Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This Night I Pray

This last week was a bit crazy with my new responsibilities, but I am doing very well. The people here are amazing and they have really made my transition from Fairfield to Davis/Woodland a good one. I learned a lot this past week, and being a district leader and a trainer is really stretching me. We have been working hard and now I am just used to always being tired; but I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. I am training a new missionary named Elder Lopez. I have to share his first and middle name with you because his full name is Angel Moroni Lopez. How legit is that?!! He was born in Guatemala and has lived here in the U.S. for the past nine years or so. He is golden ... just like the statues of the Angel Moroni on almost all the temples of our Lord. He is probably the most humble man I have ever met. I am his trainer but I really feel like he is training me. He is soft spoken and has connected so well with the people here. His testimony is so pure and fresh. My Spanish is really taking off because he is a native speaker and almost always talks to me in Spanish. I love him. He has this energy that I cannot describe and wants to talk to everyone, which is amazing. He motivates me to do even more. We are getting along really well together and we have such a beaming vision for this area. It was a cool experience the first night I met him because, in that first moment he bore his testimony, I knew we were going to be together as companions.
At first, the thought of starting up a new area, having to train a new missionary and being a district leader gave me a lot of anxiety.  I didn't want to let anyone down and I felt inadequate at times. So one night this last week I got down on my knees and prayed. I asked with all the sincerity of my heart for comfort and guidance from my Heavenly Father. An overwhelming feeling of comfort filled me. I had complete confidence in myself and trust in my Heavenly Father that everything was going to be okay. I think it is so wonderful that we can always pray. We can pray anywhere or anytime we want or need to … and our Heavenly Father wants to hear from us. He is just like our earthly father. He wants to know how we are doing and he wants to help us. Praying is simple and prayer is the way we build a special relationship with our Father in Heaven. We address Him directly at the beginning of our prayers because we are literally speaking to Him. As we sincerely thank Him for blessings and ask Him for help and guidance, I know that He hears and answers those requests in due time and in ways that we need them answered. As we close in the name of Jesus Christ, we recognize that it is through Him that our relationship and prayers are mediated. I have seen miracles through prayer and I continue to build that relationship with my Father in Heaven. God is our loving Heavenly Father and he knows each and every one of us personally.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton explained, "We have been commanded to pray under all conditions wherever we are. Our spirits are heaven drawn, anxious for constant communication with the source of all great strength." I know that our spirits are heaven drawn as I have felt compelled to go to Heavenly Father in prayer many times in my life.  It is a natural feeling, because before this life we lived with our Heavenly Father and could communicate with him, and prayer is a way during this mortal life for us to communicate with him on a daily basis.
I love a verse in the Bible in the book of Joel 2:28. It says, "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions." As missionaries we pray many times a day. We pray for our people and I have seen that, as I have sought out the Lord in prayer, I have been blessed in this work. If your prayers are heartfelt you will be blessed. I know your vision of life will change because mine has … my vision of what really matters in this life is so much different than it was six months ago. I have learned to trust in the Lord and He has always, always come through.
I love my mission. I say that so much but I mean it every time. I have learned so much by seeing others change and turn towards God. I love my Heavenly Father. He is my best friend. Every night I pray to Him because I love Him and I want to give thanks to Him. He has showered me with blessings and love. I pray for you all; my friends and family that love and support me. I pray for my fellow missionaries; to strengthen all of them around the world.  I pray for my people here; that their hearts might be softened so that they too can come into the fold of God. I invite any of you that haven't prayed before or haven't prayed in a long time to do it. Strengthen that connection and become closer to our Father in Heaven. I love you all. Prayer is the link between you and heaven. Remember, He always listens.
Les Amo,
Elder Vance
p.s. The mission office in Santa Rosa has a new address (changed on this page) if you are sending anything there.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Are We Not All Beggars?

I found out a few days ago that I am being transferred to Davis, California!! I have been called to train a new missionary, open a new area, and be a district leader … whoa … kind of a big load, but I feel ready and I am excited to start up with my new companion in Davis! Apparently it is the self-proclaimed "Bike Capital of the World", but I guess we shall see. If you want to write me, send it to the mission office address and when I write you back I will give you my direct address in Davis. I find out who my new companion is tomorrow, or as we call them in the mission, “my son”! The person you train is called your son and so I plan on treating him with that kind of love and respect. I will always remember the impact Elder Rollins made on me and my mission. He set the tone for the rest of my mission. He showed me how to be organized, to be 100% obedient, and to sincerely love the people. Elder Rollins is amazing and I will never forget him. I will always love him and I will always be grateful that I had him as my trainer.  I hope I can have that kind of lasting effect on the new missionary I am going to train these next 12 weeks.

In the last four months I don't think I have ever seen so many homeless people in my life, and I think I know why. Every day I see people rummaging through dumpsters looking for plastic bottles that they can turn in for a couple dollars. I see hollow faces and bodies pushing and rolling around their squeaky grocery carts. I see cardboard signs and fingerless gloves. But there is something else I have never seen before … THEM. My brothers and sisters. I think the reason why I have never seen as many homeless people before is because I never looked. I never saw. How often do we go about our day and never SEE. My eyes have truly been opened and it has been such a blessing to notice someone and then go talk to them. It is something that I think all of us have struggled with in life. My mission has helped me realize that I, myself, am a beggar and have searched for spiritual nourishment. I have been in darkness, but through Jesus Christ and His gospel anyone can be saved.

I love these verses in The Book of Mormon where King Benjamin commands his people not to judge others, but to lift others up, and that WE ALL are beggars.

 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon
the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.”

