Monday, April 6, 2015

The Miracle of the Atonement

Two years ago, if someone asked me what Jesus Christ has done for us, I probably would have said something along the lines of, “Jesus is our Savior.  He suffered and died for us.”  But I would not have fully understood what this meant. In the last 18 months serving a mission in Brazil, I was able to deepen my understanding of what Christ has truly done for us as I saw people choose to accept His atonement, repent, and be baptized.  As Easter is coming up next week, today I would like to share with you some of the things I learned and experiences I had that strengthened my testimony of the miracle of the Atonement of Christ. 

So what has Christ really done for us?
On my mission, I had the opportunity to teach a man, named Irmão Santos, who had done some terrible things in his life.  He had since stopped, but still felt the burden of his sins and could not seem to comprehend how his Heavenly Father could forgive Him after he had done things that had destroyed the lives of many others. 
One day we asked Irmão Santos to imagine that his son, Ato, had been playing outside with his friends and had accidentally kicked a ball into his neighbor’s window, causing it to shatter.  His neighbor was furious and wanted justice.  He went to Irmão Santos’ house and demanded that Ato repay him for his window. 
We asked Irmão Santos what he would do?  He replied that he would pay for the window.  “But you didn’t shatter the window,” we reminded him. “Ato did.  Shouldn’t he have to pay?”   Irmão Santos responded by saying that Ato was just a little boy and didn’t have any money.  He was Ato’s father, so he would pay for him.  When we asked him why, he finally said, “Because I love him.”  We then explained to our investigator that the love he had for his little boy could be compared to the love his Heavenly Father had for him – a son of God. 
As children of our Heavenly Father, at times we have accidents.  We make mistakes and wrong choices, and justice demands that we pay, for the scriptures clearly state that “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21).  But we, being imperfect humans, are unable to pay.  However, our Heavenly Father loves us so much that He provided a way for us to become clean again so that we can return to live with Him.  He was willing to send His Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ, who also loves us with an infinite love, to pay the price for our sins as He, the only perfect human being, suffered for our sins in Gethsemane and died on the cross at Calvary.  I will never forget the look of utter astonishment and joy that washed over my investigator’s face when he realized that we, as representatives of Jesus Christ, believed in him and that there really was a way for him to be made clean again. 
In Matthew 11:28-30, Christ says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

So what do we have to do to take Christ’s yoke upon us? 
Because of Christ’s Atonement, we all have the potential to be perfect, but we must do some things in order to accept our Savior’s sacrifice.  In Brazil, everyone loves soccer, or futebol.  I was there during the World Cup and we were allowed to watch the Brazil game with members and I can tell you, the adrenaline rush was gigantic.  There were people screaming and literally crying out of joy, fear, nervousness, etc. during all of the games.  It was quite the experience.  So, because of this Brazilian passion, at times we would need to use this sport during our lessons to spike our investigators interest and keep them engaged in the lesson, especially with the children.  We at times, I will admit, would play dumb and ask our investigators to describe futebol to us.  They would look at us, flabbergasted, and then, when they saw that we were being serious, would start trying to describe a soccer game.  They would say things like, “Well you and your teammates have to kick a ball into a net to score a goal.”  I would then surprise them by asking, “So if one individual scores a goal, is he the only one who gets a point?”
“No!” they would respond, thinking we were stupid.  “The whole team does.”
“Even those teammates who are sitting on the bench?” I would ask.
“Yeah!  Even them,” they would respond.  I would then ask them to compare their lives to a game of futebol and tell them that the best futebol player was Jesus Christ. (Even better than Neymar Jr.)
Jesus Christ, we would explain, is the perfect teammate because He is undefeatable and, if we are on His team, it is guaranteed that we will win.  And, to be on His team, He just requires five simple things: 1) We must have faith in Him, 2) we must repent when we make mistakes, 3) we must be baptized by someone holding priesthood authority, 4) we must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and 5) we must endure to the end.  If we do these things, we will be on the undefeatable team of Christ and will be able to win eternal life.  “So,” we would ask them, “Do you have faith in Jesus Christ?”
“Yes,” they would answer.
“Do you repent when you make mistakes?”
“Yes,” they would answer.
“Then will you follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized by someone holding the proper priesthood authority?”
“Yes!” they would respond.  (I have to admit that not all those who said yes were baptized, but it really helped them understand what they needed to do to accept our Savior’s Atonement.)

