Sunday, October 19, 2014

Homecoming Talk

Hi, my name is Katie Schrecengost. I have recently returned home from my mission and I am so grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today. In August a general authority came to visit our mission and he taught us a lesson that changed how I viewed missionary work completely. He asked us what we thought was the most important thing that missionaries teach. Of course we all had different answers: the Book of Mormon, the Plan of Salvation, a living prophet on the earth today, eternal families, restoration of the priesthood, Jesus Christ as our Savior, etc. But we were all wrong. Elder Corbridge taught us that the most important thing we can teach people is how to access God’s power in their life and ultimately qualify for eternal life. Another name for that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As members of the church, we think of the ‘gospel’ as an all-encompassing name for all that we learn and do in the church. But as missionaries, we define the gospel of Jesus Christ as 5 distinctive steps. Faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ and His Atonement, Repentance, Baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and Enduring to the End. We have already heard about faith today, and I am grateful to be able to speak on steps 2 and 3: repentance and baptism.
What changed for me after this lesson from Elder Corbridge was that suddenly everything became very simple and clear. We have the opportunity to live with God and with our families forever. Once we understand and believe that that possibility exists, the natural question is, what am I willing to do to get there? The answer is pretty obvious for me: absolutely anything. I had a very unique mission experience and I was asked to do some things that were definitely not easy, but they were possible with that perspective in mind. When times get tough, I believe that the best thing we can do is ask ourselves “what am I doing this for?” and “is it worth it?” If our motivation is to live with God and with our families forever, I would say that any sacrifice, any heart break, any injustice or disappointment in this life will be so worth it in the end. And lots of times it’s hard to see that in the moment, it’s hard to imagine things working out and how in the world could this terrible thing be worth it, but that’s where faith kicks in. And that is why faith is by necessity the first principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith is what gives us the strength to live the rest of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
    The second principle of the gospel is repentance. For some reason, repentance is a big and scary word to a lot of people. I think it probably has something to do with the fact that the vast majority of people hate two things: admitting that we were wrong about something, and change. But what we have to remember is that while repentance is a process that takes time and effort, it is always a positive change. The Bible dictionary explains that repentance is “a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined.” To me, repentance is hope. It means that who I am today, does not have to be who I am tomorrow. Repentance brings joy. We know from the story of Alma the Younger that no matter how far we may fall, Christ is always able and willing to help us come back. Alma describes his feelings throughout his repentance process in Alma 36:20-21. This was one of my favorite scriptures to share with investigators. They tell you as a missionary that you aren’t supposed to have any memorized phrases and that you are supposed to teach from the heart, but when you are first learning a language (especially one like Russian), short memorized phrases is about all you can do. Whenever we taught repentance, I had this one phrase that I always shared, and it was this: you can feel this joy today. It is so simple, yet powerful. This joy that Alma describes, we are inviting you to feel it today. Inviting someone to repent is scary and sometimes awkward, but inviting someone to feel joy? It is amazing. It feels right. It’s what the Savior did.
And of course, all of this is only possible because of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and what He has done for us. One of the greatest blessings that I received while on my mission was a deeper understanding of the Atonement and how it can bless me personally. I had the opportunity for the first time in my life to rely completely on Him in all that I did. I can testify that there is no way that I could have done all that I did without my Savior’s help. And the reason that I qualified for His help, is that I practiced repentance. I did not say that I was perfect at repentance, but I practiced it. One of my mission presidents spoke in this past general conference, Elder Jorg Klebingat and he counseled us to “Become really, really good at repenting thoroughly and quickly. “ The way that we do that, is simply by practicing.
    Repentance is a very personal matter, it is between an individual and their Heavenly Father and on occasion, a priesthood leader, so we very rarely talk about helping others repent. But as missionaries, isn’t that what we do? It’s our entire purpose really. Every invitation that we give people is to help them repent and come closer to their Savior. So if missionaries strive to help those around them repent, how much more as members should we strive to help those around us repent? (Especially those in our families and those whom we serve in our callings.) Today I just want to list 3 things that we can do to help others find joy in repentance.
1.    Example. It always affects me very deeply when someone who I respect a lot has the courage and humility to admit a wrong and ask for forgiveness. Watching others use the Atonement in their lives to improve has helped me desire to do the same. By the same token, we cannot expect to help others repent if we are not practicing repentance ourselves. There is a sentence in Preach My Gospel that strikes fear in pretty much every missionary’s heart at some point. It says this: “you cannot convert people beyond your own conversion.” I believe that this principle also applies to repentance. If we want our loved ones to feel the joy that comes from repentance, the best thing that we can do is to lead the way by example.
2.    We can pray. We can always pray. I can strongly testify that prayer works. During a very tense part of my mission, it would have been easy to be afraid and most people don’t believe me that I wasn’t afraid, but I knew in my heart that I had some very faithful people back home praying for me, and I can honestly say that I wasn’t ever afraid for a moment. So thank you for your prayers, they were absolutely felt. The Savior of course, provides our perfect example in prayer for others. In John 17: 15, he prays “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” Prayer is my greatest comfort in this life. Recently there have been people who I know and love that are struggling in very real ways and I have felt helpless to change their situation, but I have always been able to pray for them. As the Savior did, we don’t pray to take someone out of a situation, we pray for their protection and strength. I am so grateful for prayer, both for those prayers which have been offered on my behalf, and for the opportunity that I have to pray for those I love.
3.    We can love them. Love is the most powerful motivator there is. When we love others, they can feel the Savior’s love through us, beckoning them to return to Him. Some of the most rewarding experiences of my mission were helping people return to activity in the church. In every instance, the person just needed to feel loved and important. One day my companion and I knocked on a door. It was a door that we had knocked on many times and had never received an answer. We knew that a member of the church lived there and that she had not been to church for quite some time. Well, on this particular day she answered the door and was surprisingly very kind and invited us to come back and see her the next day. So the next day we returned and taught her a lesson about prayer. The lesson was nothing extraordinary, but the Spirit was there, and I believe that she felt God’s love for her through us, and her heart was softened. She began to cry and she explained to us that she new the church was true and that she needed to come back to church but that she was afraid. She didn’t know anyone in the ward and she was afraid to go alone. Well we promised her that she would not be alone and that would we be saving a seat for her in sacrament meeting that Sunday. Well to our great surprise, she came to church that Sunday, and as far as I am aware, she has come to church every Sunday since that day. She has accepted a calling and is preparing to go back to the temple. All because she felt loved and important. Most people wouldn’t view this story as an example of helping others repent, but if you think about it, that’s really what happened on that day. We helped this lady have the courage and strength to align her will with God’s and do what she knew to be right all along.

