Monday, June 23, 2014

Final Words of President Gibbons

Dearest Famliy and Friends, 

This last week was a slow, yet busy week. I'm not sure how that works, but somehow it does. The miracle of the week started on Monday night when we had a fireside with the non-member youth who we want to get signed up for Youth Camp. A past investigator of ours whom we had dropped a few months ago but comes around once in a while came. We had debated inviting him and in the end felt that we should. So he showed up, and he brought two of his neighbors. Sasha(19) and Vova(20) (Short for Alexander and Vladimir). We were a bit surprised at first; we weren't expecting any new people as we wanted committed young adults to sign up for the conference. Well, we had about 15 minutes before we planned to start so I took to getting to know them. They were good listeners who thought about what I was saying. I decided to just dive right in and talk about the church, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and Jesus Christ. They come from a hard family situation. Alchoholic parents who haven't been there. Bounced around growing up between homes. All of their experiences have made them really humble and respectful. Neither of them drink or smoke and both want to draw closer to God. By the end of the evening, they were excited to meet with us to learn more. Wednesday evening before Youth night, we taught them the Message of the Restoration. They were sincerely excited to be able to test Moroni's promise that we can know for ourselves if this is all true. We have a lot of hope for them as time goes on.

The Zone Leaders came and did exchanges starting Thursday night. I was with Elder Lewis! My old companion from way back in the MTC a year ago. It's always fun to be back with him or anyone else from the MTC. They came for our district meeting and then went back to Novosibirsk that night. The Walkers who usually make the districts lunch on Fridays were in Novosibirsk on an emergency trip so they asked if we would be able to go prepare the lunch for everyone. We went over there in the morning and prepared a Chili while Elders Hancock and Duncan made a cake.

The rest of the week was rough as Elder Hancock was sick. We went home from 3rd hour of church and stayed in the rest of the day.

So those were the highlights of the week!

I logged onto the Missionary Portal today where we go to write President Gibbons. He sent out this email to all of the missionaries. I've heard this story from him a few times in different meetings with him. So here it is! 

I hope you are all enjoying your summer... or for those of us who are in the Southern Hemisphere a good Winter. (Christy :P) 

Lots of love,
Elder Benjamin Moore


Our Dearest Missionaries:

Sister Gibbons and I have only a few more days in Russia. Our service here with you has been one of the most amazing experiences of our lives! We love each of you like our own sons and daughters. We look forward to a lifetime of connection. We want to stay close to you--to see you at our regular mission reunions to be held in Utah on the Friday evening before every General Conference, to meet your future eternal companions, to hold your children in our arms, or just to sit and talk around the fireplace, on our back porch or in my library in our home in Holladay!

Many of you know that I am a past (and future) marathon runner. I have been diligently running 4 miles or so each morning during my exercise time, trying to get myself back into running shape so I can run a marathon later this year. I've got some work to do--I have to build up my strength and endurance and drop about twenty pounds or so of delicious Russian cuisine, but I'm getting there and it's going to happen. 

So let me give you some runner's advice: A mission is a marathon, not a sprint. 

I vividly remember my first marathon, the 2002 Deseret News Marathon. At the time I was extremely overweight, and had aspired for decades to run a marathon. In preparation, I had succeeded in dropping my weight from about 260 pounds to about 205--still pretty big, but in the zone of possibility. The marathon itself was both grueling and inspiring. It was inspiring, as it followed the final 26 miles of the route the Mormon Pioneers followed through the mountains, down the canyons and into the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. I had an ancestor in that first company: Andrew Smith Gibbons. Andy is the one I have preached about in Russia as having planted thirteen peach orchards in his life in various Mormon settlements from Nauvoo and in Iowa, Utah, Nevada and Arizona. As I ran my first marathon in 2002, I constantly thought of Andy Gibbons, and in fact as I reached the summit of Little Mountain, the most grueling part of the marathon course, I felt so elated and so connected to this tough, dedicated ancestor.

