A place for me to save a few thoughts

Category Archives

Archive of posts published in the category: Faith

A Thought on Faith, Hope, and Charity

In our little MTC branch of 40 to 50 missionaries (The Missionary Training Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), districts of 8 to 12 missionaries would rotate in and be with us for almost 9 weeks. To make things easier for us in the branch presidency, we would go through a cycle of 7 subjects for our talks in our Sacrament Meetings. With 7 topics, the missionaries never heard the same sermon twice. (We didn’t need 9, because during the 9 Sundays we would have at least two Fast and Testimony Meetings.) The topics were very basic—faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, etc.

Although it would have been easier, I couldn’t give the same talk over and over again. If I didn’t prepare something new, I would get bored listening to myself. This meant I spent a lot of time thinking about and studying the same basics of the gospel over and over again.

For reference material we were allowed to use only the scriptures, Preach My Gospel (the missionary manual of the church) words of the living prophets (recent conference talks), and our personal experiences. Speculations, interesting tangents, and interesting ideas of non-prophets (like C. S. Lewis, for example) were forbidden. We taught Christ’s basic doctrine, since that was what the missionaries were learning to teach.

One of the topics was “Hope.” As I did my research, one of my sources was President Uchtdorf’s October 2008 conference address “The Infinite Power of Hope.” In the talk he said, “Hope is one leg of a three-legged stool, together with faith and charity. These three stabilize our lives regardless of the rough or uneven surfaces we might encounter at the time.”

Each time I prepared my talk (and also when preparing talks on faith or charity) I would come back to this statement and try to figure out how faith, hope, and charity fit together to create a stable, three-legged stool. I’m sure there are many good answers, but I offer my conclusion. It will take me a few paragraphs to explain.

Faith is a principle of action and power. When someone disagrees with the statement that “faith without works is dead,” I think that person misses the point of the scripture. The verse is not about faith versus works, or grace versus trying to earn our salvation. I think the statement tries to teach us that having faith and doing nothing is not faith. If we have faith, we are faithful. If we have faith, we act and we do. If we have faith in Christ, we try to be like him and to be faithful to his teachings.

Hope is about emotions and feelings. If we have hope, we are hopeful. We have confidence and enthusiasm. If our hope is centered in Christ, we have confidence in his Atonement, and we trust that eventually everything will work out for the best.

Charity is the pure love of Christ. If we have charity, we love unselfishly. It is never about what we need or want. We love selflessly, expecting nothing in return, and love as Christ would love.

So, how do the three fit together? Let’s assume that we feel prompted to visit someone who is sick. If we follow this prompting with faith, we go. Perhaps we grumble to ourselves that we are inconvenienced or that we won’t do any good, but we go.

If we have hope, we go with enthusiasm and confidence. Perhaps we won’t be able to do any good, but still we go with a smile and a happy heart. Perhaps we go to feel better about ourselves or to finish an item on our to-do list, but we go cheerfully.

Finally, if we have charity, we go with no thought for ourselves. We try to see the person as Christ would. Our concern is for that person, and our only desire is help in whatever way we can.

In the case of a missionary, if he knocks on a door, he shows faith. If she has a smile on her face when the door opens, she demonstrates hope. If the concern is only for the person opening the door, and how he or she might help that person, then he or she does it with love. He or she is not thinking about checking a box or meeting a goal.

If we have faith, we go. If we have hope, we go cheerfully. If we have charity, we go for the right reasons. These are my thoughts on the three-legged stool which is stable, even when the surface is rough or uneven. Life is much better when we do, when we do it cheerfully, and when we do it unselfishly.

A New Venue

A few weeks after we decided not to go to Italy, we met with our Stake President. He suggested we consider a full-time mission here in Utah. We would be able to serve, but also be able to live at home. We thought about it for a few days (we didn’t want to rush into anything this time) and decided not to decide. I guess you could say we were too discouraged and disappointed to make a good choice.

A week ago Saturday President Clegg from the Missionary Training Center in Provo asked us to come in for a visit. The next day he asked us to serve in a missionary branch at the MTC. Without thinking, we said yes. We will help the missionaries with their Sunday meetings (they have enough to do without having to prepare lessons and talks for Sunday), we will help with their orientation when they arrive, and we will help them in other ways throughout the week.

As soon as we finished talking to President Clegg, we rushed to church. Marieta was about to be sustained as a Sunday School teacher in our home ward, but President Clegg had asked that she not have another calling. While there I saw our Stake President in the chapel and told him we had accepted the call at the MTC. As I talked with him, I compared the office couple call in Italy to eating Brussels sprouts (good for us, but not something I expected to enjoy), the full-time mission call in Utah to eggplant (again, very good for us, but not something I would usually choose on my own), and the Missionary Training Center to chocolate cake (something I never turn down). He told me he felt very good about recommending us.

