peace and unmatched happiness) and the meaning and purpose of God giving her those feelings (that she might follow them and be baptized in the Church, fulfilling a commandment of God). I recognized in that moment that everything I need to say has already been said, and could be said much better through the witness of the Holy Ghost. I felt, in the power of the scriptures, my role as a missionary. Not as a traveling salesman, not as a marketing manager, not as merely a minister of just another church. I came to understand my role as a Representative of Jesus Christ – a conduit of His words, His power, and His Gospel.
I’m so glad to be here on the mission. I’m so grateful we have the opportunity to search the scriptures. Thank you for all your love and support.