These last three weeks before this one have just been a blur of train rides and meetings and exceptional circumstances, so it’s been really nice to have a chance to hit the pavement! Every area seems to have its challenges, and Neumünster is no exception. (By the way, it’s pronounced noy-moon-stir).
Here we’ve been able to find a ton of people, like “miraculous” a lot, and they all seem more interested than I’m used to. In other words, they seem to be more solid –
But that’s the catch.
Just about every single first appointment falls out, and as every missionary knows, if the first appointment falls out, you have like a 3% chance of ever seeing them again. That is, I can assure you, incredibly annoying. And it debunks
one of the myths of a mission in Germany.
German(/Europe) mission myths
1. You can’t baptize in Germany.
It’s really not bad. I’m reminded of a story I heard the other day about this missionary who was sent to a really tough mission. Everyone told him he couldn’t baptize, that the people there were uninterested, would hate him, hated religion, and would always ignore him. I don’t know the exact numbers, but he baptized a lot. You might’ve heard of
him – His name was Ammon.
Did you know that when some Mormons see a group of missionaries headed to Germany in the airport, they actually
– this has happened to multiple missionaries I know – they actually go up to them just to tell them to not be upset but they weren’t going to baptize anyone? I just want to give those people a hug. Tightly. With my hands around their necks. Maybe if people stopped doing REALLY DUMB THINGS LIKE THAT, some missionaries around here would have a little more faith in the all powerful neighbor upstairs and start baptizing like we should be.
2. Once you get a German to meet with you, they will be super solid and will never miss an appointment.
Oh my gosh, I wish! I think a real problem is, the people of this country are as dependent on their daily planners as normal people are on their cell phones, and so if you make an appointment on the street, they completely forgot about it. Plus, if anything is remotely stressful, like they have a cold, or they have to go grocery shopping in the next couple days, it’s all too much and they need a breather, and they cancel. Or just aren’t there. So you have to wade through those ones.
3. Once a German gets baptized he never goes inactive.
Shortly said, retention rates are just as bad here as they are anywhere else. Germans are just as easily offended (or more so) as anyone else.
I know Numbers two and three seem to completely conflict with number one, but the thing is, the Lord prepares prepared people for prepared missionaries, whether they be members or full-time missionaries. And there are prepared people everywhere.
Case in point – on Tuesday I was on exchanges with the zone leaders. We were walking to the church, talking to people along the way, as we do, and we met this really nice Hungarian lady. She spoke some German but not a ton, but we were able to use the pictures in the front of the book of Mormon to explain what it was, and offered to give her one in Hungarian. She gladly accepted. Saturday, we had a Hungarian joint teach lined up using Skype. But our appointment fell out, since she was in Hamburg. She rescheduled for Saturday night, though. Again, there was a misunderstanding, and she thought we only wanted to give her the book that night, and then we would meet later. But we talked for a few minutes before parting ways, and I am super excited to meet with her. It was difficult to understand, and she was struggling to express yourself, so I’m not positive, but here’s a summation of what I think I heard. A few days before she met us on the street, she had some sort of dream, and she somehow knew that she would talk to two men on the street, and that she should listen to them. She told us that she was atheist, but somehow everything we said, she believed. That’s pretty amazing! We’ll see what happens there.
As for me personally, I’m in a very good place right now. I really good place. I love becoming who I want to become. I’m excited to see the differences even more sharply when I see you guys next year. I was telling some sisters in my district the other day that I was pretty shy before my mission, and they were shocked, mostly because now I can’t shut up! 🙂 It’s just about my favorite thing ever now to get some time to talk to someone – about anything. I was thinking about how about 20 months ago, the idea of having to talk to several missionaries in the phone every night for about 20 minutes each would literally be the most terrifying thing ever, but now it’s a highlight
of my day.
I wanted to share a spiritual thought with you. This was what I wrote for my (abnormally good) personal study one day, and it was really an answer to prayer.
Endure to the end
Sometimes, we feel like aren’t making any difference. We keep going and going and going, but nothing changes.
