Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Image of God

This past week my allergies were bugging me pretty bad, so that has drained me a bit, but I am doing well and overall we really had a great week. Sonoma County is probably the worst place on earth for allergies, but I am eating tons of local honey to keep me going and I know that the Lord is sustaining me. I just received word that one of my younger sisters tore her ACL again … in the same knee as a year ago. All three of my older sisters have torn two ACLs each playing soccer … six ACL surgeries in the last 4+ years. Her name is Emily and she is really devastated because now she will no longer be able to play soccer due to the risk of tearing it a third time. I love my sisters and it is hard to see them go through the surgery and recovery process, but I know they were all made stronger because of it. I am grateful for my family and for how strong they are in the gospel. It is such a blessing to have had the opportunity to be born of goodly parents. I am grateful I decided to come out here and serve because Jesus Christ is changing my life every day. I know the tests of my faith and trials I face are all part of God's plan for me. 

Great things are happening in the Brush Creek Ward. We are training the ward on how to do missionary work in their lives. They are excited (and so am I) for all the blessings the Lord has in store for us. Elder Mahoney and I are brothers forever. I love serving with him and being his companion. I am grateful for what I have and what the Lord has blessed me with on my mission and in my life. I love being a servant of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and I know that this next week is going to be a great one!
Last week I was reading in The Book of Mormon and the following conversation in Alma 18 really struck me. It is between Ammon (who was a missionary) and King Lamoni, who didn't know much about God. Ammon teaches King Lamoni about who God is and who we are here on this earth.

28 ...And Ammon said unto him again: Believest thou that this Great Spirit, who is God, created all things which are in heaven and in the earth?
 29 And he said: Yea, I believe that he created all things which are in the earth; but I do not know the heavens.
 30 And Ammon said unto him: The heavens is a place where God dwells and all his holy angels.
 31 And king Lamoni said: Is it above the earth?
 32 And Ammon said: Yea, and he looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning.
 33 And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?
 34 Ammon said unto him: I am a man ; and man in the beginning was created after the image of God, and I am called by his Holy Spirit to teach these things unto this people, that they may be brought to a knowledge of that which is just and true;

Elder Mahoney and I talk with many people every day who don't believe that God exists or that we came from Him. But I know that God is our loving Heavenly Father and that He knows each and every one of us personally. He knows our hearts and our intentions. I know that I was created after the image of God. We are all his children. We all have spiritual gifts and divine potential. He wants us to become like Him and to have all that He has. The first thing we teach anyone is this very principle; God is our loving Heavenly Father. We can go to him in prayer and He will answer us. I love having the knowledge that we were created by Him and we are His children. He wants us to have peace and happiness forever, and I know that can come from what we teach, as servants of the Lord, Jesus Christ. We are here to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Remember each and every day of your lives that YOU were created in the image of God and that He loves YOU. Thank you all for your continual love and support. This experience is truly bringing me closer to my Heavenly Father and to His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Los Quiero,
Elder Vance

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An Instrument

This past week has been filled with so many miracles and blessings. The Lord is blessing me and Elder Mahoney, and He is providing us with so many opportunities to teach and bless the lives of the people here in the Santa Rosa area. The Brush Creek ward is so great and we love serving here, and it is really starting to heat up! Our week was full of teaching opportunities, which is a change, as we have been so busy with transfers and conferences lately and we were finally able to spend time in our area with our people.

Months ago I was serving in the Santa Rosa area (in the Spanish branch) and a girl named Ana (dressed in red in the photos below) was reactivated. At the time, the only active member of her family was her dad, but since her activation her mom and sister came back as well, and her older brother began taking the missionary discussions as a nonmember. Well, his baptism was last Saturday, and we got to go because it was in the branch in Santa Rosa! It was such a special and amazing experience. Ana gave a great talk on the Holy Ghost at the baptism and angels were definitely present. Now Ana is going on a mission later this year as well, and she is going to be such a great sister missionary! It was such a glorious day and a huge testimony to the ripple effect we all can have in the lives of others. It is an absolute miracle to see a family so blessed over the past seven month and is evidence that what we are doing here is God’s work. It just reminds me that what we are doing is God's work; so cool and so inspiring.

The other night we ran into a man named Jason. He was so open to the gospel and said to us, "I need something more for my family. We have been trying to find a church but we just don't know where to go. I feel like something is missing." We explained to him that we are servants of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and that we would love to stop by and bless his family. Last night we went by and had an amazing experience with him, his wife, and two young kids. We taught them about the Restoration. Tears filled Jason's eyes as he said to his wife, "Honey, I think we need this. Our kids need to learn about Jesus Christ. I want to have more happiness. I can feel it." We talked about how the gospel blesses families and how Jason could provide for his family, not only temporally, but spiritually as well. We talked about how Jesus Christ and His apostles were rejected and about how the primitive church He established while He was on the earth was destroyed, as the people entered into spiritual darkness. We told Jason that many churches were then formed by man, and that in 1820 a boy named Joseph Smith had the simple and logical question in his heart about which church he should join. We told him that Joseph’s simple prayer that followed ended the spiritual darkness and the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored once again, and that Joseph Smith in reality did see God the Father and Jesus Christ.  Jason and his wife listened and Elder Mahoney and I bore our testimonies about how they can be together forever as a family and that it is through the gospel of Jesus Christ that they can do so. Tears filled both of their eyes as the Spirit bore witness to them that what we had taught was true. Tears came to my eyes at the end of the lesson as I said, "I testify to you both in the name of Jesus Christ that this will bring more happiness and peace to your family than anything else. I know it because I have seen it in my own family. There is nothing else that brings the happiness and peace that the gospel of Jesus Christ provides. The Lord is waiting to bless your family, and as you continue to learn about our message you will see that gospel light enters into your lives and you will see the blessings from heaven." It truly was an experience I will never forget. They both committed to being baptized on May 25th… I know that this family is going to see so many blessings. I know that as missionaries we leave our families for two years to help families be together forever. I love finding those who have been prepared for the gospel … they are such an amazing family. 