So, does the Atonement really change lives?
The answer is yes.  One day my companion and I were walking down the street when we passed a group of drunkards.  One of them called to us and we found out that he was the uncle of a faithful member of our ward, named Isabela.  We stopped and started talking with this man, whose name was Francisco, and his drunken friends and ended up quickly teaching them the Word of Wisdom and inviting them to quit drinking for a few days and come to Church on Sunday.  I must admit that it was an invitation extended without much hope, so you can expect how surprised we were when Francisco showed up at church on Sunday and told us that he hadn’t drunk since we last saw him. 
After church that day, we gave Francisco a Book of Mormon and began to teach him.  We invited him to read daily and pray for strength to resist the temptation to drink.  Over the week as we told the members of the church that we were teaching Isabela's uncle, all of them reacted in an astonished and dubious manner.  They said things like: “You better be careful with him!”, “He’s a drunkard!”, “He uses drugs!”, “He won’t be baptized!”  But my companion and I never stopped believing in him because we could feel the love our Heavenly Father had for this beloved son of His. 
Two weeks after we met him, on his third Sunday at church, Francisco was baptized.  Our bishop, who had been a bit doubtful about this baptism later told us that, after the baptism, when he and Francisco were in the bathroom changing, both of them had felt the Spirit really strongly.  Francisco actually started crying and told Bishop that he had felt that it was time to make some changes in his life.  Since his baptism, Francisco has never drunk again and is now a worthy priesthood holder. 
A week after his baptism, he went over to Isabela's house and, as he walked in, Isabela's cousin said, “There’s a man coming in!”  Isabela laughed and said, “It’s Titio!” (“It’s Uncle!”).  His own family couldn't even recognize him.  A month after his baptism, Francisco was overjoyed to see his own son and daughter, who live with his ex-wife, enter the waters of baptism. This experience repeated itself in different forms throughout my mission as I was able to see different children of God learn about the Atonement of Christ and find a hope, a desire, a courage, and a strength to accept it and truly change their lives.

Well, knowing that the Atonement changes lives, the next question is, who is it for?
The answer is simple and wonderful – it is for everyone.  After Christ had finished His atoning sacrifice and was resurrected that Easter Sunday, He appeared to His apostles and said, “(If ye love me,) feed my sheep,” (John 21:15-17) exhorting them to share the message of the atonement with all nations and all mankind.  He then left the Middle East and appeared to the Nephites in the Americas to teach them the same Gospel and atonement which He taught during His mortal ministry.
To me, The Book of Mormon is true proof that the atonement is for everyone, for while other prophets were teaching His children in the Middle East, our loving Heavenly Father didn’t forget about His children in the Americas but instead called prophets to teach them as well.  As The Book of Mormon prophets clearly state, “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what resource they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26) 
Christ’s atoning sacrifice is for everyone.  We are all His sheep.  He knows us by name and loves us and, because of Him, we can receive a remission of our sins and return to live with our Father in Heaven again.

I bear my sincere testimony that the Atonement of Christ is real. It truly is a miracle that will change the lives of all who choose to accept it and give their best each day as they have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent when they make mistakes, are baptized by worthy priesthood holders and renew their covenants when they partake of the sacrament each week, live to be worthy to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end.  I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is Christ’s true Church here upon the earth that was restored by a modern day prophet named Joseph Smith.  And I know with all of my heart that The Book of Mormon is a true testament of Jesus Christ that proves the love our Savior has for each and every one of us.  

*some names may have been changed for privacy privileges

"Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world." (3 Nephi 11:14)

Friday, April 3, 2015

"The Best Surprise" - the joy of sharing the Gospel

I am Sister Ashley Dyer, and I just returned from serving in the Brazil Natal Mission in Northeastern Brazil. While in Brazil, I experienced first-hand a culture with a lot of enthusiasm for sharing the gospel and inviting people to church, so today I want to share with you the things I learned about how to participate in the Lord’s amazing work. 

