The mission meeting...with Elder and Sister Holland and Elder Hallstrom...let's see if I know how to begin...
I hope this letter doesn't come across prideful or boastful in any way, even though I do have great pride in this mission and all of the hard work everyone here puts in. The reason I am sharing this much is because this was a time that has changed not only my mission, but my life. I hope to share some points that may stand out and also influence those who are reading in some way.
I'm going to apologize in advance because the mission meeting is going to take a while to tell about--I've been dying to tell about it--it was amazing. President Packard encouraged us for months to be spiritually prepared for that day, and one thing is for sure--we all prepared. When the time arrived, we were all seated in the chapel, reading and praying 40-60 minutes early. We also had a strings quartet and piano playing prelude arrangements. The moment President and Sister Packard, Elder Hallstrom, and Sister and Elder Holland entered, we all stood, as I couldn't help but feel the immense amount of love coming from them. I couldn't believe Elder Holland was right there! I found myself among many other missionaries shed tears of gratitude and love for all that they do. Row by row, we went up to give Elder and Sister Holland and Elder Hallstrom firm handshakes.
The moment flew by, as I couldn't help but shed a few tears and be dazed, wondering how it was all happening. They gave friendly hello's and welcoming smiles as they locked eyes as Elder Holland later said, "Interviewed us with a handshake." Elder Hallstrom observed the name on my tag and he made sure he knew my name. I observed that he did that for every missionary. It was so cool. :)
The meeting began as President Packard conducted. The opening musical number by the string quartet and piano was (Great Grandpa Derrick's favorite)--Oh Divine Redeemer. The spirit felt so pure. It was powerful. It was breathtaking.
Elder Hallstrom began. He said the Packards--out of the 23 (or so) missions he is over, are as good as it gets. We all felt so much love for the Packards as weren't surprised to hear him say that. He and Sister Holland gave sweet talks about their love for us, the work of salvation, and how we are qualified as full time missionaries as we love Heavenly Father, the Savior, ourselves and those we serve with all of our hearts. When Elder Holland's turn came to speak, he began with how terrified he was to speak to us. He was filled with emotion and told us that when he shakes our hand, he is interviewing us. He said with tears coming down his face, with the exception of one or two (I hope it's not me) that this mission "gets it." And then he said, in all of his 25 years of being able to attend how many hundreds or thousands of missionary meetings, shaking the hands of thousands of missionaries, he had NEVER been to a better missionary meeting.
I think every heart in that chapel almost stopped beating at that point. President Packard must have been beaming.
Elder Holland took it from there--speaking in great power and conviction. He spoke about how his mission changed his life forever as he wants the same for ours forever and ever. He then continued by quoting the scripture "No man (or woman) having set his (or her) hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." He began to speak in his calm, firm voice about how we must stay true and then he exclaimed, "We need to you forever and ever!!" (Then pounded the pulpit) "Don't you deny the power and majesty of your mission. I cannot deal with that!! As we seek for these sheep, please tell me we don't have to worry about the shepherds! It's a given--we have always counted on the shepherds--and we have to count on you!" Elder Holland let out a desperate plea for not one of us to ever walk away from the truth and what we are teaching. He meant every word he said as he continued on the importance of returned missionaries never going inactive, as he "couldn't accommodate or manage it." Every hand in that chapel must have been hurting from scribbling notes as we soaked in every word to remember it for our lives.
