Sounds like an exhausting week back home and an exhausting one to come!
It’s been an interesting week. Our car broke down on the way to a lesson and is in the shop and may be dead because of past elders’ neglect……which wouldn’t be too bad if we were zone leaders who do not use the car as often…….but we actually do.. we have 31 positive investigators who NEED us and live from 45 minutes to 2 hours away by car with zero means to get to most of them. but, I found the whole situation to be a great way to learn someone’s personality fast. It was interesting to analyse the different reactions when the car stopped. (all four of the elders were in the car) Elder 1 was laughing and maintaining optimism, Elder 2 silently kind of spaced out and avoided responsibility, and Elder 3 fumed. Elder 1 has matured a great deal .so we were able to handle the situation calmly and rationally and make the arrangements for a member to tow us to the shop.
The rest of the week, as a result, was a test of faith. My heart was hurt just thinking of all the people we can’t visit, and we had to start biking 20 km minimum a day to get to our closest investigators……..but I’m thankful for the experience. It will help me handle life’s dramas in the future. When a car breaks down, tempers and and murmurings accomplish nothing.
Two of our dear Persian friends (who must remain nameless on this blog) passed their baptismal interviews yesterday and will be baptised this upcoming Sunday! Never before have I taught someone who has progressed in the gospel so rapidly as these two men. . After every lesson, I am simply left awestruck at how much spiritual power they have. It were as if I’m teaching apostles. It seems they teach me more about the gospel through their spirit inspired observations than I have taught them. It is the greatest of honours to say they are my friends, for they are not simply investigators getting baptised…. These men are my heroes.
This week, among the many Persians we are teaching, we have met with several other wonderful souls who have pressed upon my soul a topic that pains me to speak about, and is unimaginably painful to endure. It is loneliness.
Loneliness is a trial that is as vast as it is heart wracking. Exceeding in worldwide spread over all diseases of the body, this tumour to the soul brings with it a host of symptoms ranging from depression to premature death. It can attack the widow, the orphan, the single mother or father, the spinster, and even those with spouses and parents but whose emotional line between relationships has been cut. It carries on it’s back the life sucking parasites of hopelessness, fear, bitterness, apathy, mistrust, and faith deterioration. When left unattended, loneliness can eat away at it’s victim until they are but a sulky sullen shadow of a human, dementor stricken shell.
Humans, it has been proven countless times, are not meant to be alone. After Adam came Eve, as God’s most wondrously divine crowning act of creation, for “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18)
We need company on life’s journey. We need loved ones in our life, for love is not only the fuel to the universe but the fuel to our very souls. But still, even though, in God’s plan, we are not to be left alone, it is evident from time to time he has us face a period of existence, ranging from a few miserable months to a long suffering lifetime, in which we are to endure loneliness.
In my work here in Sundsvall, I have come to admire three wonderfully strong women who have had to face a degree of loneliness that pains the soul to even try to comprehend. One is an investigator left to raise three young girls by herself in the wake of divorce. Another is a member who lives an hour from church with a husband leaving the church, children fading into inactivity, no means to visit church, and no one in her life to believe in her. The last is an investigator with a terribly abusive (in every degree) and unfaithful husband who robs her of her money, her self worth and her hope for life. All three are painstakingly alone, lacking those who are supposed to be the loving support and comfort in their lives. They are three truly remarkably special souls with incredible talents and hearts of gold, but the parasites that attend loneliness convince them otherwise.
I’m not writing to condemn those whose duty it was to love and cherish the now rendered lonely. Loneliness is not cured by vengeance. What I am here to write about is our duty to love and cherish the lonely. By “our duty” I do not mean simply the missionaries’ duty….. I mean everyone’s duty. Your duty.
Here is a truth; if everyone were to live the gospel of Jesus Christ there would be no lonely people. All of the Eleanor Rigbys and Father Mckenzies will not necessarily be promised spouses and children and a life of rainbows but they will never truly be alone because if we all loved the gospel of Jesus Christ we would follow the beautiful words of James; “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)
I do not believe when James said the fatherless and the widows he was referring to only those technically classified as widows and orphans. What is the common link between widows and orphans? They both are missing a key figure in their life that is meant to provide essential love and comfort. Therefore, we ought to visit all those who are missing a key figure, everyone who has a hole that needs filling with your love and company, anyone who is lonely. Our religious purity is dependant on our attendance to the lonely.