We’re so happy to do something we know we will enjoy. I feel a little guilty turning down two very difficult opportunities only to be rewarded with chocolate cake. We get to work together much of the time, we can see our grandkids almost whenever we want to see them, and we still have plenty of time left over to do almost anything we want to do. The call is for 2 to 4 years.

Sunday was our first day. We started by going to a mission conference in the morning. It was an incredible sight to see 2,000 young men and women in one room committed to taking the Gospel to all the world. They were beautiful and reverent and serious about what they were doing. After the conference we went to a fast and testimony meeting. We are assigned to the 38th branch (there are a total of 57 branches at the MTC). The missionaries are organized into districts of about 8 missionaries each, and into branches of 3 to 5 districts. Our branch has 3 districts now, and a 4th will arrive on Wednesday. The missionaries in our branch all go to Spanish-speaking countries, so prayers and hymns are in Spanish. Marieta knows just enough Spanish to understand the prayers and pronounce the words correctly when she sings. The talks are in English. We stayed for district meetings after the testimony meeting. We enjoyed every minute.

At any one time, the MTC has between 1,400 and 2,800 missionaries. Over 20,000 new missionaries come each year for 3, 8, or 12 weeks of training. Those going to English-speaking missions stay for 3 weeks, most learning a foreign language stay for 8 weeks, and those learning a few harder-to-learn languages stay for 12. Approximately 50 languages are taught in the Provo MTC. The missionaries in our branch stay 8 weeks. There are other MTCs around the world, but none are as large as the one in Provo.

I’m not sure why we can have the dessert before the vegetables, but we’re very grateful.

Thinking About Jonah

Before we knew we weren’t going on a mission, we planned to meet Wendy and Bryan in Hawaii for a few days. Once we knew we weren’t going to Italy, we decided to go ahead with the trip. We’d been on such an emotional roller coaster, so we were ready to relax and figure out what we were going to do next.

As we packed, I mentioned to Marieta that I felt a little like Jonah. I had received a call to serve, but I was going off in the opposite direction. Would our trip turn into such a disaster that we would reconsider our decision?

On the morning of our flight to Hawaii, we were awakened by a call from Air France. Our luggage had been found and was headed home. A great start.

We were booked on a flight through Honolulu, because there had not been room on the non-stop flight to Maui. I thought I would check one more time to see if room was available on the non-stop, and amazingly seven seats had opened up.

Our Maui flight left on-time and the headwinds were less than expected. We landed 20 minutes early in a heavy rain.

Soon after we landed the rain stopped. I went to get the car while Marieta waited for the luggage. The car we had requested was ready and waiting. Meanwhile Marieta found all our luggage and met me at the terminal curb. Just as we had loaded our bags into the car, the rain started up again.

We encountered little traffic on our way to the hotel. The rain stopped as we arrived at the hotel. Our room was ready, even though we had arrived three hours earlier than expected. From our balcony window we could see a family of whales out in the ocean. They looked friendly.

We’re home now after a problem-free vacation. We have almost no idea what we’ll do next, except that I still refuse to take up golf. Love, Pete

Closed during Previews

After a really great dinner with the Dunaways, we went back to our sad hotel room. Marieta was already stressed out, and then my heart went into A-Fib for the first time in months. We froze for most of the night. We hadn’t heard that we had to request the heat be turned on if we wanted heat.

I slept for about four hours and awoke about 4:30 a.m. to Marieta’s crying. She had been awake the entire time thinking she needed to get dressed and go directly home. I told her missions are like this. I remember my first few weeks in Uruguay when I was 19. I had nothing to go home to, but I wanted to go home. My suitcase at first went to Madagascar instead of Montevideo (the truth). I could hardly speak the language and everything about the foreign country was foreign to me. I couldn’t even find the apartment where I lived, because every building had the same grey stucco. But by the time I finished my mission, I would miss Uruguay much more than I had ever missed home. I explained that feeling miserable at first was normal.

That didn’t help at all. She told me she wanted to go home. Her anxiety and homesickness were too much for her. Just moments into the overture, Marieta, the leading lady of our production, developed a horrible case of stage fright.

Just after she told me we were leaving, she was able to sleep. Of course, I was wide awake. Would she change her mind in the morning? What would the Lord think about us backing out? What would everyone else think? I lay awake trying to figure things out. A mission is hard, but President Dunaway was really trying to make things as comfortable for us as possible.

I would have stayed, of course, if Marieta would stay. I was prepared to be miserable. I don’t go to church because I love it, I go because I should. I go because at the end of the day, I feel better doing what I think I should be doing. If I didn’t know the Lord heard and answered prayers, I would be watching football for sure.

