Sunday, February 22, 2015

Farewell Talk

From small beginnings great things come to pass. This is the story of why I am standing before you today. You might call it chance, maybe luck, or just simply a coincidence, but I can assure you, that this has all been part of a plan. What started this all was a camping trip, and for the record, I don’t even like camping. In fact, I believe it’s a miracle that I’m here. The example of kids like Jake Paul, Mason Bloomfield, and Alec Gauthier brought me to the church. These are the same kids who chopped down a tree with a pickaxe, while running around in the rain shirtless, claiming to be Paul Bunyan.
In the summer of 2013, there was a knock on our door. Usually we get solicitors, but since it was Sunday, it had to be the Mormons. These Mormon people had been coming to our house for years, looking for my mom who had been inactive for quite some time. The rule of thumb in my household was if they asked for my mom, “she wasn’t home”. Anyway, I opened the door and there stood a man and his son, dressed in their Sunday clothes, and I knew that we were done for. Now I would have politely told him that we weren’t interested and that we didn’t need anything and I would have closed the door, but he had some cookies in his hand. He looked surprised when I answered the door, and asked if my mom was home. Now she was home, and I did want some cookies, so I let them in. The man, who introduced himself as Steve Bloomfield and his son Mason, told me about a camping trip they were going on with the boy scouts. They would be camping near Lake Tahoe, going hiking, boating on the lake, white water rafting, and rappelling. He extended the offer to me, and I was genuinely interested, but I thought I would have a job by the time the trip rolled around. He came back weeks later and since I had had no luck in finding a job, I agreed that I would go on the trip.
Steve had told me that there would be some kids from Amador that I would probably know. I remember when he email us the itinerary, and looking over it, it all looked well planned out and fun. There was this one part that I was uneasy about, every morning we would be doing prayer and scripture study. I remember discussing it with my mom, and I figured I could suffer through one hour of scripture study so that I could have fun for the rest of the day. So I packed my bags and left for a camping trip with an almost complete stranger on June 24th. We arrived at the Stake Center an hour late, and I didn't know any of the 10 other young men. I was beginning to second guess my decision. And the weather definitely didn’t look like it was going to be in our favor. It was pouring rain when we arrived, and the first night was miserable. The rain had soaked into my tent and created a pool around my sleeping bag. Everyone was wet, cold, and cranky. Thankfully, over the course of the next couple days the weather turned around, and we all began to have some fun.
I remember specifically the morning of day 2, we divided into groups and started scripture study. We prayed so much every day I thought I would have to say a prayer each time I took a breath of air. But anyway, this was the first time that I had actually read any scriptures out of the Book of Mormon. I didn’t really understand what the book was, or the purpose of the book, but there was something special about it. When we started reading from the book, I could feel this peace come over my heart and my mind. It was a powerful sense that I had never really felt before, even though I could barely get a sentence out because I was stumbling over every single word. But there was something so clear about the book, such an inspired feeling that I got while reading it. That is the first time I felt and recognized the spirit. I remember that evening we had to conduct some sort of makeshift play. And I literally had no idea what role I was playing. They were like you’re Moroni, you just chill over there and don’t say anything. And I’m thinking to myself, who on Earth is this Moroni guy? After a couple days of reading the scriptures and hearing scripture stories, I began to be somewhat curious about the book. 
