Elders and Sisters,
As April begins, we are truly saddened by the disasters that have occurred in the Sendai and Tokyo mission areas. Our love and prayers go out to all those affected by the earthquakes and tsunami. These events have caused us to reflect deeply upon the meaning of life and the power of the gospel and the atonement of Jesus Christ in the lives of all of Heavenly Father’s children.
These events have also caused us to experience some unexpected changes in our lives as missionaries and in our missions. Shortly after the earthquakes and tsunami, we added 42 missionaries to our mission from the Tokyo Mission. This move was sudden and has required a lot of emotional adjusting for the missionaries coming here from Tokyo, and for the missionaries in Kobe who have welcomed them. Emergency transfers caused new and old companionships to be broken up in both missions. Beloved investigators and members were left behind in Tokyo. Subtle differences in mission rules and styles of missionary work have required humility and understanding from all the missionaries. Even with all these challenges, Sister McIntyre and I have been extremely pleased how everyone has handled this great change! Notwithstanding the unfortunate circumstances that brought all of us together, we are so excited and consider it a great blessing and privilege to join forces with these new missionaries. Ultimately, this will be a great blessing to all those who choose to learn and grow from the change that has been thrust upon them. We have a unique opportunity now as missionaries and as missions to learn from each other by sharing our best practices as we work together. When missionaries are finally transferred back and Tokyo is repopulated with missionaries, I am confident both missions will be better for the experience we will have had together. Change can be hard. It can bring trials and suffering. But change can also be a wonderful blessing and a chance to grow and prosper. It is about change and trials that I wish to speak with you about today.
As a young missionary serving in the Japan Tokyo South Mission I had an unexpected change thrust upon me right near the end of my mission. I remember it was difficult for me to accept at first, but the experience has had a positive lasting impact on my life. I was serving as an assistant to President Ryuichi Inoue in Kichijoji where the mission offices were located. I had been serving in that capacity for about 5 months. We had seen some wonderful success as we worked with investigators and members. I was just about to begin my last transfer as a missionary. We had 3 or 4 investigators ready to be baptized. I remember thinking that things could not be better as a missionary going into my last transfer. Then it happened. President Inoue called me into his office and told me of a problem out in the Machida Ward that he needed me to help with. A missionary was going home under unfortunate circumstances. His companion, who would stay in Machida, needed a companion. He then asked me to transfer to Machida for my last transfer and to work to build back the trust between the members and missionaries there. He told me he trusted me and knew I was the missionary the Lord needed to do this. I was shocked. I could not believe this was happening to me. I did not want to transfer. I knew I was supposed to stay in Kichijoji and finish my mission seeing those wonderful baptisms with my beloved companion. I was nearly brought to tears. I asked President Inoue if he was sure this is what I needed to do. He assured me it was as he offered some kind words of encouragement. Then he asked me if I would accept the call. It was difficult for me to accept, but I told him I would do it if it was what the Lord wanted me to do. He told me he would drive me out the next morning.
I will never forget my last transfer in Machida with Elder Aramaki. We had no investigators. Nothing to build upon but our faith and hard work. We could have been discouraged. But instead we chose to set some high goals. We wanted to lead the mission that transfer in finding new investigators. We felt that was where we needed to start since we had none. We also put a plan together to build better relationships with the members. I must have worked harder that last transfer than any other of my mission. The baptisms happened back in Kichijoji, but we did not see any in Machida. But that did not matter to me. Elder Aramaki and I had a great time, loved each other and fulfilled our purpose as missionaries. We opened our mouths and invited others to come unto Christ. We were able to achieve most of our goals that transfer. We even set a new record in the mission for finding people to teach. When I went home after that transfer, I felt good about myself. And I thanked the Lord for the opportunity to serve in Machida with Elder Aramaki. I grew a lot that transfer and I know I learned many things I probably would not have learned had I stayed and finished my mission in Kichijoji. I realized that it is not what happens to us that makes us happy, but how we react to what happens to us that determines our happiness. Happiness is a choice. When faced with change or trials we have the ability to choose to prosper or suffer from that change or trial. Pain is inevitable, but suffering and misery are a choice.
We see this in the scriptures. In the Book of Mormon, Lamen and Lemuel faced the same challenges as Nephi. In 1 Nephi we read about the broken bow. Lamen and Lemuel murmured and complained. Even father Lehi was brought down to murmuring for the desire of food. However, Nephi’s response was different. He was proactive and sought for a solution. Same trail, same circumstances, but he chose a positive reaction to a potentially negative situation. I imagine Nephi was just as hungry as the rest of his family. He felt some pain and discomfort from the circumstances of their trial. But he did not choose to be miserable or complain. He chose the opposite. Because of his faith, diligence and obedience, they did obtain food and the whole family was saved. (See 1 Nephi 16)
The power to choose is a great gift from God given to all men. Remember the adversary’s plan would not have allowed us the ability choose in this life. And today he strives to take away our freedom still. When we complain or become discouraged when faced with change and trials, we allow him to have power over us and forfeit our free agency to negative emotions feelings. This decreases our motivation to do what the Lord wants us to do, and in turn, slows the work and prevents us from achieving our potential and receiving promised blessings from the Lord.
The fact is sometimes bad things happen to good people. Trials come to the righteous. Obedient missionaries are sometimes rejected. Sometimes we are all put in tough or difficult circumstances.
The real test in life is how we deal with what we are given. I have seen how the Lord tests, tries and develops young missionaries. It seems that the Lord knows just what every missionary needs to learn while he serves. And during the course of a mission, He attempts to teach us what we need to know to become the son or daughter He wants us to become by putting us in different circumstances, in certain areas and with certain companions. Where and with whom we serve is not by chance. The Lord guides this work. All these situations are for our experience and good. But the result, whether or not we learn and grow as the Lord desires us to through these experiences and circumstances, is entirely up to us. It is our chosen response that makes the difference. I hope we can always be like Nephi. Father Lehi taught this principle to his sons. We read in 2 Nephi 2:27-28 Lehi to his son Jacob:
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;
I pray we all choose eternal life. And along the way we choose to be happy and successful as we serve where we are called. In the end, it does not matter what mission you start, serve, or finish your mission in. What matters is how you serve. Serve well and faithful my fellow missionaries!
President and Sister McIntyre