Thursday, May 4, 2017

Savannah's Homecoming Talk

Guten Morgen liebe Geschwister! Or I guess in English you say: "Good morning brothers and sisters." This is the first time I'm giving a talk in English in a year and a half, so we will see how this goes. For those of you who don't know me, because I don't know any of you, my name is Savannah Thunell. I just came home from serving in the Alpine German-Speaking Mission, which covers Austria, Southern Germany, and the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

My mission was hard, painful, uncomfortable, depressing, frustrating, unenjoyable, and exhausting.

BUT. My mission was also the most joyous time of my life, the time where I was happier than I have ever been. It was the most successful and rewarding time of my life, where I grew stronger in my testimony of this gospel and closer to my Savior, Jesus Christ, than I had ever been before. It was the most humbling and beautiful time of my life, where I was able to witness people change who they were to enter into the waters of baptism and hold strong to the iron rod on the way up the straight and narrow path. It was a time where the Lord trusted me enough to pound my heart with a meat tenderizer, and mold and shape me into what He knew my potential could be.

My mission was the perfect mission for me. And let me tell you why:

Faith. The first principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To be a missionary you need a LOT of faith. Faith that you will find people to teach, faith that you will be able to learn a new language, faith that you and your companion won't kill each other by the end of the transfer. Lots of faith. When I first came on my mission, faith was a little bit of an abstract concept to me. I knew we were supposed to have faith, but I didn't really know how I was supposed to water this little faith seed they gave me in the MTC, or what I was supposed to have faith in. Well, that's where the miracle of the plugged nasal passages comes in.

I was in my second area, Graz, in Austria, and we had been invited over to a recently reactivated member's house to share a spiritual thought with her. Well, we got inside and we were immediately HIT with the overwhelming smell of dirty cat litter mixed with rotten food and moldy trash. It was absolutely unbearable, but she didn't seem to notice the smell at all, so we just said over and over in our heads "what would Jesus do, what would Jesus do," and proceeded with the appointment. A couple weeks later she invited us over for dinner. My companion and I were dreading it all week, but we wanted to be true disciples of Christ and show her how much we loved her, so we knew we couldn't cancel the appointment. Right before we got there we prayed our guts out, "Heavenly Father, PLEASE plug our nasal passages so we can get through this appointment," and then we moved forward with faith.

We got to her apartment, took a giant breath of our last chance of fresh air, and then knocked. The door swung open and we got a giant whiff of that wall of stink, so I prayed even harder in my head, and as soon as we stepped into the house neither of us could smell ANYTHING! It was the most amazing miracle to me! Through the entire appointment Heavenly Father shoved some spiritual tissues up our nostrils and let us simply share His unconditional love with one of His beloved daughters. 

The pattern of faith that I learned from this experience is:
Step 1. Have a sincere, righteous desire.
Step 2. Ask in faith through prayer.
Step 3. Act. Leap with the confidence that your Father in Heaven won't let you drown.
And step 4. ALWAYS show Him your gratitude.

Faith precedes action, and action develops faith. When we have faith in our Savior Jesus Christ, and the healing power of His Atonement, it leads us to repent. Repentance leads us to want to be better every day, and every week, which leads us to partake of the sacrament and renew our baptismal covenants every Sunday. Worthily partaking of the sacrament is exactly like we are being REBAPTIZED. Washed clean. No spots of sin left. This invites the Spirit to be a little more influential in our lives—a little stronger and a little clearer—which helps us along the path of endurance throughout life and builds our faith. And these steps of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are repeated over and over again throughout our lives until we have finally reached the top of the staircase towards heaven!

Faith is an intimate bond between us and our Father in Heaven. It is very individual and personalized. Faith cannot take away another person's agency, and it also cannot change the will of God. But what faith CAN do is work miracles, and soften hearts. It can turn the impossible into completely achievable, and make giant, rocky mountains seem like small pebbles under our feet. Faith is the battery of our spirits.

Patience. A mission is just a whole lotta patience woven together to create the most beautiful tapestry in the end. My tapestry is probably full of a lot of giant clumps of knots and random yarn, where I wasn't patient enough to weave it smoothly. But I can definitely say that I've changed a lot compared to 18 months ago.

In one of my last interviews with my Mission President, he told me to start making a list of the most important things I've learned on my mission. I could go on for DAYS about all the things I wrote down, but, most important thing I've learned on my mission #27 is: Don't wish your trials away, because trying times are when you learn and grow the most. BASK in your trials.

If I've learned anything about patience, it's that patience is an ACTION word. You can't be passively patient. And patience in PAIN is one of the most important attributes to develop for our growth here on the earth. Heavenly Father did not create us to live in our comfort zone. There is absolutely no growth in the comfort zone. He created us to continually be tried and stretched, and sometimes meat-tenderized, and He also provided a way for us to have patience through these uncomfortable times. That way is our Savior and Brother, Jesus Christ.

There will always be painful times in life. No matter who you are, no matter what your circumstance in life, no matter what today looks like, we are gonna have trials. That's a fact of life.

In Romans 5:3-5, it says:
"And not only ​so,​ but we glory in ​​​tribulations​ also: knowing that ​​​tribulation​ worketh ​​​patience​; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and ​​​hope​ maketh not ashamed; because the ​​​love​ of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."