The effect of true repentance is righteous living. If a person is truly repentant, it is evident in the way they live their life. Missionaries have the great opportunity to see people’s lives change completely. And that is the miracle of repentance. But the miracle of repentance is also in the little tiny changes that we go through every day. The most common type of repentance is the little tiny baby steps that we make daily to grow closer to our Savior. Those steps usually go unnoticed by those around us, but I assure you, they do not go unnoticed by our Father in Heaven. He is the one who knows our hearts, and He is the one to whom we should look for approval. He should be the source of our confidence, and He is the one who will give us the calming assurance that we have been forgiven of our sins.
So once we have that feeling of assurance from a loving Father in Heaven, we are ready to move to step number 3, or the first ordinance of the gospel: baptism.
One of my favorite things about the Book of Mormon is that it is so simple and clear. In 3 Nephi, the Savior Himself teaches us the proper mode of baptism.

Baptism is a covenant, or a two way promise between us and God. We promise to always remember Him, to keep His commandments, and to take upon ourselves His name. In return, He promises to bless us with His Spirit. Elder Mervyn B. Arnold spoke in General Conference of October 2010, and the title of his talk was “What Have You Done with My Name?” He said,  “Someday each one of us will have to account to our Savior, Jesus Christ, for what we have done with His name. The importance of having a good name is spoken of in Proverbs, where we read: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold”   and “The [name] of the just is blessed.” Close quote

I spent some time this week thinking about my own name. Schrecengost is not an easy name. But it is a good one. I will forever be grateful to my parents for establishing a legacy of faith and obedience. The name of Jesus Christ is not an easy one either. Living as a true Christian in today’s world isn’t easy, but it is important. It was such a sacred privilege to wear His name on my chest for 18 months. Yes it was hard, oh it was very hard, but I knew then, and I know now why it was all worth it. Because Jesus Christ is my Savior, that’s why. Because if I do what I know to be right, I can live with my Heavenly Father and with my family forever. That is what this gospel is all about.

I would like to close my talk today with a story about the blessings that come when a person has the courage and strength to repent and be baptized.

I have a friend named Teela. Teela is a 29 year old single mother of 6 children. She loves her family and would do anything for them. Teela had made some poor decisions in her past, and eventually she came to a point where she knew that something in her life needed to change. She began to meet with the missionaries. She began to do what they asked: to read and to pray, and slowly her life began to change. This is when I met Teela. She believed that the message we had to share was good, and that it definitely helped her, but she resisted the idea that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was the only true church on the earth. What changed everything for Teela was a trip to the Visitors’ Center at the Mesa Temple. We went through a plan of salvation exhibit and explained that her family could be together forever. At the end of the exhibit, Teela just sat there and eventually said, ”This is what I want. This is what my family needs.” She was baptized 3 weeks later. One of the things that missionaries worry about the most is knowing if someone is prepared for baptism. This was a major concern for me with Teela because it seemed as though everything happened so fast. Well, two days before Teela’s baptism, we got a call from her saying that her father had passed away suddenly. I fully expected her to say that she wanted to cancel or postpone the baptism, but she said “sisters, now I wanted to be baptized even more because I need to do his temple work. I need to be sealed to him.” Teela’s faith and her understanding of the plan of salvation helped me to know that she was prepared for her baptism. She has that eternal perspective that we all need so desperately. She knows that she has the opportunity to live with God and with her family forever, and she is willing to do whatever it takes to get there.


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