I’m so grateful for the sacrament. It helped to calm me significantly even though I’m still a little bit nervous. I’d just like to say, thank you all for being here, and all those who came to support me and welcome me home. It is wonderful to be with you today as a return missionary in the ward that I grew up in, with an arsenal of gospel experiences to recount. I now have a few other wards that I call home, but this will forever be my first home, and whoever coined the phrase “homecoming” couldn’t have been more spot on. I feel at home.
A few facts about my mission. I was called to serve in the South Dakota Rapid City Mission. When we looked it up, it turned out it was the largest land mass mission in the United States, save Alaska. But Alaska’s a different animal entirely. So, actually, because of the growth of the church in that area--in the South Dakota Rapid City Mission--actually they split the mission! They redrew the boundaries when I was serving there, and the mission headquarters was changed, and so now it is called the North Dakota Bismarck Mission. So I returned home from the North Dakota Bismarck Mission.
I served in three different locations. I served first in Bismarck, North Dakota. That’s where the temple is, and it’s the capital of North Dakota. And then I served in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That was the biggest city in the mission. But now it’s not in the mission, since the boundaries have gotten redrawn. So I am grateful to have served there while I could. And then the last place that I served was Williston, North Dakota, and that is the oil boom town. That’s where everybody was going to North Dakota for work because of the oil boom. I loved all of these places where I served.
I had, I like to say, seven-eleven companions on my mission. Explaining that, in our mission we have transfers that last six weeks, and so usually you’re with a companion for six weeks. But I was with four of my companions for less than that--three weeks or less. So depending on how you count them I either had seven full-fledged companions, or eleven if you count those other four.
Also, the mission gets very cold, as you can imagine. At this time last year I was experiencing negative temperatures when you include wind-chill. It was probably about... I think it was seven degrees the morning of Thanksgiving when I was in Sioux Falls. And that was one of the coldest times, thank goodness. November was very very cold. After I received my mission call, I remember that Fargo, this place called Fargo--which I now know of well, but at the time I didn’t--it reached this low, lower than Canada, and people were pointing at me saying, “that’s where you’re going, good luck!” Thanks... I’m just glad I flew south for the winter. I was in South Dakota verses North Dakota, so that was good. But it also was a mild winter, so blessings there as well.
So those are a few facts about my mission, and today I’ve been given the topic of living in thanksgiving daily. And as soon as I was given that topic, I remembered last Thanksgiving when I was trying to prepare some sort of thanksgiving message to share with the family we were eating dinner with, and I found a scripture that relates just perfectly with this principle. This scripture is found in the middle of Alma. It’s in Chapter 34, and at this point, Alma and Amulek--who have such companionship unity by the way. They’re great companions. I’ve learned a lot from them and have found a new appreciation for their companionship--they were preaching to the poor people of the Zoramites who got cast out of their synagogues because of their poverty. And they’re asking Alma how they can possibly worship God if they are cast out of their synagogues! And Alma is super happy, because he sees that they’re teachable. He then proceeds to tell them the sermon that we commonly know which is about faith, comparing the word to a seed. And then Amulek, he adds the testimony to that of his companion, telling them that they should worship wherever and whenever they choose! That it doesn’t have to be on Sunday. It doesn’t have to be a holiday, or any specific occasion. It doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving to give thanks. He says to them.
“My beloved bretheren. I desire that ye should remember these things, and that ye humble yourselves, even to the dust, and worship God in whatsoever place ye may be in, in spirit and in truth. And here’s the key part. And that you live in thanksgiving daily for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.
Brothers and sisters, I have seen so many mercies and blessings that have been granted to me over the course of my mission. And today, I would just like to dedicate this time to describe some of the key experiences that I’ve had that have made my mission so unique and personal to me, something that I am so blessed to have experienced.
