Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Homecoming Talk

They told me I could pick my topic. I don’t think that was a good idea. I hope this talk isn’t too much of a jumbled mess and that my jet lag doesn’t affect it too much.

My name is Sister Stewart, I mean JeanMarie. I grew up here in Virginia and then went to BYU for two years where I am studying math. I just returned from my mission to the Alpine German Speaking Mission. I served in southern Germany and Austria. I served in the big cities of Munich, Vienna and Stuttgart and the not so big city of Goeppingen.  I’m having a little bit of culture shock with how wide the roads are and how big the yards are, but other than that I am so happy to be home!

There are lots of things I learned on my mission. Fortunately for you, I only have 15 minutes. One of the things my mission President always talked about was miracles. He would always encourage us to write about the miracles we experienced in our e-mails to him and he put them together in a book. The awesome thing about miracles is they happen. In the MTC they taught us that miracles are the natural result of the correct application of true, eternal principles. God has always been a God of miracles, it’s the way He works. He has never worked any other way. We read in Moroni 7: 27-29-

“27 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men?

28 For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens.

29 And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men.”

I know that miracles haven’t ceased. I know that God loves us and that He works miracles to show us His hand in our lives and in His work. Christ worked miracles while on the earth, and I know that miracles continue to happen today. The power of His Atonement is a miracle that can work in all of our lives. I know that there are angels on both sides of the veil working hard to help God’s children.

When I think of my mission I feel like Ammon after he completed his mission to the Lamanites. He says in Alma 26:12-

“12 Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.”

I know that on my own I could not have accomplished everything I did on my mission. God was there every step of the way. I experienced miracles in missionary work and miraculous changes in myself. To see miracles it required humility, patience, repentance, and lots of faith. I had to learn to rely on the power of the Atonement to see miracles.

God works in interesting ways to bring to pass miracles. I know that sometimes we may think we are in the completely wrong place, but in reality, God has put us in the exact right place.  One time my companion and I were in a town trying to find a less active member who we had never visited before. We arrived in the town on the train armed with a map and an address. We set off to try and find their house. It was late February. The sidewalks were covered in wet spring snow and more snow was falling from the sky. We walked up a HUGE hill, our boots getting more and more soaked with every step. We reached the neighborhood only to discover by some trick of German street design that the streets did not in fact connect in the way I thought they did. So, we turned around to head back down the massive hill and come at it from the other direction. But then I had this feeling that we should really ring some of the doorbells in the neighborhood we were in. So we started ringing them. The first few people weren’t even home. Then about three houses in we ring this doorbell and a forty something year old man comes to the door. He starts speaking to us in German with a very heavy American accent. So we ask him where he’s from and turns out he is from Ohio and has lived in Germany for about 20 years. His family is pretty religious back in the States but ever since he came to Germany he hadn’t really found a church he was happy with. He felt that he was drifting away from God. We told him we could help with that J We gave him a Book of Mormon and made out an appointment and were able to return and teach him a few times. I know that God put us in exactly the place we needed to be, even though we thought we were in the wrong place.

Sometimes, we may be just trying our hardest to do what God asks of us and he takes the little bit that we put in and makes a wonderful miracle out of it. When I was serving in Munich, one of the Relief Society presidents in one of the wards there asked us to visit a less active family. We planned it all out. In order to get to their house from our appointment earlier in the day, we would have to take the bus to the subway and then walk for about ten minutes. Not too bad. So we make our way there only to discover that we could have taken the tram for three stops and been there much sooner. The way we came took about 30 minutes when it could have taken 10. We could have chosen to be frustrated by this situation, but we just went forward and rang their doorbell. And you know what? They were home! The whole family had just returned home from the park. If we had come early, we might have missed them. We had a really good lesson with them and answered a lot of their questions and helped them with their concerns. I know that sometimes we try our best and even though we make mistakes, God takes care of us when we are on His errand.

God also works miracles as we pour our hearts out to Him in prayer and then go to work to accomplish our goals. I had the opportunity to experience this sort of miracle just a few weeks ago. We planned what’s called a “Finding Day” with our District in Stuttgart. Because I had two companions at the time, we invited a member to come with us to help us out so that way we could split up two by two and get even more work done! The member we invited, K, just got baptized in November and is thinking about going on a mission. I prayed really really hard that she would be able to see success that day because I know how discouraging it can be when all you hear is “No interest” all day long. So we went to work. The first couple hours I worked with K. And you know what? We had more success in the first 30 minutes than we had had the whole previous week. We gave a Book of Mormon to an awesome family and another one to a man who has had a pretty tough life. Even though K’s feet hurt because of her shoes (comfortable shoes are key to missionary work) she was smiling from ear to ear at the end of the day. Success! I know that when we pray sincerely to Heavenly Father and then get to work, He will help us accomplish our goals.

Hopefully you’re not bored of my stories, because I have at least one more to tell you, possibly one of the biggest miracles I experienced on my mission. God worked a miraculous change in me, a change for which I will be forever grateful. I don’t quite know how to describe it except to say I feel stretched and remodeled, Heavenly Father took the person I was and showed me how I could even better. As President Uchtdorf said in this last General Conference  “Serving God and our fellowman will challenge us and transform us into something greater than we ever thought possible.” I know that’s true because I have seen how my mission has changed me. And I know for sure that I didn’t and couldn’t have made those changes on my own. At the beginning of my mission my mission president told me “The Sister Stewart you have in mind and the Sister Stewart the Lord has in mind are two different people.” At first I was confused by that statement, but now I know that at the beginning of my mission I couldn’t even imagine the person that I would become by the end, the person God helped me to become.

One of the ways God helped me to become that person was by putting me in a situation that forced me to grow. For six months I worked in an area where the work was pretty slow. We rang a lot of doorbells.    At some point, I just got stuck and was going out to not invite people to come to Christ, but to fill time.  It was rough.  Then, slowly, God started to work a miracle in me.  I had an amazing companion, and we talked a lot about what we could do differently.  We received lots of counsel from other missionaries and our mission president.  Slowly God helped me come to the conclusion: to be happy is a decision.  I can look at the situation with doom and gloom or I can choose to be happy.  Once I realized this, my life got a whole lot easier.  I am so grateful  to my Heavenly Father for working this miracle in me.  I know that through the power of the atonement, we can all experience the miracle of repentance and change.

I had to really humble myself and be teachable before I could experience a change of attitude.  Just like Ammon says, we have to acknowledge that we are nothing.  We need help and as we accept that help in our lives, miracles happen.

Faith is the key to miracles.  We do all that is in our power, but at some point, we just have to have faith.  I love the way Moroni puts it in Ether 12:8-12-

“8  But because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen.

 9 Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith.

10  Behold it was by faith that they of old were called after the holy order of God.

 11 Wherefore, by faith was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled.

 12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.”

I know that when we have faith, God works miracles. There are miracles around us every day, we just have to look for them. I am so very grateful for the opportunity I had to serve a mission. I am grateful for my parents and the leaders who helped shape me into the person I am today. I know that God lives and that He loves us. Each and every single one of us. He has a plan for us. It is amazing to see what God can make out of us, if we let Him.