Dear Friends and Family:
It has been a while. Let me catch you up.
Over the past six months, the Japan Kobe Mission has gone from having eighty-plus missionaries to 250. In theory, they’re not supposed to send us any more young missionaries because we’re pretty much inundated. A culture of youth, excitement, faith, and trepidation has swept over Japan and pretty much the rest of the world as the missionary force swells and God’s army blitzes Babylon with boldness and bravery. It’s an inspiring time to be a missionary.
As for me, President Zinke has me pulling double duty. I am still a Zone Leader in the Kobe-Akashi Zone, while simultaneously training my second brand-new missionary. Young missionaries are very funny. It takes some time for them to adapt to mission culture and procedure, and even more time to learn basic skills and begin speaking the language with any level of proficiency. Yet they are pillars of faith and trust in the Lord – inspiring example to battle-hardened veterans who sometimes forget that we can:t do this work without the power of The Lord.
I know what you all want to hear is stories and experiences, so I’ll share this one from this last week. There is an investigator who has been sitting in our investigator pool for months. We’ve had only occasional contact with him which has revealed that he has a desire to continue his investigation of the gospel but circumstances prevent him from doing that regularly.
As part of training the mission, President Zinke and the Assistants have been touring the mission, presenting training on, among other things, how to use the Book of Mormon to more effectively build the faith and testimonies of investigators and how to help them have positive, spiritual experiences on their own. Desiring to be obedient and to maximize our application of these tools, my companion Adams-Choro and I knelt down and prayed for revelation for what this investigator needed. We had nothing to rely on other than revelation. The information in the area book was of little help, especially since it was at least four months old. Neither of us had actually taught the investigator, so we weren’t really sure where he was at or what we needed to do to help him.
The answer to our prayers was not what we expected. The Lord seemed to want us to teach him about commandments. Having been around the block once or twice I can tell you that no sane missionary would ever approach an investigator who has spent four months in the “valley of death” (missionary lingo for the spiritual dry spells that occur between missionary lessons) by telling him about all of the things he won:t be allowed to do after he gets baptized. After carefully preparing a lesson plan, we prayed again wondering if this was REALLY what The Lord wanted us to do. The impression we received seemed to tell us, “I know what I’m doing. Trust me.” Knowing that the Lord knows our investigators better than we do, we trusted in the promptings.
Not long after preparing this lesson, we got a call from the investigator. “I’ve been reading your book and I have some questions,” he said. We set up a time to meet.
In addition to the lesson we spent time creating a Book of Mormon homework assignment. A good homework assignment begins with a question. In Japan, this question is typically NOT “is the Book of Mormon true?” or “Was Joseph Smith a true prophet,” because most people here don:t really care or know why they should care about such a question. Rather, these are questions of the soul that we think an investigator might be deeply concerned about. By praying for understanding, reading passages we assign with their question in mind, writing thoughts and impressions, praying for deeper understanding, reading again, writing again, and then praying to know if what they wrote is true, investigators spend meaningful time in their own private spiritual oasis receiving specific, personal guidance relative to problems in their lives about which they deeply care.
When it came time for our lesson, we weren’t sure what to expect but we prayed to know what to say and how to respond to his questions. We found out that this investigator had been spending lots of time in detailed study of the Book of Mormon, comparing that with his understanding of his own beliefs and praying earnestly to know what was right. Over-analysis had been driving him crazy and he wanted to know what to do.
It turns out that we did not deliver the message that we had prepared, but most of his questions involved commandments, and our preparation had been necessary to answer his questions in a satisfactory manner. Contrary to my expectations, he was surprised and even puzzled by the leniency of our commandments. He almost couldn’t comprehend that the ONLY substances forbidden by the Word of Wisdom were alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee.
“And heroine,” I reminded him.
“Oh shoot,” he said with a chuckle. “There goes my weekends.” (He was kidding. Heroine is virtually inaccessible in Japan).
But his biggest questions seemed to focus on how he could know the truth for himself. Wouldn’t you know, this was exactly the question we had prepared for his homework assignment. He had already been reading the Book of Mormon, but he had been going about it in a mechanical way that was yielding minimal spiritual results. We gave him a study journal we had prepared to help him receive this vital spiritual communication. Inside were the steps to effective Book of Mormon study I mentioned earlier, and a reading checklist of every chapter of the Book of Mormon, with our favorite chapters highlighted. I told him that because of his remarkable faith and sincerity (which was very remarkable indeed), if he would study in this way, he could expect meaningful inspiration from The Lord about what he should do.
It turns out that his schedule would not allow us to meet with him again as soon as we would like, so we will not be there to help him as he continues his search. But now he has the tools to conduct this search himself in a meaningful way. Is it possible that The Lord knew his schedule, and knew that we would only get one chance to help this man come unto Christ in a meaningful way? Is it any surprise that this lesson was so precisely guided?
I learned several lessons from this experience. First and foremost, I learned anew that The Lord knows his sheep. I also learned that when we are on the Lord:s errand, we are entitled to his help. I learned what it means to be a tool in the hands of the Lord – namely that it is not requisite that we know the end from the beginning. We do the best with what we have and seek guidance for what we cannot hope to figure out ourselves. We gratefully accept what guidance we do receive through diligent seeking, asking, and knocking (however much or little The Lord decides to grant), and then we move forward with faith, trusting totally that whatever guidance or strength we still lack will be given in exactly the moment we need it.
This is the Lord’s work, and it must be done His way. He will make that way known to his servants through their leaders and through personal communication. I urge you all to believe in this kind of inspired guidance and help and to rely on it as you seek to do the will of the Lord in whatever station or situation you find yourself.
I love you all. I’m sorry this message went longer than I intended. Many of you won:t get personal responses to your emails this week because of it. But know that I care about you and am praying for you individually every day. Trust the Lord, do good, build the kingdom, and punch Satan in the face.