One day on my mission, my companion and I were eating lunch at a member’s house, and afterwards we asked the member, whose name was Presidente Claudio for suggestions about who we could teach, but he sadly told us he didn't have any.  As my companion and I got ready to leave, Presidente Claudio walked over to his daughter’s 14 year-old friend who was over.  He asked her what her name was and if she liked “surprises.” When the girl, whose name was Rwanda, said yes, Presidente Claudio excitedly said, “Rwanda!  I have an awesome surprise for you!  Can I go over to your house one day this week to bring it to you?”  She said it was ok and gave him her address.  Presidente Claudio then asked with a smile on his face, “Do you like chocolate?”  When she said yes, he replied grinning from ear to ear, “You are going to love this surprise.”  As my we were leaving, Presidente Claudio slipped Rwanda’s address into my bag.

Afterwards, I thought, “Well, that was pretty awesome what Presidente did, but what’s Rwanda going to think when we show up at her door as the “awesome surprise” Presidente Claudio promised.  Well, we went to her house, and to make the story short, by the second lesson, Rwanda had gained a testimony of The Book of Mormon and the prophet Joseph Smith.  She knew that The Church was true and wanted to be baptized.  From this experience, I learned two very important things.  The first is that you never know who is prepared to accept the gospel, and the second is that the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is the best surprise you can give anyone, even better than chocolate, and we should never be too scared to enthusiastically give it to others.

Well, seeing that there are so many prepared to hear the gospel, we need to open our mouths and create conversations about it.  I will never forget what one of my investigators said after we taught her about the Plan of Salvation.  She said, “Sisteres!  You need more advertising!  Nobody knows this stuff!  There are so many horrible rumors about you that aren’t true.  If the people knew these things, you would have so many more people wanting to be baptized.”  As I thought about what my investigator said, I realized that in fact, we did need “more advertising.”  We needed member missionaries. 

Although sharing the gospel as a member of the Church may seem intimidating or annoying or unnecessary at times.  It is actually very easy, very satisfying, and also very necessary.  President George Albert Smith once said, “That is your mission, my brethren and sisters of the Church, that is your responsibility.  Freely you have received and our Heavenly Father will expect you freely to share with His other sons and daughters these glorious truths…We will attain our exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom only on the condition that we share with our Father’s other children the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and observe the commandments that will enrich our lives here and hereafter.”  Our own salvation is dependent on us sharing the Gospel with our fellow brothers and sisters.  Is that motivation enough?

During my mission, every day my companion and I were required to speak with 20 new people about the Church.  It was something very weird to me in the beginning.  We basically just stopped anyone on the road, told them who we were, and invited them to come to Church. There would be those who would say they were of a different faith; there were those who would commit to visit the Church someday; and then there were those few who would say they would visit.  Independent of the responses they gave, most of the people didn't end up coming to church, but we felt happy in knowing that we had done our part in inviting 20 children of God to come to church that day. 

In Clayton M. Christensen’s book “The Power of Everyday Missionaries,” Brother Christensen explains that, “even when people decline our invitations, they are not offended as long as they can feel our honesty, our love, and God’s love when we invite them to learn about Christ’s gospel.  They typically have expressed gratitude that we cared enough about them to want to share something so personal and important.” We should not be afraid of rejection.

One trick that has helped me is deliberately finding people to say “no.”  Yep.  That’s right.  How many of you can say that you have successfully found someone who has declined your invitation to visit the Church every week?  Because “no” is success just as much as “yes” is.  As an assignment for a young man in one of my wards after having lunch at his house, I asked him to find 10 people who would say “no” to his invitation to come to church the next Sunday.  The people who said “yes” didn’t count.  It had to be 10 “no’s”.

