Sunday, September 23, 2012

Your Name

What an amazing week it has been. The weeks fly by here on the mission because it is such a fun adventure. It is tiring and hard work, but at the same time I am having more fun than ever. You just have to enjoy it. Elder Lenon and I have seen some great miracles during this past week. Lupe continues to progress; she went to a Spanish fireside with Elder Gavarret and loved it! She also came to a baptism the other day and she felt such a special spirit there. She continues to read and pray and I know that in these upcoming weeks she will be baptized. Elder Lenon and I are so excited for her, as we have been on this journey with her, and it is amazing to see how the gospel of Jesus Christ strengthens and changes people. We have seen the changes in her and seen how much she now depends on the Lord. We love being here with our people in Santa Rosa and serving them and I hope stay for a while.

This past week we were privileged to have Elder Gavarret from the Quorum of the Seventy come and speak to us. He is from Uruguay. He spoke to us with such power and conviction. The very first few things he said struck a chord in me and I was filled with the spirit of God. He said, "You don't know the effect of your success. You can cut open an apple and count the seeds, but you aren't able to cut open the seeds within the apple to count the apples that will come from those seeds. Pray for others. Serve others. They will not forget you, they will not forget your name." I thought about all the people I have met on my mission and about those I have had the opportunity to teach and bring closer to Jesus Christ ... all the people I have loved and continue to love. A wave emotions swept over me and it brought tears to my eyes. I thought about those I will never forget ... those that I will have a spiritual connection with forever on into the eternities. In that moment my love deepened for my people here. I looked back into the pool of memories to see those people that will be in my heart forever. I know that I have needed them and that they have needed me. I will remember their names and it was special at that moment to hear that they will not forget mine. Elder Gavarret continued, "All of you are winners ... you decided to come here. The best way to help your family members is to do your best here. Pray for your families, stand up and go to work." I want to be the best missionary I can be so that my family can be blessed and so that those in my family that are struggling can find hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

"The Atonement of Jesus Christ brings hope to all. As missionaries we are the bringers of hope and we receive hope through the Atonement. When we sin we experience spiritual death, or in other words, we separate and further ourselves from God. Jesus Christ has already done the work, it doesn't need to be done again. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is a conditional gift, which means, we must do our part in order to access it." - Sister Alba

I can testify to the truth of that statement. It is through repentance that those burdens we carry are lifted off of us. We must repent (do our part) to be saved. Christ has already suffered, but we must access that precious gift through repentance. When we do, those burdens are lifted and we feel the light of Christ grow within us. We have a desire to improve because we feel the warming sensation of the Savior's arms around us. It gives us a fresh view of our lives and with that comes the hope we all can and need to endure to the end.

I love this part of a song: "He knows your joy, He knows your pain, He knows your heart, He knows your NAME."

I know that Jesus Christ knows your name. I know that he knows YOU because He died for each and every one of us. When we are going through a trial or a challenge in this life, He knows. Not only did He suffer for our sins but also for every physical pain, emotional sorrow, and affliction we have or ever will experience in this lifetime. He suffered for hours in the Garden of Gethsemane and bled from every pore. He did it so He could walk beside us. He did it so He could lift us in our darkest hour. He did it because He loves us. I am forever grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We bring this to everyone so that all may have faith, repent, and come unto Christ through baptism. I am grateful for this privilege to be a bringer of hope. It is never over ... no matter what you have done or how lonely you may feel, always know that there is someone that knows you. There is always someone that has felt what you feel. There is always someone that knows your name.

Los Amo Mucho,

Elder Vance

Friday, September 14, 2012

Everything's Not Lost

Well folks, we got our transfer doctrine this past week and I will be staying in Santa Rosa for another 6 weeks with Elder Lenon! Woohoo! I am so excited to become even closer to the people here that I already dearly love. I know that the Lord has many adventures and experiences in store for Elder Lenon and me here in the beautiful country of Northern California. 

It seems that the Lord never stops testing us. The last week and a half has been such a roller coaster ... many highs and a few lows. Elder Lenon and I are continuing to try to improve ourselves as missionaries. We know that it is so important to be unified and to be a team here on our missions. You learn so much by having a companion and I am grateful for Elder Lenon and for his example in my life. We are becoming closer as the weeks go on and I know that I still have plenty to learn from him in the weeks to come.

Over this past week I have really been thinking a lot about how our trials or difficulties sometimes cloud our vision or stop us from progressing; how at times it seems that everything is lost. A death in the family, a divorce, job loss, or whatever the trials we face in this life may be, are the storms God throws at us. Some may wonder, "Why would God give us trials?" The answer is not always one we like to hear; he give us trials because they make us stronger and they help us become more like Him.

"The storms of life no more indicate the absence of God, than clouds indicate the absence of the sun."

