Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"So, we email again, for the last time!"

July 13, 2015
Dear Everybody,

Well, the time has come for my final transfer - to what the Elders in this mission call "The Land of Eternal P-Days" or just " 'Merica."  I can't believe my time to serve a mission is ending!!  It came waaay too fast!  I still have that surreal feeling that you get a couple of days before Christmas, when you know you should be ecstatic, but you just aren't all hyper about it.  Everyone keeps asking me, "Aren't you excited to see your family again?"  It will be nice to see my parents and my sisters, and yes, even Evan, again, but it feels like I'll be leaving half of my family here! I just love the Malaysian members of the Church so much, and I'm going to have a big hole in my life without them!
1.  We're planning a trip to Nauvoo, July 20-25. You're scheduled to speak in church on July 27. Do you foresee any problems with that Nauvoo trip?  That sounds like a great time to travel to Nauvoo, to me.  I don't have anything scheduled then :)  I'm really looking forward to it!  This just means that I'll have the homecoming talk hanging over my head for a few more days, but I'll live.
2.  [Other missionaries’ return dates] Great!  Thank you, it's good to know about my friends' return dates, too.
3. What is your schedule like this week?  Do you spend time in the mission office / mission home? Well, my schedule is rather airtight this week:  Today I pack as if I were going to Singapore tomorrow.  Tomorrow morning I go to Singapore, where I'll join the district meeting of my good friends Elder Flynn and Elder Tseng.  I'll turn in my Singapore work permit and have a departing interview with President Simmons.  Soon after that, all the departing missionaries will eat a departing dinner with President and Sister Simmons, then go back to sleep at the Pasir Panjang house for a few hours before we shuttle over to the airport.
4.  Have you met your new mission president? Yes, I met President and Sister Simmons two weeks ago at Mission Leadership Council.  They are AWESOME!!  I already miss President Mains a lot, but as I sat in MLC, I could feel that President Simmons has been chosen and prepared by the Lord to lead this mission.  He is a really wise and kind person (I imagine that's the kind of person the Lord always chooses to be His mission presidents), and the Spirit bore witness to my heart that the direction he feels this mission should take is the direction the Lord wants us to go.  He hasn't brought any drastic changes to the mission like many missionaries fantasized he would.  In fact, he told us that as he prepared and prayed about what to do, the revelation that he received was very similar to what President Mains had been doing already and that we will continue to follow the mission plan that President Mains drafted for 2015.  This just tells me that Jesus Christ really is the head of this work and that He knows all things from the beginning, and that President Mains and President Simmons are His inspired servants called to help us missionaries understand, receive, and follow the path He has prepared for us.
5. What testimony-building experiences have you had this week?  Once again, I'm out of time, but I'm so excited to answer all your questions in person!  Don't worry, I do have spiritual, testimony building experiences but sadly, I seldom recall them for you at email time.
6.  Do you need anything from us? Nope, you've given me just what I really needed by sending me these maps.  Thank you for all that you've done/sent me to support me throughout my whole mission experience!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

More Q&A - brief thoughts about the mission and the future

Dear Family,
1.  Where would you like to visit at the end of July-beginning of August.
    A.  Oregon coast (the same little apartment/inn is available in Lincoln City)
    B.  San Francisco 

    C.  Both A and B, driving through the Redwoods on the way
    D.  Nauvoo and Liberty Jail (with possible side trip to St. Louis's Gateway Arch 

    E.  Other. Please specify ____________________________________ 

I would love option D!  I would love to see Nauvoo and Liberty Jail!

Oh, thanks for the map and new flight plans.  I didn't even know they had changed.  I've flown enough times and navigated enough airports to feel much more confident in traveling now, but the map will still really help.  
[Brennan returns July 15 at 4:00 p.m. You are welcome to come greet him.]

2.  Have you thought about how to respond when people ask, "So, how was your mission?"  (Short essay question -- not Yes/No)
 Nope.  I haven't thought about that at all.  I guess I would say that on a daily basis, it was tiring, trying, eye-opening, joyful, and humbling.  I felt the power of the Spirit at work countless times, but I'm still just beginning to appreciate how miraculous the works of the Lord are.  I wouldn't give it up for the world!

