Sunday, January 13, 2013

"I Came to Understand..."

Jesse on his last day in the mission field.


            Unlike most missionaries I didn’t wait my whole life to serve a mission.  To be precise I waited about a year and a half.  The reasons for this are complicated, but suffice it to say the moment I decided to serve a mission nothing was going to deter me.  I knew I wanted to serve, and better yet, I knew why I wanted to serve.  The difference the Gospel had made in my life was real and I felt an unconquerable desire to share that with others.  I knew the Gospel wasn’t merely a matter of preference; that anyone who lived it would feel a greater peace, a greater purpose, a greater sense of self-worth. 

            As I prepared for the mission I remember everyone telling me that it would be the greatest two years of my life.  I heard this line so much I actually began to resent it.  What’s wrong with you people that ten, twenty, thirty years later you’ve accomplished so little else in your life that your fondest memories are from when you were barely past being a teenager?  To be honest it sounded a lot like that guy, no matter what age, whose eyes glass over at the mere mention of high school.  That is of course, until I got there. 

Concilio, 28 Aug 2009 (click to enlarge)
I fell in love with the mission at the MTC.  From the moment I entered those doors in Provo to the moment the plane left the tarmac in Barcelona two years later I was entranced.  Everything about those two years was a literal gift from Heaven.  Who knew Spain was so beautiful; its people, its culture, its language?  I served and served with some of the greatest companions, converts, leaders, and members who have shaped and continue to shape me to this day.  Sure there was frustration with the language, certain rules, and certain companions.  There was disappointment with some investigators and at times myself.  And then there was the interminable feeling of exhaustion and undernourishment that began that first week in the field and never let up.  But in the end it was impossible to deny (or even to fully explain) that those truly were the best two years. 

Samuel Melgarejo, Jesse Rae York,
Samuel Close, and Brad Peterson,
7 Sep 2009
(click to enlarge)
The only day I ever regretted, and to some extent still regret, about those two years was the very last one when I stepped off the plane in Houston.  And while the reasons should be obvious to most, there was another, not so obvious one.  When I left on the mission another thing I remember people telling me was how much my service to the Lord was going to bless my family.  And unlike my skepticism toward the notion of the ‘best two years’, I put a lot of hope into this one.  More than anything I wanted it to be true and would often use that promise as motivation in those moments when my weaknesses would begin to emerge.

But when I got home it seemed the more I tried to encourage my family the more the message was met with resistance.  This continued for over a year until I realized I might be doing more damage than good in the long run so I took a step back.  But the thought of being separated from my family for all eternity ate at me like a cancer.  I found little consolation in the idea of “visiting” them in a lower kingdom of heaven.  And the more people I met with inactive children, siblings, parents, and friends, the more I began to wonder, even question the doctrine that families can be together forever.  That word can took on a whole new, almost sarcastic meaning.  And while my testimony of the Plan, the Resurrection, and the Restoration remained strong there was an emptiness to it that I couldn’t ignore.

With little else I could do I got down on my knees and prayed from the depths of humility for guidance on how I could reconcile the emptiness that I felt.  The answer I got was almost immediate, but it wasn’t a statement or an idea, rather it came as an impulse.  I spent the next six months scouring the church archives and internet database.  I wasn’t sure what I was looking for and I wasn’t making a whole lot of progress until one day I found a passage that led to another that led to a dozen others each offering a new invaluable insight into the nature of our Heavenly Father’s plan and His love for us.  The basic line of reasoning was this, If Christ’s atonement was both infinite and eternal then the full blessings of repentance must be available to anyone at any time, whether in this life or the next.  To say otherwise would be to deny the atonement, to say that it is somehow limited.

I came to understand that progression, like the atonement, is not limited.  This seemed to be substantiated by the prophet Joseph Smith’s teaching that, ‘There is never a time, when the spirit is too old to approach God.  All are within the reach of pardoning mercy.’  Brigham Young put it another way stating, that all those consigned to lesser kingdoms ‘would eventually have the privilege of proving themselves worthy and advancing to a celestial kingdom.’  George Q Cannon took that idea further when he said that all those in higher kingdoms ‘must help those in lower kingdoms to rise up to their plane.’  Adding to this line of reasoning B.H. Roberts stated, ‘I can conceive of no reason for all this administration of the higher to the lower, unless it be for the purpose of advancing our Father’s children along the lines of eternal progression.’ 

I found similar statements had been made by a dozen other church leaders including; Hiram Smith, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph Fielding Smith, J. Reuben Clark, Joseph F. Smith, Orson F. Whitney, James E. Faust, and Boyd K. Packer.  My favorite however comes from James Talmage who says, ‘Progression, then, is possible beyond the grave.  Advancement is eternal.  Were it otherwise, Christ's ministry among the disembodied would be less than fable and fiction.  Equally repugnant is the thought that though the Savior preached faith, repentance and other principles of the Gospel to the imprisoned sinners in the realm of spirits, their compliance was impossible.’   

And while the Church has declared that it takes no official position on the subject Joseph Smith’s assurance that, “Our Heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive,” offered me the comfort that I sought by confirming what my heart already knew to be true, that God loves us, that He will not forsake us, and that the work we do in this life will, in fact, bless our families.  So while I didn’t wait my whole life to serve a mission I will spend the rest of my life preparing for the next one.  If for no other reason than to help my Heavenly Father make good on the promise that families can, and will be together forever. 

Jesse served in Alicante 2, Barcelona 2, Zaragoza 2, Badalona, and Menorca. He returned home in March 2010. His wife, Aprih, served in the Spain Madrid Mission. They currently live in Dublin, Ireland, where Jesse  studies creative writing at American College Dublin and writes crime mystery novellas. 

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