Success does not have to be measured by how many lost sheep you bring to the fold.  That is the role of Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost.  It can be measured by how many lost sheep you give the opportunity to return to the fold.  The lost sheep that are prepared will come naturally.  We succeed when we open our mouths and invite – whether the answer is yes or no, we can rest assured that we have succeeded in doing our part as a member missionary when we can say, “I invited someone to Church today.”

As missionaries in the Missionary Training Center we were told there were people waiting for us to teach who, without us, would not be able to find the gospel and who would be forever grateful for what we had done to share the gospel with them. During my last week in the mission field, I received a letter from one of my investigators who is currently preparing to get married and baptized so that she can go to the temple and be sealed together with her family forever.  We had met her on the street and just invited her to come to church.  In the letter she said, “My Dear! How can I thank you for all you have done to introduce me to my Heavenly Father? Even if your mission lasted 18 years instead of 18 months, there would not be enough time for me to show you how grateful I am! I thank Heavenly Father and the prophet for putting you in my life. I pray for you and I believe your mission was successful. Love, Djandira.  P.S. We will meet each other one day in the Celestial Kingdom of God.”  These words truly touched me as I saw that my Father in Heaven had used me to help my investigator come to know Him.  I truly know that there are many people who are prepared to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and are just waiting for us to open our mouths and share it with them.  I know that they too will be forever grateful when they realize what we have done to help them come to know their God.

In D&C 18, Christ says, “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God…Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.  And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him (or her) in the kingdom of my Father!”

I bear my sincere testimony that I know that the worth of souls is great in the eyes of God, and that our Father in Heaven loves us with an infinite love.  He loves us so much that He sent His son to die for us.  I know that the power of the Atonement is real, for I saw children of God in dire circumstances use this power to repent and change their lives.  I know with all of my heart that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is true, that The Book of Mormon is a true testament of Jesus Christ, and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and because of this I left my home and friends and family here in China to go to Brazil to learn to speak Portuguese to share this message with others.  Brothers and Sisters, it is amazing knowing you are an instrument in the hands of our Lord, and I exhort each of you to start now.  Because these things are true, and the gospel is the best surprise you can give to anyone whether they know it or not. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

March 7, 2015

So I'm feeling really strange right now.  I'm on my way home from the mission field and don't know what to think.  Presidente Soares and Elder Ozolin dropped me off at the airport in Natal yesterday and from there I flew to Rio De Janeiro, from there to London, and right now I'm flying from London to Shanghai. It's the first time I've been on a plane for a year and two months, which is strange to think about. Another strange thing I noticed is that I can hardly speak or even understand English, but that might be partly due to the fact that everyone is speaking in British accents, seeing that I'm flying British Airways. They speak so fast!  Then when I try to speak English, I find that I speak in an almost British accent.  I'm not sure if that's just me wanting to "fit in" or my mind trying to relearn English by imitating the people. These last three days I've just been feeling downright "yucky" if that makes any sense.

Elder Olsen and Sister Marcelino and I took the bus from Mossoro and met all of the returning missionaries in Natal on Tuesday.  We had a special training on self-sufficiency and "planning for success" on Wednesday as well as dinner with Presidente and Sister Soares.  Dinner was a very spiritual experience.  When we entered Presidente and Sister Soare's home, I felt almost like I was entering the Celestial Room in the temple.  Their house is so clean and chic.  The only other time I had gone there was when I had dinner there the day I arrived. 

During dinner (wonderful, chic food prepared by Sister Soares), Presidente told us that whenever he thought about or saw a specific missionary, he always remembered them for a specific area they had served in.  He told me that the area he remembered when he thought of me was Abolicao.  I think that's due to the fact that when I was serving there, he came to interview one of our investigators and also had lunch at our house with Sister Soares ("Surprise Sisteres!  Presidente's going to be having lunch at our house today!")  While we were eating, Sister Young asked me where I had sat at the table the first time I had eaten at Presidente's house.  I told her that I honestly couldn't remember.  Without hesitation Presidente Soares said, "I remember!  You sat there," and he pointed to a seat on the other side of the table.  "And when all of the missionaries knew that you were from China, they all asked you to speak Chinese," he said with a smile.Leave it up to good old Presidente Soares to remember something like that.  