It’s like a flashlight. Turn on a flashlight in a dark room. Where do actually see the light? On the wall. Between the flashlight and the wall, you see nothing. Sometimes, that’s how God works with us. We are expected to make it all the way to the wall, even if up until that point, we are convinced we are not being a light unto the world at all. True success comes as we make it to the end.
This is consistent with the scriptures. In the story of the fishermen, we see this important principle.
Luke 5:2-8 And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen
were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.
3 And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed
him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down,
and taught the people out of the ship.
4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into
the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.
5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the
night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let
down the net.
6 And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of
fishes: and their net brake.
7 And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship,
that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both
the ships, so that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees.
They were washing their nets – they were done for the day. But when the Lord commanded them to do it just one more time, Peter responded with
“Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing:
nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”
And then they had more success than they could handle. What an example of hope – of thinking, this time it will work. Notice this important principle as well – the Lord seems always eager to bless beyond our capabilities to
receive, if we wait.
The other instance of miraculous fishing help further explains:
John 21:3-6 Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto
him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship
immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
4 But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the
disciples knew not that it was Jesus.
5 Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.
6 And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship,
and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to
draw it for the multitude of fishes.
Imagine that – Peter, the powerful fisherman, must have tried everything in his power, must have used every trick he knew, must have called upon every bit of knowledge he had, and then nothing happened. Then the Lord comes, and tells them to do something so obvious, so unoriginal, so painfully simple as to try the other side of he boat, but they did. And it worked. Sometimes in missionary work, we need to listen to that still small voice that says something like “talk about the Book of Mormon” or “pray you’ll find an investigator”. Sometimes we just need to listen and obey and have hope.
Now, why do you think it is that the Lord works in this pattern of absolutely nothing all the night long, and then bam. Right at sunrise more than you can take? Why not spread it out across the whole night to avoid those feelings of discomfort?
Without being too harsh, I’m not convinced that God is overly concerned with us being comfortable. Quite to the contrary – sometimes, he seems to desire just the opposite! He seems pretty determined to take us out of our comfort zone, to push us, and pull us, and twist us until we have finally worked all night, and then He can send us the miracle, because a few things have now become clear:
1. We can’t possibly do it alone – we easily recognize the hand of the Lord.
2. We truly only desire success.
3. We deserve success.
4. We will be grateful for it.
5. We will take care of the people we are blessed to be helping.
6. We held to our hope that the Lord would bless us.
I think this principle applies to all aspects of life, but I think the Lord meant to make it a very specific parable of missionary work.
Luke 5:10 And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which
were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from
henceforth thou shalt catch men.
John 21: Feed my sheep.
In other words, the Lord tends to kind of ignore any patterns we try to impose. We think of gradual increase, of slow gains, of progressing continually. We try to predict what will happen in the future based on what has happened in the past, but when it comes to being on the Lord’s errand, it just doesn’t work like that. That only works when we are relying on humans. But this work is more than just us. The Lord is with us, and we can never forget that.
Like 19th century English reformer John Ruskin once said (found in general conference talk 😉
“I believe the test of a great man is humility. I do not mean by humility the doubt in one’s own personal power; but really, truly great men have the curious feeling that greatness is not in them but through them and they see the divine in every other human soul and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.”
If you are given a tough challenge, if you have been working for a while but nothing seems to be working, if, in missionary terms, you are sent to an area where nothing good has ever happened, if you have sweat and prayed and fasted and tried new things, and it’s still the same, the Lord is not just working somewhere else right now.
He is with you, watching, buoying you up, keeping you going, until you have proven that you are a constant he can count on, then, all at once, we can pull up our nets and be blessed beyond imagination.
After all, as PGA golfer Arnold Palmer once said (also found in a GC talk, please, I don’t watch golf),
“Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to is.”
I love that quote.
I can’t tell you, nor myself, how long that night might drag on, (and depending on the challenge, it might be until the next life) or how choppily the sea might jostle your boat, or how heavy your arms will get throwing the net over and over in the water, but through that night of darkness, know that God is always, always there. You will have too much success to handle, if you continue on in hope. Know that the sunrise always, always comes.
Phew. Sermon over.
Love you guys.