For 18 months I have the privilege of serving the Paraguayan people in the Paraguay Asuncion North Mission, as a representative of Jesus Christ! My dad will be posting my weekly updates here so you can follow me on my adventures in the heart of South America and hopefully come to love the Paraguayans as much as I do.
[Disclaimer: My weekly updates will not be this lengthy.]
Farewell talk transcript (plus bonus material):
Good morning brother’s and sisters, family and friends,
It’s been about four months since I have received my mission call and I have had ample time to clean out my room, finish my second semester at BYU, go through and attend the temple, and prepare to teach the people of Paraguay. If I’m not ready by now, I don’t think I’ll ever be.
While cleaning out my room, I took the opportunity to reflect on how my testimony has accumulated over the years. Sorting through a seemingly endless supply of Personal Progress crafts, Young Women’s notes and sunday school hand-outs, I came across a collection of girl’s camp trinkets, one of which stood out to me. During one of my last years at girl’s camp the main theme revolved around service. Each girl received a counter and kept track of how many good words, deeds and services they saw and performed throughout the week. With the counter came a pendant with the words “drop by drop” on it. Although the message for that week was about service, I also applied it to how I’ve gained my testimony. I’ve truly come to know for myself the truth of this gospel “drop by drop”.
Elder Bednar’s explains this process more eloquently than I ever could in his video series, Pattern’s of Light. He stated, “I’ve compared [revelation] to a light being turned on in a dark room. Where very suddenly, the darkness is expelled and you can see everything in the room quite clearly and brilliantly… A second pattern of light [or revelation] is when light comes gradually, much like the rising of the sun. You can discern the increase of light on horizon but never all at once.”
For me, coming to know of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been a long process and has taken years of consciously working and diligently seeking further light. Each drop of light has come from first, having the faith to seek truth; second, acting on what feels right; and then third, having the flexibility to be corrected or assured of truth.
As I’ve studied the scriptures and attended seminary, I’ve learned to love parables. One of my favorite, and one that has taught and motivated me, is the parable of the ten virgins found in Matthew 25.
The savior said to his apostles,
1 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
3 They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
4 But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
6 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
8 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
12 But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
13 Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
As we know, the bridegroom’s arrival signifies the second coming of Jesus Christ and the oil in the lamps signify our testimony. The group of wise virgins represent those who are prepared and the foolish represent those who are not.
The first time I learned this parable, I reflected and began to wonder if I would be counted as a wise virgin or a foolish one. I felt sad for the foolish ones who were not permitted to join in the celebration and even felt a fear of being the one who was not prepared for the coming of the bridegroom. Knowing that the oil signifies our testimony, I realized in the event of the Savior’s return to earth, my mom would not have oil or extra testimony to lend me, neither would my dad, brothers or friends. I had to have my own oil and have my own flame of testimony prepared.
It has not been easy filling my figurative oil lamp. Daily scripture study and prayer have added drops of oil, however I have gone through waves of spiritual highs of consistent study and spiritual lows of inconsistency. Heavenly father knows that we are not perfect and will not always consistently add oil to our lamps on our own, so he set up a system that makes up for what we lack. In the beginning, coming to church was a chore- something that had to be done in order to live peaceably with my parents. However, once I understood the eternal significance of the sacrament and truly opened my heart and mind to learning during these three hours every Sunday, I not only attend church, but I look forward to it each week. This adds one regular drop a week, regardless of where I am at. At first I thought it was unnecessary to have two extra hours of church attached to sacrament meeting, plus an hour every week for mutual. However, as I pushed myself to attend every scheduled meeting and every mutual I could, I consistently learned so many lessons from teachers and leaders that supported me when I was inconsistent with scripture study and prayer. These became more drops that I added regularly. Further, attending seminary, participating in service, fulfilling callings as best as I could and applying the gospel to my everyday life are just a few of the ways I have collected the oil that fuels my testimony.
It takes patience and work to collect the oil for your testimony, and even more patience and work to keep it. While listening to a BYU devotional one Tuesday morning, I found a new meaning to the word persistence. The devotional speaker explained that “Persistence is patience with a purpose”. We must be persistent in working to grow our testimonies, diligently working and patiently putting in the time to become like our savior.
Sometimes it becomes more difficult for us to have the faith needed to strengthen our testimony. The past few weeks have seemed to be filled with the sting of death, with an apostle, Elder Perry, our dear Joe, the Openshaws, and the much loved Grandpa Yarro, a man never found without a ready smile and always encouraging us crazy Carr kids while we worked in our yard- all of them passing on to the next phase of eternal progression. The pains of death, loss, fear, insecurity and sin cause us to lose faith, which is the first principle of the gospel and the first step to strengthening our testimony. It is during these trials that we can rely on the hope in the Atonement provided by our Savior Jesus Christ. When we are faced with trials we can take heart with the words of Amulek, “And now my sons, remember remember that it is upon the rock of our redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation. A foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” If we build our testimonies centered on Jesus Christ we are promised we cannot fall. Even if we can’t run or even walk towards exaltation and our testimonies’ are buffeted by Satan’s plots and ploys, if we build on the atonement of Jesus Christ and stand our ground we will not fall.
