Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Week Forty-Seven: Brother Youngs

Dear People,
This has been the fullest week of my mission. We had an unusual street contacting experience earlier in the week. We were wandering around the city one morning looking for humble people and we found one! She was wandering around waiting for a ride or something. We started talking to her and found out she used to go to a church but hasn't for a while and is looking for religion. She she asked us for our number (a first for me) and said she doesn't have a phone right now but will call us. she happily accepted a Book of Mormon too. That wouldn't be a big deal in a lot of places but it was so encouraging for us.
We met a previous investigator who is about 16 years old named Bum-jun. Elder Child and I met him once in the past but he didn't seem interested and has been busy since then, but we tried again and he could meet. Elder Hyun masterfully related to him and got him to open up about all his religious feelings and we realized this guy is super golden. Here's how part of the conversation went:
"I'm going to go to church this week."
"Which church?"
"The Church of Jesus Christ."
"Oh, like our church?"
"Yeah. I'm going to go every week from now on."
And he came this Sunday! Miracles happen. Someone else new came to sacrament meeting as well. We were minding our own business getting ready to start the announcements, I was sitting up on the stand because I was going to bless the sacrament and some white guy  I've never seen walks in and sits next to my companion with a huge smile. All the members were looking at me mouthing "Do you know this guy?" 
We come to find out his name is Brother Youngs and he moved into Gwangyang to be an English teacher. That's super uncommon, but the really crazy part is that he is not a returned missionary from Korea. He served in California speaking "Mang". He is learning Korean though and is already better than a lot of new missionaries. He is super outgoing and immediately started trying to get to know all the members in his new branch with his basic Korean.
So that's crazy. The members all love him already and due to a miscommunication are all convinced that he is a descendant of Brigham Young.
Favorite scripture this week is Alma 37:44.
44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.
At any moment we can think and ask ourselves "What does God want me to be doing right now?" and we will see the answer as clearly as if we were holding the Liahona looking at a pointer. We read 1 Nephi glad that we aren't as foolish as Laman and Lemuel, yet we have just as simple of a task. How often do we resentfully stare at the pointer that is directing us toward some rocky path and look for a better way. 
I love to do missionary work my way. I love studying my way. But it's too hard. I quit. I give up. It's a waste of time.
I accept defeat and turn over my dreams, desires, and underlying purposes to the Lord. That is the only intelligent thing to do. Fighting Him is exhausting. I'll never win.
I'm so grateful for our perfectly patient, loving Heavenly Father. I know He lives. I'm grateful that he has given us everything we need. He gave us Jesus Christ. I testify that He is path to peace and I invite you to do something to live closer to His example in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Elder Brown

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Week Forty-Six

Dear People,

Yesterday Elder Hyun and I were planning on visiting a couple of potential investigators at their stores, but we couldn't find one of them and on the way to the other I realized we were in the area of a previous investigator so we called and he said we could meet. This specific investigator is in his mid seventies and has met missionaries for a long long time with no progress. During our meeting we were able to get him to open up about why he has commitment problems and how he doesn't want to get baptized because he'll feel a raised responsibility to keep the commandments and keeping the commandments is hard.

After we left, Elder Hyun asked me if I felt the Spirit during the lesson. When I said that I did a little bit he asked "When did you feel it? What were we saying?" I started talking about how I don't remember exactly when, but how he shouldn't worry because it was a great lesson and he did really well. Then he took me off guard by saying:

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not worried about whether or not I did well, I'm just trying to figure out his needs so we know what to focus on next time. I asked because whatever we were saying when you felt it is what we need to focus on next time."

I assumed he was just seeking validation about how he did in the lesson, because that's what I do naturally,  but he helped me remember that it's not about us. He was only focused on what our brother needed.

This specific investigator also has no problem believing the Book of Mormon or that Joseph Smith was a prophet. "Yup, that's God's word." Elder Hyun and I also discussed that phenomenon: How people can know that the Book of Mormon is true but not be motivated to do anything about it. I've had an investigator that has struggled to believe in God yet said of the Book of Mormon: "Oh yeah, there is no way Joseph Smith could have written this"

We decided it's because in these cases the knowledge is superficial, logical understanding. We can read the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith History and say "Yeah, that makes sense, I'll buy that story" that's easy, but that kind of testimony will never fuel the kind of sacrifice and dedication that true church membership requires. It may give enough motivation to keep the explicit commandments and come to church regularly, but to go beyond superficial discipleship we have to be taken by the Spirit across the bridge linking knowledge with conversion to Jesus Christ.

To allow that to take place we must prayerfully read the Book of Mormon and ponder and apply it's claims to our current situation.

Life is really good, but we are running out of investigators. It's hard to maintain faith to find sometimes.

