"Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
"And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men." - 1 Nephi 11:21-22
This week Elder Dedrick and I witnessed our third car crash together. We had just knocked on a less-active's door and were waiting for them to answer when some guy just drove off the road into a ditch. He eventually maneuvered his wrecked car out and back onto the road and drove off. I have no idea what is wrong with the people here.
Even up to ten years ago, missionaries still taught people using memorized discussions. They were supposed to commit every word of the lessons to memory and recite it exactly when they taught someone. There were several lessons, and all the lessons had to be taught in order, and there were specific commitments for each lesson; for example, people were often invited to be baptized when teaching about priesthood authority. For those of you who have seen The Best Two Years, this was the teaching method still in use back then.
Now things are very different. Preach My Gospel presents lesson material that missionaries are supposed to study and gain a testimony of, but we are given the freedom to present the doctrine in our own words, as directed by the Spirit. We can teach someone about the Plan of Salvation before we teach them about the Restoration if we feel that that is what they need, or we can teach part of the Gospel of Christ in the first lesson, or we can put in a few points of the Word of Wisdom if we feel that's necessary. It's all a lot more inspired.
Over the course of my mission, I've realized that most of the time it is simply best to teach things in the order Preach My Gospel puts them. For a person to understand why they need to be baptized, they need to understand the Restoration. For them to see the need for a Restoration, they need to understand the Great Apostasy, which requires an understanding of the Savior's original church, which requires understanding dispensation cycles, etc. Things make more sense if people already understand the principles behind them.
On Saturday Elder Dedrick and I were teaching a man named Reeon. We were teaching him the Restoration but he kept pressing us to get to the point.
"I feel that you're trying to sell me something," he said, cutting through our explanation of the Savior's earthly ministry. "You're building and building up to something. Just skip to whatever that something is. Skip to the end."
He wouldn't let us explain what we were trying to get to, so I eventually said, "If I told you that there was a man, a convicted felon, who was executed for trying to stir up rebellion against the government, and didn't tell you any of what had happened before that, then you would never have known that that man was Jesus Christ."
There was a long pause as we all thought about that. Reeon stopped bothering us to skip to the end after that.
A different man asked me about a week or so ago if I had ever doubted that Joseph Smith was actually a prophet. My thoughts are a bit more collected now, but the thought I expressed to him was around these lines:
"I have doubted if Joseph Smith was really a prophet because I have previously doubted the existence of God. But I have no doubt that if there is a God, that Joseph Smith is His Prophet."
At around 9:45 PM on Sunday night Elder Dedrick and I got a call from President Craven, telling Elder Dedrick to pack his bags because he was getting transferred! So today we drove down to Charlotte to meet with President. Elder Dedrick got assigned to be my zone leader in Hickory, 15 minutes up the road, and I was paired up with my 17th companion, seasoned zone leader Elder Arnold. Though I've been out two transfers longer than he has, Elder Arnold is a year older than I am, and I am excited to be with him. He is from Riverton, Utah.
Another item of note is that President asked me to take over Elder Dedrick's place as district leader. This will be the first time in my mission that I've had a leadership assignment, so I will be relying a lot on Elder Arnold's experience to help me out the first few weeks.
On Sunday I finished reading the Book of Mormon backwards. I had started reading at Moroni 10 and proceeded all the way to the title page. I'm not sure why I decided to do this, but I got a lot of good insights out of it. It also made for some ironic twists to familiar stories. For example, 3 and 4 Nephi now tell the story of a very righteous people, in continual peace for 200 years, who got visited by Jesus, and then afterward there was a bunch of natural disasters where everybody died.
It was powerful, however, that in this backwards readthrough the "end" of the Book of Mormon was the story of the Tree of Life. For whatever reasons it had a much stronger effect on me this time around.
Have you ever wished sometimes that our earthly existence was just the Tree of Life experience? It would be so much easier, I would think, to simply have to find that iron rod somewhere in those mists of darkness and just hold on unto you reached the Tree, than to have to deal with all the confusion and uncertainty of this life. There are so many different paths, so many distractions, that it is difficult to know if you've found the Rod or arrived at the Tree.
I noticed that, although Lehi's dream portrays most of the types of people and situations of life, one thing that is not found in the dream is any sort of method for those people who are at the Tree to go and find and rescue those others who are lost in the mists of darkness.
As I pondered this, there came to mind the words of the song "Heaven's at Hand," played for a cartoon video portrayal of the Tree of Life dream. Like so many other things, the chorus of this song has come to have much greater significance to me now that I am a missionary:
Don't give up! Don't fall away!
I'm here to help you up again!
I'm here to help you up and then
Don't look down! Don't look back!
We're here to help each other stay
To help each other every day
The Savior is the Tree, the love of God. We, as missionaries or as members, are the ones He assigns to go and find those lost in the mists and bring them to Him. Because He cannot be there Himself, He entrusts us with the great privilege and duty to go and find His family and bring them to safety and eternal life. We are there to help them when they stumble, to encourage them if they fail. We are to do whatever it takes to keep them moving along the path so that they will finally get there to the Tree.
All of the people you meet are either holding onto the Rod, at the Tree, or lost somewhere in those mists of darkness. It does not matter to the Lord if any of us stumble along the way as long as we get to the destination in the end! It is our job tohelp each other back up when we fall. He cannot physically be present to do so, so He needs us to be there. It is through us that the Savior can help these people back up.
Among the most powerful moments of my mission have been when I have been able to echo those words of the song to a child of God who has stumbled: "Don't give up! I'm here to help you up again!"
What a great calling, that Christ would call you to go and bring those people to Him.
I know that this Church is true. I love you all. Hurrah for Israel!