About five hours into the marathon, however, I was not so elated. The finishers had long since collected their medals, and I had many miles still to go. My subsequent marathons were all run in about four hours, give or take, but this first marathon was different. Because of my weight and lack of training, I was really struggling. The final miles wend through the old residential neighborhoods of Salt Lake City--little houses beneath huge sycamore and maple trees. Some of the neighborhoods in the vicinity of Liberty Park are a little sketch, and there was a party-like atmosphere. People sitting on lawn chairs in their front lawns in their shorts and t shirts, drinking beer or eating, listening to loud music and cheering on the marathon runners. By the time I got downtown, however, things were pretty sparse on the marathon course, and I was essentially running alone with a scattering of other exhausted runners. I was about dead, and honestly wondered if I could muster the strength to complete the final four miles or so.

There's a lesson for missionaries--there may come a time when you wonder whether you can finish. You may have the impression that you are running alone, exhausted, discouraged, even frightened. If that happens, don't give up! This is the great moment of truth!

As I ran down this one side street, about to give up my first try at a marathon, a man came down off of his front porch toward the street. He was clapping at me, which disconcerted me a little, because he was a big guy wearing a sleeveless "wife beater" tank top and had arms and shoulders covered in tatoos. On the porch his girlfriend and buddies were drinking beer and calling out. But this guy came up to the curb as I labored up the street, and he yelled at me! He said, "YOU ARE A MARATHON RUNNER! A MARATHON RUNNER!" And he stood there clapping as I ran past. 

And something kind of burst inside of me at that point. I felt such a rush of something in the inner man: I don't know, adreniline, emotion, pride, joy, the Spirit! But it was as if something exploded inside of me and in that moment I BELIEVED what this man was telling me. And I sprinted those last two or three miles to the finish line!

And so, if any of you are "hitting the wall," doubting yourself, ready to give up, feeling discouraged, let me be the guy on the curb yelling at you, "YOU ARE A MISSIONARY! A MISSIONARY!" 

I'm sure I have told some of you how much I love Hebrews 12: 1-2:

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." 

This verse makes sense when you view it as a hinge connecting chapter 11 and the rest of chapter 12. Chapter 11 talks about faith, how faith is "substance" and "evidence" of things not seen, how faith is demonstrated through action, and the chapter gives dozens of examples of great men and women of Scripture who LIVED faith through their actions. So, remember that this mission is a time for you to DEMONSTRATE your faith, to PROVE your faith through your actions. 

Then, chapter 12 verse 1 talks about being "compassed" about with a great "cloud of witnesses." In the original Greek, this would be better translated as being "surrounded by a huge stadium filled with spectators!" Paul then goes on and uses running imagery for the rest of chapter twelve. He talks about enduring. He talks about exercise. he talks about weight loss. He talks about following straight paths. He talks about injury and healing. And he talks about how Jesus is ALSO a runner, a "finisher," and how he is at the finish line for us. 

But I want you to imagine the scene set for you in verse one. Think about that great stadium filled with spectators. Who are those spectators watching you finish this race? They include all of the prophets and apostles and mighty women and men mentioned in chapter 11. Abraham and Sarah are there watching you run. And your parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, teachers are all there cheering for you. And all of your missionary companions, and district and zone members are there. All of the Russian Saints are there. And in front row seats, Sister Gibbons and I are there! And we are all on our feet, cheering for you as you run that last lap! 

God bless each of you as you complete this Marathon called a Mission!

May the Lord be with each of you now and forever! I testify one final time to you that the Gospel is true! Jesus is the Christ! And He is the Finisher!

Much love always,

Dan Gibbons

 Elder Lewis and I
 Elders Hancock, Duncan, Lewis and I
Vanya, Veronica, and Sisters Summers, Butler, and Cisar cheering up a sick Elder Hancock

No comments:

Post a Comment