So any Latter Day Saint, Christian or indeed any decent person anywhere upon this globe, should not allow anyone within their circle of influence to face life alone. Life is already hard enough as it is…. No one deserves to face it alone. Not you and not your neighbour. Who is your neighbour? The widow, orphan, the single parent and broken hearted. The despairing. The love lacking. The hurt and wounded. The lonely.
Maybe the lonely in your sphere of influence require a little more than a charity basket of food and a lawn mowed for free. In fact, every lonesome soul needs much more. This is where the necessary gifts of the Holy Ghost, pure love of Christ and the ever important art of listening are required. As we listen to the lonely hearted, (and listening in and of itself can do a great deal of healing) pay close attention to the Holy Ghost’s guidance and than act with a sincere love for them, we can be miracle workers in their lives. (if you don’t feel you love them just yet I suggest listen a little longer, this time without thinking of what you’re going to say next.)
So can everyone this week who reads this, please think of someone who is lonely? You can just start by selecting one…. and pay them a visit. Do something for them. Lighten their week. Listen to their burdened soul. Love them. This has been the command of Thomas S. Monson, the prophet who has truly dedicated his entire life to visiting the lonely. At times he even prevented suicides by visiting a lonesome ward member when the spirit inspired him to do so. This has been the command of prophets of old including Alma whose disciples had “their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.” (Mosiah 18:21)
And this will always be the command of our Saviour Jesus Christ who, as Jeffrey R. Holland acknowledged in his brilliant conference address, None were with Him.
“For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.” He, who faced the greatest act of mankind, even the atonement, without disciples or friends beside him, and even temporarily without the very Spirit of His father, so very much knows exactly how your loneliness feels. Remember that He bore it for you. And “because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone,”we do not have to do so.
So for Christ’s lonely journey from Gethsemane to Calvary, for his perfect sacrifice in both locations, and for every lonely heart aching soul who has lived and died without hope and utterly alone, please make someone less lonely. They’re silently crying for some company. Please let God lovingly direct you to them.
By doing so, I can promise that you will be blessed. I am blessed with multiple bonus grandmothers because of it. Who can say no to a Swedish grandma who cooks you salmon and makes you pancakes every Thursday? They just want someone to love! And don’t we all love being loved….and getting free pancakes?
Please be the means by which “The Lord relieveth the fatherless and widow” Psalms 146:9Please love and serve the lonely around you.
The work here is coming to be more than we can fully take on as just two missionaries. We’ve had to hand off several of our investigators to other missionaries and even postpone lessons for a week because we are simply booked every single hour of every single day. We have zero time to sit around and think of what to do next.
The thing is, it isn’t as if we slaved away and earned all of this work from our blood and sweat and tears like back in Borlänge….. We just found a couple people and they opened Pandora’s box of many more to teach. Sometimes you work your heart out and no tangible success is obtained, while other times it just falls on your lap and you are humbled by how little of it is actually due on you.
But anyhow, we are in a very interesting situation. A hard situation…. We have a great many Persians who want to be baptised but may have to wait a very long time due to increasingly tighter regulations on baptising former Muslims because of safety concerns. The last thing we would want to do is be the cause of someone’s harm or even death if they are deported back to their home country…… and by the way Sweden is turning politically, deportations are on the rise. (Swedish Parliament has declared that over 50% of the refugees from Afghanistan will be deported within a year…..) while declared Christianity once helped defend an asylum seeker’s case from being sent back to an Islamic state, now we are faced with an oncoming reaping with no regard to personal situation or life endangerment. (But enough about our moral compasses versus politics for now).
