Sunday, March 7, 2010

I'm Serving a Mission!

Wow. Well today was the last day for submitting my mission paperwork. After going through check ups, interviews, and scouring all the necessary information, I have officially submitted my completed mission paperwork. I now wait a week and a half until I receive my call to serve. Nervous? A bit. Wigging out because I get to serve as a missionary? Totally!

So I get to serve a mission. Whoop de do Sean, you're a Mormon, that's what they do. I'll give that person some credit because its true, if you see two guys on bikes in white shirts and ties, it's probably the missionaries from the LDS church. However, regardless of what is expected of me in my family or in the church, I am serving a mission because I want to. "Man, this kid must be crazy!" No, not really. It goes something like this.

Take a kid who was born in a certain religious faith. Let's call him Sean. Sean is born to this awesome family. He grows up and participates in this church. Let's call the LDS faith. Sean goes to Church each week, participates in the activities, and doesn't drink or smoke. Pretty basic right? Well, he gets to high school where he has a seminary class. Woah, a religious class during school, that's crazy! Crazy perhaps, but monumental in shaping Sean's life.

So in this seminary class, Sean is challenged to read the Book of Mormon. What is that? Well, it's a book comparable to the Bible that testifies of Jesus Christ. So he is asked to read this book during the course of his Freshman year. As a member of the LDS church his whole life, you'd expect that he'd readily read the book right? Point number one, faith is a personal matter, it cannot be borrowed. I didn't. That's seems weird. I thought LDS kids were taught blind obedience? Not quite.

With this lack of effort on my part, I went through the first month or two of school. There's something you need to know about my family. My siblings and I are really close. Particularly my brother Grant. We are very close yes, but Grant and I were rather different growing up. Grant was the strait arrow. Always on top of it and doing what he should. Was I malicious? Not really, just a bit less dedicated. Grant and I shared a room growing up and during these first few months of school, he would keep the lights on and read the Book of Mormon every night before we went to bed. "Oh Sean, I know what happens here. You picked up the Book of Mormon, read it everyday and you were so awesome right?" Nope. I learned to sleep with the lights on.

So this persisted. I would lie in bed staring at the ceiling as my brother would silently read his scriptures and say his prayers each night. He made it clear that he would not go to bed until he had read his scriptures. To the tired and often frustrated little brother, this seemed a less than courteous act. So time went on. I repeatedly sat there in my bed trying to sleep as my brother would stay awake reading. "Sean, you sound like a saint." Once again, not quite.

So one night in particular, I was really tired and needed to go to bed. I told my brother in a less than loving way that he needed to shut off the lights. As usual, the same determined response. I threw my head back on my pillow and just thought to myself. "You know what, fine. I read my scripture." So I flipped open to a random page in the scriptures, read something until my brother was finished, then went to bed. It happened again the next night. As I was reading I thought about something. "Why was Grant so persistent in reading this book? It's just a book right?" The thought stayed with me.

I continued to read the book with that in mind. "What was so important about this book?" I'd read my parts of it before in church but what was so important about it. The synopsis of the Book of Mormon is quite simple. It is a record of the people of the ancient Americas. It is the words of prophets testifying of a Jesus Christ, just as Abraham, Moses, and other prophets had done as recorded in the Bible. The crowning moment of the Book of Mormon is the actual account of Jesus Christ visiting the people of the Americas, fulfilling the words of the prophets that he would come to them. At the very end of the Book of Mormon, there is a promise. The last prophet to write in the Book of Mormon gives a promise that if one will read the book with the intent to know that it was true and pray to know if it's true, they will know that it is true by the power of the Holy Ghost. Wow! That is serious theology! You're telling me that if I want to know what truth is, independent of any other, if I seek after it, and pray for it, I can know if it's true? There is a lot of weight on a claim like that, I'd like to see someone back that up.

The point in my story is to tell who ever may be reading this that this is no theology but truth. It is the focal point of my story and of why I am serving a mission. I continued each night to read in the Book of Mormon. I had that desire slowly work in my mind. I read about how there were storms, earthquakes, and all sorts of calamities at the death Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. The people of the Americas recognized that these destructions were because of the death of Christ and realized how they had not listened to the prophets who testified of these things. After all the calamities stopped, the people mourned the loss of their friends and family.

Those who had survived had gathered together and were marveling about what had taken place while discussing this Christ. As they were thus discussing they heard a voice as if from heaven. It was quiet but seemed to move them. It was heard again, but was not understood. The third time, the people listened to the voice say, "Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name- hear ye him." As it is quoted in the Book of Mormon, "And it came to pass, as they understood they cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them; and the eyes of the whole multitude were turned upon him, and they durst not open their mouths, even one to another, and wist not what it meant, for they thought it was an angel that had appeared unto them. And it came to pass that he stretched forth his hand and spake unto the people, saying: Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning."

As I read this account, I felt as if there had entered into my heart a feeling of peace and assurance. I continued to read and hear of how Christ set up His gospel and His church among these people. That He would come to them, proving to the world that God is no respecter of persons and that He loves all people. As I read this, my heart was filled with this feeling of peace. As I was engaging in this account I had a prompting: "Sean, get on your knees." I came from my bed, knelt at my bedside and closed my eyes in prayer to God. It was at that moment, that the promise of the Book of Mormon was fulfilled in my life. As I prayed to my Heavenly Father, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ lives. That He did visit these people in the Americas and that the Book of Mormon was true. That we are children of our Heavenly Father and He wishes for us to return to live with Him again. The Holy Ghost bore witness to me that these things were true. I knew at that point that my life was about to change.

This is the message of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the one which has changed my life and the one which I will be dedicating the next two of my life to teaching. The message is that of hope, that Jesus Christ atoned for our sins and made it possible for us to forever live with our families and with God. We declare that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ and that those who wish to know will can a knowledge of its validity by putting its promise to the test. We teach that all must come to this knowledge of their own accord, independent of anyone else. It is this news that I will proclaim to the world. I feel as the prophet Joseph Smith as he was ridiculed as he spoke of the reality of God, "I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it." It is that declaration that I give to my reader. I know it, and I cannot deny it. And I am devoting the next two years of my life to encourage others to exercise faith to come to the knowledge of their God. It is my testimony that Christ lives, and that He is everything that the scriptures say He is and that He truly did everything He said He did. This is why I am serving a mission. I irrevocably declare my witness to all and pray that all who hear will act in faith to know as I have come to know.

Sean Russell