Monday, April 14, 2014

Faith in Action

Hello everyone!!

This last week we had a Leadership Meeting in Oslo.  All of the Zone Leaders and District Leaders came together to be taught by our Mission President about how we can be the most effective leaders.  I think back to an article I read before my mission - found in the Bloomberg Businessweek titled, "God's MBAs: Why Mormon Missions Produce Leaders".  I remember reading that and being impressed by how the world sees this experience.  All I can say, as someone who is currently going through it is that I am so grateful to my Mission President - a successful man that is inspired by God to progress the Lord's work here in this beautiful country.
He taught us about integrity and what a true leader is - one who uplifts and inspires in all things.  He taught us from the scriptures, and he taught us from experience.  I am grateful for that man.

Later in the week, we were able to appreciate another baptism in this area!  It's very incredible, but a baptismal service is so simple.  The Bishop here in Drammen goes up and explains that there is nothing more important in the country of Norway on that specific day than that Baptism.  He says that there aren't trumpets played or loud music - but the simplicity and the pureness of that ordinance is real.  It is something that I have really grown to appreciate since coming to Drammen - the importance of Baptism.

The Gospel of Christ - is the most important doctrine that every individual who lives on this Earth should be tied to.  It is something my mission president has insisted on us learning throughout our mission - to have Faith in Jesus Christ, Repent, Baptism (by one holding proper authority), The Gift of the Holy Ghost, and Enduring to the End.  I have come to learn how simple, yet how profound this doctrine is.  It changes the hearts of men, as it has changed mine throughout my time being here.  When the Gospel is fully put into practice, you see real results that transform you temporally and set your sights on the eternities.  That is what the gospel does for every individual - and that is what it has done for me.

A mission is the best opportunity of growth that an individual can go through.  Our Heavenly Father hand-picks our missions for us.  He sets us up in situations where we can learn and grow - where He can use us as instruments in His hands.

An example of this . . .There is a man in my home ward back in Rockford, from the Congo.  He was a preacher at another church back in the Congo.  After a series of much prayer and answers from God, this man became converted and joined the church.  I asked my parents to ask this man to write his testimony in Swahili, so I could share it with the people we have been teaching who speak Swahili.  He wrote it and since then, we have been finding more and more people to hand this testimony to.  I know some of these people have been changed just by reading this man's testimony.  It testifies of the sincerity of the one who asks in faith.  We must be willing to act on the answers that God gives us. This I know to be true. This is what I have done in coming on a mission.  I have seen the results of faith in action.  It is real.

I hope everyone has an excellent week!

Monday, April 7, 2014

LDS General Conference April 2014

This General Conference weekend was pretty special!  I felt spiritually filled from the talks that were shared and I am quite content with the mission I've been able serve.  You hear many cliches about missions - how they're the best opportunity to change and grow.  Cliches are quite true though, I have never felt so grateful to sit through sessions of conference and feel that the words that are absolute truth and when we put our faith into action . . . we really receive results.

This past week was a bit difficult, as a lot of people did not show up to our teaches.  However, it did not take away from the fact that as we consistently put forth faith, results come of it!  This coming week we've got appointments set up with families that we are really looking forward to go and visit.  The Lord often times checks to see how willing we are to work and to exercise our faith.  It's been a reoccuring theme throughout my mission, but the results have always been consistent - in His time and in His way.

I've never been more grateful to be serving a mission for the most powerful Being in the universe.  I know that God really does live and answer prayers.  If we don't understand why things are the way they are, we must continually move forward in faith.  Our questions will be answered and our understanding will grow deeper.  I am so grateful for a Heavenly Father that makes me work to fully appreciate the miraculous blessings that I experience.

On a weekly basis, I receive pictures of the miracle baby my sister, Stephanie, and her husband, Steven, have been blessed to raise.  I have never been more grateful to see a fruit of faith than that little baby.  I know that everyone can experience mountains being moved as we focus on the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Whether it be that we have weaknesses that need to be overcome, or trials of faith - we can always turn to Christ and He will show us the way to everlasting happiness.