After dinner, we had a testimony meeting.  It was the most spiritual testimony meeting I have ever participated in in my entire life.  Before we began, Sister Soares told us that it was always a comfort to her to get to know and have diner with the newly arriving missionaries the night before having dinner with the returning missionaries, but she always noticed a big difference between the testimonies the new missionaries bore and the testimonies born by the returning missionaries.  As each missionary got up and bore his or her testimony, the Spirit filled the room and literally embraced us.  OUt of the 13 testimonies born, I don't think there was a single testimony during which I didn't shed a tear.  During my testimony, I pretty much started crying the second I started talking if that gives you an idea of how strong the Spirit was.

After we finished bearing our testimonies, we had the tie cutting ceremony, which I had never heard of until then.  Sister Soares explained that she would ask each of us what the most important thing we learned on our mission was, someone would write this down along with our name, and then for the Elders she would cut off a good part of the tip of their tie.  She said that the part she cut off would represent the time we had spent learning this attribute on our mission and the rest of the tie would represent the time we still had to put what we had learned into practice and endure to the end.  For us Sisteres, she just took a picture with us, seeing that we didn't have any ties.  Some of the missionaries said that they learned faith, others hope, others charity.  

When it was my turn, I told Sister Soares that the most important thing I learned during my mission was the meaning of "grace", which implies that as long as we are doing our best to follow the perfect example of our Savior (which includes being baptized by someone who holds the true priesthood authority), our Father in Heaven will forgive us of our weaknesses and allow us to repent and change and be perfected at the last day.  So I will endure to the end in doing my best to follow my Savior and Redeemer.  When we were done, Sister Soares said that when she and Presidente's mission is over, she will take all of the tie tips and the pictures of us Sisteres and will make a large blanket for her and Presidente to sleep with.

Thursday we had our interviews with Presidente and then we had the rest of the day to ourselves.  Seeing that I had never served in Natal, I went out with Sister Young to visit some of her recent converts and investigators in one of her old areas in Natal. The whole day I had a yucky feeling in my gut and felt like my heart was being torn apart as the time for me to leave my beloved mission and my bloved brasileiros drew nearer.  The feeling started up the second I left Mossoro and is still with me right now.  Presidente said that it is natural to feel this way, that it means we are great missionaries, and that he would feel bad if we didn't feel this way.  But it's a horrible feeling!  

When Sister Young asked me what my heart desired to do my last day in Brazil, I said without hesitation, "Eu quero ensinar!" ("I want to teach!").  I told her that as we had spent time packing, having interviews, hanging out at the mission office, etc. instead of teaching lessons and making contacts, I had felt literally USELESS.  I wanted to go out and be a missionary again.  I wanted to go out and open my mouth and teach the people, read scriptures with the people, and testify to the people that the truth has been restored!  So we went out.  

We didn't exactly get to teach a bunch of people.  We talked with church members, visited recent converts, made contacts (WOOHOO!!!), and then, during our last visit of the day, we were able to teach! I was finally able to open up the scriptures again and share a message to a couple trying to decide if they want to get married or not about the importance of faith and how the gospel blesses families.  It was so nice to feel that same sweet Spirit again, and I hope I will be able to continually feel it again and again even after I get back home.  Because every member is a missionary, right?  Vou Batizar!

Trip Home

Natal Airport:
1. came to the airport with Presidente Soares and Elder Ozolin
2. gave a bunch of envelopes with photos and cards to Elder Ozolin to give to members, recent converts, and investigators
3. found out that I forgot my camera in what I thought was the "empty bag" I left at the mission office. borrowed a lady's phone to call Elder Cancino and asked him to find my camera and give it to Sister Young to take back with her to BYU.
4. caught my flight

Natal to Rio:
1. sat next to an older couple from Rio Grande Do Sul that were in Natal visiting their daughter and are going to Rio to visit their other daughter, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  spoke with them about my mission .  said they had seen missionaries before.  gave them a Liahona (Ensign) from General Conference and invited them to talk with missionaries and visit the Church.
*observation: Rio has a bunch of beautiful mountains.  Well at least it appears so from a bird's eye view

