This is it. The final week. I gave my last talk in church, did my last weekly planning, and oooooooooh……….I’m certainly going to love life after the mission but I must say, I’m going to miss the mission a great deal. The luxury of an hour every morning just for personal study of the gospel, the joy of seeing the gospel change others’ lives, and the happiness that burns within you when you share the message of the restored gospel is incredible. This isn’t my final farewell letter, for I still have one week left, but I’d just want to quickly reflect on one aspect of my work I’m going to miss like mad….
The Refugee Camps:
I’m going to miss them terribly. I’m going to miss the wonderful people who have filled them, and in turn, filled my heart. They have shaped me and changed who I am and what I want to become. I cannot simply return home and say the work is finished. My heart will be yearning to be among Syrians, Afghans, Iranians, and every other refugee until I return to them once again. Though I’ll be returning to my physical home soon, I’ll be leaving this home. I love these beautiful souls in it. Whatever I do in life, it needs to be, in some way, for them. To do contrary would be tearing my heart in two.
This week I want to share a typical experience that happens often on the mission. We contacted a Syrian man on street and immediately he wanted us to come to his house, even though we weren’t near his home. We entered his humble Ottoman carpet lined apartment to be greeted with Syrian pistachio rice pudding from his lovely wife. He had two young paralysed sons playing on the floor and a three month old baby boy who couldn’t stop laughing and cooing at us. We shared the message of the gospel and he shared his story. After the treacherous voyage in a rubber raft across the sea, he walked by foot, from Greece to to Malmö (the southern tip of sweden.) which is roughly 2,500 km. (about 1,600miles) ..a 20 plus day trip, carry his paralysed son on his shoulder the entire way. They were not just runnning from the fear of danger. They came from the midst of it. He and one of his sons were face to face, at gun point, with ISIS. His house literally was destroyed… and now, more than a year later, he has not much to offer, but what he has he will freely give everyone. That is just one of 1,000s I’ve met just like him
Before the mission I thought being an actor would be the greatest career, but I need to do more than present a story, I need to create stories…. more particularly, I need to re-create theirs. One soul at a time….banishing fear with the light of truth.
I highly encourage you to do what you can to help wherever you are. Maybe there are not the endless possibilities to serve war-torn asylum seekers where you live as there are in Sweden, but there is always something to be done, anywhere.
For ideas take a look at my Church’s suggestions:
The days are dark. My feet are wet. The Swedes put on their black. The small dogs put on their coats. Personally, I think if a dog has to wear a coat in October, they probably shouldn’t live in northern Sweden…… but I don’t want to sound like a bigoted dog breedist….
All dog breeds should have an equal right to live wherever they wish and are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…. they should just consider the weather versus the thickness of their fur before settling in the northern wasteland. I’m the least breedist person you’ve met. Nobody has more respect for chihuahuas than me.
But filthy miniature canine rats aside,some weeks you are brought low. Real low. The seemingly perfect family that you feel is grasping the gospel suddenly drops you when you thought they were going to feed you Nicaraguan food that night. The baptismal candidates disappear and cannot be found. Your new converts are forced to move camps. You sit down and think ” wow, it’s been nearly two years…” and the thought of the mission ending in just 17 days feels bittersweet.
The closing scenes of the final act of my mission admittedly are not finishing off as immature young greenie Elder Scott dreamed they would. He envisioned a significantly stronger, taller, more physically mature elder with fluent Swedish and a boatload of investigators filing into the baptismal font. Somewhere, somehow, as a missionary you get this concept that the last wee bit of your mission is going to offer the greatest success.
Therefore, if you do not find your last weeks in the mission field to be your most successful, you initially ask “what did I do wrong?” “Why do I not get the grand finale with a cherry on top like everyone talks about?” Such thoughts are as relatively vain as my original vision of the ideal conclusion to my mission. It is expecting payment for a service that should purely be voluntary. Faith is not the power to control God to our wants. It is the sweet bliss found when aligning our will to God’s will.
Really, if Heavenly Father gave me the magical swan song of the mission that I thought I deserved, with baptisms on my final Saturday, I would’ve missed out on the great blessing that comes when your last weeks in the field are on your knees with nothing to boast about.