I hope everyone has an excellent week as we move forward and never back!

Monday, March 31, 2014

3 Baptisms This Week!

Hello everyone!

We had a pretty eventful week here in Drammen.  Our district had 3 baptisms this past week - that's more in one week than I've seen my whole mission, but I know the Lord has been trying to see what I'm made of this whole time.  I'm grateful that he's been refining me and testing me.  It's incredible to be able to show faith - sometimes it's not very comfortable to be quite honest! I'm just grateful that I've had to grind my whole time I've been here - now we're seeing some fruits of the labor.  Many more will begin coming!

This past week we had Zone Conference, 3 baptisms, some great teaches and a great miracle Sunday!  We have been asking the members, "Who can we pray for?" and they give us friends, family, members of the church - anyone who we can pray and fast over.  We even sent some of the names to the temple with a member this past week.  We had a zone-wide fast on Sunday for people throughout the zone.  Just yesterday a member of the ward brought her friend to church and told my companion that she wants to learn about 'Frelsesplanen' - The Plan of Salvation.  She recognized that what she was learning about was good.

The miracles that we experience here in Norway are very specific.  It is quite obvious in everything that we do, that it is a product of our faith that God lives and answers our prayers.  When we do our work and show him that we are willing to receive anything He desires to send our way - He begins to entrust us with his children.  I used to think these testimonies by missionaries were cliche, but I've come to see, feel, witness that God really does answer our prayers.

He will help us to learn in every setting and every opportunity we go through.  Whether it be in a new job setting, a friendship, a trial in life - He always gives us the chance to learn for ourselves.  He gives us the right to choose.  He gave us a Savior as an example of how true happiness can come.  It's not the easiest path, but it's the one that certainly brings the most certainty and happiness.  I have full confidence that God lives and knows us as His individual children.  I know everyone can experience that if they work towards it.

I hope everyone has a great week!

Monday, March 24, 2014

My Transfer to Drammen and a Baptism!

Hello everyone!!

This past week I moved to Drammen.  I can't even believe how incredible this place is!  We live on the mountain overlooking the city and I'm amazed everyday, how I can look out over the city and just see the beautiful view and see where we get to work!  At this time, we have incredible missionaries here in this area.  My new companion is Elder Gilreath, from Virginia/Alabama.  We are having great conversations about how we can improve the work in our zone, area, and work with the members.  The ward here is one of the most incredible wards in the mission!  The ward's leadership is top-notch in every aspect.  I'm extremely excited to be here in this city!!

As for the work this week, I walked into an incredible story.  There is an investigator that the missionaries have been teaching, she has read the Book of Mormon in 5 days!!  After reading it, she felt that it was true and was willing to follow everything that it said.  It spoke of baptism - and we shared with her the commandments we are required to live by in order to be worthy for baptism.  We were a little worried how she would react, but as we shared with her the commandments, it was absolutely no problem!  She will be baptized this Wednesday - perfect way to start off the transfer!  Two other companionships here in Drammen, also have baptisms scheduled for Sunday - very exciting!

Today in my personal study, I came across a story in the Bible I really had a desire to write about.  It's found in Matthew 14:22-34.  When I read this passage at the beginning of my mission, I remember having overwhelming feelings of gratitude for my knoweldge of the Savior.  When he sends His disciples away in the ship and they are caught in the midst of the sea in a storm, they were lost.  Christ was aware of their needs.  He then began walking towards them on the sea.  When His disciples saw Him in the midst of the storm, they were afraid - thinking He was a spirit.  As I put myself in that position, the thoughts and feelings rushed into my mind of the many times I was lost at sea.  When I would see any sign of the love of Christ through His servants, I was a bit afraid to accept the fact the the Lord really cared about me to send me someone.  Then Christ calms them, with a confirmation that it is indeed Him.

