Monday, January 12, 2015

La Rama San Juan

Welcome, welcome, Monday morning!
Well gee. This was just one great week. We taught the Gospel to people as usual for the first three days of the week. Then, on Thursday, we went on our first companion exchange of the transfer. I stayed in San Juan and was joined by Elder Kamrowski, from Tucson, Arizona. We had a great day! Before the exchange started on Wednesday night, Elder Baker and I made a deal that whoever taught fewer lessons on Thursday would have to eat a habanero pepper. I wasn't about to do that. So Elder Kamrowski and I ended up teaching ten lessons! That was lots of fun. We just decided to teach every single person we saw. (Okay, there were some exceptions, we saw more than ten people). Seven on them were first lessons we taught to people just tracting or street contacting. The other three were to less-active members or recent converts. One of them was... different.
It was with Oscar and Alejandra. They are an older couple (about 60) who haven't been to church in several months. Basically, we've always had the understanding that Oscar was offended at some of the members, and so he didn't want to see them at church. Elder Kamrowski and I went over and had a pleasant get-to-know conversation for Elder Kamrowski. Then we asked if we could share a message with them. Immediately, Oscar said, "We're not going to come back to church" (but in Spanish; I'll translate for your sakes). And then I can't remember exactly how things got started, but he went on to talk about how they didn't agree with things in the Church. He expounded a few specific examples of people who had committed transgressions and were still permitted to serve full-time missions. I explained that all missionary candidates must repent of all transgressions, especially serious ones, before missionary service, and that the matter is discussed between the Stake President and the candidate. He said something along the lines of "BLEEAGH!" and tossed his hands in the air. I then asked him if he'd ever made a mistake, if he'd ever sinned. He was very confident that he had not sinned since his baptism five years earlier. "Como?..." He explained that maybe he had sinned with his mouth or with his mind, but he had not done anything like THOSE people. I explained the purpose of the Atonement for the remission of sins, and the reality of repentance, and "BLEEAGH!" He didn't understand the doctrine of repentance at all. I warned them that they will be judged at the last day with the same judgement with which they had judged others in this life, and that their pride would bring about their destruction if they did not repent. They weren't too happy about that.

Then they switched topics and started talking about plural marriage and plural sealings after death, etc. They were very adamantly against it. (Oh, by the way, Elder Kamrowski doesn't speak Spanish, so I was solo in this lesson...). Alejandra pulled out Jacob chapter 2, which I had happened to read that very morning. She said, "Aqui, en El Libro de Mormon mismo!" I gladly shared with them verse thirty, in which the Lord says that if He needs to raise up seed unto Himself, He will give His people the commandment of plural marriage, as in ancient times. I explained that at that time, He had not commanded the Nephites to live that commandment, and such a practice is an abomination and a sin against God when we are not commanded to do so. Sometimes in the history of His people, when He needs to build up a nation (such as the Restoration of the Gospel and the foundation of His Kingdom in the latter days), the Lord commands men to take more than one wife, as He did Abraham and other prophets of old, to raise up seed unto the Lord and to care for the widows and the fatherless. I also explained that they don't have to get remarried after one or the other of them dies; that's an option that we have, but not something anyone is required to do.
They understood. They explained that for five years they had had that question, and not one member nor missionary would answer it for them. I asked if my explanation helped, and they said it did. Then they spoke to me sincerely about the difficulty of adjusting to life as a new member of the Church. They had been Catholic for over fifty years before their baptism, and all of the sudden they were immersed into a new world with a different culture, different expectations, different doctrine, and a different language than what they had grown up with. They explained that it seemed nearly impossible to understand it all. It reminded me of a story related by President Gordon B. Hinckley in Preach My Gospel, chapter 13:

I received the other day a very interesting letter. It was written by a woman who joined the Church a year ago. She writes:

"My journey into the Church was unique and quite challenging. This past year has been the hardest year that I have ever lived in my life. It has also been the most rewarding. As a new member, I continue to be challenged every day." She goes on to say that when she joined the Church she did not feel support from the leadership in her ward. Her bishop seemed indifferent to her as a new member. Rebuffed, as she felt, she turned back to her mission president, who opened opportunities for her. 

She states that "Church members don't know what it is like to be a new member...Therefore, it's almost impossible for them to know how to support us."

