Last Sunday I taught the combined lesson for our Young Men. The subject was fasting and the reasons we fast, as well as the benefits that come from this. The Spirit was very strong during the lesson, which was almost assuredly due to the comments made from the young men and some of the adult leaders. I am hopeful that my personal testimony helped convey my belief to these boys about the power of fasting when coupled with prayer and done properly. For my blog post today, I wanted to capture my initial testimony-building experience with fasting. I recounted another experience with the class, but this was the precursor I didn't have time to share.
While serving as a missionary in Los Angeles, CA for The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints, I was assigned a companion (missionaries always serve in pairs and these are called companionships) who had limited mental capacity. He was book smart and capable of taking care of himself just fine, but his street smarts and social capacity were minimal at best. I was apprehensive about working with this young man, but the Sunday before he came to my area I fasted and prayed for help in knowing how to work with him and utilize his unique strengths. My efforts were rewarded with an overwhelming feeling of just be his friend. So I did. And as our first few weeks went on together I received other promptings at appropriate times.
- Assign him a task he will be challenged to complete, but nothing too complicated. I put him in charge of mapping our bus routes to various appointments. This led to missing a few appointments initially, but the smile on his face as he got better and better was such a blessing!
- Assign him specific portions of lessons to teach investigators. He had a great understanding of the Gospel, but putting that into words in any orderly fashion was nearly impossible. So I assigned him specific parts of lessons ahead of time and asked him to share his thoughts. He stumbled a lot to begin with but eventually got comfortable enough to cover whole sections of the lessons.
- Do acts of service for him. I helped him shine his shoes. I gave him a haircut. I made breakfast for him a few times (he mostly at plain oatmeal because he didn't know how to cook). I taught him how to make other simple meals. We played chess on our P-day (personal day) instead of basketball or soccer with the other companionships (he was not big into sports). Eventually, we started seeking extra service for others in the ward and other missionaries. He loved that!
The follow-up to this story was a meeting I had with our Mission President about 6 weeks into my time with this Elder. Most one-on-one meetings with President Lebaron followed a similar business-like format. But this one was different and it will always stick with me. I walked into his makeshift office (a room in the local church) prepared to shake his hand, sit down, and answer a series of very direct, interrogative-type questions. Instead, he got up, walked around his temporary desk and just grabbed me in the biggest bear hug I'd ever had. He was sobbing. He just kept repeating "Thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea what you've done. Thank you." It was a little awkward but felt great. After a few minutes, he released me and asked me to sit down. There were no questions. There was no let's talk about your accountability and personal progess. In fact, I said almost nothing for the next 5 minutes as he recounted for me why he was so emotional.
Apparently, this Elder had really been struggling. In his previous conversations with our Mission President he had begun to question if he should be serving a mission in the first place. He knew he was incapable of doing much of what missionaries were asked to do. He felt like a burden on his companions. He was not feeling loved or worthy of his calling. President Lebaron went on to say that he had just met with this Elder before inviting me in. His whole countenance had changed. Typically quiet and looking at the floor during these meetings, this Elder was looking the President straight in the eye and would not stop talking about all the great things we were doing as a companionship. He recounted dozens of acts of service I had done for him, including things I did not consider to be service but just common courtesy. He told the President that he was teaching lessons and that he was responsible for our bus routes. All President could do was sit and listen, holding back tears of gratitude. He thanked the Elder for his service and ushered him out. He then took a few minutes to try and compose himself before inviting me in.
One addendum to this story ... I was only able to work with this Elder for a few more weeks. At the next transfer, I was called to serve as a District Leader in another part of the mission. And this Elder was called to be a Senior Companion in our area. This may not seem like much, but this Elder had not been given the responsibility of being the Senior Companion in his nearly 20 months on his mission. I still remember the phone call when he found out. His face went white with fear. He told me he didn't think this was a good idea and that he was certain he would mess up. We talked about it and then agreed to pray and fast the coming Sunday, to ask for him to have strength to lead his new companion. I will never forget that feeling or experience. He finished his mission as a Senior Companion and President Lebaron always filled me in on his success whenever I saw him.
So why do we fast? Because our Heavenly Father wants to help us. And sometimes, He just needs to see how much we are willing to do to earn His help. Believe me though, when we put forth the effort, He will return that tenfold! I will forever be grateful for this experience with fasting!
Song Of The Day:
Here is a great missionary-themed video and song by InsideOut acapella. The tune is "Army Of Helaman" and I apologize for the poor audio quality.
For non-Mormons out there, a little clarity on the song title reference may be useful. In the Book Of Mormon there is a story of young men who went to war in place of their fathers because their parents had made an oath not to fight ever again. This army, led by a man named Helaman, fought more bravely than any other army, and because of their faith in God to protect them, none of these 2,000 young men died in any of the battles they fought in.