Peter, seeing this right away, desires to follow Him by walking on the water.  As he begins to walk on the water, walking completely by faith, he begins to fear and to falter.  As he began to sink, he cries out to the Lord to save him.  The Lord reaches out to him and says, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"

I have found myself relating to this story in so many ways.  Many of us can find ourselves, some of us fearing that we are the ones seeing a silhouette in the midst of a storm - some attempting to walk on the water to follow the Savior - only to fail.  Wherever anyone is in that story, I have come to know with certainty - that when we are encouraged to act on faith, we should always take the course.  The Lord will always reach out to us at the exact moment that we feel that we are failing.  We may not always have enough faith, but I know that the Lord will make up the difference in our attempts to fulfill any work we try to accomplish.

I've never been more certain that this is Jesus Christ's church.  This is God's work that I am currently performing.  I've never been so grateful for all the blessings that come from being dilligent in the efforts of helping others find the truth. 

I hope everyone has an excellent week!


Monday, March 17, 2014

Committing Others to Baptism and My Upcoming Transfer to Drammen

Hello everyone!

This past week we had a couple Zone Leader Training meetings, where we focused on language study and how we can improve on our language skills as a whole.  We had some pretty great learning experiences, but the one thing I'd like to focus on most is my splits that I had in Bergen.

I got to serve with Elder Badger in Bergen on Tuesday night and all through Wednesday.  Tuesday morning, our President called me and told me that we needed to double the baptismal dates in our zone.  At the end of the day, Elder Badger and I were discussing a lot of the mission and many different things regarding how we could improve.  It was quite the amazing talk we had, because throughout the week it was almost like it all unfolded for us.

The next day, in companionship study, we began focusing on inviting everyone we taught that day to be baptized.  I can say that throughout the day, we didn't invite everyone but we had the goal to fulfill the work.  However, at times we showed our faith by asking different individuals.  When we would ask people, it was like we were so confident that God answers prayers and that we knew that He could answer anyone's prayers by a certain date.

We ended the day by setting a date with one man.  However, on the days that followed, we met with a woman who was so set that she was not going to join our church.  As we sat and just listened to what she had to say, we realized that we agreed with many of the things that she expressed.  By the end of the teach, she was much more open and the Spirit was present.  We asked a member to pray and immediately after, there were tears in her eyes and she asked if he really meant what he said in his prayer.

It was incredible to see how the Spirit had touched that woman.  She was able to see that we are really just down to earth people.  We listen to what people have to say and we share with them the truths that God reveals to man.  We encourage people to ask questions and to really seek truth.  One must take it up with God to find out if what we are saying is true.  It requires action.

The act of my faith is that I am here serving a mission for my Heavenly Father's children.  By acting on what I believe, He has blessed me in the most countless opportunities I could not fill a weekly post with.  He is involved in every single detail of my life.

I will be moving to Drammen this week to experience a new opportunity, but the people I have met here in Stavanger are like my family - my Norwegian family.  I will miss them terribly after serving here for 45+ weeks, but I am looking forward to my future!  My sister's baby is absolutely amazing - and my whole family is beaming with happiness about it.  I know God takes care of those who obey His commandments.  They are there to protect us.

I hope everyone has an incredible week!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Heavenly Father's Blessings and the Birth of My New Niece

Hello everyone!!

What an incredible week it has been!  First, I just want to start by saying that my new baby niece - Claire Evelyn Dodson was born yesterday!!  What a miracle she is to my family!  I am so grateful to know of the blessings that prayer and sacrifice bring about!  Before my mission, I really did envision my family in a certain way and felt it could only be accomplished through exercising our faith.  Our Heavenly Father has blessed us tremendously and continues to do so!  I am extremely grateful!

This past Wednesday, we had our Missionary Leadership Council in Oslo.  It was great once again to come together as a mission and discuss how we can improve as a whole.  It's so nice to always be improving, setting goals, and making things happen.  Our Mission President shared a spiritual thought this past week from the talk that Elder Holland gave on Missionary Work and the Atonement.  In the talk - there is a line that says, "It seems to me that missionaries and mission leaders have to spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane.  Missionaries and mission leaders have to take at least a step or two toward the summit of Calvary."  As my president said this, I felt the Spirit so strongly and was so grateful for the many things that I'd had to go through in order to become more refined.  I know as we continue to work hard, there are even more people who are prepared to hear this very special message we have to share!

