Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Last Hoorah!

With a week to go on my mission, I couldn’t help but think of the many times I used to watch the movie, “The Best Two Years” before my mission. It is about four Mormon missionaries in Holland and their adventures there. I can now relate to some of the disappointments, laughs, spiritual experiences, and life-changing moments that shaped them into who they became by the end of their missions. The time has truly gone by faster than I ever would have thought.

In the days I have left, I know I will be able to find more of God's children that are ready to accept the gospel into their lives. It is crazy to see how many people are unhappy in their lives and are burdened down with stress. All of them are looking for peace and a source of true happiness. Knowing it or not, they are all searching for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having the opportunity to talk with everyone about Jesus Christ and how He has helped me in my life has truly opened my eyes more fully to see God's eternal plan for all of His children.

I feel like we have prepared the fields and they are ready to be harvested. I know that each one of our special investigators will be baptized, some of them long after I am gone, but I do have a strong testimony that I have made a difference with them and others. I feel it in my heart. I know that I have worked as hard as I could and given it my all, and I have felt more for the Lord and my brothers and sisters in this world than ever before. There is a bond that will forever exist between me and those I have taught and served, and for that I am grateful. Elder Johansen has learned so quickly and is so ready to help this mission continue to rise. I am grateful for him and for Elder Mahoney, as they both have taught me so much and I love them like brothers. I have loved serving as an assistant and I have grown so much from it. I have had the privilege of serving with two mission presidents and their wives these past two years; I love them both so much and I have learned so much from these four powerful leaders. I know that the Lord changes us when we are willing to humble ourselves and become more like Him … to do as He would do and to be what He wants us to be. Those are things I will continue to work on my entire life, and my great wish is to continue to serve Jesus Christ to the end.

I am also so excited about the opportunity I have to tour my wonderful mission with my parents next week. It is going to be an amazing experience. Thank you all for the love and great support you have given me throughout my mission experience. 

Los Quiero Mucho!

Elder Vance

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My to Thy

What a great week it has been! My prayers and dreams continue to come true here in Brush Creek with Elder Mahoney and Elder Johansen. This past week I prayed to Heavenly Father and told Him that I want to do "His will" and not my own … changing "My to Thy" (“Thy will be done”). I really found strength in that because I want to do all that the Lord needs me to do before I leave. I have come to realize that at times Heavenly Father doesn't answer my prayers in the way that I expect Him to, but He ALWAYS answers. I know that no matter how many times I mess up I can talk with Him. I know that if we strive to do His will, He will lead us and guide us in our lives. I am grateful for the love that I feel from Him and the comfort I find in the prayers I offer to Him. I know He spends a long time listening to us and it just shows me the patience that is necessary to be that loving father I want to be one day. There are some great things that are in store for our mission and I can feel a great wave of energy entering this part of the Lord’s vineyard. It is truly amazing. I know that the Lord has His hand in this work and I love serving my mission. There is nothing I have done that has been as gratifying as being a true servant of the Lord, Jesus Christ. I want to be one of His followers forever. I know that the gifts and pearls I have received here on my mission can and need to be applied to my life forever. 

I have two weeks left of this amazing experience and I am striving to soak up as much as possible. History is being made, and the Lord is hastening His work right here in the Santa Rosa, California Mission. I absolutely love it and I am so privileged to be a part of it. Let us press on!

Los Quiero,

Elder Vance

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Work of Salvation

It has been such a special week! We were able to tour the mission and do zone conferences with President and Sister Alba. It was a fun experience for me to see all the missionaries. I absolutely love all the missionaries here in our mission. I have grown close to many of them and I am grateful for the faith they show every day. I love to hear of their miracles and feel the spirit as they share their testimonies of what they know to be true. I thought the day would never come for me to give my departing testimony in zone conference, and it was such a powerful experience for me. I felt the love of the Savior so strong and talked about how He has changed me throughout my mission and how close I have come to Him. I talked about how when I was growing up my favorite primary song was, "I Hope They Call Me On A Mission", and that my wildest dream of what my mission was going to be has come true. How grateful I am for a family that has raised me in righteousness and for a sister that is currently serving a mission. There is nothing better she can be doing and nothing better we all can be doing. It was a bittersweet moment as we concluded zone conference by singing together, "I'll Go Where You Want Me To Go." Tears ran down my cheeks as we sang that hymn and rejoiced together. 

We are working with five part-member families at this time. It has been an amazing experience to teach the children about the Savior. The kids have baptismal dates! One child that we were teaching responded to our question, "How do you know that Heavenly Father lives?" with "I can feel Him when I pray." It was such a powerful witness to me that we all need to be as the little children, by trusting and having faith. I know that this is the Work of Salvation. We are helping families be together forever … and as we help them gain eternal life we, in turn, become more converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ ourselves. I know that true conversion takes a lifetime, but every day I can become better because Jesus Christ died for me. I know that any person can change. I have seen it and I believe it. The Lord has opened the heavens upon us. Elders Mahoney, Johansen, and I love serving here in the Brush Creek ward and we are absolutely loving it. Pray that we reach the 101 in July! We are on our way!