Having this kind of faith takes practice. Much like learning the piano, or filling an oil lamp drop by drop, having undeviating faith in the face of adversity takes time. Heber J. Grant often quoted Ralph Waldo Emmerson saying, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do, not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased”. The Atonement allows us to keep adding to our oil, even when we feel we can’t do anything more. It is enabling, empowering and infinite.
*if time needs to be filled, go to weed-zone "parable"
Pausing my education, leaving family and the comforts of home is not easy. In learning a new language, talking to strangers everyday and leading anyone seeking truth to the gospel I feel completely inadequate. I am not a scripture scholar, a service super-star and can really only speak semi-fluent spanglish. In many ways, I am completely under-qualified to serve the Paraguayans. However, just as it’s taken persistent faith to slowly, but steadily, collect the oil that fuels my testimony, I know through my Savior Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Ghost I can represent Him and bring others to the joy of the gospel. It will take persistence, diligence and consistency to become the best missionary I can be, just as it takes persistence, diligence and consistency to become what Heavenly Father has planned for us to be. I challenge you to reflect on how you personally increase your testimony and to continue to add to it, drop by drop. Stay motivated to endure with the words of James E. Faust: “Faith is the power, obedience is the price. Love is the motive, the spirit is the key and Christ is the reason.”
[BEAR TESTIMONY] In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. *My “parable” of the weed zones
This last week, I went out to weed my designated “weed-zones” after two weeks of neglect. This year, shortly after planting the flowers, we left on a family trip and once we were back I continued to neglect the flower bed until the weeds became more noticeable than the flowers we had planted. To beat the heat I went out a little early and began to pull out the disease of my flower bed. Every summer my mom buys flowers and instructs us where to plant them, then both of my parents divide up the yard into “weed-zones” and charge my brothers and I with the task of maintaining the flower beds. (So if you ever pass my house see weeds growing, one of us is slacking.) Weeding is never pleasant- pulling up dirt with the weed-roots, kneeling next to skittering bugs and being startled by spiders is not my favorite pass time. Soon after I started weeding that morning my knees began to ache and my thighs burned from squatting and kneeling on the cement. I stood up to give my knees a break, thinking of all the negative aspects about weeding, and, upon looking down at the seemingly endless line of ground-cover weeds, I thought of myself yelling to the weeds, “Fine. Grow!” Contemplating giving up and retreating to take a nice shower inside away from the bugs, I reminded myself of how we had worked hard to plant the flowers. I noticed one flower beginning to wither among the storm of weeds. I also recalled back to the time when my parents gave me a weekly allowance and how if I did not complete weeding I would take deductions in my child-income. So, despite the bugs, the spiders and the daunting task ahead, I got on my knees and continued to weed.
As I continued to weed, the spirit directed my thoughts to how virtues and sin work. While growing my testimony I planted many virtues in my heart and implemented them in my actions. Some virtues have come naturally to me, others I have worked/learned to obtain. However, alongside my virtues I have many temptations, bad habits and mistakes that have taken root. There have been times in the past where I have looked at my many imperfections and thought to myself, “Fine. Grow!”-giving up on the task of casting out sin and persistently working to become like the savior. Whenever I feel so inadequate, the spirit reminds me of the virtues I have come to learn. Heavenly Father instructed us to plant flowers of virtue and become like his Son, Jesus Christ. The fruits of living the gospel are beautiful and wonderful. Satan, however, plants and spreads weeds in our hearts, manipulating the natural man to give in to the very things that will kill the gospel fruit and the flowers of our testimony. If we neglect the weeds, Satan’s plants will overrun our lives, leaving our flower beds full of thorns and chaos. Yet if we will spend thirty minutes a day in scripture study, three hours once a week for church and a full day of fasting once a month, and devote a large portion of our time to what Heavenly Father instructs us to do, the flowers of a testimony will bloom with ease and we will be able to feel that happiness that comes from living the gospel. We must be careful- as any gardener knows, regardless of how many days, weeks, months or even years we spend maintaining a garden, if we let up weeds will always be there to overpower what we have worked to help grow. Satan is ready at the gate to attack you at the slightest chance of an opportunity. To complete my analogy, it says in D&C 1:31: “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance”. Just as my parents would not give me allowance if I had weeds in my zone, Heavenly Father does not give us any allowance for sin! When we feel like giving up, we must get on our knees and press forward in faith.