My favorite scripture right now is in 1 Nephi 16 (I actually changed the words a little bit)

19 And it came to pass that we did return without investigators to our apartment, and being much fatigued, because of our journeying, we did suffer much for the want of investigators."

28 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.

30 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did go forth up into a super remote part of Gwangyang, according to the directions which were given upon the ball.

31 And it came to pass that I did talk to a bunch of high-schoolers, insomuch that I did obtain investigators . . . (and they all got baptized and were deeply converted to Christ)

We actually haven't done this yet, but it's the plan for Thursday. I'll report on how it goes. :D

I love you,

-Elder Brown

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Week Forty-Five: Hyun Kyung-Don

Dear People,

So, last Wednesday I rode a train to Deajeon to see off Elder Child and meet my new trainee. When I entered the room of new missionaries with all the other trainers, one of the trainees was standing up and translating for President Madsen. He was really handsome and yes, he's the one I got. His name is Hyun Kyung-Don. Upon our short introductions I learned that he is from Seoul, he's 19 but has already attended a year at BYU Hawaii and another year at BYU Provo. If you ask how, it's because he skipped high school to study for the ACT and TOEFL tests and got admitted to BYU-H when he was 17. He's fluent in English, which is a blessing and a curse because when I can't say something in Korean it's super tempting to just say it in English.

We had a crazy first day. We barely had time to dump his luggage at the apartment before running to an English teaching appointment. He flawlessly turned the English appointment into a lesson about true repentance and we got the investigator who previously only had English interest to agree to have religious discussions from here on.

We also met another potential investigator on his first day and he bore a super powerful testimony about why he chose to come on a mission. He has a really great habit of testifying in a way that makes it impossible to doubt that he believes what he is saying is true.

He is full of fire and dedication and so much humility. On our second day, we were in the middle of weekly planning and I asked him a question about an investigator. He paused and said: 

"I'm so so sorry, I'm trying to focus, but I'm really hungry, I think if I ate first I will be able to focus better." 

It was 7:00 and we had nothing but ramen for lunch. I forgot to feed him dinner. I'm a terrible person. He forgave me.  I'm so excited to serve with Hyun Kyung-don.

I keep on re-learning principles that I've already learned before but just aren't seeming to permanently change my behavior. For instance, I absolutely must stay clean and organized or the Spirit will be restrained. My progress seems slow and sometimes I don't feel successful as a missionary. I'm almost at my year mark and it's hard to feel like I've really made an impact on Korea, but I'm I need to remember that success is conversion to the Savior. I won't be successful by working hard the way I want to work hard. I will be successful when I give Him all my heart and all my will.

I'm finally understanding how everything about the commandments and ordinances of the gospel just leads back to following Christ. We were sitting with a potential investigator who was asking what his family can do to progress and be a better family. In my mind I was screaming "get baptized and follow the commandments!" and as I was thinking about why those things bring happiness it hit me that following the commandments is just following Christ. That's what brings happiness, not just abstaining from coffee or changing behavior on a certain day of the week. It's trying to live like Christ that brings the joy of the gospel.

I know Jesus Christ lives. I know that He is the path to lasting satisfaction. I bear my testimony of this in His name, amen.

I love you, 

-Elder Brown

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Week Forty-Four: I'm Training, Probs a Korean

Dear People,

Transfer calls were on Monday. I'm staying in Gwangyang for a fourth transfer and I'm training! I will meet the poor new Elder tomorrow morning. There are six new Elders coming in and five of them are natives so I'm likely going to to be training a Korean which is crazy stressful. This will be the first time I've been senior companion . . . I'm about to get super humbled.

My companion Elder Child is about to go home tomorrow after his 27 months of service. Watching a returning missionary pack up is a really good way for one to miss their family, but I'm glad I'm still here! I had a nightmare a while ago that I came home at the same spiritual state I'm in right now. I have so far to go. There is a great work to perform. There is a great harvest waiting for me to decide to plunge my sickle into. In my grandpa's words "I must start with the mission field that is my heart"

Because I'm going to train I've been thinking about how how I felt my first few days in the field, how consecrated I was, and how far I've dropped from that point. From the beginning of the MTC I thought it was just part of my nature to be super faithful and energetic about missionary work. I was proud that it seemed to come naturally to me, I was proud that I had been blessed with such great desire but my fuel tank of consecration has been running empty for a while and I've done little to refill it. 

While Elder Child was packing, I was reading some talks and stories about consecration and being worthy of the Spirit. It led me to offer a really powerful repentance prayer last night. I felt the power of Jesus Christ's Atonement.

A marvelous work is about to come forth among the people of Gwangyang and in the heart of Elder Brown.

I love you.

