It is so great to be here today. It is so great to be back at average altitudes. To get to the new mission of Peru Huancayo, you either fly for 45 minutes in a small plane, or you travel by bus for 8-9 hours up and down windy roads at crazy altitudes. The first time I left Lima for my first area in the jungle was one of the craziest road trips I ever took. At one point in the trip, you go through the Ticlio Pass, as they call it, at over 15,800 feet. Starting my mission made me as white as a ghost, but not from fear. From lack of oxygen. I hope that today its reverse altitude sickness.
My mission is a very climate diverse mission. We have jungle in the mouth of the Amazon. We have outrageous altitudes where most areas are over 10,000 feet above sea level. The highest city of over 50,000 people in the world is also in our mission. It is called Cerro de Pasco. This mining city hides in the high Andes at 14,370 feet above sea level. It was my second area. I was there for two whole months. I got really, and I mean really sick up there. After that, I was blessed to stay at just over 10,000 feet for the rest of my mission. Thank goodness.
The people in Peru are just amazing. Most all of them are very loving and actually take the time to engage with you, undistracted. Perfect for teaching the gospel and helping them feel the Spirit.
This is the Restored church of Jesus Christ, restored by Him
Well, this is a restored Church. Now, what does restore mean? Well, it means to return an object, organization, or something to a previous, or original state. Like furniture.
Saying that the Church of Jesus Christ was restored is really significant. Most people don’t understand, but Christ established a Church before His crucifixion. This Church was kept alive for many years, but eventually fell away from its original state. The years passed, and many churches were established to try to “reform” or “revive” the original Church of Christ. However, they were unable to do so because they received no authority from God to establish His Church. This called for a more drastic action fueled by divine sources: a restoration. A young man, Joseph Smith, in 1820, while searching for the truth received a vision after asking God which of all the Churches he should join. God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son, appeared to the boy and, after teaching that no Churches were true, assigned him the job of restoring the Church, a process that began a few years later and took until his martyrdom. A vision, process, church, and work that I testify of.
I have seen this teaching transform lives. For example, three of four sisters that we taught in my fourth area in Chilca were looking for the truth. The oldest, aged 21 at the time, had investigated many churches for years with the desire of finding the truth. However, she, and her sisters, met an old friend of their father and he invited them to Church. They came to our ward and we noticed that they were new. We talked to them and set up an appointment. Unfortunately, our first go out to their tiny town of Huayucachi got us lost. We got off about 10 minutes early the first time, had to wait 20 for another small combi after getting directions from an old lady selling fried goods and pastries out of a cart off to the side of the road, and then wait all tense-like hoping that we’d make it. Well, we didn’t. After some exploring, and arriving about an hour late, we finally found them. They were so prepared to hear the truth. They had many questions, but we and the Holy Ghost were able to answer them through the lessons and our plans. All three were baptized and loved the doctrine so much. They especially loved knowing that they could make a covenant with God and be forgiven for all of their sins. I was informed by the sister last week through Facebook (a returned missionary modern miracle) that the other sister (the one that refused to be baptized) wanted to listen and covenant with the Lord. Not to mention that their family is reaping blessings from the gospel and their parents are slowly but surely softening their hearts. What a miracle.
Treasured Blessings That Come to the Faithful
Now, many people have argued, in mission life and non-mission life, that God doesn’t exist simply because we cannot prove that He is there. I like to respond saying that they can’t prove that he isn’t there either. It is a standstill. However, there is a remedy, faith. Both sides require some kind of faith. You must put the gospel to the test. Create an experiment. As Alma in the Book of Mormon taught, “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” He later compares the Word of the Lord to a seed and offers an experiment with a promise. “But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.” All of those that I worked with at least started this experiment. Most people in this room have started this experiment. I have started this experiment.
This is part of the blessings that we can receive from the Lord. As we exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and use said gift, and endure to the end, we become eligible to receive blessings from the Lord. A premium, so to speak, of the gospel experiment. This process is known as obeying the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord said through the prophet Malachi, “prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” The Lord also declared to Joseph Smith, “and, inasmuch as they are faithful, I will multiply blessings upon them and their seed after them, even a multiplicity of blessings.”
The Church Provides Opportunities to do Good and Serve
Now, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not only the place to find the true doctrine or the restored Church of Christ. Nor is it only an organization to bring us closer to God. It also is where people can find opportunities to serve. As King Benjamin taught in the Book of Mosiah, “I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” Service is defined as “the action of helping and doing work for someone” and has the synonyms of favor, kindness, good turn, helping hand, charity, and love. Everyone in the Church of Christ that wishes to please Him and the Father must serve our fellow beings.
Returning to Chilca, I remember the effort that a small group of jovenes y jovencitas (young men and young women) made to serve their fellow beings and reach out to them in the gospel. To be honest, they were the driving force of the ward and knew how to help others come unto Christ. Their role model? The Savior Himself. They’d befriend them, love them, and serve them; take the time to teach, explain, and understand them; and they’d even help with school work or seminary assignments at times. I even remember bringing an investigator to Church, speaking with, whom we called, the ring leader of the young women and asking her to make this young man feel welcome. Due to their efforts, the young man was baptized 2 weeks later.
