Thursday, June 9, 2016

Homecoming Talk

So this was what I wrote for my homecoming talk. Parts of what I said are not written down, but this is what I had prepared to say. Enjoy!

Good morning y'all! It's so good to see so many familiar faces. It's also good to see so many new faces. I hope to get to know most of y'all by the time I ship out again to BYUI. Thanks to Mark being a member of the bishopric, I was able to be notified of this talk a good month in advance, but I've been thinking about this talk for roughly two years now.

As some of you may remember, the last time I stood at this pulpit, I ran through what was supposed to be about a 30 minute talk, into approximately 12-15 minutes. Today, two years and about a week and a half later, I hope to not make a repeat of that.

One more thing before I begin, you may notice, or have already noticed, my voice may sound a little different. I've lived among some of the greatest southerners you can ever meet, but living in such an environment can cause one's accent to change slightly. You'll probably notice it on certain words rather than the entire thing. So if it slips, there's your answer.

I want to start out by saying I loved my mission. It was incredibly difficult  to have any success most of the time. There were many days we were bashed, in fact the worst time was when we were bashed four times in the space of a week by three different churches. But no matter how hard it got, each time I witnessed someone understand the gospel, made it all worth it. And that brings me to one of the two topics I wanted to talk about: Change.

There are many things that change in this world. Politics, chemical reactions, theories, beliefs, living environments, friends, family, and even the Chicago Cubs. Each of these things start as something, and then based on a new variable, they begin to alter into something different. This change in the process could either be good or bad. It is my hope to focus on the positive change that occurs when we receive a witness of divinity of the Savior.

The scriptures teach us of a changing process that occurs when someone begins to understand something. That process begins with the principles of the gospel which are Faith, Repentance, Baptism, Receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and Enduring to the End. This is exemplified by two different yet similar scenarios. Saul, later Paul, is on his way to Damascus when he is stopped by the Lord and commanded to "Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." (Acts 9:6). Later we read that Saul waited and prayed for help that he might receive his sight again. Saul was exercising his faith in an Individual that literally the day before, he had set out to persecute. That faith led to receiving his sight again, and becoming one of the most powerful apostles we have record of.

Another example is found in the Book of Mormon. Alma is the son of a prophet, whose also name is Alma. And Alma Jr. is a rebel. He fights, persecutes, and tries to destroy the church to the best of his ability, until he and his friends are stopped by an angel and commanded to change their ways. Alma gets the worst of it and is paralyzed and placed in a coma like trance for three days, going through what he describes as being "racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins." And then something happens. He remembers the words of his parents, most particularly his father, who taught him about Christ and the grace he offers for all who make mistakes. At that moment, he exercises his faith and cries out, "Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more." (Alma 36:17-19). He rises and begins to testify to those that are present, and continues to teach and testify many wonderful things for the rest of his life.

What was the beginning step of these two examples? What was the decision that caused such a mighty change of heart? The very first principle which is faith. Faith leads to repentance. Faith is also an action word and a demonstration of one's faith is baptism. Following this it is by faith we receive the Holy Ghost and by faith we use it to endure to the end. When Elder Bednar came to our mission in March, he taught that faith is a principle of action and power. Which leads me to my last and main topic.

Faith is the catalyst that causes change to happen. I would bet you that if you looked in any standard work of scripture, you will not find one miracle, one story, or one commandment that does not involve faith. In this church, our faith is tested, in some cases daily. You might find yourself in my shoes and be defending the truth more than preaching it. There will be times, if they haven't already come, where holding onto your faith will be deemed unpopular, ridiculous, and in some cases dangerous. But holding to the first principle, will hold you to the Old Ship Zion.

You exercise your faith by coming to these meetings. You do it by reading the scriptures as families or praying in your homes. You do it by participating of the sacrament and other ordinances. You do it by attending the temple frequently. These things help your faith to grow into a large and strong testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But I must warn you that when it comes to faith, there is no middle ground. You are either gaining or losing your faith in every action you take. By not nourishing your faith, it becomes empty, wilted, and may eventually die altogether.

