March 3, 2015
On Sunday Elder W and I traveled again to a city outside of Kiev to teach a lesson to our previous investigator, G. We had set a baptismal date for March 7th, provided that she and her husband would attend church earlier that day. As it turned out though, when I texted the Elders in their area, Obolon, as to whether they came to church, they replied no. Up to this point, church attendance has been the biggest challenge for them.
Their financial situation is such that B is required to work a lot. This last week he had to work two consecutive 24 hour shifts in a restaurant. In total he makes 5,500 grivnas in a month, and with the new exchange rate, it puts him at just over 150 dollars for an apartment, medication, and food for him, his wife, and child. It simply is not enough money to live on and as such, requires him to work over time. Even with these challenges though, it is nothing too severe around which a willingness to suffer or creative thinking can work. It has been on my mind that the reason why G should not become a member of the church yet is not a problem with her. She by all means is ready. The issue is instead with B.
B has been a member for four or five years, and after a year and a half of activity, fell away. He and G had a child together out of wedlock, which is made worse by the fact that he has received his endowments. The lesson we taught was focused on the end goal of them being sealed together. They understood that principle well, but somehow the conversation was brought back to the list of excuses why coming to church is just too difficult.
I decided at one point to move the focus from G, instead to teaching B. I asked him very simply and straight forward if he is afraid of repenting. He said quickly that it is not the problem; the matter has been taken care of and then pushed the attention back to G. I pulled it away again and asked him what the steps to the repentance process are. He listed them all off correctly except for one, confession. After saying that word, he immediately began explaining again about their financial situation. He then went on to say that the bishop has his number and that if it is necessary, he would have been called. The church is run by revelation through the Holy Ghost, and all important matters will be taken care of that way. If needed, the bishop himself would have reached out. I replied that that view is not the correct one to have and we went back and forth.
The next forty minutes brought up a lot of the lies of which we convince ourselves that obstruct us from moving forward. For example B brought up something which to him was a huge obstacle. He said, “I understand that I need the church in my life, but why would the church need me?” I have learned from my time here that these questions are not worth answering one by one when reasoning with a person.
The reason they come up is typically not due to some doubt about whether or not he is needed in the church. Rather, it is a reflection of his own outlook of himself. He feels like he is worthless at this time, and has grown comfortable with making excuses as to why he is. Another thing he said was that the bishop would only be inconvenienced by him, and not want to listen sincerely. After this, he related the events of his first meeting with the bishop from my Voskresensky ward.
Trying to work through these problems is not useful. It is like trying to repair a cracking wall to a dam. A small leak might pop up somewhere along the surface. You could run over it with a roll of duct tape and patch things up, but give it a little bit of time, and another leak will show its face. Fixing the blemishes on the surface will have no effect to the damage that has taken place beneath. In B’s case, he feels deep sorrow for the life which he chose to live, and is too afraid to take the uncomfortable, but necessary steps to fix things.
In the end, I said very clearly that he has to go confess to the bishop and that no one will take the steps toward that except for him. This caused him some extremely clear discomfort and he shortly thereafter ended the lesson. On the way out, I said that we would likely not be able to get permission to leave our area and visit them, to which B replied that two times was more than enough. Before I walked into the elevator I gave him a hug and we said good-bye. The whole time going home I was asking myself if what I did was the correct thing. What was said needed to be said, but maybe it should have been handled with more love and in a friendlier manner. My concerns were put to rest upon answering a ringing phone and hearing the Elders from Obolon on the other end. Apparently, B called them, thinking that the number on the business cards was that of the bishop. They gave it to him and hung up. It was when we received that phone call that I knew that everything was conducted as it needed to be. He has been trying to come back to the church for a year and a half. The whole time though, avoiding that big step of confession. Everything else was in order, though on its own not enough. I am grateful for the opportunity which we had to help him move closer to happiness.