I was blessed for many reasons for Heavenly Father sending me to Bismarck as my first area. It was a hard area, as far as the work goes. We did not teach a whole lot of people. We didn’t have less actives who would see us regularly, and we didn’t have investigators who would see us regularly. But when you are in an area where you are compromised and have to really get on your knees and ask and be directed, then you are guided by the Holy Ghost probably more than any other time. And without that experience first, then I don’t think I would have been as close to the spirit in order to help people in areas where there was work.
So, Heavenly Father, he knows. He knows what you need and I found joy in the journey as much as I was able, and I tried to apply that principle of living in thanksgiving daily. So I found things to be grateful for.
I was so grateful for the apartment. We had a very nice apartment, and we stayed with two other sisters who were in the other ward (there were two wards in Bismarck), and they were awesome, and at no point in time was there any disagreements in-between us sisters as long as I was there. What a blessing. And we were so close to the temple. I’ve been privileged to attend the temple five times while I was serving in my mission, and many many of my companions, they had never been to the temple because they had never served around there, and they didn’t get the chance to go basically until the time they went home. And so, I’m just super grateful.
I was very close to leadership in Bismarck. All the leadership--my sister training leader and my zone leaders--were there, and as a new missionary, I was very very green, and I just soaked up information like a sponge that couldn’t hold all the information, and they were that ultimate reservoir for me. They were always there for me. They comforted me in times where I felt inadequate, which often happens as a new missionary. And it was such a blessing to live with the sister training leader. I grew a fond relationship with her, and she always cared about me, and I really really looked up to her. She was my inspiration and my model of what kind of missionary I wanted to be. Because, as a new missionary, you’re kind of floundering about, ‘What’s the right way?’ ‘How do I do missionary work?’ ‘What is the right way for me?’ And, she was very similar to me. She was very dignified and yet, was so herself, her silly self, and that, that is what I wanted. I wanted to still be myself, but still be a representative of Jesus Christ and she was the perfect example for me.
There were many many miracles that occurred during my time in Bismarck. It was not manifest in baptisms, but it was manifest in those small and simple things.
One miracle, that I count as a miracle, was meeting somebody named Tracy. Now the missionaries, they met Tracy before I came to the area, but only just before. She is a mother of three young boys, who at the time were four, six, and eight. So three young boys, and they reminded me of my brothers. They just, they played well together, they laughed, and they were just so funny and quirky, and I just loved their family. --The boys were crazy... that’s my brothers right there. And, I just saw Tracy as this mother who just wanted to be such a great mother and she was. But she had so many struggles with the father of the boys. They were never married, but they were separated. They had been separated for about three years, and she was struggling on what to do, as far as to go back with him or to continue living on her own when she was working like, three jobs. It was insane what she was going through. And it seemed that every time we showed up at her house--because, she told us to just drop by. Scheduled things didn’t really work for her and drop bys did. So, every time we dropped by it seemed to be in a moment of need.
One time it was after a funeral with one of her close friends, and it was such a sacred experience to be there and comfort her with the words of the gospel. Another time it was when she was really struggling financially, and we had received permission from our bishop--we brought it up that she was struggling and that she was trying her best to progress. We got permission to bring her groceries and... the look on her face... of amazement and surprise and gratitude... it made me want to cry. I’m so grateful for all the times that we have been her tender mercy. She is that person I still pray for that I met in Bismarck.
Another experience that I’ve had was brought about and made possible by being obedient to something that I said I would do. I have a testimony of putting things into practice as soon as you learn them. I was on exchanges with Sister Christiansen, my sister training leader. And what exchanges are is you’re with your assigned companion for those six weeks, but the sister training leader, just to switch things up and help companions learn and things like that, you do an exchange for one day, and you pick a focus on what you want to learn and then you switch back at the end. It’s really an incredible experience, and miracles happen on exchanges. I also have a testimony of that.
I learned from this particular exchange that it is inspired to follow the schedule that you had written down the night before, that if you follow the schedule as you planned it and be in the places that you previously designed to be, then you will be blessed.