GLORY in your tribulations! BASK in your trials! Get a nice brown tan from that scorching heat in your life! And, always remember that there are brighter days ahead.

I learned a really great lesson of patience one morning in Switzerland during my personal study. I had a companion who could be quite loud sometimes, especially when eating, and she loved to eat while she read in her scriptures. I LOVE personal study. That was my favorite time of the day, and if anyone interrupted me while I was studying the scriptures, I was not a happy camper. This one morning she was being particularly loud, and I was getting particularly impatient. I couldn't focus, so I decided to stop reading in the Book of Mormon and try reading in the New Testament instead so maybe I could get something out of my studies. I flipped to where I had left off a couple days before, Romans chapter 14, and read the following:

"Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him."

So, after that gentle slap in the face I decided to be a little more patient with my companions from then on.

James 5:10-11 ​says:
"Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an ​​​example​ of ​​​suffering​ affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them ​​​happy​ which ​​​endure​. Ye have heard of the patience of ​​​Job​, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very ​​​pitiful​, and of tender ​​​mercy​."

Take comfort in the fact that Jesus Christ knows PERFECTLY every trial, pain, affliction, or struggle with patience that we have, and that He is ALWAYS by our side. Be JOYFUL through trying times. Be HAPPY while enduring! Because whether you have a positive attitude or not, trials are still going to come. So we might as well juice the best things we can out of it!

Prayer. I counted once how many times my companion and I prayed on a typical missionary day, and it was about 15 to 20 times! And those were just the prayers spoken out loud! Most everything I learned about prayer came from the last 6 months of my mission. I went through an extremely down time emotionally for a couple months, and it came to a point where I needed to find an answer to whether I should continue dragging myself on through the gloom, or whether I should return home early. I remember having countless personal interviews with Heavenly Father, begging Him for help, pouring out my soul of despair and problems, and even questioning whether He was even there for me or cared about me. I asked myself so many times how in the world I was supposed to help others come closer to Him if I didn't even feel close to Him myself.

My favorite chapter in the Book of Mormon is Mosiah 24. This is where the people of Alma are in bondage to the Lamanites, who persecute them mercilessly and force the people of Alma to work for them. I shared this scripture COUNTLESS times with people throughout my whole mission, and bore my testimony of the power of God to help us through our trials. It was easy to help others understand how they could apply this in their lives, but sometimes it's a lot harder to apply the truth into your own life. But I remember one particularly hard day where I was prompted to dig into my scriptures and just read, and listen to what Heavenly Father had to say.

"And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God. And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions. And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord."

There is no doubt in my mind that prayer, with sincere intent, is the most powerful thing in the world. Prayer works. I know that with all of my heart. And it only works when we are willing, when we are DESPERATE, to do anything the Lord commands. Even with all the begging of my burdens to be taken away, or for the answer that it was okay to quit and go home, I knew in my heart that I would submit to the will of the Lord if He would just give me an answer. And after a little while, He did.

Now, I can't say that immediately after I got the answer to stay on my mission that I submitted cheerfully and with patience. There were still hard days, and still sometimes where I needed to cast my mind on the night when I received my answer to keep pushing myself forward, but I also have a testimony that when you are trying your best to follow God and be obedient, angels cannot be restrained from aiding you. It got easier, and it got better. And I can say that that was one of the best decisions of my life, to stay on my mission, because I would definitely not be the person I am today without those last four months of fine-tuning and refining. I would have had an Achilles heel that I regretted for the rest of my life.

Prayer is direct communication with the Creator of the Universe. Don't ever take it for granted. As soon as we open our mouth, or open our hearts, to Him, His complete attention is on us. Like that creepy eyeball-mountain in The Lord of the Rings! He will never be too busy to listen. He will never demean our concerns. He will always gently guide us and direct us, and it will always be our choice whether or not we obey. We can choose to treat prayer as a pizza order, or we can choose to treat it as a humble, respectful conversation with the Father of our spirits, but the effectiveness of our prayers is directly related to how much thought and effort and humility we put into them.

I loved my mission. If any of you are considering going on a mission, young or old, I would say just do it. Just take that leap and let Heavenly Father unfold His mighty power unto you. If any of you are not considering going on a mission, I would say that maybe you should reconsider. Follow these principles that have just been lined out for you: have the faith that God's ways are not our ways, and that His plans for us may be different than our plans for ourselves. Go to Him humbly in prayer, and be prepared to submit to His will and act upon the answer you receive. Then be prepared to endure to the end, to be patient through the pain, and let yourself be torn down, and then slowly built back up in His image. I know with all my heart that it will bless your life, because it has blessed mine.

"Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, and on, on to the victory!"

I have a testimony of this gospel. I know that it is true. Ich habe ein Zeugnis über Glaube, Geduld, und Gebet. Ich weiß dass durch Glaube können wir Wundern im Namen Jesu Christi machen. Ich weiß dass mit Geduld können wir Glücklichkeit in unserem Leben finden. Ich weiß dass durch Gebet können wir ein stärkere Beziehung mit Gott entwickeln. Ich weiß dass Jesus Christus unser bester Freund ist. Bauen auf ihn. Vertrauen ihm.

Diese Dinge, sage ich, im Namen Jesu Christi, Amen.