Two of the many Persians whose immigration situations are a little more promising will be able to be personally interviewed and have their situations analysed by the mission presidency this upcoming Sunday. If the mission presidency declares it safe, they can be baptised in two weeks time from now….. Which will fill me with both great joy for these two wonderful and dear friends of mine, but also give me a measure of guilt when I think about the others who have a desire to take the step of baptism, having sincerely become converted to the gospel, but will have to be temporarily denied at the gate of this wonderful blessing due to problems beyond their control.
I CANNOT EMPHASIS ENOUGH HOW GOOD THESE MEN ARE. How purely good they are. One in particular has love unrivalled. His face radiates love and he shows love through his actions. He is particularly sensitive to the impressions of the spirit, lives a life dedicated to good works and has a faith in God I marvel at. . He very smart and studious and had a great life that was absolutely destroyed. Running from war, he traveled by foot from Afghanistan to Turkey and then took one of the famous suicidal raft odysseys across the Mediterranean. He showed a video he took on the boat. It is probably the most horrifying video I’ve ever seen in my life. Crying babies and monstrous waves and people crashing against rocks and how real it all was because it was happening to someone I know and love dearly. I want to get the image of it out of me head. From first European soil until here in Sweden he has been tossed around and rejected…. And yet, and yet! He is so good. So good to the very core. How can one who has been through so much be so good? Certainly, to be realistic, yes, there are some who have the same story as him who are bitter and angry and violent…. But he, like an unwavering Samwise Gamgee, remains (if not becomes more) good through it all. He just has the profoundest of gospel insights, the deepest of testimonies and the purest of hearts.
These bands of refugees scattered over Norrland are not charity cases we pity….. They are heroes whom I look up to and admire. They teach me more of what the gospel is than I teach them and they really teach me what love is. Every day I think I know what love is only to discover a whole other layer of it. My soul just swells with a warmth beyond words when these Persians pour their love (which is miles above mine) into words in their beautiful language to be translated for us to understand.
This is the gospel.
I’ve found it.
I’ve found what Christ gave us. It is here in these Persians, in these humble forlorn refugee camps swallowed in the northern sea of trees.
I found what love is.
Love, when felt, even in part, overwhelms me. I cannot take it all in.
These lessons, these Persian friends, this mission, give me such waves of love that I cannot hold.. Sometimes I think I’d be more like Ammon fainting all the time, while my companions can hold their physical strength like Alma. I can’t even express it. Can anyone? The scriptures and the words of prophets and wise men cannot capture the true heart and core of this gospel- love. They explained how to show it, how to recognise it, why to grow it, etc…. But words can’t capture love itself.
These Persian men have taught me how much of love is listening. Love isn’t constantly diagnosing the next clever thing to say to give an instantaneous solution to every concern.
Another investigator, a Swede, mentioned this week how one of the greatest acts of service she feels she can give is listening, for those who love, listen.
As my love has improved the amount of “me spitting out gospel time” in the lesson has decreased and the amount of listening has increased. I firmly believe that a great measure of one’s love for his neighbour is found in how much he listens. Love begins with curiosity and leads to total wilful sacrifice for another….. Which is a manifestation of love the Persians perfectly exhibit, which can be a bit of a problem…. Because now that they have tasted of the fruit of the gospel, they, like that man “Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” (Matthew 13:46) are fully willing to sacrifice everything to have the gospel. We explain the risks for them to be associated with a Christian church, but they shake their heads and say nothing matters more. . They constantly plead for baptism with sincere hearts, and it breaks my heart having to say they may have to wait…. They’d seriously endure anything for The gospel. Some of them even carry knife and burn scars they received in Afghanistan when previously they stood for the right amidst tribulation without fear.
I cannot help their their physical situation, but I can teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ and from it we read;
“3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-12)
On this earth, the misuse of moral agency of some can hurt the welfare of others. In the case of these Persian men, thousands of years of abused free agency by unrighteous souls have warped and moulded a trial filled mortal life for them…but God does not judge us on the agency of others. Just as we do not carry with us the sin of Adam, we are not accountable for others’ impact in our life….. only in our use of free agency in the circumstances we are given. So, though the free agency of others may restrict the Persians from being able to obtain the full blessings of the gospel right here and now, they will be blessed beyond mortal comprehension for doing all they can in the situation they are given.