For anyone who doesn't know me, my name is Eric Johnson. For the last few months, I have been at BYU Idaho studying mechanical engineering. I grew up in this ward, and am happy to be back today.
I've been called to serve in the Lansing Michigan mission, which is just west of Detroit and covers basically the upper peninsula to Canada, I'll also be speaking Spanish, which is exciting.
To preface slightly, I would have gone anywhere I was called to serve. But while In the process of filling out my mission papers, there are a few questions about your interests In learning a foreign language. I really dislike being in hot climates, and after having taken three years of Spanish, having two brothers and my mom going on Spanish speaking missions, I figured the possibility of me serving Spanish speaking was pretty high, and from what I figured, most Spanish missions tend to congregate around the equator, which typically means hot and humid.
So when it asked how willing I would be to learn a language I was worried that if I said I was super excited to learn one I'd find myself in exactly the place I didn't want to be in. So it was a little bit of a surprise when I got called Spanish speaking to the region in the United States that gets the most snow per year; approximately 240 inches. Here, we get nearly 12 inches per year.
While preparing for my mission, I've counseled with a few people about how to not only get by for the next two years, but how to serve honorably and effectively. Over the course of my semester at BYU Idaho, I received some valuable advice and learned some important lessons.
The first was to serve your mission so that you don't ever want to go back. (Meaning: don't have any regrets).
Full-time missionaries have 18-months to two years to dedicate themselves in service , and then a life time to look back on it. The idea is that these two years are like no other period in your life; you want to act and be capable of teaching so that when you look back on your mission you don't look back with regret and a longing to have a do-over.
The other bit of advice was that a mission is not the end-all opportunity for missionary work. We should always be searching for missionary opportunities. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Putting a missionary badge on doesn’t make you a missionary, and taking it off doesn’t release you from being one.”
Boyd K. Packer said “true understanding of doctrine changes attitudes and behavior.” I believe in being painfully honest with ourselves; never hiding behind thinly veiled facades of lies to hold ourselves up. Because of this, I’ve sought to ask myself, where am I struggling and what can I do to change that? What is standing in my way of being excited to talk to strangers about Jesus? Over the last few months I've asked myself this question and sought to at least attempt to take out any stumbling blocks I've put in my path and I have strived towards setting myself up for success. While I'm not perfect or even close, I've been able to see a difference in my levels of happiness and view of the world.
A little while ago I was talking with someone with whom I went to school. He was a few months off of his mission and I’d been asking him a few questions about his mission experience. His mission had many difficulties and the region had really low baptismal rates when compared to other missions around the world. He told me that during his two years he wasn’t able to baptize a single person. I asked him how he felt about that, and he said it was hard at first because he felt like he was a failure somehow. You go on a mission to teach people the word of God, and through that process people make a commitment to get baptized. He said that he later realized that no matter what the numbers say, we may never know the kind of effect we can have on the people we serve and love.
In the Book of Mormon, we read about the story of Abinadi. As a missionary, he was put to death by a group of wicked judges for the meager crime of teaching God’s word. Alma was present while Abinadi was put on trial. During that process Abinadi shared his testimony, and Alma was the only one who truly heard what was said. Alma argued on behalf of Abinadi but was forced to flee for his life. Abinadi was later put to death, never to see the fruits of his labor. After Abinadi's death, some of the people he inspired found and were taught by Alma. As they developed their faith and repented of their sins, they were blessed to come unto the Church through baptism. Abinadi worked all the way up to his death, and may have never known about the effect he had had on Alma, but Alma was truly converted and lead a life in which he spread the gospel to thousands.
I anticipate my mission to be pretty hard; I can’t even speak Spanish. But the testimony I have in Jesus Christ will hopefully be just enough to help me through the next two years. My situation reminds me of the story in the Book of Mormon when Nephi is told by God to “construct a ship” to sail to the promise land. Nephi had no idea what he was doing - he even had to create the tools to construct the ship - but through the Lord's help he was shown the way.