Recently we have seen so many changes in one of our investigators. We have been on such a roller coaster with her and it has taught me so much. This woman has gone through so much in her life. She has four children and is from Mexico. She has always had a strong belief in God, but when we found her she was very confused about which church was the right one. As we have been teaching her, we have learned a lot about her life and her past. Her second husband was deported two years ago due to abuse within the home and other series of events. One night about two weeks ago her husband called her to let her know that he was with someone else down in Mexico. I will never forget talking to her on the phone that very same night. She just cried on the phone and told us how hard life was and how she didn't think she could go on in her life. We went over and visited her. Her heart was broken and she did not know what to do. As I was looking into her tear-filled eyes I saw her as a sister, and could see how the weight of her trials and her situation were pushing down on her. She was hopeless and her future seemed dim. As we met with her we turned her to our Heavenly Father. As missionaries we are the ones that turn the hearts of the people to heaven above. We gave her a blessing of comfort and invited her to pray for strength, to ask in faith for peace and comfort. We promised her that He was looking out for her and we shared our testimonies about how our Heavenly Father gives us challenges to make us stronger. That was about two weeks ago ... since then she has been reading in The Book of Mormon, visited the Oakland Temple Visitors Center, and received strength through prayer. She has exercised so much faith and it is such a testament to me to see how her trial has been turned into an increase in her faith. She is an amazing individual, and notwithstanding her trials, has put her faith in God and Jesus Christ and seen the happiness that comes from that. The gospel of Jesus Christ gives hope and happiness to all that receive it with an open heart. We are continuing to teach Lupe and her children and hope that someday soon, in the upcoming weeks, she along with her children will follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized.

Sometimes it is hard to be a missionary. You see so many people struggling day in and day out. There are so many people struggling and trudging through life without the real answer, the answer that everyone needs ... that God is our loving Heavenly Father and that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. God has created ONE plan for us and Jesus Christ is the center of that plan. We have been sent here to this earth to be tested. Our faith is to be tried and stretched so that when the storm clears away we are more polished and fortified in our faith. I am grateful for my faith. I know that it will continue to be put to the test, but I know that through difficult times I will become a better disciple of Jesus Christ, that I might follow him more faithfully in my life as the days, years, and decades pass by.  I love my mission. It has been such a journey to look back and see the storms I have passed through and to see the renovations that have come forth in my life because of them. I know that even if things are dim, a tiny flame will always be there to grasp onto and grow. God loves us ... always remember that with Him, everything's not lost.

Los Amo,

Elder Vance

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Miracle Of Life

This past week Elder Lenon and I have experienced so much together. Sometimes I wonder if I am worthy of all the many blessings I receive here in my mission. I know I am forever indebted to my Savior, Jesus Christ, and to my Heavenly Father. I feel the Lord working through me and in that I have felt His love for His other children here in Santa Rosa. More and more people are opening their hearts to the message of the restoration and it is a marvelous sight to see. Right now in our mission there is a big push to "FIND" and talk with everyone. Our purpose as missionaries is to find those who are ready to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ, teach them the doctrine of Christ, and baptize those that are willing to follow the example of Jesus Christ. As missionaries we have been praying to "have more faith when we find". Elder Lenon has such a great attitude and we both have been filled with that faith over the last week. Even though we are not perfect we have been doing our best and the Lord has once again opened the windows of heaven and blessed us. This week has been filled with amazing experiences, blessings and miracles.

One of the best things about serving a mission is that because you give everything up in your "normal" life you can SEE everything else. You see everything in a whole new light and you see things for what they really are; not as the world views them, but as God sees them every day. That has been one of the reasons why my life has been changed on my mission. I know I have been set apart from the world, and that even though I still live here on earth I know I have been called to be a representative of Jesus Christ. I know that I can be a disciple of Jesus Christ forever. I have also seen how the Lord tries our faith and how big a part He plays in our lives. I have been filled with such exeedingly great joy as I have seen the miracles He has put in my life. I think it all began with the people. Before my mission, I couldn't just walk up to a stranger and love them instantly, but now that I have been on my mission I have begun to see everyone I meet as my brother or sister.

Last week we couldn't make contact with one of our investigators, Lupita, to figure out a ride for them for church. As we were driving to an appointment, we saw her on the sidewalk and quickly pulled over to talk to her. I know that she was there for a purpose and it was no coincidence. That is one tiny example of the many miracles the Lord has worked in my life.

"If you don't believe in miracles perhaps you've forgotten you are one."

My eyes have been opened to the miracles of God. As I have prayed every night before bed I have come to realize that my own life is a miracle. The very air I breathe on a daily basis is a gift from my Heavenly Father. I know that I am here for a purpose and that I am one of His sons. I know we are all creations of our Heavenly Father and we were made in His image. Families have been given to us to guide us and love us so that we can have happiness in this lifetime and the life to come. I believe a miracle happens when we recognize that God is our loving Heavenly Father and He blesses us, His children.

The ability to love is a gift from Heavenly Father. I am grateful for that because I have come to love the people here in Santa Rosa. They feel like my family because they are my family. I am so grateful for the opportunity I have to serve the people here and to bring them closer to Jesus Christ. Elder Lenon is such a great example to me and I have learned so much from him. Yesterday we taught a brand new family together. They are from Mexico and they have two young sons. We taught them the restoration and about how through Joseph Smith the true authority of God was restored. It was such a powerful lesson and the Lord blessed us with this family. Today they came to church. It was a miracle because a lot of people work on Sundays. They came and I know they felt the love of God. Two other investigators also came to church and it was such an amazing Sabbath day. I love my mission. I love my life. I love my life because I know it was given to me by my Heavenly Father. This universe and world was created by our creator, Jesus Christ, under the direction of God, our Heavenly Father. I invite you all to open your eyes to the wonderful miracles that surround each and every one of us today ... and think about those in your life who would benefit from meeting with the missionaries. You can send a referral through the link in the blog side bar for missionaries!

Los Amo,

Elder Vance