(The following are the highlights from my farewell talk, given May 25, 2014, in a random ward in St. Louis because that's where my family moved last year! The theme was the conference talk "The Gospel to All the World" by Elder John B. Dickson.)
There's a scripture my roommate and I loved repeating last year: "And God said unto John, come forth and receive eternal life. But John came fifth, and won a toaster."
Okay, I'm kidding, that's obviously not a real scripture. I just really wanted an excuse to squeeze that joke in. I don't really know anyone in this ward, and none of you really know me, so this makes this farewell talk kinda unique. So here's a little bit about me, to put the rest of my talk in context. I was born and raised in Wisconsin, and I've been going to BYU for the past two years, studying something yet to be determined. I got my mission call four months ago to serve the people in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos for the next 18 months. I've learned that in my life, the Lord sometimes manifests His will through my desires, and that's how I knew I wanted to go on a mission shortly after the announcement of the mission age change back in 2012. Based on all the things that needed to happen before I left, it should have been impossible for me to go, but when the Lord wants something done, he provides a way. So here I am!
There's an awesome talk from the April 2013 General Conference called "The Gospel to All the World" by Elder John B. Dickson. He says "From the time of the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1830, the Church has moved steadily across the world from nation to nation, culture to culture, people to people, on the Lord's calendar and in His time."
I've never been more grateful for this than I was when I opened my mission call to Thailand. Thailand is considered a developing third-world country. I would argue that we don't really know what poverty is in this country. But there are families in Thailand who live in three-sided shacks and depend on their 8-year-old daughters to bring in money from boxing matches. There are families in Thailand who have to send their children away to be able to support the rest of the family. That isn't something I can fathom. Thai, the official language of Thailand, is a tonal language, which basically means that the same word or syllable can mean up to five different things depending on the tone with which you say it (and I'll be honest, those tones all sound the same to me right now). 95% of people in Thailand are Buddhist, a religion that does not recognize a Creator God. So, to say that Thailand is different from America is like saying that fire is different from water. How can I go to teach a people who deal with a set of challenges I will never face, whose culture is so different from mine, and, more importantly, whose language is so utterly foreign to me?
The answer is that the Gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ is just as universal as it is personal! The best example of this is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He suffered for each of us, personally, but his sacrifice applies to every sentient being who ever lived and who ever will live. But just because it's for everyone doesn't take away its significance for me as a person. Universal, but still personal. And that's my favorite thing about the gospel. Hands down. The gospel is so, so simple; it's here to bring us happiness! Our beliefs can be summed up in the Articles of Faith, just thirteen sentences. So why do we worry ourselves over anything else? The culture of the members of the Church may vary, but we all live and share the blessings of the same gospel, and that is just so cool.
The purpose of all missionaries is to "bring others unto Christ." What does that mean? Well, there are a hundred ways to interpret that statement, but remember, the gospel is simple. And simply put, Christ is charity, the purest form of love there is, and if Christ is love and my job is to bring others unto Christ, then my job is to love them. Obviously, that can be done in an unlimited number of ways, but when I remember that, it allows me to focus on what really matters and forget about all the silly little things that don't matter.
One of the coolest things I've learned is that we are all called to serve exactly where we are. You are not random. You are here for a reason, in this specific area. Maybe you can touch a lot of lives, maybe just one. But isn't it worth the one? Christ sure thought so, that's why he came down and sacrificed himself for us.
This gospel is true. I've learned that for myself. It's brought me so much hope and happiness, and I'm so excited and grateful to be able to go share the happiness that it has brought me with people half a world away!