Los Quiero Mucho,

Elder Vance

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Spiritual Liberty

This past week has been amazing! The Lord has dumped blessings upon us and it was one of my favorite weeks of my mission. We had six investigators at church!  For the last 4 ½ months, Elder Mahoney and I have been praying for a family to bring into the fold of God and we found them. About a month ago, Elder Mahoney had stopped by a couple of people that seemed interested previously but at the time were not home. We both got in the car and, as I was about to start the car, Elder Mahoney said, "We gotta get out of the car." It was really hot that day and so I kind of grudgingly got out and followed him. He began walking down the street and I followed. It was a day of struggles up to that point for me. We hadn't had much success that week in teaching or finding and so my spirits were down. We turned down this one street and began knocking on doors. No one seemed interested. We turned around and saw a house on the corner with the door open. We walked over and knocked. A woman came to the door. She was super nice and her name was Jessica. We explained to her who we were and that we wanted to leave a blessing on her home by saying a prayer with them. Her eyes lit up and she said we could do that. Her two boys ran to the door and said, "Who are you guys?!!" Julian (11) and Jaden (8) both looked up at us and you could see that they felt something different about us. We told them that we were missionaries. Jessica's husband was busy, so we felt prompted to say a prayer with them on their doorstep. It was a powerful prayer. Julian and Jaden told us that they pray at night and know Jesus Christ. It truly lifted our spirits and was an answer to our prayers, and they invited us back the following week. I am so grateful that Elder Mahoney followed the strong prompting he received from the Spirit to "Get out of the car!". Since then, we have taught them about the Restoration and they all want to be baptized as a family on July 26th. Jaden and Julian always ask us if we can do sleepovers or play video games, haha. I love them to death! In one of our lessons Jessica expressed to us that one of the times we stopped by she was so distraught and worn down. She told us, "I just felt so down and when I saw you three, I wanted to throw my arms around you. I have been looking for something that would unite my family and give us direction in all of our lives." They are truly amazing. They came to church this past Sunday!  It was such a powerful experience for me to sit by them, feeling the love we have for each of them. Brian (the dad) and Julian came in white shirts and ties and they looked like members already! I know that we are servants of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and that we are here to help and invite others to come unto Him. I know that He wants us all to be happy and free from a world of sin. 
This past week we celebrated the 4th of July…the independence and freedom of our country. How grateful I am to live in a country where I can worship and believe freely. I know that this country is the Promised Land! I am so proud to be an American, a son of a Heavenly Father, and a disciple of Jesus Christ. I know that spiritual liberty can be achieved as well … I feel it in my own life. We don't have to feel weighed down by the world and don't have to hold onto guilt and shame. We can be liberated through repentance and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But how can we stay spiritually free in our lives? I love this quote:

"Disobedience to the Lord’s commandments will always deprive us of His blessings. The world changes constantly and dramatically; but God, His commandments, and promised blessings do not change. Men and women receive their agency as a gift from God, but their LIBERTY and, in turn, their eternal happiness come from OBEDIENCE to His laws."- Elder L. Tom Perry
We are imperfect beings and yet I know that we can experience spiritual liberty every day of our lives. I testify that spiritual freedom from sin and sorrow comes from LIVING God's commandments every day … it is the ONLY way to have true and lasting happiness. As we obey God's commandments, we are liberated from the darkness of the world and He blesses us with a fullness of life that cannot be achieved otherwise. Just like Brian and Jessica’s family, you can find spiritual liberty through Jesus Christ. By taking that first step of faith and following Him, you can be freed from ANY burdens and sins that hold you down. 

I know that as I repent I can become more like my Savior and become pure, even as He is pure. I am living every day like it is my last. I want to find all those who need this gospel, I want to teach with power and authority, and I want to baptize my brothers and sisters that are so desperately searching for liberty from their sins. These are children of our Heavenly Father. I love my purpose and I love my mission. I testify that it is through Jesus Christ that we not only have freedom in this life, but in the life to come.

Los Quiero,

Elder Vance

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Missionary Fun

Another great week! I am now in a trio with Elder Mahoney and Elder Johansen. It is such a great experience serving with both of my brothers here in the Brush Creek Ward. I love being able to enjoy my mission by seeing the tender mercies and blessings that the Lord has given us. Many people believe that missionary work is "hard". As missionaries, there are challenges and trials that we come across, but who doesn't have those? Life is filled with them, but the Savior has promised us that He will send angels to bear us up, and He is always true to His word. I think missionary work should really be called "Missionary Fun", because it is fun, and we feel a special joy in our hearts as we serve others and act as worthy servants of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Last week was my birthday! I spent it with a wonderful Fijian family who are members of our ward, and they cooked a huge banquet for me and friends. When it comes to food, they don't mess around! They cooked up a TON of food and it truly was an amazing experience helping them cook the dinner! It was so much fun … we not only celebrated my birthday, but that of the mom and one of the daughters. I love this family so much and love serving them. I have even picked up some Fijian words, like "Vinaka" ("Thank you"), "Sangalanga” (“No worries"), and "Toom pagali” (You're crazy")!! I say that last one to her a lot, haha! It is so much fun being around this wonderful family and seeing that, even though they don't have many material blessings, their love for one another runs deep. There is a special spirit in that little two bedroom apartment and I feel like I am at home when I go there. They have their struggles, but I can tell that they love one another. They remind me of my family because their five kids are close in age and close in relationship. It has been a blessing for me, because I feel like I was meant to help them and they were meant to be in my life for a very special reason and purpose. I have been able to see for myself how the gospel truly can change and bless families. At the end of our dinner, we knelt down as a family with them and with other friends that came for our birthday dinner. In that humble circumstance, we held hands and I offered up a prayer to Heavenly Father. It was a powerful experience for me to feel the spirit during that prayer … to be able to bless their home with the spirit and to bless them with all that they needed, both temporally and spiritually. My love has grown for all of my people here and I know that I am making a difference here in Santa Rosa. I know that I am doing what the Savior would do if He were here. I have found that when I bring the gospel to families and others who are looking for it … a special bond and eternal love is created. Who could call such experiences “work”, when they are so very special and FUN?
Los Quiero Mucho,
Elder Vance