Good morning everyone, or afternoon or evening depending where you are in the world?
It was a pretty great week this week. I am a bit tired at the end of it! but wont have much time to rest because we will be having a zone preparation day this week! so… instead of rest it will probably involve a lot of sport and running around. its okay I can sleep when I am dead! I am pretty excited for the zone getting together, all the areas are pretty isolated so hopedfully we can have a good time and lend some support and encouragement to these new elders that may be struggling! should be a lot of fun,Ill let you know how it goes next week!
So, we had a great week! added several new investigators from last weeks full day of tracting with elder Thompson, (quick side note: I told a few elders in the zone about how we went tracting for a whole day, and they have requested that I do it with them in their area when we come on trade-offs… what have I got myself into? haha) we also had some great lessons with our investigators. BUT, the majority of my news from this week will be from out of my area! Wednesday evening we travelled down to mortdale and stayed with the assistants to the mission president so we could attend an early morning mission leadership council on Thursday, which was presided by Elder James Hamula of the seventy, who happens to be the pacific area president! we had to stay over another day to attend a mission conference the next day on Friday morning, again with elder hamula, after that, we made the long drive back to Bathurst, but only to pass through it on the way to a companion exchange in orange Friday night to Saturday! what a crazy week. Another thing I forgot to mention, was that on Thursday afternoon, after the mission leadership council, I got to go on a companion exchange with the mortdale zone leaders in bankstown 1st ward!!! Its been such a crazy month getting to go on exchanges in 2 of my former areas! what made it especially cool was that I got to work for a bit with Elder Bennison who was my last companion! We had so much to catch up on, so much to talk about. IT WAS A REALLY COOL WEEK!!!!
So maybe I can start with our mission leadership council. It was interesting, Thursday morning while getting ready at their flat, Elder Thompson (one of the APs) expressed his excitement about the upcoming meeting by saying that, “when general authorities get to train in such intimate settings (like the council we were about to have) they speak very plainly, and the veil parts” Well… he was right. I was privileged to attend a zone leader council about 6 months ago with elder hamula, but that was in a mission that was more than twice the size, this was very different, our mission only has 6 zones at the moment, so this was indeed a much more intimate setting. I cannot tell you how priviledged I felt to be trained by an especial witness of Christ in such a setting. After Elder Hamula had to leave (to meet with the president of the seventh day adventest church in the pacific area, as well as meet with a senior rabbi from the jewish faith in Sydney and a cardinal from the catholic church) President Lew stated that “the training we had just received would be one of the finest leadership trainings we will ever receive in our lives” This is of course coming from a man who has served as stake president and mission president etc… I wish you all could have been there, I prize the notes I took in that meeting, It was as elder Thompson expected, as if the veil parted, on the points he spoke to us about, he opened the scriptures to me in a way I have seldom experienced, he spoke frankly, openly, and very “real”… It was as it were,,, that we were being tutored by a prophet of God… Those few hours have certainly impacted me greatly, more than just the specifics of what we learned, I was a witness of the power and authority of this church, its simply undeniable. To the seventy of old, Christ sent them “into every city and every place, wither he himself will go” So I learned something about the leadership in this church, they are in reality, extensions of Christ himself…. The prophet is his mouthpiece here, since he can not be everywhere, he sends the twelve, since they can not do everything, they call upon the seventy, and this is what really amazed me… at one point, elder hamula said to us that since they can not be every where, they send us (the missionaries)… He said you(the missionaries) are us(the general authorities) and we are you. Its no wonder why we are called by the same title… Elder… That really meant something to me… Anyway, the main message I took away from this meeting, was what it means to take Christ’s name upon us. This is a message only the spirit can teach, the few scriptures that were discussed were ones that I was quite familiar with, but as I said earlier, had not been completely open to me as of yet… I kinda planned to write a few of my thoughts, but I think that I will save them for now. It would be too hard to summarize. But this much I know, I have taken Christ’s name upon me, this means so much… we promise at baptism and in the sacrament in taking his name upon us that we will take upon us his identity, character, personality. We take upon us also his work and are participants in his plan, and as we do so, we may also become partakers of his power and authority. May it be said of us that his image can be seen in our countenance. Jesus said to his disciples that he and his father are one, and that if we have seen him, we have seen the father. I hope that I can live so that the same may be said of me, and may you live that the same may be said of you.