I know that we are instruments in the hands of God. This past week we got a referral to go see a man that had leukemia in the hospital. His son had talked to missionaries in a different part of the mission and the missionaries offered to give a blessing to his father. Neither of them are members of our church, but the son accepted the offer from the missionaries and told them that his father really needed help. His father was in critical care at one of the hospitals here in Santa Rosa, so Elder Mahoney and I went to visit him. Before going into the hospital I told Elder Mahoney, "I love going to hospitals. There is a special spirit there. It is where people enter into this world and where people leave." The man's name was Brian and we found his room on the fourth floor. We had to put on elastic gloves and masks. When we entered the room it was dim and quiet. He had his eyes closed and you could see he was in pain and didn't have a lot of energy. There was a special spirit in the room, and we asked him if he would like a blessing from the Savior. He whispered, "Yes". Elder Mahoney proceeded to do the anointing and I voiced the blessing. It was a powerful experience. I remember saying "You are in the arms of your Savior, and He knows what you are going through. We bless you with the energy to endure this illness.” After the blessing his eyes were still closed, and at first we thought he had fallen asleep, until he whispered in a raspy voice with his eyes still closed, "Thank you, may the Lord be with you". We stood there for what seemed to be a few minutes and we could feel the presence of angels in the room. I know that angels were there, tending to his body and helping him endure. Tears came to my eyes as I felt the spirit touch my heart. I am so grateful for the priesthood, the power to act in God's name. I know that it is real. I know it is the same authority that Christ had when he healed the sick. I am grateful to be a holder of that power. I know that in that moment I was the vessel God used to reach out and bless one of His sons. I love being a servant of Jesus Christ. He lives, and I know that He loves each and every one of us. 

Los Quiero,

Elder Vance

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Choose You This Day

This past week Elder Mahoney and I were able to help President and Sister Alba with four zone conferences. It was a lot of work and preparation but we learned so much as we helped train and teach the missionaries in the mission about how they could become even more effective as servants of Jesus Christ. I was able to see former companions and ward members that I have served with during my mission, and it brought back some great memories of special times in those areas.

During one of the zone conferences, I learned that when we obey God's commandments the Lord is bound to bless us, but when we disobey His commandments we are bound to the consequences of our mistakes and bad actions.  I know in my own life I have been richly blessed because of the decisions that I have made to do all I can to keep God's commandments. I am not nearly perfect, but I have strived to do what is right, and for that the Lord has blessed me. I know that our Heavenly Father waits to bless us but can only do so when we follow and keep His commandments. I have seen two types of people on my mission … (1) those that are striving to keep God's commandments and (2) those that think they can do whatever they want. It is interesting because I have seen that those who strive to do what is right are blessed and are happy; and those that don't find themselves wrapped up in sin, sorrow and unhappiness. 

We were talking to a less active member last night that thought God's commandments were restrictive and kept us from achieving true happiness. I remember saying, "We know that God loves us and He wants us to be happy, and that is why He gives us commandments. Commandments do not restrict us; they liberate us. They free us from sin and from the filth of the world. For example, there are so many celebrities in the world that "have everything", but in reality have nothing. We know that most of them are unhappy and probably have more problems than you and I combined. It is because they are breaking God's commandments and giving into the temptations of the Adversary. It is because worldly happiness for them is measured by money, cars, or the latest iPhone. True and lasting happiness is measured by how well we are doing in keeping God's commandments and living the gospel of Jesus Christ. You don't have to wait for this happiness. You can have it now." He paused and said, "I can have it now?" We told him that he could have it if he was willing to start keeping the commandments in his life. It was a cool experience for me because I saw that you cannot serve two masters. In our lives we are either moving towards God or farther away from Him and closer to Satan. We need to choose TODAY who we are going to serve.

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lordchoose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. - Joshua 24:15

This is YOUR life … are you who the Lord wants you to be? Remember that we are all:
1) Sons and Daughters of a loving Heavenly Father
2) Disciples of Jesus Christ
3) Healers of Souls
4) Heirs to all that He has

If you are not keeping God's commandments, I invite you to change and get back on the path God has made for you. If you already are there, I invite you to reach out to those around you who may be struggling and help them get back on track. Thank you all for you love and support. My mission is helping me see how important it is to put God above everything else. Choose TODAY whom ye will serve.

Los Quiero,

Elder Vance