Converted in the Wilderness

9 February, 2015

This week was a weird one. It still feels surreal a) to be on a mission, even after 17 months, and b) to be a month from flying home from my mission. It’s hard to avoid thinking about it, especially serving in the same ward as Elder Mathews, who finishes at the same time. We commiserate together on the awkwardness and stress of your last transfer in the field, which is good and bad. Our poor companions! They’re champs. :)

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the past seventeen months of my life. I was reading in Alma this morning, and read a verse that talked about the people “being converted in the wilderness,” which really struck me. In the scriptures, we often think of ‘the wilderness’ as this punishment or place of transition – Moses and the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Christ fasted for 40 days in the wilderness (that’s an entire transfer, by the way, folks). Lehi and his family travelled through the wilderness on their way to the promised land.

I’ve realized with more depth recently that wilderness isn’t the awkward place the Lord guides you to because he hasn’t got another place for you. It’s where we each must go to learn and to grow, to become more like Christ, and to be refined. That’s where we really become Christians – true followers and disciples of Christ. My mission has felt a little like wilderness for me: the area is unfamiliar, as are the people. I’m in a desert that people have decided to make into a city. The city itself is one that is mind-boggling, and it feels like I’m upside down half the time as I navigate the socialities and beliefs of those I work with. It’s been my wilderness, my time of trial and of searching. Conversion is a life-long process, but I feel that I’ve been kick-started into the rest of my life as a person, but more importantly, as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I’m so thankful for the examples of our investigators here in Studio City. I’ve been blessed to be teaching more than ever before in my mission, and I’ve learned so much from each of those we teach. We are helping Hunter prepare for baptism next week, which the whole ward is really excited about. We’re so grateful that the Primary has been so involved in helping him feel welcome and loved. Hunter is a special kid. There are times (okay, most of the time) when we think he isn’t grasping the principles we are teaching him, but a month or so later, in another lesson, he will reflect back on something we taught him, connecting the dots, and making the relation for himself. I’m so proud of how hard he’s worked to be baptized, he’s an incredible little 9 year old.

I’ve learned so much from Andrea, another investigator, as well. She has been through so much in her life, and when she was at her worst, in the midst of her own wilderness, she not only turned to God, but has embraced Him ever since. There isn’t a day that we teach her that goes by without her expressing her love for our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, or sharing an experience with prayer. I admire this woman so much, and am so blessed to be a part of her journey. She said something that really struck me this week. She was talking about how we have a purpose on this earth, and how we are at times quick to forget that, but that we are ‘made for faith.’

We are made to have faith, we are made to believe. It’s in our very nature to believe in God, to believe in the goodness in the world, and to keep pushing forward. It’s the world that tries to convince us otherwise. It’s blatant most of the time, but much of the time it is also a very subtle message the world sends out, that we are meant to be selfish, to be focused only on ourselves, to ignore the needs of those around us. I think it’s exemplified by little kids how we are made for faith. I look at the primary kids, and even the children who haven’t grown up in a religious home or community, and they know that someone loves them. They know that there is a perfect Father, even if they don’t know much about Him.

I love listening to little kids pray, it’s one of the sweetest experiences as a missionary. A few weeks ago, we had dinner with a family that has gone through everything imaginable in the last few years. There are three kids, one of whom is preparing to leave for his mission in Brazil next month. The one thing he’s been striving to do is baptize his little brother before he leaves, but he’s facing a lot of opposition from his dad. The little brother prayed over the meal, and it was one of the most fervent, heartfelt prayers I have ever heard. He’s only ten, but he prayed as if God himself were sitting beside him. He prayed first for his brother, that he would be safe while he is in Brazil. Then he prayed for his mom, a single mom who is working two jobs and barely making ends meet. Then he prayed for his little sister and grandmother. He asked for a blessing on the food. He prayed for my companion and I. Then, finally, he prayed that he would be able to be baptized. I have a feeling this is the prayer he’s been saying for the past 2 years.

His mom, whom I absolutely adore, came up to me on Sunday with a great big smile on her face, and just wrapped her arm around my shoulders and whispered the news to me – her youngest son has permission to be baptized, and will be baptized before his big brother enters the MTC the third week in March. It was just another testimony that God not only loves the prayers of his littlest disciples, but that He is eager to answer them when the time is right. Never before my mission did I really understand the song that promises, “His eye is on the sparrow,” than when I’ve heard the prayers of the smallest of kids.

We spent a lot of time knocking this week, which was pretty uneventful. The highlight was a man who kindly rejected us with “I can’t talk right now, I’m dying my daughter’s hair, but I love Jesus! He rocks!!”

…California in a nutshell really.

It had both Sister Marsh and I laughing pretty good, despite the rain and smog. :)

Sister Redner


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