I sadly was a witness to this many times on my mission. And I'm sure many of you who are return missionaries or currently serving may see this too. Someone who knew the gospel, loved it and lived it, but eventually circumstances would come up that would challenge their faith. And instead of searching for answers found in scriptures or from God, they turn to other resources. Testimonies are challenged, faith is shattered, and that plant begins to die. Rather than relying on their Creator for nourishment, they seek it from various resources leading away from Him.

When we choose to act in faith, we nourish the seed and help it grow into a mighty tree. When we have a strong faith, our purpose and desire to share that faith becomes stronger. Christ taught this when He commanded His apostle Peter, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." (Luke 22:32). When the gospel was restored, among the first revelations given to the prophet Joseph Smith, as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants was a commandment saying "If ye have desires to serve God, ye are called to the work." (D&C 4:3). This was a commandment to Joseph Smith's father, but it is also a commandment to us.

The work our Heavenly Father has called all of us to do, is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel. Through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and and enduring to the end. We do these things in various ways. Some go with full time missionaries to teach others, and some show their faith by their actions. However you demonstrate and invite others, is between you and the Lord. The Lord understands our weaknesses and is always open to assist us in our efforts. We may desire to help a neighbor, a friend from school, or even a family member who may have fallen away. Whatever the case, the Lord is willing to help.

He has testified to us that He will not leave us alone in this work. "For I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up." (D&C 88:84). In another scripture He has testified "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." (John 14:18).

Brothers and Sisters, my mission has taught me that I can testify of many things. But one of the many things I can testify of is that the worth of a soul is so great in the eyes of God. He desires so much for everyone to accept His plan. Accept His Son. Accept His gospel. And He delights when we desire and act to assist Him in bringing many souls unto Him. That is the privilege He has given us. To all be missionaries in His kingdom. Exercising our faith in the Savior, and the plan that He has for all His children.

(I then bore my testimony which wasn't written)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Week 104: The Next Chapter

As a fitting conclusion to my full-time mission, I decided to wrap up the last week to finish up the full story, as well as share some of my remarks and feelings about the whole thing.

Me, My Suitcase, and a Red Chair

So to start off with, on Monday I had everything packed, so we went over to the bishop's house for breakfast. It was very bittersweet to say goodbye to everyone there since I loved that family and the ward itself. After a quick round of fishing, we went over to the home of the 2nd Counselor in the bishopric. He lived almost to Hohenwald, TN so it was a bit of a trip. He showed us around his property including the treehouse he had built with his kids. It was a really cool looking home with a lot of cool things on the property. After that we drove up to Spring Hill and had fun with the elders there. It was sad to see all of them for the last time. In the evening we went for a bit to the going away party for Hermana Hill since she was getting transferred. Prior to that we tracked for a bit so that I could do that for one last time in the mission. After that we went to a party at a member's home where all kinds of people showed up and I shared my last spiritual thought which was 2nd Nephi 5:27 which talks about living after the manner of happiness and how the gospel allows us to live eternally happily if we allow it. After that we went to go say goodbye to Zoe which was kind of sad.

Pulling into the Nashville Stake Center

Tuesday we drove to Nolensville where the Nashville stake center was. I said goodbye to a lot of members and missionaries. After that I went inside the building with all the other missionaries who would also be going home (which included myself, Elder Hagen, Elder Nielsen, Elder Hamling, Elder Frei, Elder Brown, Sister Kline, and Sister Woods).  We had a meeting with President Riches who is the 1st Counselor in the Mission Presidency. He taught us that when we put our most important priorities first (like scripture study, prayer, church attendance, education, marriage, etc.) everything else flows in perfectly. He demonstrated that with a jar of rocks and sand. The rocks represented priorities and the sand was everything else. When you put the rocks on top of the sand, you run out of room really quick. However when you put the rocks first, the sand can fill in the gaps.

Playing the piano one last time as a missionary

 President Andersen's bearing his testimony

After that we went to the temple as a group. It was way spiritual. Following that we had dinner at the mission home and then we went down to the basement for a testimony meeting. I played piano one last time for the group. We then took turns bearing our testimonies in the mission home. After that President offered a long kneeling prayer which was way spiritual. After watching a slideshow containing mission memories from all in the room, we proceeded to spend the rest of the night till 2am playing ping pong, catchphrase, and other games.

