Sunday, March 2, 2014

Feb. 2 - ups and downs of mission


Thank you so much for your love and prayers...they truly are answered daily in my daily life. Nicholai is doing good and introduced us to his daughter this week to start teaching here! Dima left to go home but should be back in a month or so. We'll keep the ties with him. 

I needed to hear about the message of enduring well...this last week for the first time I experienced something that I had never really experienced so intensely: a desire to just be done. It wasn't that I didn't like my mission or that I wasn't having a good time, I just missed you all, missed the temple, wanted to have my own family, and move on to the next step of life feeling that I had put in my time. What kept me on the right track and not to get completely lost was my covenants actually. God was asking me to continue and to endure. Endurance is a huge part of the Gospel that we often don't focus on, but I think that the reason for that is because faith, repentance, and baptism are all things that we can teach, but endurance needs to be experienced. So I am learning through my experiences what it really means to endure to the end. I covenanted with God that for two years I would serve Him. If he considers that two years is what I need to give to him, then the full two years I need to give. Covenants are truly a blessings to help us endure to the end and remain faithful. How wise is our Loving Father in Heaven! 

That was all shadowed by one of the most miraculous things that I have seen so far in my life. Our investigator Volodia, who is on date to be baptized the 15th of February, was progressing. He was reading the Book of Mormon every day, praying every day, and coming to church. He was trying to live the Word of Wisdom and quit smoking, though it was hard for him. Even a recent-convert in the branch, Roman, was doing an amazing job befriending him and even stopped by his house without our knowledge or suggestion to see how Volodia was doing. We received a call from Volodia Saturday morning saying that he need help right away and so we gathered up our things and headed over to his house. Once we were there and within the first few minutes it was obvious what he needed to talk about: All the things we had given him to help quit smoking, all the Liahonas, books, and scriptures were gathered together in two plastic bags and sitting by the door. He proceeded to tell us that he couldn't keep on fooling us and just said that because of his superior knowledge of physics and science, he had too great of a means to believe that God doesn't exist rather than have faith that he does. He couldn't go on when he had no interest in such things. Only if God showed him a sign would he believe and join the church. We were shocked. The whole time I was just praying that we'd have the Spirit to be with us to know what to do and to say the things that would change his heart...but in the end all we could do was express our love, Heavenly Father's love, and bear testimony of the truth of all that we taught. He had made his decision however. We left in shock carrying all of his materials and headed home to finish our studies. In that moment, the desire was to just throw in the towel for a while because of the hardship that we were going through...but the Lord in His mercy (that I didn't understand at that moment) prompted us to keep talking with people on the streets and keep working. Regardless of the desire to just break down and stop, we kept on forward. The day continued with an okay lesson with a new investigator that we had found - nothing special, but we kept on keeping on. Towards the evening we received another phone call from Volodia. He called us and had asked if our meeting was still going to happen with him that evening as we had agreed on before the morning's endeavors. Confused, we agreed, and waited for the evening to come to see what was going on in his head. There was a little hope that he had changed...but not much. He arrived at our weekly game night and to our dismay had not changed one bit. On the other hand, he smelt like smoke, and openly boasted how he was no longer trying to live the commandments, but freely transgressing them. We had no idea what to do or why he came. We kept talking with him and didn't see any progress. My faith was completely gone in him changing. But that's not the end of the story. 

We invited Volodia to institute of religion just like we had done in the past every week and he hesitatingly decided to come. The branch president couldn't come to lead the lesson as usual, and so I had to teach it. So we started our study about the book of Enos, prayer, forgiveness, and revelation. It was honestly a good lesson, but nothing special or out of the ordinary...but for Volodia it was for one simple reason: The Spirit. Throughout the lesson he would make comments like "My heart is not in the right place" and "you must have been praying really hard for me." After the lesson, I had the prompting to just sit down and talk with him. "How could it all have changed in just a matter of a short few hours," he said. "I have never felt in my life my conscience speaking so loudly to me as now. Before, I could smoke and could care less because I didn't believe in God and had nothing to worry about...but now...I guess that means I...I do believe in God. My desire to have a clean conscience before God so much greater out weighs my desire to smoke."  Then more and more introspectively he said: "I need to repent." 

I cannot express the Spirit that we felt in that room as the Spirit literally was testifying straight to his heart in such a way that he could not deny it. He was feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost burning into his heart the divinity of the message with an evidence greater than other thing on the face of the earth: his personal change of Heart. He continued during the prayer that we said as we kneeled together after his amazing experience and even during the prayer he exclaimed how the Lord was asking him why he was behaving like a little immature boy..."but he's saying it in a loving way...the kind of loving way that a father has for his son," he said. After the kneeling prayer we were in shock...about as much shock as we were in this morning. In a matter of a few minutes and hours - moments in eternity - his entire life and eternity was turned upside down, broken down, and rebuilt through the power of the Spirit. As he was getting dressed he stopped, turned to me and said almost hesitantly: "Is it still okay to be baptized?" OF COURSE IT IS !!!! I replied. He took back his scriptures and headed on his way home. But that is not the end of the story. 

We went to his home the next day, Sunday, to pick him up for church. In the past we had kind of almost dragged him to church every Sunday since his desire had been small. But this time, he opened the door with a light in his eyes, a literal light. We walked in the room of his humble apartment and waited as he quickly finished his breakfast and got dressed. As we waited, my heart sunk a little bit: sitting on his bedside table was a big fresh box of cigarettes. I turned to the Spirit to know what to do, and felt that I just need not say anything. A few minutes later he also sees the box and says: "Oh, and I wanted to repent," and handed me the box of cigarettes. He has extremely poor circumstances and it would have cost him a pretty kopeck. Following a prompting I gave them back and told him to crush them himself. And without a seconds hesitation he crushed his box of cigarettes and handed them back as if it meant absolutely nothing to him. Almost giddy we went out and threw them away. At church he participated in all the lessons, gave incredible answers, continued his friendships with the members of the branch and as he was leaving after being at church for three hours said: "There is a road of unbelief that I need to overcome. But I'll overcome." 

The Gospel changes lives. Truly the Book of Mormon and the Spirit are the greatest tools that we have in conversion. That is one fruit that no one can deny in their search for truth: The truths in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints change lives to the better and in such a way that the only explanation is that it is from God and endorsed by the Same. 

Thank you for your prayers. As Alma the Younger was not the one who merited the visit of the angel and his change of heart but rather the prayers of his parents, so am I too grateful that I could have parents that pray for me and my investigators. Thanks mom. I love you very much and can't wait to see you...but I still have a work to do here and I must diligently do it. I will endure well. 

Elder Claypool

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