So I was debating--this was the day after exchanges--I turned to my companion, Sister Gray, and I said, “Well, we still need to finish this and that. We can do it now. I mean, we’re already at the apartment.” She put me in my place, thank goodness! She said, “don’t you wanna do what we wrote down?” And I said, “Yes, let’s do that.”
We were on our way to try and see a potential, a potential investigator, somebody who we had tracted into. We weren’t there for that person. We were there for the people across the street.
We went to this street, and there was a family, back with a million groceries in the back of their truck, a whole lot of groceries. And they had a little girl that looked about three, and she had a rare chromosome deletion I later found out. Her twenty-third chromosome, part of it was deleted, and it kind of looked like she had down syndrome or something like that, and... my heart just... I felt such a connection to her, because of... well, Marshall. She reminded me of Marshall in a huge way, just her sweet spirit. Her dad was handing her groceries and sometimes he would take out big things in the grocery bag so there’d only be like, a few ounces of weight so that she could help with the groceries.
We asked if they needed help. Of course, you know, “Ah, no no we got it,” you know. But their family just captivated me. We knocked on the door. There was no answer. Even though we were denied that opportunity to go and help, I just started pickin’ up groceries and bringing them into their yard. And I started talking about Marshall and how he has spina bifida and asked them about their daughter, and they also had a son who was about two, the girl is actually five, and the two-year-old, it seemed like he had down syndrome. And I was able to tell them that their children were beautiful, from somebody who actually meant what they said, and I think, now I’m not for sure, but I really feel that they just needed that. They weren’t interested in learning about the gospel, but that was such a tender mercy for me and I believe it was a tender mercy for them as well. And I hold that experience as one of the most sacred on my mission.
The next experience I would like to share is a principle about diligence. Diligence brings blessings. If I were to define diligence for you, it would be consistent effort. It doesn’t always mean that you will have success right away. But, it will bring you the blessings that will inevitably come from your consistent effort.
I came up with a saying actually because--skipping ahead--Williston was kind of the bread basket of the mission. A looot of baptisms happened there. Our area was really booming! And one of our leaders called us and said, “what are you doing to make this happen?” And we said, “we’re not doing anything. It’s the Lord who’s doing all the work.” And, the spirit guided my words to say, “Sometimes there’s feast, and sometimes there’s famine. But there is always diligence.”
So in Bismarck, we tracted a lot and Sister Gray, she was a pretty new missionary as well, and she came from an area where she maybe knocked on a dozen doors. She had not experienced much tracting, and it was a hard hard thing for her. And she struggled with tears a lot even, because of it. But we just kept on working through it. We were together for just one transfer but most of our miracles happened within that transfer, and most of the growth within ourselves I would say.
At the end of our companionship, at the end of that transfer, we were knocking on doors, we were trying to locate this less active, and we tried that door and there was still a little bit of time left in the night, and we said, “oh, let’s knock a couple more. We went to the next one. Eh. It was a person. They weren’t really interested. But the next one we knocked on. A teenage girl answered, and we had a conversation with her, and we asked if her father was home. While he was getting ready to come to the door we kept on chatting with her and it seemed to be going great. And the father came to the door. He was so warm and welcoming. He let us into their home.
...Brothers and Sisters... this was a family of eleven kids... who weren’t lds! And seven of them lived at home! And we were just.. we were in shock! And they had just moved here, and they took the gospel very well, they were educated, like all of their children had like, Jewish names, like, biblical names, they had like, church set up at home type things, and they were very very religious, and just... holy cow! We just found this family from tracting!?
We shared just the first part of the restoration because time was short. We set up a return appointment--which they kept by the way! That never happens. And we just, we got out of the lesson and we just said a prayer of gratitude right there. Oh! Stop the car. We need to say a prayer right now and thank Heavenly Father for this blessing that was undoubtedly because of our diligence.