God is Perfect, We are Imperfect
With our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must embrace the fact that God is perfect. However, we do not understand his perfectness, nor do we understand why he does things or allows things to happen. We, on the other hand, are imperfect. We all make mistakes. There was only one perfect Person that has walked this earth. This Person is the Son of God, the Savior of Mankind, Jesus Christ, the Lord. We must learn to follow His example.
We, unfortunately, will always fall. People make mistakes. We make mistakes. However, these mistakes should not cause us to doubt our faith. Our imperfectness also leads us to not have a perfect knowledge, nor even understand many of the things of God. This can lead to errors that people make in the Church of God. God allows such errors because they are for the betterment of all. I’ve heard it said that mistakes and pain lead to some of life’s greatest lessons.
The work in my last area was unfortunately halted or slowed by some mistakes that people have made. To gain a vision of how far things fell, the area once had 2 wards and a branch. Meaning, there were 2 large organizations and one small one. The area progressed amazingly in the past, giving reason for 6-8 different missionaries at a time. Members and missionaries working together to help the Lord in His great work. However, one man made a mistake. He decided that the Church isn’t true. He used his agency to make a decision. He left. Unfortunately, as he was a leader in one of the units, he took many with him. This led many to question the Church. It led them to doubt their Savior. Many lost their testimonies. The units were reunited and made a branch again. I wept as I’m sure my Father and Savior did.
“The Church is Designed to Nourish the Imperfect, the Struggling, and the Exhausted”
Staring out at the number of people here reminds me of Sundays on my mission. It is amazing to see so many people attend the meeting. I still remember my first Sunday out in the field. I was assigned to San Ramon, a decent sized town in the high jungles in the mouth of the Amazon. I understood a lot of Spanish, but I couldn’t really communicate with the people there. As I walked into the Chapel, I noticed that there were only a few people there on time. I wondered what was going on, I thought this would be a “normal” ward! To my surprise and frustration, the small chapel didn’t fill as I thought, even after the “after-sacrament-rush” when the doors are reopened. It was a disappointment. Little did I know that this disappointment would turn to a significant learning opportunity and even a major goal for the rest of my mission.
President Uchtdorf says something fantastic about the purpose and design of the Church, “The Church is designed to nourish the imperfect, the struggling, and the exhausted.” It wasn’t over for my small branch in the last area, nor for any other areas I served in. It never was and it won’t be. As I mentioned, my first Sunday became a vision, a goal. Once I became senior companion, I got to work. I and many of my companions united with the idea of fortifying, building, and blessing the Church. Instead of just looking for people that we could help make the covenant of baptism, we began to fight the declining numbers of members, we began to train the members, we began to activate and rescue, and we taught. And wow did we teach.
In my second area, San Pedro de Cajas, after starting with a mere 15ish people my first Sunday in Sacrament meeting, I remember seeing a change. Many faces that had been overridden with shame, guilt, pain made it to Church to participate in renewing their covenants. My final Sunday there greeted me with almost 60 members returning to activity. The work is hastening.
In my third area, in the High Altitudes of over 14,000 feet in Cerro de Pasco, I saw members strengthen their testimonies and come with a resolve to help others as they spent an entire Sunday afternoon to go rescue their brothers and sisters. The work is hastening.
In my fourth area, the suburbs of Huancayo, in Chilca, I saw young men and young women with the determination of “standing in Holy Places, and being not moved until the Day of the Lord come” inviting their friends over, and helping eachother while in turn helping their older, more experienced friends decide to do something in the ward. Each of these young men and young women are preparing to serve missions and I have learned that 4 or 5 of them are already serving or have their calls. The work is hastening.
And, even though I was torn by the history of my final area of Jauja, the first capital of Peru, we saw miracles. Even though many were torn, were beaten, and many were exhausted, members and missionaries alike got to work together and bring many back to the fold and strengthen those who were already faithful. The work is hastening.
Brothers and sisters, God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are hastening Their great work of “bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” These miracles that I witnessed and participated in on my mission would never have happened if it weren’t for the truthfulness of this, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Even though many missionaries now are young, and working with them may present a challenge in its own right, the Atonement makes it all up. Just like Pres. Uchtdorf in his Come, Join With Us! talk reminds us, “with our heart and soul we yearn to become better with the help of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
Come Unto Christ
He continues by saying:
“If you expect to find perfect people here, you will be disappointed. But if you seek the pure doctrine of Christ, the word of God ‘which healeth the wounded soul,’ and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost, then here you will find them. In this age of waning faith—in this age when so many feel distanced from heaven’s embrace—here you will find a people who yearn to know and draw closer to their Savior by serving God and fellowmen, just like you. Come, join with us!”
Indeed, “come, heed the call of the gentle Christ. Take up your cross, and follow Him.”
“And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.” (Omni 1:26)
Y yo comparto todas estas cosas, testificando de la veracidad de ellas en el Nombre de nuestro Salvador, Redentor, y Hermano Mayor, sí, Jesucristo. Amen.
Featured image from lds.org and Photo by Tom Smart, Deseret News