 Ping Pong with Elder Frei

Keeping score

Playing other games

On Wednesday morning I went to bed around 2:30 a.m. but was up by about 3:30. We were showered, dressed, and out the door by 5:30ish. We got to the airport around 6:15ish and got all our bags packed and loaded to go. And then we said our final goodbyes to President and Sister Andersen as well as the assistants. Elder Hamling was getting picked up by his parents at the mission home so he stayed and didn't go through security. While we were going through security I ended up getting separated from everyone because two objects in my bag lined up to look like something fishy. But eventually I got through and onto my gate. Elder Frei and Elder Hagen were the only missionaries coming with me to Atlanta. Before we left the gate I ran and bought a Nashville keychain with my mission card making it the last purchase on my mission.

Last goodbye with President and Sister Andersen

At the airport with Elder Frei and Elder Hagen

After landing in Atlanta, I was super surprised to see my Dad there. He flew to Atlanta to see me, so that was so awesome. We helped Elder Hagen and Elder Frei find the right terminal so that they could head off. We then parted ways on the train and I was officially a lone missionary. Felt weird. My Dad and I grabbed lunch at Fridays in the airport followed by heading to the plane for the final flight home. On the flight home it just felt strange to be all by myself for the first time without some other guy in a white shirt and tie there. As we flew into Dulles Airport,  I looked across the aisle to the window and saw the Washington Monument and Capitol Building off in the distance, and I thought "Welcome Home."  It was a great feeling. And as I walked through the security gates to see my family at the wrong exit, it was awesome.

Hugging mom

The welcome committee at Dulles Airport

After everything and all the airport stuff and coming home, I went out with the missionaries in Herndon Ward, Elder Valdez and Elder Jones. So yeah even after I got off the plane, I was still proselyting. We mostly were tracting into Hispanics which was always fun since none of us spoke Spanish. After that we all had dinner and went off to the stake center to see the stake president. My stake president read a letter he had received from my mission president stating how much he had appreciated my service. He then stated how proud he was of my service, and then had me bear my final testimony of my missionary service. Followed by releasing me as a full-time missionary of the church. I removed the tags and put one tag on my scriptures and the other on the fridge at home. We then went home and I went right to sleep since I was incredibly exhausted by that point.

With the stake president

As a whole, I loved my mission a lot. I loved almost everyone I met there and enjoyed almost every experience I had. I learned loads from it and I would do it again. As I've been contemplating the mission as a whole this past week, I've been noticing more and more how different I have become. I enjoy going to the temple, I don't do the same habits I did before the mission, I say different things, and I have a general love for everyone. I know I owe it all to Heavenly Father and of course the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I have an incredibly strong testimony of these things.

One of the other things I wanted to touch on in this email is an opinion that I served for other reasons than the one I have stated in the past. An honest fact is that I would not have made it if I had served for any reason other than doing it for my Savior and for what I knew I could become if I did serve. This was proven by some friends of mine who served for other reasons and did not make it. You cannot serve for Christ if you have an underlying meaning. I truly believe that my mission has made me become something so much better than what I was. In my homecoming talk which I will post after this, I said that there are always changes in our lives, but it is up to us whether they are good or bad changes. I truly believe my mission has changed me for the better. Especially when I look at a lot of kids my age nowadays.

I am excited for a new chapter in my life. I said to one of my friends yesterday that it feels like I'm in a TV show but I missed two seasons of it. So now I need to get caught up. And I will get caught up, but I also hope to continue to explore more stuff as well too. We will see what the next two years hold for me.

Thanks to my Savior for His loving arms that continue to help me and the people I have taught daily. Thanks to everyone who prayed for me, sent me mail, an email, or even the simplest thanks while I was on my mission. I also have to appreciate the members in the Smith Springs, Hendersonville, Eldorado, Spring Hill, McMinnville, and Columbia areas. I love you all and hope to see you again soon. Thanks to my family for your care and support as well as being there when I needed you the most.

On to the next chapter,

Andrew Peery

Greeting Tiger