While I haven’t been commanded to build a ship, I have learned similar lessons as Nephi did.
The first is the power of prayer.
It may not sound like much, but to the 5 year old Eric this was life and death. At this point in time, my brother William was at the age where he liked to grab things and hide them. We had a game cube at this point. The game system used these small CD’s that were easily hidden and lost. Will had found our stash and distributed them around the basement. Wanting to play some game I discovered that all the discs were missing. I looked and looked but couldn’t find anything. After a while my parents told me I needed to pray for help. After a quick prayer, I kept looking and I had the idea to look in the VHS player. Pushing aside the cover I found all our games hidden away in the little hatch. The experience isn’t much but I’m grateful to know that Heavenly Father cares about what’s important to me even if it isn’t something significant.
The second is about obedience and the existence of miracles. [Add more so that listeners catch the flow]
During my junior year my parents let me go on a backpacking trip in West Virginia with two of my friend. Most would say we were unsupervised, but I like to say I was the adult supervision. We drove out to a wilderness area called Dolly Sods. Dolly Sods is a really awesome place for many reasons. The first is because the geography is so atypical.
Depending on where you enter, you are either in the midst of a thick cloud forest or alpine like meadows, with expansive vistas scattered with the occasional spruce tree, massive rocks, and wild blue berries overlooking the rolling hills of West Virginia. The other reason is that Dolly Sods was used to train US army personnel during World War 2 to use large scale artillery and conduct mortar operations. Once in the park, you will also see little signs providing warnings to look out for highly explosive ordnance that may or may not be still around, as well as the needed information to report said explosives to the forest service
It was spring break and we had a four day trip planned. The first day went off without any problems, but the second day of following little game trails about 5 inches wide through thick brush we…. were lost. Looking at the GPS that we later learned was not working, I thought that the campsite was immediately to our right about a mile or so, I floated the idea of just bushwhacking a direct path to the camp site. The two other guys liked the idea, and about two hours later we really knew we were lost. We pitched our tent for the night, had dinner and went to sleep. In the morning I gave up on the GPS and used a paper map in conjunction with a stream we found to lead us back to the trail we had departed the night before. Once we got back on track, we augmented our planned route and set up camp at another unplanned camp site. It was earlier in the day so we needed things to do to fill our time. I was building the fire, while one guy walked off and the other went to the stream to filter water. Our campsite was in one of those pseudo alpine meadows, so we were surrounded by dry grass for miles. My buddy had lit the grass on fire and was slowly stomping it out with the wind, keeping the burning surface area to smaller than the size of an apple. All of a sudden the wind picked up to probably over 30 miles an hour and spread the fire like… wild fire. He called out to me and I called out to the other guy at the stream. We frantically fought the fire, stomping it out and I had both my jackets beating it as best as I could. The buddy by the stream had dumped our 3 Liter dromedary over the fire and was sprinting to the stream to fill it again. What felt like an eternity had passed and we had made little to no progress on putting out the fire. All of a sudden the wind dropped to a standstill and we were still barely able to put out what was left.
It was truly terrifying. The fire would not have stopped and there was nothing we could have done to stop it. Over time, I came to recognize this as an important gospel lesson.
What In our life do we keep alive that really shouldn’t be there? The fire was so small and couldn’t really do anything at that size - we had seemingly full control over that fire, but once conditions changed we were in serious trouble. It felt like nothing short of a miracle that the fire we fought didn’t go on to burn beyond the 300 hundred or so square feet that it burned. If we really want to be the best people we can possibly be, it's important that we look inside ourselves and find these small fires and do our best to put them out before they spread to the size of a wild fire.
Jesus Christ taught us to beware the small and simple dangers in life. The gospel of Jesus Christ helps us to avoid these pitfalls. It is only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism and the receiving of the Holy Ghost that we are able to endure to the end and return to live with Heavenly Father again.
Book of Mormon
I know this church is true
Jesus Christ-- especially tie it into Christmas
I love this church and everything about it and plan to serve an honorable two years.