Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Reflections on Our Mission

8:19 am – just now waking up. 

There had been no alarm making an unwelcome announcement that the day needed to begin at 6:30 am or even earlier.

No phone rang with a missionary seeking an answer to a question about his companion or one of their investigators or about his or her health.

The room still was dark. The hotel curtains wonderfully kept the daylight on the outside of the window, rather than allowing it inside.

I guess that all of the people lined up in the lobby of the mission home the previous afternoon, one or two of whom had tears in their eyes, really did mean that our mission was completed and we were starting our trip home.

So, as I lay on the bed in our hotel room in Hong Kong, I reflected on the past three years.
I remember that one of my best friends, Cliff Potter, remarked when he completed his service as a mission president, that it had been the hardest thing he ever had done. I think I understand.
First, and perhaps foremost, in our memories will be the missionaries. Though our mission was not particularly large in the number of missionaries – we averaged about 75-80 missionaries at any one time over the term of our service – there always seemed to be an issue which needed attention or assistance. We loved watching them grow and learn how to be more effective in the service of Heavenly Father. We loved helping them, correcting them, taking care of their illnesses, and teaching them the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Prior to beginning our service, I had occasion to spend several informal hours with one of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve. Upon being told that my wife and I were going to preside over a mission, he shared an insight that Preach My Gospel was not really about converting non-members to the Gospel of Christ. Rather, it was about converting missionaries, so that they could then figure out what to teach investigators. Much of the training we conducted was directed toward helping the missionaries gain a greater understanding of the scriptures and the testimonies of Christ contained therein. 
All of our missionaries, with President Russel M. Nelson and Sister Wendy Nelson, Elder and Sister Gong, Elder and Sister Funk, Elder and Sister William, at Hyderabad India

As we began our service, we were also told that the success of our mission would be measured by the testimonies of the children and grandchildren of those missionaries who served with us. I tried always to keep that in mind. I think we were effective in our efforts to help a testimony and knowledge of the Savior, Jesus Christ, sink deep into the hearts and minds of each missionary with whom we worked.  
Outline for monthly missionary study plan, generated in our Mission Leadership Council

I know intellectually that not every missionary will be fully faithful and active in the Gospel to the end of his or her life. We will continue to pray for all of them, and we look forward to staying in touch with them for as long as we can.
Missionaries studying the scriptures during Zone Conference

Second, we think of the many people who were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during our time in India and Sri Lanka. 
Baptism of Shruti, attended by her parents, who are not members of our Church

Occasionally we helped teach, sometimes I interviewed, and from time to time we simply attended the baptism services. 
Teaching a family with the missionaries

I am fully persuaded that the Lord of the Vineyard placed cuttings from the tame olive tree in the “nethermost part of [His] vineyard, whithersoever [He] will[ed]” (Jacob 5:8-14), including in India. We were blessed to work among people of great faith.

Consistent with ancient prophesy, our missionaries often found “one of a city, and two of a family” and brought them to Zion. (Jeremiah 3:14). 
Baptism conducted by our missionaries in Sri Lanka

We especially were delighted when family members of our missionaries were taught by other missionaries and elected to be baptized. What a wonderful blessing to come from the service of a missionary – to see father or mother or sibling embrace the same message he or she was sharing.

If I had one “do over”, it might be to spend more time with the missionaries teaching non-members. The pressures of presiding over many districts seemed to keep me from being with the missionaries as often as might be enjoyed by presidents who have more compact or more developed missions.
Though I often wished we could have more new members, we take satisfaction that during our time, enough people joined the Church to form three or four good sized wards. Of course, the new members were spread across more than 30 wards and branches, so we did not form that many wards, but we were blessed to watch the Church grow significantly.

Third, we will remember the members of the Church with whom we worked. 
Member sister in Coimbatore who reminded us of the importance of following the Prophet

When we arrived in India, the Church in our mission was divided administratively into one stake and 6 districts. As mission president, I was the presiding priesthood leader for the six districts. Consequently, we worked with many of the district leaders to help them grow and develop their skills as Church leaders. 
Visakhapatnam District Presidency, with Elder Larry Wilson of the Area Presidency

 We were able to help the Bangalore District become the Bengaluru India Stake. We also helped the Rajahmundry District be on the verge of becoming the next stake in India. We pray that this will happen in the next few months. Helping build Zion in this way was most fulfilling. 
Bengaluru India Stake Presidency, with newly called Stake Patriarch

The Indian members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints simply are wonderful. They strive to live as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. They are learning how to apply the teachings of the Gospel to their long held family and cultural beliefs and traditions. The result is a people who love God and want to reflect His teachings in their lives.

We worked with many members to help them attend the temple. I am grateful for the opportunity to interview a significant number of couples for recommends to attend the temple and be sealed.
One of our missionaries, Sister Peddenti (second from left), being sealed to her husband and to her parents and brother

There were of course, challenges. We traveled more and slept less than is healthy. I estimate that over the course of our mission we took more than 350 airplane flights. We probably spent 35-40% of the nights of our mission in hotels. As a result of all of the hotel eating, we are bringing home a few more pounds than we carried at the beginning of our mission. We conducted more leadership training meetings than I can remember. It was a challenge to always be effective. I guess the next decade or so of Church growth in India will help us gauge whether we did any good.

We missed our family. Three grandchildren were born after we left home. We look forward to meeting grandchildren who know us only as their “digital” grandparents. We missed helping children when they had challenges in their lives. There is only so much which can be done over Skype. Sometimes a touch or just being in the same room is needed. We have missed that.

So, with a strong sense that our service has been acceptable to Him who called us, we journey home. We already miss those with whom we worked. We miss the wonderful countries of Sri Lanka and India. We miss the people of both.

We are certain that the next few months will be a challenge as we adjust to something other than “the hardest thing” we have ever done.

We are grateful we were deemed sufficiently acceptable to the Lord to be asked to serve. We are equally grateful that we now have the opportunity to rejoin our family. 

P.S. We arrived yesterday back to Salt Lake City. At the airport were some of our children and grandchildren, along with my father. The length of the separation from our loved ones made the reunion most sweet. We traveled from the airport to a local Church, where we enjoyed a wonderful 4th of July picnic event with more of our family and friends. I think it has been about 7 years since we have been in the US for the 4th of July. We are so richly blessed to have been asked to serve, and then to have the support of our family and friends upon return. We never will forget this wonderful experience.