The zone conference was also a very special learning experience! Elder Hamula shared many different things!!!! one in particular I feel it my privilege and my duty to bring to you! at one point in his training he looked out on the hundred or so missionaries that were in attendance, and said “If I were to interview each one of you, I expect that at least half of you would say something along the lines of “I am just not good enough” or “I feel so imperfect and inadequate to this task” He then went on to share one of the most comforting testimonies I have ever heard. I will do my best to share my thoughts with you, because I expect that many who read this will have had similar thoughts at some point in their lives, indeed I have… He asked us to open to Jacob 5:65-66. This is an extended allegory known as “the allegory of the olive tree” so. in these verses talks about the lord of a vineyard, but I hope you know it is really speaking about the saviour jesus Christ, the verses also talk about a tree among many trees, but I hope you know it is talking about you! v.65 “And as they begin to grow ye shall aclear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard.” I want you to think about this for a moment…. The lord of the vineyard is explaining a process for removing the “bad branches” that bring forth “bitter fruit” for this he instructs his servants “ye shall not clear away all the bad at once” what does this mean for us? we all know that we have imperfections, but in this we can take comfort, it is not in the Lords plan for those to be taken from us all at once…. I do testify that they will be taken from us, it is his plan that through him we can become perfected, BUT, that is not an overnight process, we are not expected to be perfect “all at once”
ok, so WHY? I can tell you from my own experience, I have toiled and suffered a great deal with my weaknesses, I have wrestled mightly with some of my deficiencies, why would the Lord wait to take those away? I think at least part of the answer can be found in v. 66 “For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard; wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard.” ok, so, I have been thinking about it like this… think about an apple tree, an old healthy apple tree can grow to a very impressive size and yield much fruit…. the large trunk, impressive branches and fruit represent all the outward manifestations of who we are, or in other words, the things people can see. Not as readily apparent however to an outward observer, is an equally large and impressive root system, to gather water and nutrients and give a physical support system or foundation for the plant. The Lord of the vineyard says “the root and the top” must be equal in strength, and gave instructions to only “clear away the bad, according as the good shall grow”.. ok so what does this mean? First, our weaknesses and deficiencies and pains and trials can only be taken away from us, as much as there is good provided to replace it! makes sense right? If my weakness as a missionary is fear in talking to people, it can only be removed if confidence and knowledge and speaking skills are there to replace it. This can apply to anything, as we pray for the lord to remove our weaknesses and deficiencies, we must know that it will only be cleared according to the good that is growing in us… but there is more to it than this… there is something more to the story than just the outward branches and fruit. there are the roots of our souls that only the Lord can know. I think these roots are our character, our testimony, our desires, our love… We of course desire for our outward works to grow tall and fruitful, but the tops and the roots must be equal. I think sometimes the roots in us take a bit longer to grow, its a bit harder to asses because they are unseen, but as a gardener trusts that nourishing a tree with water and sunlight and fertilizer, we must trust that consistency in living the gospel process, WILL nourish and grow the roots in us. And as those grow deep and faithful and solid, only then will it be possible for our skills and knowledge and works to grow. so. the tops and the roots must be equal in strength. I hope this makes sense, I know that sometimes we may feel inadequate or weak, or imperfect, but the Lord has a plan for you 🙂 he loves you deeply. HE knows the process that can and will make more out of you than you now are, but he will start with the roots, and will wait for the good to grow before he clears away the bad. I testify again that He will take away our deficiencies, if we are faithful, one day, those things will no longer plague us, I trust that he is the lord of the vineyard, but he is also my Lord individually, and he is your lord individually. While we may not be made perfect now, we can be clean, he will forgive us, and nourish us as we follow him and renew our covenants, until that light within us will grow brighter and brighter unto the perfect day, when he will wipe away all our tears, and welcome us into the place he prepared for us in the mansions of our father. Be faithful, have hope.