3.  How has your mission changed you?
To be short, and without much real thought about this question or eloquence, serving a mission has helped me to feel more confident, calm, and close to Heavenly Father.  I also notice that I ask a lot more "Why" questions now.  I agree with Elder Guymon that you'll probably notice the change much more than I have.

4. What testimony building experience and/or answer to prayer comes to mind from this last week/month?
Well, Elder Hanks and I were really praying that we'd find new investigators, and that we'd find people willing to be baptized.  The testimony-building part was seeing these prayers answered after working diligently to try to fulfill our desires.
You remember Lane, the investigator I mentioned in my email last week?  The day after he attended the second session of that class, he asked us a few questions about Christianity. We taught him a simple first lesson that day, and he committed to read the Book of Mormon and pray to his Heavenly Father daily. This Friday, just after we returned from MLC, he arrived early to the English class, with a big smile on his face. He said to me, "Can I talk to you? I have something good I want to tell you. I prayed to God on the school bus this morning, and after that I just had a good feeling all day. Even when the teacher scolded me and when some other things went wrong, I didn't get angry, I just had a calm feeling. I think what you are teaching me is good and true!" Right then and there, he committed to be baptized on August 1st! This special experience has really strengthened my testimony that the Lord is preparing the hearts of the people here and that I will be led to the right people if only I'm willing to open my mouth.

5. What are you most looking forward to when you come home?
Honestly, I haven't given that a lot of thought either.  (Maybe I don't think about anything at all?)  Of course I'm very excited to see you all at the airport, but I haven't really thought about what I want to do most after that.  I do miss playing music.  I'll probably hug my trumpet just as warmly as I hug all of you ;)  I'm also looking forward to helping in the church by accepting and fulfilling another calling, including home teaching.

6.  What are you most anxious or worried about regarding coming home?
I'm don't want to be a directionless weirdo.  I hope I can get a plan for my life.  I also don't even know what school is anymore, so that will be an interesting transition.  Who am I going to speak Chinese with??  How do I even use...Facebook? (I assume that will be the best way to stay in contact with the Malaysian members and recent converts.)

7.  What do you already miss when you think about coming home? 
I definitely already miss the members of the Church here!  They have taught me so much more than I could possibly write in this email!  I love them all so much, and I really hope I will make a way to stay in contact with them.
I love you all so much, and I can't wait to see you again, soon!!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

More Q&A and Adventure in Melaka

June 29, 2015
Dear Family,
In response to your questions,

1.  Did you travel out of your city for any reason this week?
Yes, I went to Melaka, where I emailed you last week.  On Tuesday, as part of my exchange with Melaka's district leader, Elder Lallemant, I journeyed to Seremban, a city between Melaka and Kuala Lumpur.  It was quite the exchange!  We had a crazy time, riding another empty charter bus for another hour to Seremban Sentral Station.  We haggled the taxi drivers and finally found one who could take us to the home of the referral we were trying to visit.  We found the area of his house, then got out of the taxi and walked.  We thought we were so cool because we were probably walking down paths and roads that no missionaries had ever walked!  Later, we found out that Seremban is actually in another companionship's area and that they go there all the time.  Oh well.  It was still interesting and strange to be in a place that is not far, geographically, but has a very different feeling from where we normally serve. 
We found the house of someone with exactly the same name as the man we were looking for, but who was obviously not him.  After talking with his family for a little while and eating some rambutan right off of his tree, we set out again to find the right man.  We found him in a little house in an overgrown, mosquito infested area, and taught him about the restoration of the gospel.  I don't think he understood everything we said, even though we were doing our best to explain simply and clearly, but I believe he felt that we loved him and that God loved him.  He said a short, tender prayer at the end of our lesson, and sent us on our way again.
By the  time we got back to Seremban Sentral, there were no more buses back to Melaka!  We waited for the 8:00 bus, but at 5 minutes to 8, discovered that it had broken down, so we just had to taxi back to Melaka in the dark.