I challenge you, my brothers and sisters, that if you do not know what it is like, you try to imagine what it is like. It can be terribly lonely. It can be disappointing. It can be frightening. We of this Church are far more different from the world than we are prone to think we are. This woman goes on: "When we as investigators become members of the Church, we are surprised to discover that we have entered into a completely foreign world, a world that has its own traditions, culture, and language. We discover that there is no one person or no one place of reference that we can turn to for guidance in our trip into this new world. At first the trip is exciting, our mistakes even amusing. Then it becomes frustrating and eventually, the frustration turns into anger. And it's at these stages of frustration and anger that we leave. We go back to the world from which we came, where we knew who we were, where we contributed, and where we could speak the language."[Ensign, May 1999, 108].

That just about sums it up! I expressed to the couple that I understood their frustrations. I presented to them a plan. They could investigate the Church again. Start over, and learn from the missionaries. We would extend commitments to them and teach them the lessons, and they should feel free to express their concerns or questions. Through this process, we would work towards the goal that they could become converts all over again, and this time be thoroughly converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They mulled it over for a minute and then Oscar expressed that he would like to speak with his wife about it before they make the decision to investigate again. He said they would talk it over, and call me when they were ready to start taking the lessons. I told him that sounded good, but if he didn't call me in a while, I was going to come back on my own. He said that was fine. Then we had a prayer, and we hugged. After we left, Elder Kamrowski was pretty confused. So I explained to him what had happened. All this time, the Branch has thought that this couple wasn't coming to church because they had grudges against other members. But that was just a concern that surfaced because of much deeper unmet spiritual needs. So be there for new converts!

Then the rest of the week was a whole lot of planning. With the new year, the Stake is making goals and plans. And there are rumors and fears of dissolving the Branch. We had 26 people at sacrament meeting yesterday, and the majority of them are assigned to the Branch. Our planning really started on Wednesday at our weekly coordination meeting with the Ward Mission Leader, Brother Nicholson. We determined in that meeting that there are only three or four active members who have a need for the Branch, the rest would do just fine in an English ward. We also discovered, however, that within the past six years there have been thirty-five convert baptisms in the Branch, supposedly the majority of whom would prefer to be in a Spanish Branch. Only about three of those converts are currently active. That brings me to another quote from President Hinckley, in the same chapter of Preach My Gospel: "There is absolutely no point in doing missionary work unless we hold on to the fruits of that effort. The two must be inseparable. … Every convert is a great and serious responsibility” (“Find the Lambs, Feed the Sheep,” Ensign, May 1999, 108).

We decided that we needed to make a more concerted effort on reactivating the lost sheep in the branch before it was really worth putting too much effort into baptizing converts. Obviously there is some kind of disconnect between the water and the temple. So, for a whopping 10+ hours in the next few days, we, the Sisters, and Brother Nicholson prepared a plan and a presentation for the conveniently scheduled Branch Council that Sunday evening. We presented to the Branch Council (which is comprised of all but one of the active families in the Branch) our plan for the growth of the Branch. They liked it. After our presentation, we spent an hour sharing our feelings on the longevity and well-being of the Branch. We offered ourselves up as missionaries to take more of the burden. We suggested that we would accept callings to serve in the Branch if necessary, be it in Primary, the Elders' Quorum, as a secretary, etc. These people are struggling to keep the Branch alive, and struggling to balance their jobs and families in the midst of it all. We're just trying to build the Branch, that's it. No other worries, no other distractions, so bring on the load!! We determined that we cannot let the Branch fail, because there are too many souls who would never come back to the Church if there was no Branch to come back to; too many people who wouldn't choose to attend an English Ward. We're still working on the specifics, but that's the situation for now. I really hope that the Branch Council can look to the four of us (the missionaries) as a blessing and as a source to turn to for help. We have nothing better to do at this point. We struggle with the desire to even baptize new converts into the Branch, knowing the chances of their success in remaining active in it. It is just as Moroni says in Alma 60:23: "...Now I would that ye should remember that God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also."

So we're going to work to really lift the Branch with the members that we already have. Of course we will still be teaching investigators, but the hope is that we will be too busy lifting by assignment and by request from the members in the auxiliaries and with specific less-active families that we won't even have time to tract. Wish us luck! Choose the right and read your scriptures every day. Pray in your families and in secret. The Church is true! I love you all.

Elder Rogers

A Thought from Mom:

"Those who have come into the Church made a great sacrifice, many of them, when they were baptized. They are precious. They are the same kind of people htat you are and their generations will become the same kind of people as will your generations if they are nurtured and brought along in the Church. I don't know how to say it more strongly. This is a matter about which I feel so deeply as I go about this Church across the world."

~President Gordon B. Hinckley


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