I also thought about how much I love and admire my wife and want her to be happy. She is a good woman and has been a good wife to me. She gave me six really wonderful children and cared for them well. She has stayed strong when I was weak. She is careful not to give offense. She loves her children and grandchildren completely and continues to serve them, to pray for them, and to do her best for them. Surely the Lord loves her.

At 6:30 I couldn’t lay in bed any longer. I took a shower and put on my same clothes from the two days before. By now Marieta was awake and she was absolutely sure she wanted to go home.

At 8:00 a.m. she called President Dunaway to tell him she couldn’t stay. He came to our hotel on his way to church and was very kind. He hoped Marieta would at least stay until she could get a little more sleep. You could tell we weren’t his first missionaries who wanted to go home early.
After he left Marieta was still determined to go home. I called Air France and asked that our lost luggage be rerouted to our home. They had found one bag, but the other’s location was unknown. I called Delta and arranged for flights. During the taxi ride to the airport, I used the Internet on my phone to arrange for a hotel near the airport for our layover in Paris. Because we had paid for 8 nights in advance, the hotel manager in Opera gave us a credit balance for whenever we wanted to return to his hotel (not likely). When we knew President Dunaway was out of church, we called from the airport to apologize. When we were on the plane, Marieta started to feel better. As long as she doesn’t try to talk herself into staying, she is fine.

After everything that went wrong on the trip, it was only appropriate that it would be snowing at the Paris airport. We were held at the gate for four hours before we could leave. We happened to be returning with the same crew that brought us to Paris on Friday. We were easily recognizable since we were wearing the same clothes. They were happy to see Marieta not crying anymore. It was also appropriate that it would be snowing in Utah when we landed. It was a 3 hour drive home.

We talked with our Stake President, and he was also very kind. We will still get our call in the mail tomorrow, but by then he will have asked for a medical release for us. We will just have to figure out another way to serve.

Our Opera Overture

Musicals and operas generally start with an overture. The lights start to go down, but before the curtain opens, the orchestra plays the overture. It’s usually an instrumental summary of everything which is to come, with bits and pieces of all the songs you’ll hear strung together. It gives patrons a little extra time to find their seats and the actors a little more time to get ready. I call this trip “Our Opera Overture” because we are coming to Opera, Italy, a suburb of Milan, for ten days to get ready for our mission. So far, you wouldn’t call our trip a comic or light opera. Things look pretty dark right now.

Our Delta flight from SLC to Paris left an hour late. That wasn’t too bad, because we picked up 30 minutes on the way and easily made our connection with Air France to Milan. The Air France flight left 30 minutes late, which gave us hope that our luggage would make it. We brought along 2 huge bags and a big bag, with stuff like bedding and towels and lots of clothes. Unfortunately, only one of our big bags made it, and the one that made it didn’t have any of our clothes. As we go to sleep, we’re hoping we’ll have a change of clothes to wear to church tomorrow. Air France gave us a couple of t-shirts and a few bath items, and that’s pretty much all we have to wear tomorrow if the bags don’t come.

Our mood wasn’t all that great along the way. Even though we’ll be home in 9 days, Marieta is already horrible homesick. Her dad used to say, “homesickness is the worst sickness,” and right now Marieta believes he is right. From time to time on the flights she would cry and then start really sobbing. At one point the flight attendant wondered if I had done something to hurt her. I explained as best I could our desire to do what we think in our hearts is right and how at the same time our heartstrings are tugging us home.

After leaving the airport without our luggage, it didn’t help that the day was dreary. The taxi driver told us Milan has had 30 days without any sunshine. Everything looks grey and lifeless. We made the trip to our hotel in less than an hour, but our driver told us on a normal day it would take two hours. The Christmas holiday in Italy goes until January 6, so not many cars were on the road. The fare was 150 euros, which is pretty outrageous. We will have to figure out mass transit for sure.

Our hotel is sad and dreary as well. They advertise themselves as having 4 stars, but none of them are shining. We did get free Internet access for our 8 nights here. The problem is that no one has been able to use the Internet since the serviceperson fixed it on December 24. He let me try their computer in the lobby just to prove that the Internet was working (I couldn’t connect with my computer, even though I tried two different cables and a number of settings). With their computer running, I opened the browser. It took only 3 minutes to bring up the Google search page. So, the free Internet is a good news, bad news type of thing.

As far as I can tell, we are the only guests in the hotel. It’s clean and we have a little kitchenette in the room, but it’s not very inviting. The restaurant is closed until the 7th. I’m not sure if that is a bad thing. Of course, I paid in advance after learning about the free Internet access. It is very quiet here.

President Dunaway picked us up for dinner a little after 6:00 p.m., and that part of the day was very nice. Ruth fixed dinner, and it was authentic Italian and very good. We talked about what we would be doing and what needed doing. Just barely did Marieta not blurt out, “I want to go home.”

So, the first little snippet of our overture is rather somber. If we could wish ourselves home in a moment, we would be there now.