2.  Tell about a good experience finding someone.
A couple of weeks ago, while I was on exchanges with our branch mission leader, Ben Tay, I contacted a couple of boys on the street, who said they would come to our English Class.  They came to the class for two consecutive Fridays.  This past Friday, we invited one of the boys, Lane, who asked us a few questions about prayer and other Christian churches, to come back to the church the following afternoon so that we could teach him more about the Church.  He agreed, and came to the church for a first lesson on Saturday.  After our lesson, we invited him to attend our Sunday meetings, too.  Yesterday, he arrived early to church and stayed for the duration of the meeting block, for the linger-longer afterward, and for another gospel lesson after that!  He even invited his friend, the other boy we had met on the street that night, to hurry over to the church so that they could take our lesson together!  After the lesson, they committed to pray to Heavenly Father each day, and Lane committed to be baptized when he discovers the Church is true!  I know that miracles really do come from simply opening my mouth to people everywhere! 

3.  What insights have you had in your personal study this week?
Well, as I prepared a talk for yesterday's missionary-work-themed sacrament meeting, I realized that my real motivation for being on a mission and for doing pretty much everything I do is my love for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.  The words of Elder Holland's 2010 October general conference talk came back to my mind and made me super excited to hold a calling and be a home teacher:

After a joyful reunion with the resurrected Jesus, Peter had an exchange with the Savior that I consider the crucial turning point of the apostolic ministry generally and certainly for Peter personally, moving this great rock of a man to a majestic life of devoted service and leadership. Looking at their battered little boats, their frayed nets, and a stunning pile of 153 fish, Jesus said to His senior Apostle, “Peter, do you love me more than you love all this?” Peter said, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”10

The Savior responds to that reply but continues to look into the eyes of His disciple and says again, “Peter, do you love me?” Undoubtedly confused a bit by the repetition of the question, the great fisherman answers a second time, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”11

The Savior again gives a brief response, but with relentless scrutiny He asks for the third time, “Peter, do you love me?” By now surely Peter is feeling truly uncomfortable. Perhaps there is in his heart the memory of only a few days earlier when he had been asked another question three times and he had answered equally emphatically—but in the negative. Or perhaps he began to wonder if he misunderstood the Master Teacher’s question. Or perhaps he was searching his heart, seeking honest confirmation of the answer he had given so readily, almost automatically. Whatever his feelings, Peter said for the third time, “Lord, … thou knowest that I love thee.”12

To which Jesus responded (and here again I acknowledge my nonscriptural elaboration), perhaps saying something like: “Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.”

Then, turning to all the Apostles, He might well have said something like: “Were you as foolhardy as the scribes and Pharisees? As Herod and Pilate? Did you, like they, think that this work could be killed simply by killing me? Did you, like they, think the cross and the nails and the tomb were the end of it all and each could blissfully go back to being whatever you were before? Children, did not my life and my love touch your hearts more deeply than this?”

My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: “Did you love me?” I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.”13 And if at such a moment we can stammer out, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.

“If ye love me, keep my commandments,” 14 Jesus said. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can’t quit and we can’t go back.

5.  Tell about an experience you've had where you've felt the Spirit this week.
Most of the times I feel the Spirit now are when I suddenly have an impression that I need to talk to somebody next to me on the bus or walking on the street.  I feel constrained by the Spirit to stop people and invite them to learn about the Church more and more each day.  When I do this, I know I'm doing something right.

6.  What have you done for P-day recently?
Well, we played an escape room and took a stroll down historic Jonker Walk in Melaka last week.  Today, we went to the Johor Bahru Zoo.  It wasn't the greatest zoo ever, but the entrance fee amounted to about $0.53 USD and I got to see (and hear) lions, tigers, sun bears, flamingos, hornbills, and a lot of monkeys.
7.  What is the strangest thing that has happened to you this week/this month?
See answer to question 1.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Q & A

22 June 2015

Dear Family,

Perfect!  Thanks for the questions!  It's just easier for me to write what you want to hear if I have questions to answer.