We all depend on our Heavenly Father, because without Him there would be nothing. We all turn to him for forgiveness, for a remission of our sins, and if we haven't, we need to humble ourselves and turn to our Father in Heaven. As it says in the final verse above, those that beg for a remission of their sins will receive exceedingly great joy. I have experienced that in my own life. I have a testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Without him I could not be cleansed of all the mistakes I make every single day. It is an amazing feeling to go to our Father in Heaven with a humble heart and to use the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to be cleansed and pure again. I have a testimony of TRUE repentance. I know that Jesus Christ suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and died for ME. I know ALL can have their guilt, shame, and sorrow replaced with exceedingly great joy. As long as we humble our hearts and become beggars unto our perfect and great Heavenly Father.

It has been a bittersweet experience leaving Fairfield, the place where I started my mission. With tears in my eyes I have left those people behind physically, but in my memory and my heart they will NEVER be forgotten. Those are my people, forever. Some I may see, and others I may never see again. I hope and pray that I did ALL I could for them. I love them and I hope they felt and heard my testimony as I bore it to them. Before my mission, the reality of the experience of a mission was not real to me. I loved missionaries but I never got a sense of the experiences they were having. But this … this is real. The LOVE I have for them is real and I hope after this life I can rejoice with them in the glory of our God. I know the reunions will be great, whether it be in this life or the next. With all my heart, amo mi mision. Every day I write that statement at the end of my daily journal entry. I love my mission. I hope everyone has a great Valentine’s Day and think about those you truly love and remember them.

Les Amo Muchisimo!

Elder Vance

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Always Rejoice

One more week here in Fairfield and hopefully I can squeeze out six more weeks as I come up on another transfer next week and find out if I am staying or leaving the area. I hope I can stay and spend some more time with the people here. I feel so privileged to be able to see these people grow, not only in the gospel, but in their lives and families as well. It is amazing to see how the gospel directly correlates to the lives of the members … it is simple, really. Those who live the commandments of God experience full and true happiness, while others experience sorrow and emptiness. I love these people and want them to find that true happiness.
I have learned on my mission that things can be tough. Days can be tough, life can be tough and everything can be tough. Sometimes it feels like the world is pressing down on us as missionaries. This past week was definitely a difficult one for numerous reasons, but in the end I learned that we should ALWAYS REJOICE. We are here and we are part of God's plan. We have a way to be free from ANY pain, guilt, sorrow, or suffering … through Jesus Christ. At times we need to humble ourselves to understand and follow that plan. I know people in my life that live the gospel of Jesus Christ and those that don't. There is a HUGE difference, and it saddens me to see and hear about those that choose not to follow Christ. Everyone has their free agency or free will, because it is part of God's plan. Within His plan, we can all choose to follow Jesus Christ or not, but I know that those who follow Jesus Christ and walk in his footsteps CAN receive a full remission of their sins and find true happiness.
Noe, our investigator that had a baptismal date, is still missing. He just fell completely off of the map. We are still dedicated to finding him though … we plan to go and tract the ENTIRE apartment complex and comb the area for traces of him or his car. Right now I feel like a shepherd going after the lost one. I feel like I have to do ALL I can to find him. We haven't had contact with him in a couple weeks, but we hope that we and the spirit of our Heavenly Father left a lasting impression on him that will stay with him forever.
We picked up a new investigator and his name is Miguel. He is the brother of Luis, a less active member, who is now coming back to church. Miguel has a baptismal date of the 25th of February! He is amazing and is soaking up all that we are teaching him. The Lord prepares people for us to teach, and as long as we are obedient we get the opportunity to teach these people about our Savior and the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ through the prophet Joseph Smith. I love missionary work!
On another high note, Domingo called me today! He is out of jail and we are going to be able to begin teaching him again. Great joy filled my soul talking to my brother on the phone today. He can come to church now and he sounded so excited to meet with us again. Domingo is an investigator we taught about 2 ½  months ago. We taught him EVERYTHING about this gospel, but because he was on house arrest he couldn't come to church. Later he was incarcerated, but now it's like he is free in many ways! He is another reason why I want to stay here in Fairfield for another transfer. He has come so far and we have been on a journey together. I hope all turns out well with him and I will definitely keep you all posted!
We were able to attend the Oakland Temple this past week. What an awesome experience that was, to sit in the Celestial Room and feel the presence and love of our Heavenly Father … it was just amazing. There is such peace in the temple and there is no other place like it. I love going there and love knowing that one day I can be married in one of these glorious temples, not only for time here on earth, but for eternity hereafter. While in the Celestial Room I opened the scriptures randomly. I opened to Doctrine &Covenants, section 75. The first five verses hit me so hard. They are a revelation given through Joseph Smith.
    "1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I who speak even by the voice of my Spirit, even Alpha and Omega, your Lord and your God— 2 Hearken, O ye who have given your names to go forth to proclaim my gospel, and to prune my vineyard. 3 Behold, I say unto you that it is my will that you should go forth and not tarry, neither be idle but  labor with your might—4 Lifting up your voices as with the sound of a trump, proclaiming the truth according to the revelations and commandments which I have given you. 5 And thus, if ye are faithful ye shall be laden with many sheaves, and crowned with honor, and glory, and immortality, and eternal life."
What an honor it is for me to be here in Fairfield, California. I have already seen so many blessings from serving a mission. I am so happy I made the decision to serve, because it has changed me forever. I love looking back and seeing how far I have come. I still have a long way to go, but through the gospel of Jesus Christ we can ALL reach our full potential.
ALWAYS BE HAPPY! Be grateful for all the trials and challenges in your life because they make you stronger. I love you all and thank you for everything.

Les Amo Muchisimo!
Elder Vance