Rio Airport:
1. 6 hour layover
2. let an adorable 2 year-old girl who liked giving thumbs up signs color in a picture of Jesus in a LIahona
3. spoke with a family from Finland who have been in Rio for over a week (It's so hard to speak English!) told them I was a missionary and had been living in Brazil for a little over a year
4. Ate a coxinha and had my last guarana with a woman from Germany whose daughter lives in Brazil.  Told her I was a missionary.  She said she wasn't religious and didn't believe in the Bible because it was written by men (um...that's men inspired by God) but believe in God and maybe Jesus Christ.  She said she believed in spiritualism and reincarnation.  Her description of her beliefs sounded really Buddhist to me.  She said that some people needed religion and others, like herself, didn't.  Was confused about why there were so many religions and Bibles.  Said that when she prayed, she never asked God for anything only thanked Him.  I bore my testimony of the power of prayer and how when we have questions our Heavenly Father is always there to answer them.  Shared that I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is true because I prayed and asked God and He answered my prayer and because of thisI left my family, friends, and school in China to come to Brazil to share this with others.  She said that she felt that what people really needed was not people talking to them about Jesus but true service.  I opened up my journal and showed her the photos of all the people I had helped enter the waters of baptism and shared some of their stories (ex. Alexandre - "we found this man drunk on the road and helped him stop drinking and get baptized in two weeks.  His children were also baptized afterwards."  Francisca and Uerle - "This couple lived in the ghetto.  We helped them get married and baptized.")  She warmed up a little.  :)
5. Bought a small statue of Salvador e Redentor (the large statue of Christ in Rio) and spoke with the lady at the store about my mission.  She had seen missionaries before.

Rio to London:
1. let man seated next to me switch with me to have the aisle seat.  He was really grateful
2. lost my glasses
3. put contacts in *it's funny because on my flight to Brazil, one of my contact lenses ripped and I had to switch to glasses
4. lady seated next to me found my glasses. "muita obrigada!...I mean, thank you so much!"  English is so hard!  I think the people her think I'm Brasileira
5. asked the two men seated in front of me where they are from.  They were both speaking English but both had accents.  One is from Hungary, the other from Brazil.  The Brasileiro had never heard of the Church.

London Airport:
1. bought some English toffees for Dad
2. Man is it weird hearing British English!

London to Shanghai:
1. It's even more amusing listening to the Chinese flight attendant speaking British English and then switching to Chinese.  Sorry, I'm having trouble understanding either of the two.  Vish!  My life is going to be difficult this week!
2. Why do so many people like to drink so much on airplanes?!?!?!?!?!?!? "Can I have a vodka?", "I'll have some white wine.", "Red wine please."  ME: "Would you like some wine madame?" "NO!  thank you." :)  *I was tempted to ask my neighbour if alcohol helped her relax on airplanes and then start in on the Word of Wisdom, but then I thought better of it.  Plus I don't have a pamphlet
3. Am I supposed to take my nametag off?  We're not technically in China yet right?  I think I'll wait until we touchdown. 

And Touchdown: 

Eu Amo Minha Família!

Well, homecoming turned out to be great.  I was nervous until I walked out of the baggage claim but then when I saw my family, the "yucky feeling" disappeared (hopefully permanently).  Although, I am having a really hard time speaking English and Chinese.  I keep speaking Portuguese without thinking.  My parents say that I speak with an accent.  It's really weird being back with my family, but I love it.  It's going to be interesting adjusting to the chinese culture and normal life again.  I think I'm going to be going through a bunch of culture shock this week.  English and Chinese are so HARD to speak!!! I will never lose my missionary fire!  I love and miss all of my Brasileiros!

So Beijos, Cheiros, e Abraços (kisses, smells, and hugs) to all of them! Eu Amo vocês!
*yeah, in Northeastern Brazil, they like giving "smells". :)

Official Statement: Brazil Natal Mission has China's support for 300 Batismos this month!