I’m half-way through my service as a full-time missionary and have been reflecting a lot about all that I’ve done and what I’ve learnt. These are just a few lessons that I felt were most important to share!
I’m ashamed to say (but it’s necessary to admit) that before my mission I would always see missionaries and judge them based on what they did or didn’t do. I had no previous experience as a full-time missionary nor did I have any authority to judge them. I just thought that I knew better (which I really didn’t). Of course I would never tell the missionaries this, but I would silently judge. Since serving as a full-time missionary I’ve come to realise that as missionaries, the experience is hard enough without the judgments, both voiced and silent, of members. Members of the Church are supposed to be united with us in this great and sacred work. We are supposed to be partners, all of us together with God and yet, sometimes we are divided because of judgment. Likewise, as missionaries we are not called to judge members of the wards or stakes on how they may or may not fulfill their callings. We are not called to judge members on how they may or may not be keeping commandments. Both missionaries and members only see a small part of the entire picture. We only see what is presented before us and then interpret that scene according to our own understanding. We don’t know or see everything as God does, so it’s best that we just leave the judging to Him, or those He specifically calls as judges. Let us not allow ourselves to be divided because of judgment but may we become more united in the work of the Lord. Let us be people who lift each other up rather than tear each other down. Let us not be silent judgers of one another but silent prayers for one another.
Mistakes & Perfection
Throughout my life I’ve struggled with perfectionism. I hate making mistakes or getting things wrong. This has been no different in my service – I’ve wanted to always be perfect. I’ve wanted to be a perfect missionary – to be exactly obedient, to follow the missionary rules perfectly. I’ve wanted to teach perfectly. I’ve wanted to speak perfect Kiribati. I’ve wanted to train Sister Moungatonga perfectly. This desire isn’t in and of itself inherently bad however it isn’t realistic. I’ve always known that I’m not perfect. I’m not a perfect person, nor am I a perfect missionary. I’ve come to understand that despite my desire to obtain perfection in life or missionary work, I will never obtain it. I’m going to make mistakes in my life and in my work as a missionary however mistakes are great opportunities to learn lessons and develop Christ-like attributes. Sometimes we expect so much of ourselves forgetting that perfection is a pursuit, perhaps even an eternal pursuit. It’s something that we work on day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year.
No matter how hard we try, we will make mistakes. Just a few weeks ago I made the most embarrassing language mistake of my life. While waiting for a member of the Stake High Council to preside at our baptism (it was combined with another ward) we sang with those present, trying to keep them entertained. I then thought it would be fun to play a word game. I’ve done this before and it’s quite entertaining. The game was going fine and everyone was getting into it. For the last word I thought it would be funny to do the word “shave” in Kiribati. But for some reason in my mind I had mistaken the word shave for something similar. It meant shave but shave a different area of the body that we usually keep covered at all times. Everyone was laughing and I was unsure why. I ran out of the room to confirm the meaning of the word and found out what it really meant. I sprinted inside the room and wiped the word off of the chalkboard and tried to play it off. Then I walked myself to the bathroom and cried my eyes out. I was so embarrassed and stayed outside for the rest of the baptism. At the time it felt like the end of the world and I didn’t want to leave the house the next day but now, it’s not that bad. It’s even funny now as I look back. I was talking with someone afterwards who remarked that I would probably never play that word game again now after what happened. And to be honest I wouldn’t really want to. But I told them that I would. I would do it simply to prove to myself that I’m not going to let this one mistake affect what I will and won’t do. From that experience I learnt that an important part of the process of making mistakes is the response we have to making them.
No Experience Is Wasted
Elder Orson F. Whitney wrote: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.” Since the beginning of the year we’ve been teaching and working with a couple whose names are Teakin and Taromwa. They are the best! They’ve had trials and challenges like any other couple but we’ve been able to help them work through those based on principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During one particular lesson I was able to share about how the alcoholism of close family members had affected my life and my relationships with them, in an effort to show how destructive alcohol can be to family relationships. As we left their home, Sister Moungatonga told me how all of the experiences in my life – both the good and the difficult – have helped me bless the lives of others. I was so touched and felt so much gratitude for my life experiences. How much more precious they are to me because of this perspective. As I’ve said before, all of these experiences have prepared me for this season of service and beyond. No matter how painful or difficult the trial everything, everything that we experience is for our own benefit and the benefit of others.
The Refiner’s Fire
Had I known more fully before serving (which I’m glad I didn’t), what trials and challenges and pains I would suffer as a missionary, I might have re-thought my decision to serve. Missionary Work is the hardest undertaking of my short life so far. It has stretched me in every and all ways! It has been a Refiner’s fire for my life. As I was on the plane last year, making my way to the MTC, I read a beautiful book put together for me by my best friend, which included a few words of love and encouragement from all of my friends. One comment from my friend Chris Raass, always stood out to me and I guess I was kind of waiting for it to happen. In his little note, he wrote that investigators would make me cry. It wasn’t until I got to my second area, Teaoraereke, that Chris’ comment came true. He was right, investigators do make you cry. I have shed so many tears over people that we have been teaching – tears of frustration and anger, tears of sorrow, tears of rejection, tears of happiness and joy. As you teach people and come to know them, it’s inevitable that you come to love them so much that you become anxious for their progression and salvation. We have a great message to share about Jesus Christ and the lives of all people will be improved if they accept it however no matter how much we love people, we still need to respect their agency, their right to choose whether they accept it or not. Respecting the agency of others has been a great lesson in this Refiner’s fire. I’ve also become more aware of my personal weaknesses. I am just full of them! These past nine months I’ve been able to work on a few here and there, little by little becoming a better person. The process I feel, will be a life long pursuit. Although I’ve become more aware of my personal weaknesses I’ve tried to allow myself to become more aware of my strengths also, realising that my weaknesses don’t define me.
The Greatest Lesson So far
This experience has been an emotional rollercoaster ride within a refiner’s fire. Sometimes I’ve wanted to give up (actually more times than I can count). It’s just been too hard and too exhausting mentally, emotionally and physically. Other times, I’ve felt as though I never want to go home and just love this life that I am living right now. Love the people, love the place and the culture. Love the work as a missionary. There have been amazingly joyous highs right through to depressive and debilitating lows. Sometimes I’ve felt like the worst person for wanting to go home. There are some missionaries who seem to be on fire 24/7 and then there’s me, who is just barely trying to survive some days (I still suffer from depressive states every now and then which I think are triggered by the stress of missionary life). Some days I’ve felt like a failure as a missionary because I’ve struggled with keeping all of the mission rules perfectly or for wanting to go home. But I’ve learnt that my mission is not defined by the amount of times that I’ve wanted to give up or go home, it’s defined by the amount of times that I’ve wanted to give up and go home but didn’t. And in that, I’ve been successful. If there is one thing that I want to say when I go home, it’s that I didn’t give up.