Yesterday Elder Stevens and I were invited in by a tracting callback (someone we’d tracted into who had asked us to come by another time). As soon as we came in the door I saw a big book entitled “Unlocking the Bible” and then a copy of the Book of Mormon lying on the hearth on top of some sheets of paper, one of which said “Contradictions” at the top of it. I thought, “Oh, great, another born-again Christian who’s invited us in to convince us that the Book of Mormon is false.” Sure enough, he told us that Joseph Smith was a false prophet and that by following him and preaching his gospel we were being led down into Hell. Elder Stevens actually couldn’t help giggling a bit when he said that, which didn’t go over well. He also thought it was absurd that we were elders in our church already and said there was no way we were “mature Christians” (which the Bible apparently lists as a qualification to be an elder). I was torn about whether to teach and testify of the Restoration as boldly as I could so the Spirit would witness the truth to him and force him to recant or condemn himself or whether to just disengage, avoid contention, and leave as soon as I could. I did bear a pretty simple testimony of Joseph Smith but we ended up following the second tack and getting out fairly quickly without really teaching. As we left I was second-guessing myself and wondering if we should have taken the “smite him with the Spirit” approach, and I realized that I was feeling a bit like Alma in Alma 29 and wanting to proclaim the gospel with the sound of a trump so that people would have to accept it. I also realized that that’s not the way God or the Spirit works. If we had tried to teach the Restoration and force him to feel its truth, we would have had the spirit of contention instead of the Spirit of God and we would have done harm rather than good. Makes me think of Elder Hales’ talk in Conference. Instead, we were able to part on pretty civil terms, and Elder Stevens pointed out that Lawrence (the man who let us in) actually softened noticeably towards the end of our visit as we tried hard not to contend with him. I realized that even though I’d been questioning my actions the whole time we were in his house, we really had been following the Spirit and doing the right thing. It was a strengthening revelation.
What really put the whole experience into perspective, though, was the appointment that immediately followed our visit with Lawrence. It was a lesson to a less-active member named Brother Duxbury who hasn’t been able to go to church for a long time because his health is so bad. I don’t think he had much contact with the church for a long time before Elder Stevens GQed him in Accrington a month or two ago, but he still has a strong testimony and relishes our visits. When we got there he was in bed (because of his poor health) reading his scriptures, and we could tell that he was really looking forward to our appointment. Right away when we sat down he asked if we could give him a priesthood blessing. As we were giving the blessing, I thought how ironic it was that just an hour before we’d been sitting there being told there was no way we could possibly qualify to be elders. It’s funny how shut some people’s eyes can be to the truth and to the true power of the Atonement. I’m really grateful for people like Brother Duxbury who set an example of faith and humility and who are able to feel the full power of the priesthood and the Atonement (the same thing really) in their lives.
We attended ward council on Thursday. I love the members here. They gave us some great feedback on how to get investigators fellowshipped at church. Rather than taking investigators from meeting to meeting ourselves and having people picked out in each meeting to sit by and fellowship them, they suggested we connect the investigators with a single fellowshipper or couple at the beginning of church and let the member(s) be responsible for shepherding them around. In the meantime, we run around finding key priesthood and auxiliary leaders and take them over to the investigators to introduce them. Preach My Gospel kind of suggests this but I’d never read it in quite that way. So it was really helpful to hear the ward’s perspective on it. I’m hoping this will work out well for us.
We got to teach a bunch of university students from Preston yesterday! A whole theology class came down for a tour of the temple (guided by us and the zone leaders), and then they came into the Chorley chapel and we taught the Restoration and answered their questions. Kind of a cool experience.
Thanks for the update on the election. It’s kind of an amazing miracle, I think, that the amendment got as many votes as it did in California. I never would have thought that it would pass. The whole situation with the Church’s involvement does sound really confusing and difficult, though. Elder Stevens heard from his parents that protesters were picketing the LA temple, and that TV advertisement with the missionaries does sound pretty horrible. It’s making me really glad that I’m on a mission in England and not in the middle of my junior year at Stanford, trying to explain the Church’s stand to all my gay friends and acquaintances there. Being a missionary protects you from so much of the storm and confusion of the world – it’s kind of nice.
Everybody’s talking about the election (the presidential bit, at least), over here. Two days after the election, Elder Stevens (an Englishman) and Elder Goerts (a German) went on exchange and tracted a village out near Burnley, and all anybody wanted to talk about with them was the American election! Someone even told Elder Stevens that he/she thought Elder Stevens looked like a “pale Obama.” : ) A compliment, I guess. Elder Stevens wasn’t sure quite how to take it.
Speaking of the perils of being an American in England, we had a crazy experience on a bus the other day. Elder Stevens was sitting two seats in front of me and was chatting with the man in the seat directly in front of me. There was also a man sitting behind me. Our mobile phone rang and I answered it. While I was taking the phone call, the man sitting behind me (who had been drinking) heard my accent, realized I was American, and (when I ended the phone call) confronted me quite belligerently about my presence in England, making reference to American military policy in the Middle East. I did my best to pacify things and end the conversation. Then the man in front of me who’d been talking to Elder Stevens and of course had heard my entire conversation with the inebriated gentlemen turned around and said, in an effort to be supportive, “I love your national anthem.” Of course the guy behind me wasn’t happy about this, and broke in: “What about the British national anthem?” The man in front of me responded that he thought it was rubbish, which started a little shouting match with me stuck right between them. : ) Fortunately, things blew over OK and the bus driver didn’t have to get involved. Good times.
My time is running out. I love you all! Keep me posted!