This is the blessing that comes from one of my favourite poems, which has proven to be the theme of my mission: ‘Father, where shall I work today?’ And my love flowed warm and free. Then he pointed out a tiny spot And said, ‘Tend that for me.’ I answered quickly, ‘Oh no, not that! Why, no one would ever see, No matter how well my work was done. Not that little place for me.’ And the word he spoke, it was not stern He answered me tenderly: ‘Ah, little one, search that heart of thine Art thou working for them or for me? ‘Nazareth was a little place, And so was Galilee.’
and whenever I get discouraged, I need to always remember this video snippet:
In this autumnally golden northern most Eden, apple trees are as common as mini vans in Utah. The streets are lined, the yards are filled and the fields are littered with apple trees. For the past several weeks, we’ve taken advantage of this surplussed asset of fresh fruit…. but, though decent, the apples always seemed a wee bit off…. until this week. Suddenly, every apple is significantly crispier. What brought about the sudden change? Well, every wise Norrland apple grower could tell you that you wait to pick your apples after the first frost, for the temporary freezing of the apple changes the apple’s interior texture to become crispier. As the cold rolls down from the western mountains, bringing with it chilly wind, freezing fog and icy rain, the seemingly unsuitable weather conditions actually improve the quality of the apples.
Yes, there is an object lesson in this.
Going into this week I was waltzing along happily, like an apple happily growing in the October sunlight…. and then Tuesday hit. Not only was it the first legitimately cold day of the season, but was a day that literally crashed and burned. We left in the early morning to travel to a lesson with a member to be present for, which fell through, and that was just the beginning. I will not go in depth, but everything on our schedule disintegrated to dust and not a soul seemed open to listen to our message. It was cold, dark, and yes, the apples on the trees were frozen.
The next day, I took a bite of an apple from a tree and the difference and it’s taste was remarkable….. and along with it, the difference in the day was remarkable! We hardly had much time to knock on doors because it seemed like everyone was letting us in to teach them, we found some truly amazing people, an investigator received a firm spiritual impression that the Book of Mormon is true and wants to be baptised, and you know…. ending the day with a member meal is always nice. Just as it takes the first frost to improve the apples’ taste, it takes the horrible glum unsuccessful days to make the good days valued.
Anyhow, only three more of these blog posts left.
As this wild northern wilderness transforms into it’s briefly lived autumn before the fierce arctic winter rolls in, the hills turn to gold speckled blankets of swiftly shedding deciduous amidst the resilient evergreen. (that sentence sounds cheesy but that’s just how it came out.) The mornings are frost filled, the sunrises are increasingly slower and later, and the cold wind preludes the incoming snow fall. The Swedes cling to every last snatch of sun upon the pavement before they must enter the inevitable dark ages of winter.
Down in America, autumn was always a season of it’s own: a separate entity independent of summer or winter… but up here on the top of the world, where the North Star shines directly over your head, autumn’s prescience is but a few short weeks before howling winter takes over, making it more a simultaneous swan song to summer and a prophetic warning cry for winter.
In a matter of weeks, the sun will only be over the horizon for a couple hours. The darkness will beat down upon us as heavily as the snow that falls from it, and all plant life will be but corpses along the gray countryside. With such a grim future comes the uprise of depression and all inhabitants of Norrland will either have to fly south with the birds or endure through the darkness with the hope of a bright spring. This fall is really bringing home to me the fact that I really am living on the top of the world. Because the earth spins on an axis, for a portion of day we are literally further north than the North Pole.
But with all the glum shared by the population on the doorstep to winter, President Nelson’s talk this last week in general conference could not of been a more perfect remedy. I positively loved his message. I loved all of conference (particularly Elder Renlund’s shout out to my old area Göteborg) but President Nelson’s talk seemed tailor fitted for me. He spoke of finding joy in every circumstance. A skill I very much need to work on. He taught that “the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”
I invite you to ponder upon that quotation for a wee bit. Ponder upon it’s meaning and then ponder upon your own life and think of how you can apply such a principle to your every day. The very essence of the concept makes such a practice exclusionary to literally no one. Anyone can gain from this.
I have seen this principle to be true on my mission. I know a refugee man with the most horrifying past and the most seemingly bleak future, who maintains a level of joy that would convince you that he is the most blessed and happiest person on the planet. On the other hand, on my mission I’ve also met a man with all the earthly possessions he could possibly desire, his dream job, dream inner city apartment and yet a inner discontent and sadness no amount of money could pacify. Clearly, though circumstances can influence happiness, it isn’t the circumstance that ultimately determines happiness. The most battered modern Job (biblical character Job…not the synonym to occupation) can have joy and the most pampered modern Solomon can have depression. What is it that gives my refugee friend joy that the other man lacked? President Nelson explained “When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation, Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening–or not happening–in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy.”