A few other bullet points I wrote down during the meeting: We are God's investigators--everything we want for our people he wants for us. Forgive and repent. Forgive and repent. Forgive and repent. God is easy to please and hard to satisfy. Be persistent--be persistent without being obnoxious. Preach my Gospel was born to convert the missionary. There are examples in the Savior's life that demonstrate the process of going where the investigator is. In other words, to figure out what can connect them from where their understanding lies in their state of ignorance and apostasy, and lead it to where it needs to be through a spiritual experience. Near the end of the meeting, he emphasized Christ's words as many people judged who could have their hearts turned to "lift up your eyes" as "the fields are white, already to harvest" and however effective we are as missionaries, we are not effective enough as we must always strive to improve. By the end, Elder Holland reemphasized, "You are the finest mission I have seen in years...ah, I wasn't going to say that because I don't want your heads to get too big, but now I just blurted it out." This means that more will be expected of us, not less. Again, lift up your eyes, and be part of the solution and never part of the problem. Embrace and know the gospel. Find the link that will take them from the world they've been given to find the spiritual key that will touch their heart. No matter the question, the spirit is the answer. This work is not easy, "because Salvation was not a cheap experience" and how "the road to discipleship always goes through Gathsemane...Discipleship is to walk where he walked, talk what he talked, and to go through a little of what He did. We are not invited to bleed--we are invited to hurt a little for the sins of this generation." Elder Holland said much more on how our experiences don't compare to the Atonement's amount, but that we walk a similar path the Savior did.
Elder Holland spoke about how sometimes we are afraid to make large decisions or do things out of our comfort zone, but sometimes we need to come to the edge, as the Lord invites us to do so as He'll push us to fly. He said, "I came to the edge and was able to fly...I challenge you, in the name of the Lord, to fly." He left a beautiful apostolic blessing on all of us present right there and then, closed by inviting us to "come to the edge. Allow Him to push. And fly."
After Elder Holland closed, we all sang "The Spirit of God" as we all shed tears. Even Elder Holland appeared to be crying. It was powerful. It was emotional. I felt more moved and motivated. The feeling of Celestial glory in that chapel within its enclosed doors was unforgettable. Sister Harris and I couldn't help but put our arms around each other, embracing this moment. Before I knew it, the closing prayer was being said. Afterwards, when we all stood up when Elder Holland did as he blew a kiss and waved us goodbye, we all stood there. We couldn't help but feel the yearning desire for him to stay as the Nephites felt when the Savior was about to leave them as "he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them" (3 Ne 18:5). Once Elder Holland left, the sacred feeling remained there. Nobody sat. Everyone soaked in the powerful, Celestial feeling. Minutes passed. Then more. (If there wasn't carpet) a pin could have been heard if it dropped as everyone stood, pondered, and reminisced.
Slowly, President Christensen from our mission presidency went up to the pulpit and said in his meek and humble tone, "Thank you for coming spiritually prepared. I don't know if President is coming back, but we will dismiss the meeting, but if you'd like, you can write down the feelings you have and what you are going to do." There were so many feelings and emotions I wanted to record. I prepared in the best way I could for the meeting. During the meeting, I couldn't help but feel such a love from Heavenly Father, as He is pleased with what I have been doing, but to not give up in His work--to keep going. Keep improving. I couldn't help but remember right then the time I opened my call--hands trembling and the world seeming to spin as I read the Massachusetts Boston Mission--as I knew without the shadow of a doubt I needed to be here. It is a true blessing to be here at this time, surrounded by other disciples of Christ with these experiences and blessings poured from heaven. Sometimes I just need to remember to "come to the edge. Allow Him to push, and fly."
For such a time is this. As I could hardly breathe that afternoon while being engulfed by overwhelming feeling of peace, power, and the Savior's majesty, the quote came to mind "Life isn't measured by the number of breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away." How true that is. :)
There is seriously no greater work than this!
I love you all so much. I know Heavenly Father is mindful of each and every one of you--your needs, desires, concerns, and all.
As Elder Holland said, "Come to the edge. Allow him to push, and fly."
More next week.
P.S. I was reading Elder Ballard's talk the other day about following up, so how is everyone's Preach my Gospel study coming along? Any new insights or ideas?
Here are a few pictures from Zone Conference:
Here are a few pictures from Zone Conference:
|The Restoration Display|
|One of the Portable Visitors Center (PVC) Displays|