I think the highlight of High Adventure was white water rafting on the American River. I guess “by chance” I ended up on the same boat as the bishop, who took claim of the only handle on the raft. On one of the larger rapids, we were instructed to paddle as hard as we could. The water was rushing so fast and there wasn’t really a safe way to go over the rapids, so we would just go as fast as we could. I remember the raft moving over a large rock and then taking a small dive down. As the water pushed us forward, the raft flattened out, and the momentum caused me to flip out of the boat. One second I was on the boat and the next second I’m bobbing up and down going through a class 4 rapid out of the boat. Jake Paul was so scared on that rapid, that he grabbed Steve’s hand. I’m floating overboard on white water and Jake Paul is holding Steve’s hand. It was terrifying, but I was quickly pulled back into the boat.
At the end of the trip I felt that I had made some pretty good friends. We had even started a boy band on the car ride on the way back. High Adventure was a bunch of hilarious, awkward, and quotable moments. On the Sunday following High Adventure, I went to church because I wanted to see all the new friends I had made, one last time. No one invited me, or really expected me to be there, I just showed up, and to be honest, I didn’t really plan on coming back to church after that. However, on July 2nd the missionaries showed up at my door, this time they were here for me, instead of my mom. I started to take the lessons from the missionaries and began to spend more time with my high adventure group. I didn’t know anything about religion and I wasn’t previously interested in “being saved”, but I was definitely open to see. I began to see this trend, that all these people are who they are because of this religion. And so I began to investigate, I began to learn, and everything just kind of made sense. I began to see that all the times in my life that seemed like coincidences were really the Lord’s hand in my life. I could feel the spirit so strongly when reading the Book of Mormon and listening to the missionaries. I grew close with my missionaries, Elder Bingham and Elder Kerby. In fact, Elder Bingham came to my mission call opening, and Elder Kerby went through the temple with me. These two 18 year old missionaries, a 540 page book, and a camping trip changed my life.
I knew it was true, that it was all true. When I said my first prayer, I had barely started the Book of Mormon and I didn’t remember how to pray, so I just got on my knees, holding my Book of Mormon, and I just started crying. My tears had covered the book and I looked up and I asked, Heavenly Father, Is this true? And he poured his spirit upon me, and he lifted my burdens. I felt as though he had rewarded me for my long suffering. This was the start to a long journey of learning, catching up, and changing. My heart was changed from a book. Broken by the truth, repaired by the spirit, and reformed by my faith. The next year of my life was some of the greatest and hardest moments I have faced. I felt out of touch with my friends because everyone thought my religion was a joke. I felt like I had lost my identity because people only defined me by my restrictions. I felt as though no one could understand what I had felt from a book. But I didn’t let that bring me down, I kept working harder to build my faith and my knowledge about the gospel. I knew there would be opposition, but I knew no one could ever take away what I felt in my heart. Despite all the struggles, temptations, and trials, I continued to refine myself and kept working toward a brighter future.
I never thought I would wake up before 6:00 for an entire year to learn about the scriptures. I never thought I would attend BYU. I never thought I would leave on a mission to teach people about God. I guess I never thought how a religion could change my life. Reflecting on the camping trip, I can easily say it’s a miracle that I’m standing before you today. But the Lord provided a path for me to return to him, despite the circumstances I was put in. On August 3rd, 2013, I took the plunge into the water, and came out clean from my sins, spotless in the sight of God, and ready to embark on the greatest adventure I have ever known. This purification to sanctification, is perfectly explained in the third chapter of Helaman, verse 35, which states:

“Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.”

My only solace in these latter days is the true purity that rages from this room. This ward has helped me in ways you cannot imagine, to progress in my life and to develop my testimony. I am in debt to all of you, for what you have done for me. You stand here as my inspiration. I wish I could thank each one of you. You are all deeply special to me and will always stay in my heart. I am so thankful to have a such a loving and caring ward family. You are my strength and without you I could not stand alone.

To the 10 young men, none of whom I knew, who started this all. From Paul Bunyan, to Richard Shrinkage, to Scuba Steve. To a camping trip that turned into a conversion story. To the freezing and cold nights to the humid summer heat, we bonded over the adventures.

To my missionaries, Elder Bingham and Elder Kerby, who saw my potential and my readiness to receive this gospel. I will never forget how two young men with powerful testimonies of this gospel changed my life.

To the Bloomfield family, who have cared for me as their own, and been there with me, every step of the way. Words cannot describe how thankful I am for the love, selflessness, and charity you have showed me.

To the man who knocked on my door one Sunday in June, with an honest heart and with little to no expectations of what would come from a home teaching visit. If there is one thing I am sure of, it is that the Lord knew I would find a way back to him, despite my circumstances.

To the man who conducted my baptism, and I didn’t even know who he was. Matt Farrell, my home teaching companion, has been one of the greatest role models I have come to know because of his never ceasing humility  

To my family, though we aren’t perfect, I will never forget the lessons you have taught me. Though it may be difficult for you to understand why I am doing this, it is simply because I love and believe in God enough to give up everything I have ever been blessed with. To serve him with all my might, mind and strength, so that I can share my joy and happiness this church has brought me with every person that I meet.

To a book, that I read in less than a month, which words I understood very little, which spirit I did feel so firmly.

I would like to close with a verse of my favorite hymn, Come Thou Font of Every Blessing

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.

I’ve come a long way since joining the church, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve been ridiculed, mocked, and scorned for my beliefs. Singled out as the weird kid and as the one who has the long list of “can’ts”. I’ve been called foolish, condemned a cultist, and persecuted by my peers because I had found solace in a book. Because for once in my life I believed in something enough to make a change. Because I saw my savior. I saw him in the eyes of every member of the congregation. I felt his hand in my life as I read the book of mormon. I felt him in my heart as I kneeled down to pray.
What our church is, is a hospital for broken hearts. We take in and care for everyone, every human being is important to us. It doesn’t matter where you are from, or how you got here, we are here to help you. Our medicine is the gospel and we heal with answers. We show others the truth, and the light, to help them get through the dark times. We take the temporally, physically, and spiritually sick and heal them. We take those that don’t see value in life and show them that they have a destiny. We take the weaknesses of the natural man and teach them of their true power. We fight temptation with the truth and secure the blessings of righteousness.
As someone who had never read any scriptures, said a prayer, or believed in God, I can assure you with every ounce of my being that this is the truth. I leave you with my sincere testimony of the divinity of this gospel in these latter days. With my special witness of Jesus Christ sealing these words to my heart. And with 5 simple words, written in the 3rd book of Abraham, that determined the fate of mankind, the Son of Man proclaimed: “Here am I, send me.” In the name of our Lord and Savior, even Jesus Christ, Amen.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Mini Mission

Before leaving Pleasanton, I spent a couple days practicing as a missionary. Usually I would get assigned to a different location than my hometown, but since we just got two new missionaries, they needed all the help they could get. My two companions were Elder Arnell from the lively town of Paris, Idaho (population: 500), and Elder Stevenett from Utah. Here is what I learned from my mini mission
  1. People love to give the missionaries food they don't want. Our apartment is filled with old cakes, candy, canned green beans, ect. 
  2. If you ever meet a missionary they will always say, "Have a nice day" (even if people yell "Hail Satan" at you) 
  3. Missionaries are all about service. We did 10 hours of service over 2 days. 
  4. The strategy we developed for contacting (meeting new people) was finding streets that only had sidewalks on one side, or using trails. People can't just cross the street to avoid us, they have no choice but to cross our paths. But most people see us walking up and just turn around. 
  5. If you are not interested in learning about our church, we will gladly wish you a nice day and carry on with our business. 

I have to say, I had a fantastic time with the Elders. Most people weren't home due to the nice weather and the fact that it was Valentines day. I got really frustrated after we had knocked on a lot of doors and nobody had answered, and I complained that “Nobody wants to talk to the missionaries on valentines day!” and then Elder Arnell corrected me by saying, “nobody wants to talk to the missionaries on any day that ends in ‘y’”. Nevertheless, our days were filled with service and meeting new people. I imagine that Chile is going to be very different. We won't get as nice as an apartment, and we definitely won't have a gym or a car. I really enjoyed my time with the missionaries, this mini mission just made me more excited to leave!

Elder Arnell and I are master chefs in the kitchen. I prepared a sausage on a hotdog bun, while Elder Arnell made the only thing he knew how to cook...bacon. 

We grabbed lunch at Subway with the zone (all the other missionaries serving in Pleasanton) after we finished weekly planning

Relaxing a little after morning study, before we head out to do some service. 

Service champ over here. You can't see it, but my shirt says, "Wanna taco about Jesus?".