As cheesy as it may sound to the casual outside listener, it’s true. This gospel gives you joy. Of course, troubles and trials keep coming in life, sometimes even more frequently when you are a disciple of Christ, and the gospel may not always relieve you of the tragedies, but it does supply joy through them. As President Nelson said “it doesn’t seem possible to feel joy when your child suffers with an incurable illness or when you lose your job or when your spouse betrays you. Yet that is precisely the joy the Savior offers. His joy is constant, assuring us that our ‘afflictions shall be but a small moment’ and be consecrated to our gain.”
One of my heroes is a woman we are currently teaching who is preparing to be baptised on my last week of the mission. She was raised in Iraq where she was forced to marry a man 10 years her senior at the age of thirteen. Her husband was abusive in every sense of the word. By age fourteen, she gave birth to her first of five children. In the same year, she was forced to flee her hometown, being made to leave her baby girl with her parents as she escaped on a dangerous raft across the Mediterranean. Now, she is twenty-six years old and single handedly raising four sweet and precious children, some with autism. She has just, in the last couple weeks, been able to be liberated from her husband, who would physically abuse her and her children, sleep around constantly with other women, and forcefully use all of her money to be wasted on gambling, alcohol and riotous living….. she has every justification to simply give up in life and face every day with a bad attitude. She has had constant suffering since childhood and now she is twenty-six, with severe medical problems as a result of having babies so young, with four kids to raise by herself, with no family in the country, a daughter still in Iraq, and the weight of providing for a family alone.
What are most people doing at age twenty-six? Just getting married? Earning their Masters at university? Having their first baby? Or still wandering about aimlessly just to have a good time and avoid responsibility? And yet she, at the very same age, has lived through what most forty-six year olds have not. And she is HAPPY. She has JOY. She gives those around her joy. She does not complain about her problems. She looks for the way out of them. She truly is incredible to me. She is constantly positive…. and as she increases in knowledge of the gospel, so too does she increase in joy.
Her story, of course, is an extreme one. Neither I, nor most people reading this blog, can claim we come from war torn countries and were forced into marriage as 7th graders. But to quote another talk in this past conference, by elder Schmutz, I don’t want this to “cause many to think their own sorrows and sufferings are of little consequence in comparison. Please don’t compare, but seek to learn and apply eternal principles as you wade through the furnace of your own afflictions.”
We all have our trials, and we all have the ability, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, to have joy through the trials, regardless of their magnitude or our past history of pessimism.
It is all dependant upon our eternal perspective. If we look at life with the ante-mortal existence and post-mortal existence in mind, adding the atonement and gospel of Jesus Christ into the equation, we do truly find redemption, reward and JOY, promised to the true and faithful.
We are the gospel of “every little thing is going to be alright.”
President Nelson made a beautiful point regarding the very atonement that allows us to have joy, “In order for Him (Christ) to endure the most excruciating experience ever endured on earth, our Savior focused on joy!”
It was the joy of our possible redemption, repentance and ultimately our eternal salvation that enabled Jesus Christ to fully complete His sacrificial act upon the earth. Though He died of a broken heart, He atoned with a joyful one. It was JOY that held Him through the pain of the garden and the cross. It is JOY that will hold us through our individual portions of the garden and cross that He has already suffered for us… for the sake and hope of JOY.
“If we focus on the joy that will come to us, or to those we love, what can we endure that presently seems overwhelming, painful, scary, unfair, or simply impossible?”
With the joy of the gospel, we can endure everything. I’ve seen those who have suffered the greatest maintain the greatest joy…. those who you hear about in the news and in the Church’s pleas to aid. The Refugees, orphans, and widows…. with the right perspective, REGARDLESS of their circumstances, maintain eternal JOY.
Some may have the Christ given gift of easily emitting JOY. Cling to these people! They are sent from heaven.
If you are like me, however, you may need to work upon this attribute…. but I know that all of us, when we maintain proper eternal perspective and a love of God and of ALL man, can have JOY.
I’m here in Sweden to spread the message of joy.
“That is why our missionaries leave their homes to preach His gospel. Their goal is not to increase the number of Church members. Rather, our missionaries teach and baptize to bring joy to the people of the world!”
I have four weeks left to give my full-time service to preaching the message of joy, and I intend on doing so joyfully….right into the dark gaping jaws of winter.