Okay, so, a few more sweet experiences, that I almost hesitate to share, I don’t want these to bring any attention to me, but only to a principle of leadership they demonstrate! So, at the conference I got to catch up with many missionaries that I have worked with in the past! one of those is named elder Ng, from hong kong. For some reason we have served in the same zone for about half of my mission! so we have become good friends. This last transfer he was called to train a new missionary in a country area… He came up to me in the conference and said “thank you elder Faulkner for the advice you gave me at the transfer meeting, I have based my work this transfer on it and we have been seeing some great success” I was taken aback for a second there, first that someone would base their work on something I suggested, but especially in this case because I could not even remember what I had suggested to him! It was just a kind of off hand comment of something I had learned in serving in a few country areas that helped me… after a bit of thought I did remember our conversation at the transfer meeting and the counsel that I gave him… so, I really learned something here. I had been elder Ng’s zone leader for several months, we had a very good relationship, without me even knowing it, that put me in a position where he trusted the counsel I gave, even simple and small suggestions, that led him to find success. So, this kinda intimidates me. Anyone who serves in any kind of position of leadership, even just as a friend, needs to be aware that what you say will be taken and considered by those you serve, even small off hand comments must be spoken with wisdom and the direction of the holy ghost. I am humbled that the brief counsel I gave him led him to blessings, but I am aware that if I am ever careless or light hearted about what I say, it may none the less influence another person. This really does intimidate me, but also is a great motivation to fulfil the commission to represent Christ at all times, in all things and in all places, because that example, even when you think no one will be watching, may be emulated by those around you…. anyway, this same principle was demonstrated again to me this week, a missionary in the zone called me and thanked me for something I had said that led them to success. There was a day last week that I shared with him the joys I had with Elder Thompson tracting all day, he said that day he was really struggling to find something to do, he was hesitant to go “finding” but after I shared that experience, it gave him motivation to go out and knock some doors himself, and guess what, they found several people to teach. Again, I was not really trying to give him counsel, just sharing a good experience I had, but the words I said were taken as motivation, and led him to find success. I just want to take a moment and thank the leaders that have blessed me in my life, and those leaders do not all have a title like “bishop” or “district leader”, some are friends, or sisters, parents, or even investigators, but nevertheless, have served as leaders to me in my life… maybe they do not know this, but there are certainly words that I have been taught by many, and examples of friends and leaders that have changed and influenced my life for ever. I hold the relationships I have as a sacred trust, and pray that I will become a positive influence, I know that requires me to do good ALWAYS.
So, like I said, we got to go on exchanges in two areas this week, first in Bankstown 1st which happens to be my last proselyting area! How cool is that to have the chance to visit your last area? I got to teach and commit to baptism one of my old investigators named anothony, he is doing so well, coming to church every week, enjoying everything about the church, so good to see, I also got to see a recent convert that we worked a lot with named sam. Since I left he has advanced tot he Melchesidek priesthood! we had a long chat about his decision to go on a mission, he plays for the Canterbury bull dogs, so he is a bit scared that a mission may jeopardize his rugby career, but it was a great conversation, I really love that guy, oh by the way, everyone was so surprised to see me, haha, the funniest was when we stopped by to visit bishop tufunga, his wife answered and screamed in surprise, it was so funny, but it was so good to see their family as well, bishop tufunga is such a great example to me of what I want in my family and my life, he is a great friend. Last of all we got to visit Lewly and Nela, you may remember that Lewly was baptised while I was there last transfer, it was so good to see both of their progress and their plans to be sealed in a years time. I cant tell you how sweet this experience was to catch up with some of these people, it has been just over a month since I was transferred, but there was still so much to share. Perhaps one of the greatest blessings was the chance to talk to my former companion elder bennison. While we were together, we really became brothers, I guess after you have been away for a bit and then reunited, that brotherhood only grows. He is someone that I really trusted a lot, so he knows more about me than most companions. Most of the time when you see old companions you talk about the people and your experiences together, but this was more like seeing a brother and friend, you talk about your families and lives and futures etc. He is a great friend and a great support.
Our other exchange was in orange! you may be interested that one of the elders names is Elder Elder. haha. he was actually who I worked with for the day, he is a great missionary a great example to me, I covet his energy! haha, you joke as missionaries that the mission is like a mini life, and… I am getting old. haha. We just worked, worked, worked, all day, talked to everyone we could possibly see, hardly took a minute to breathe. haha. I am not saying this is the best way to do missionary work or anything, but its an energy and spirit that I really admire. They are really great elders there and are seeing some great success. Part of the exchange was a few baptism interviews for their investigators to be baptised next week! I interviewed a young 11 year old boy named Luke. Its so wonderful being able to give an interview to someone who is prepared and ready and excited for baptism, and to sign the baptism record as a witness that they are indeed ready. He is a great boy, a great example and strength to his family.
ok, so it was a great week! to top it all off, there was heaps of people at church yesterday! Including a few less active members who have not come in a long time, and our investigator Tania! We will also be having a ward activity this weekend that everyone seems excited to come to and bring their friends to 🙂 I am so happy to see the small branch coming together to bless and strengthen one another, its an experience I will cherish forever.
By the way, it was fathers day in Australia this last sunday, so happy fathers day to all the fathers that read this!, most especially my father and grandfathers and the other men who had taught and led and blessed me. Your example and position is so important, I am so greatful for all that you have blessed me with and given to me, especially for your faith in Christ. I hope to follow your example. If there is anything that I have learned from my mission it would be how key a father is in leading and guiding his family, so thank you for all the good you do, I know that it will be returned to you by our heavenly father.
Until Next week,
Elder Ryan Faulkner