I never really got to teach that family. I did for the return appointment, but for that return appointment I had received a call beforehand letting me know that I was getting transferred. So my heart was kind of ripped out because their youngest, their five-year-old, she thought that I looked like her older sister or cousin or someone, and she grabbed onto me and said, “don’t go!” And then, she’s five so she turned to my companion and said, “you go home!” Haha, her mom of course got onto her, “don’t you say that! Don’t say that! You apologize!” So that was kind of funny.
They were a great family. Later on they did say, no, I don’t think we are ready to come to church yet, and I don’t think we can meet anymore, but it was good while it lasted. And they are great formers to follow up with. And that moves me onto Sioux Falls.
My second area was my area that I spent winter in. It was hard, the winter, but what made it sweet was the people. I loved the people in Sioux Falls. They were an incredible blessing.
When I got to Sioux Falls, I arrived and my to-be companion and her previous companion were like, speaking in Sign Language for like, a little bit like, “see you at home!” And stuff like that and I’m like, are you just doing that for fun or... Then she turns to me and she’s like, “By the way, you’re basically serving in the deaf ward.”
I, screamed. I knew that I was going to help the deaf people. Even though I was not called to a deaf speaking mission, I knew that I was going to use the talents that were within me, and help those people who communicated in sign language. And that was an incredible confirmation.
We had this one less active/recent convert--she was baptized then she kind of slacked on coming to church for one reason or another and she was a delight to work with. Her name is Sunshine, and she has such and incredible spirit. And teaching her, she voiced very well, so teaching her was a great learning tool. It was a great refresher for all those sign language years of looking at sign language but not really doing sign language that I was able to refresh and improve on my signing.
I had one couple that is in Sioux Falls that were really people that I think of even now. That is Henry and Elizabeth. And they’re not baptized, but we taught them and they progressed so well. And Satan worked so hard on them. I know that they will be baptized one day. One of the most profound experiences was Henry when he prayed for the first time. His grandmother was killed in a car accident, and so he was angry at God for about seven years. The thing that softened his heart was the birth of this baby daughter, and she was about six months old when we came, and we tracted into them as well actually. And when he prayed for the first time, that was about as big as baptism. That was an incredible experience, and I will never forget that.
And then I was transferred again, and I went to Williston. When I first got to Williston, I was serving in the second and third wards, and in third ward boundaries there was a little town that was called Ray, and I absolutely adored Ray. It was a pleasure to work there. It was cool because when we went to Ray we stayed with a family that had four girls who were either of mission age or close to being mission age, and we were able to take them out and inspire them. And we were able to meet people in Ray that really needed to be brought back into the gospel.
But the most distinguishing thing about Williston was the amount of baptisms that happened and who I’ve taught there. We had eight baptisms. And that, is a lot. And, I always wanted to see baptisms on my mission, but wow, eight baptisms! And something that’s interesting is that Williston, for some reason, I think the work factor has lots to do with it, there were tons of Africans in Williston! And five of the baptisms that I had on my mission were African. And one was Pilipino, one was white, and one, was deaf.
And brothers and sisters. Seeing the baptism of someone who is deaf is an incredible experience. Because, as you are, you have five senses, and you are very aware of those senses, and when you are baptized you’re just so excited, and you want to express yourself, but you are self-conscious about all the things that you say and do. But when you’re deaf? When she came up out of the water, this older lady, she was laughing. She was laughing and applauding out of sheer joy, and it was such a beautiful experience. And I know that Sioux Falls, that area, it prepared me to teach her. I thought I was maybe done helping the deaf people. I thought, “oh, well, that was a good run,” but no. It was a preparation in order to help Memory become baptized.
And, there’s so many other experiences but, I think my time is about up. But, I’ve loved my mission. I’ve loved the experiences I’ve had on my mission. And pull me aside and I’d be glad to tell you more experiences. But for now I’d just like to bear my testimony in sign language.
*Insert testimony about the atonement in sign language here*
Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. This is the most important thing to be thankful for. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.