We then went to Arendal on Thursday - where it was a rather difficult day, but I had the feeling that I knew that I didn't care what people thought of me - walking around, wearing a badge, stopping people on the street.  I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing - and enjoying it, regardless of the outcome!  I felt more converted through the process.  It really doesn't matter what the world thinks, but what I know to be true.  I know Heavenly Father knows us individually - and it's a special thing to have that knowledge!

On Saturday, we had an amazing opportunity to be part of a service project where we were helping a member move her business into a shop.  We were putting tape up in a room to prep for painting. Another missionary and I were talking with a woman who was helping. She was pretty excited we could speak Norwegian and as she asked why we were here, we were able to share the gospel with her in a very natural way.  She was amazed with the job that we do here and around the world.  She told us, "This is going to sound weird, but there is a glow about you guys." It was really special to hear her say that and we were able to say that we get to serve Heavenly Father's children.  She was so proud of what we do.  We then gave her a mormon.org card - planting seeds of faith!

It was a very special week!  It just continues to get better and better as we strive to improve.  There was also a baptism here that the sisters had this past Sunday.  The young man 'referred' himself to learn about the gospel.  On Sunday, he brought his friend to church whom I sat next to and was able to expand on some of the gospel to him.  I shared with him about the Sacrament, the Holy Ghost, and Baptism - we ended up teaching him after church, as the newly baptized member was along on the teach!  It really is fun to share the gospel!

Some thoughts I have had here recently - I know my parents' example of sharing the gospel is the reason why I am here today.  When I saw the joy and excitement that comes from sharing the gospel, it became contagious.  It's like a fire that you want to share with everyone else.  When I saw many people from the Congo becoming interested in learning about the Restoration of the Gospel, I knew it was so important for me to also take part in the work.  It is through our examples that we can instill in others the desire to serve Heavenly Father's children.  Always remember - the example is the most powerful living testimony. 

I hope that everyone has an incredible week!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Choosing to Follow Him

Hello everyone!!

This week was pretty solid!  To highlight a couple of the events that occured - Wednesday - the AP's came on splits to the area.  We had a day full of finding, where we ended up finding about 15+ potential people that gave us phone numbers and e-mails.  It was absolutely incredible to be out there and see the work done in front of us!  One time the assistant said, "We need to find someone".  A girl walked out of the shopping mall so, we stopped her and eventually told her that Heavenly Father knew her personally and loved her.  She told us "thank you" and you could tell it was so sincere.  It was a special day!

At the end of the day, we taught one of my favorite investigators who we asked to keep the Word of Wisdom (the health law that we Mormons live by).  As I asked her to keep the commandment, she looked to the picture of the Savior as if it was He, himself asking her the question. She recognized it wouldn't be particularly easy but said she would keep it!  In the next couple of days, she sent us a text expressing how grateful she was for the work we do.  We really are the disciples of Christ, asking others to follow Him.

On Friday, my companion and I traveled to Haugesund for splits.  At the conclusion of the splits, one of the missionaries asked me where I would be attending school after my mission.  I told him that I had received my Bachelor's Degree from Illinois State and that I will probably be going to graduate school shortly thereafter.  He then said, "I was going to ask why Elder Holden was so mature" - the comment really hit me.  On the bus ride home, I was deeply thinking about that comment and the many incredible role models and experiences I had to prepare me for this work.

To anyone who ever wonders - I know that Heavenly Father knows us as individual children.  We are all special in His plan to bring about His work.  As an Elder in the church once said, "It is not about where we have been in life, but where we are willing to go."  As we show the Lord our willingness to serve His children, He will help us know how much He really knows each one of us personally.

I am grateful for this experience and I hope that everyone has an uplifting week!  Happy March!