-Elder Brown

Week Forty-Three

Dear People,

On Thursday morning our branch president called us early in the morning and said that our elders quorum president had a sudden heart attack and asked if we could go together to give him a blessing. We got all ready and were waiting outside, but then he called again and informed us that he had just passed away. That was super unexpected and sad. His wife is the Relief Society president, and they still have a couple young kids. Please pray for their family. Life is weird.

I watched a video on Mormon Channel in a series called Hope Works about making the distinction between our spirit and body that helped me understand that it really is all about returning to live with God.

Before we were sent to earth we were in God's presence. We knew we belonged there. We were at peace, we knew we were loved and understood. We were At-One with him. The Fall took us from that and dumped us in a field where we often don't feel love, and are rarely accepted by society. It is very clear to each of us that something is wrong. Something big is missing. From the time we become conscious everything we do is trying to fill that void, we are trying to return. We hopelessly try to fill this hole with money, power, knowledge, or beauty. Whether we know it our not, we are all trying to save our selves.

There is one way and one name by which we may be saved. There is one specific reliable way to gain all our deepest desires. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only thing that will fill the void. 

One of Elder Bednar's study methods is to prayerfully choose a topic he wants to understand deeper, get a cheap copy of the Book of Mormon, read it from cover to cover marking things that relate to the chosen topic, write a couple paragraphs about what he learned about that topic, put that piece of paper in the copy of the Book of Mormon, then place it on his bookshelf of other copies that he has followed this pattern with. "If you start doing this now, by the time your my age you should have a bookshelf of 400-500 copies"

I am starting my first copy with the topic of "Pray Always" I'm super excited.

I'm going to go play virtual golf now, but I love you all!

-Elder Brown

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Week Forty-Two

Dear People,

My area is the second hottest place in Korea and we be 'proaching the hottest time of the year... for the last couple of days we've been walking in a "real feel" 109 degrees. Sweat's flowing freely.  A couple days ago a random guy literally pulled us off the street into a convenience store to buy us a drink. "It's too hot! You're going to die!"

This Sunday we were asked to teach gospel principles class and we chose the topic of repentance. As we taught, I learned something about the principle of confession. When we don't confess in prayer our shortcomings, we are showing God that we believe we can overcome sin on our own. Changing undesirable behavior is not repentance. We must recognize our sin and confess the exact nature of it with no justification of our actions in order to repent of it. Changing our behavior does not remove the effect of that sin. Christ does.

 This week has been really hard, probably the hardest of my mission so far, but I wouldn't trade this for anything. The church is simply true. The Book of Mormon is simply true. It is seamless. It is the surest channel of the Spirit. It is a map to lasting happiness.

Insight about missionary work I got after failing to properly introduce our message to a man in an ice cream shop and trying to impress him with ourselves rather than our message:

Anyone who sees us will recognize these things: These sweaty teens are in a foreign country. They are learning a difficult foreign language. They are wearing very uncomfortable clothes. They must have a motivation to be doing so. Something very significant have compelled them away from family, school, friends, and their country. 

There are a couple possible compelling forces:

1. Money. They are either getting paid a lot of money, or through this mission thing they will eventually make a lot of money in their church. 

2. This is a study abroad. They like travel and want to see the world.

3. It's a mandatory thing. If they don't do this they have to do something harder, like military. 

4. It's a social/family/cultural thing, if they don't do this they will be estranged from their religious community 

5. They have discovered a glorious truth and can't bear to sit still until the whole world has had opportunity to partake of it's blessings.

If the missionary commandment to "open your mouth in proclaiming the gospel" is not upheld, our very presence in the field becomes a paradox. If we don't quickly and genuinely bring up our desire to share our message with everyone we come in contact with, our reason for being in the country will never be recognized as reason number 5. We must do everything we can to obliterate the possibility of people thinking we are here for reasons 1-4.

I am very very guilty of not displaying reason 5, but it's been an important step for me to recognize this problem. I am going to do my best to repent every day and love the Lord enough to open my mouth.

Heavenly Father lives and is anxious to bless us. He is doing literally everything in His power to help us return to Him, but the choice is up to us.

I love this work and I love you.

-Elder Brown

Week Forty-One

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

No time today, but life's good. We've been doing a lot of district proselyting activities focused on Teaching English, they've been pretty effective. We're racking our brains and praying hard for ways to touch people's hearts. Finding is really hard. Missionaries need members.

My favorite scripture this week is 2 Nephi 2:8 

"Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah. . ."

Everything about our message really just leads back to returning to remain in God's presence. We will all return to God regardless of our actions on earth, but without preparing for that time by following the gospel of Jesus Christ we will not stay in His presence for very long.

I know that God lives. I know that he answers prayers, especially ones asking how we can draw closer to Him. I'm pretty sure those are His favorite prayers to answer.

-Elder Brown