This whole process has taught some different things. First, that we cannot exempt ourselves from the established way of doing things. Confession is a needed part of repentance and will not be complete until taken care of. Second, that eternal progression is designed as a unit. Even though G is ready in every way right now to become a member, while her husband B is still unwilling or afraid to step back into activity, she herself cannot. Third, that many of us will lean toward the tendency of looking down. We prevent ourselves from seeing what we are really capable of doing, and pile reason after reason on top of another until we cannot move. I don’t know if I will be in this area when they will be ready to join the church. I feel that I will likely not. I am, though, grateful to step in their paths during this time and see them walk forward.
Elder W: “Another thing that happened this week was that we met with a guy named O, a man who was baptized at around 17 or 18 years old in California, then after a year moved back here and became completely inactive. After 10 years, he went onto LDS.org and asked for missionaries to come visit him. Well, we went, and met with him outside of McDonalds. This guy is a really nice man, and he’s got a decent amount of desire to learn more, he takes notes and stuff. The problem is, we have to start even further back than square one, because his gospel foundation has been completely eroded away by time and by Satan.
“For example, he has NO idea what the Priesthood is (he compared it to a graduation from school), but he knows that he has the Aaronic Priesthood, and he knows all the levels of the Aaronic Priesthood. We literally have to rebuild his foundation, and clear out all the unstable false doctrine/apostasy that he’s imagined up for himself because he forgot all the answers. It’s just another testimony of how Satan works to me. He won’t waste time trying to confuse you with the “do we have a Heavenly Mother” question, if he can simply corrupt our knowledge of the principle of Faith.
“O was supposed to come to church, but didn’t show up, which was a bummer.
Another thing that happened this week was that we went to see B and G. Elder Hancock wrote about that, but I’ll give a few of my own insights. There’s a fine line that you can’t cross while correcting someone, and it’s described in D&C, “reproving betimes with sharpness, but afterwards showing forth an increase of love”. While Elder Hancock was “reproving” B, there was definitely a side of sharpness to his words that worried me a bit, because Elder Hancock has trouble with the “increase of love” part, and for people that aren’t humble, it’s easy for them to “esteem [him] to be [their] enemy”. I’ve gone through some of those thoughts when being corrected by him, before.
“This time it worked out great, because we all actually really love B and G, and they know that, so the correction was received with a humble heart. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for him or for us, but being told you need to change and telling someone else that they need to change rarely is.
“This week we also had some interesting experiences contacting. We’re beginning to learn the power of asking the right questions at the right time. Multiple times during this week, we had a person say that they don’t believe in God when we asked to talk to them. A couple of times, we felt impressed to ask the question “Why?” That is one powerful word, let me tell you. We had two of the better conversations I’ve had while contacting because of that word this week. Neither has shown any fruit (yet), but fruit doesn’t grow in a week, does it?
“Another experience we had started out very unpleasantly, when Elder Hancock tried to contact a man, and the man almost immediately blew up at him for coming to HIS country, talking to HIM, and only barely knowing his language. It was pretty harsh as he continued to explain that we won’t be able to get anyone to talk to us if we don’t improve our Russian skills. I was pretty much done with this man at that point. Our Russian isn’t that bad, but something told me to calm down, cool off, and ask a question. The question I asked was simple, “how can we improve our Russian?” This took him off guard, a bit, because I think he was expecting us to do anything except ask how we can improve.
“He explained that we actually speak and understand Russian fairly well; our accent just makes it hard for people to understand us and, subsequently, take us seriously. He said that our grammar and the way we pronounce our words is great, and, if we were just living here, he’d be quite impressed with our Russian; we can easily live with our level. However, he said, our placement of the accents in our sentences when we speak needs work, and that’s a huge part of having a good accent.
“All in all, it was a very informative and useful conversation, and what could have ended with him leaving angrily and us leaving discouraged ended with smiles and handshakes all around. We were even able to talk about the gospel a bit and invite him to come to church sometime. All because of humility and simple questions. I hope to be able to use questions more effectively in every phase of missionary work, because they have such incredible power.”