1.  Did you travel out of your city for any reason this week?  
Well, I'm in Melaka today.  Elder Hanks and I took a bus for 3 hours this morning and arrived just in time to email you all.  I just realized that my camera batteries are low and I didn't bring extra, so I may just have to borrow Elder Hanks pictures of this P-Day and send them to you later.  (We're actually here for baptism interviews - my two favorite Elders, the only companionship in Melaka, are baptizing more people than the rest of the zone combined - but it just so happens that we were also able to come for some P-Day time, too.)

2.  Tell about a good experience placing a Book of Mormon.
Last Monday, Elder Hanks and I met and taught a boy, code named Vincent, who told us he believed there was more scripture than just the Bible.  We told him about the Book of Mormon, and he immediately said, "I already believe this is true!"  I was ecstatic!  That never happens!  We gave him a copy and he committed to read it and ask God to help him know it really is true.  On Thursday, we went back to Vincent's house for a follow-up visit.  To my disappointment, he hadn't read the Book at all because the English was too hard to understand, and he had apparently heard some untrue things about the church, which left him with some doubts.  By the end of the lesson, however, we seemed to have cleared these things up and he was once again excited to read the Book of Mormon on his own this week.  He even stopped by the church on his way home from work one day when weren't there to let him in, so I hope that's a good sign.

3.  Tell about a sweet [finding] experience this week.
A big miracle we had this week was that we were blessed with six new investigators!  Since we were conducting exchanges almost every day this week, we attribute this blessing to the unfailing "exchanges miracles."  We found a fabulous young family that has obviously been prepared to receive the gospel at this time; three of them became new investigators this week.  In addition, we found 3 other individuals who became new investigators right away!  One of them, Leon, a young Chinese man, was sitting at a bus stop, looking away from us.  When Elder Allen and I opened our mouth, he immediately asked, "Hey, are you from a church?  Do you hold any activities that I could join in?"  We talked with him for the duration of the bus ride, learning a bit more about him and his family.  Leon got off at the same bus stop as we did, and asked for information about the Church and its regular programs.  We went with him the short distance to the chapel to show him the place, gave him a name card and  some information, and went over to his house the next evening for a first lesson!  I have high hopes that the gospel will touch his heart and he will have a desire to join the Church!

4.  What are you reading in your personal study?  
    Have you had any insights recently?

I use all my personal study time reading only Preach My Gospel and the scriptures, because that's what helps me be most prepared for investigators lessons during the day.  We taught a record number of lessons this week, and on top of that had almost a record number of lessons fall through at the last minute.  This means that I've been studying Preach My Gospel Chapter 3 extra hard.  I actually don't feel like I've had any amazing breakthroughs into new realms of gospel knowledge, but I have been reminded of just how pointless the plan of salvation would be without a Savior and Redeemer.  Take Jesus Christ out of the picture, and the plan goes something like this:    We lived with God, as spirits, before we came to earth.  God, our loving Father, sent us to earth to learn and gain experience, as well as a physical body.  While in this mortal state, we all make mistakes and we're not perfect, so we're disqualified from our Father's perfect, glorious presence.  Furthermore, we will all die, which will result in an eternal separation of our bodies and spirits.  This will be the end of our progression and the beginning of a long, miserable existence elsewhere.
I'm sooo  thankful that Heavenly Father sent His Son, and that Jesus Christ made a perfect atonement for us, so that the plan really is one of happiness and salvation!  I know that as long as we follow Jesus Christ and live His gospel with full purpose of heart, then His merciful atonement can take effect in our lives and we will be able to overcome anything and everything with His help!

5.  Tell about an experience you've had where you've felt the Spirit this week.

6.  What have you done for P-day recently?

7.  What is one thing you imagined the mission would be like (before you left) that has been really different than you imagined.

8.  If you could sum up what you've learned from your mission experience in one word, what would it be?  (A short phrase or two would also be okay)
There are definitely hundreds of one-liners that could describe my mission experience, but because I have no idea how to succinctly sum it all up right now, and because I only have 2 minutes left, I'll say  "Heart-opening."  I'll have to explain in more depth (and with the aid of your questions) when next I see you.  It won't be that long.  AAaagh!  I love you all so much, but I think I'm just beginning to love the mission even more!!  I wish I could do this for longer than just 3 more weeks!!