(written Nov 15th)
Now that I have some time to write about it I'll tell you guys about the meeting we had with Elder Christofferson last weekend. It was a wonderful experience. I was stressed out all week and that morning as we prepared for the meeting to start. Elder Christofferson was to enter the building at 9:30 and by then all missionaries had to be seated and reverent. It sounds simple but it was not an easy feat. The remaining missionaries to arrive showed up just minutes beforehand. Once Elder Christofferson walked in we were all waiting. Elder Garcia and I were waiting by the doors and he called us over to shake our hands and talk to us for a minute before going in. Just seeing him there in the building made all the stress of the week worth it and it was as if the weight was lifted off of me. All of the missionaries were able to shake his hand. The meeting started exactly at 10am and consisted of short testimonies from Elder Gonzalez (Area President and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy) and his wife, President Goates and his wife, the wife of Elder Christofferson, and the rest of the time was taken by Elder Christofferson himself. He gave a pretty humorous introduction, talked for about 20 minutes, and the remainder of the time he opened up to questions.
I'll start off by sharing some of his funny remarks that he said at the beginning.
He mentioned that upon his arrival to Argentina (his first stop was actually in Mendoza) an Argentine man working at the airport spoke to him. He said that it was probably a couple of phrases but it just sounded like one long word. He then said that he knew a little bit of spanish but knew nothing of castellano (that's what they call spanish here). It was funny to hear because I can relate to it.
Elder Christofferson also mentioned something that I had heard before but forgot all about. Elder Richard G. Scott was his mission president! They are now both serving together in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He mentioned that Elder Scott directed and mentored him in those days and continues to now. Elder Christofferson said that Elder Scott knows all of his failures and weaknesses but he still doesn't know any of his... haha! He told us that he wonders when they meet together on a weekly basis, and Elder Christoffeirson walks into the room, if Elder Scott thinks to himself, "¿que hace éste acá?" (what is this guy doing here).
I'd also like to mention what he said before opening up the question and answer section, "don't ask me about the three Nephites because they never call or write." Ha! As I'm about to start this section I realize that this is going to be a very long entry so I hope you hang in there with me. I'll write about two questions that were asked and a summary of his answers.
I'll start with the shorter one in which someone asked about helping people overcome addictions. The missionary said that he has been working with someone for a few weeks that is really struggling with addiction. This person is going to church, reading the scriptures daily, and pleading for help from the Lord. They aren't seeing any results and the person is starting to feel that the Lord has forgotten them.
Elder Christofferson said that the Lord suffered for each and every one of us so profoundly and on such an individual basis that it would be impossible for him to forget us. He then stated that if the Lord were to forget him then he would be the first person the Lord has ever forgotten.. it just doesn't happen. He reminded the missionary about the power that comes from reading the Book of Mormon specifically and the knowledge that is gained through prayerful study of it. The Book of Mormon goes into depth about the Atonement and Elder Christofferson stated that in order to overcome weaknesses we must deepen our knowledge of the Atonement. To finalize his statement he said something very interested - he told the missionary, "if that person is truly fighting then remind him that he can speak with confidence before the Lord as he pleads for help." I really loved that statement as it was a reminder to me of the essence of prayer.
I'd like to share this second question because it reminded me of an experience I had as a young teenager. When he was telling his experience as an answer to this question I couldn't believe how wildly similar his experience was to mine. I don't think I have ever shared this other than in my testimony at youth conference when I had this experience over 5 years ago.
First things first, the question that was asked was how Elder Christofferson gained his testimony. Elder Christofferson mentioned that his testimony didn't come in a moment or with one single experience. His testimony came, as it does for many, through building precept upon precept. He said that his experience is similar to many in the fact that it didn't come from a single experience but from many smaller experiences and more than anything "confirmations" of truth. He said that the Lord works in that way, that as we study and worship he shows his mercy by giving us many confirmations of truth from which we can build on. He is merciful in the fact that those confirmations are reminders and that he doesn't just give us one big experience to depend on for our whole lives. He then shared an experience he had as a youth with a visit he made to the Sacred Grove. He had set in his mind that he was going to pray in the Sacred Grove and have some big testimony building experience. He described the build up to the prayer, his prayer, and then waiting to an answer that didn't end up coming until a couple of weeks later when he was studying in his home. Even then, the answer wasn't a manifestation or vision but rather a simple confirmation from the Spirit that these things were true and that is really enough.
I had a pretty similar experience. One of my first Youth Conferences as a youth was a trip to see historical sites of the church in the northeast, one of them being the Sacred Grove. I knew that we would be visiting the grove where Joseph Smith had the his proclaimed First Vision; by chance, I just so happened to be reading the Book of Mormon for the first time. So I decided to time it out so that I would finish the last chapter of the Book of Mormon in the Sacred Grove and follow through with Moroni's promise there in the very place.
The day arrived in which we were to visit the sacred grove. I read a few of the last chapters leading up to the end of the Book of Mormon trying to intently take in the information and left the last chapter to read in the grove. Upon arrival to the grove I split off on my own to have some time to read, reflect, and pray. Everything happened perfectly in my plan up until that point. I eagerly finished the last chapters of Moroni 10 (even reading versus 3-5 a few times to make sure I was doing it right), meditated upon what I had learned, and knelt down to offer a sincere prayer in regards to its truthfulness.
I got nothing... it felt like a big blank. I even felt a little bad due to disappointment. I set off to walk out of the grove to wait for everyone else. I didn't irrationally determine that all that I had ever known was suddenly untrue but it was the first time I ever really questioned. As I was walking out I saw my dad walking along the trail, he was alone as well, just taking it all in. He talked to me for a minute without any idea of what had just happened to me. I wanted to pour out my experience to him and ask for his help but I was also a young teenage boy and would never think of doing such a thing ;) So I didn't. In this case it actually turned out to be okay because it allowed to me think it out on my own and has turned in to a key part of my testimony. When we finished our small-talk he walked off and I sat down by myself on one of the benches in the woods.
I started asking myself what this could mean, why I didn't get an answer when I was fully expecting one, why God would choose not to answer me in that moment. I asked myself what it would mean if I decided that these things weren't true and chose a different path in life. That question is one that often helps me realize, more than anything, the truthfulness of the Gospel and what it offers to it faithful followers. In that time of reflection I was able to think of all the experiences I had had in the Gospel up until that point, I thought of the stirrings of the Spirit as I read the Book of Mormon, and I thought of moments in which I had felt the soft but undeniable burning of the Spirit from within. I realized that I didn't need some grand experience or manifestation to know the truthfulness of the Restored Gospel. I already knew from what it had to offer me and from the small stirrings I had had that it was true. And really, the confirmation of that principle and key part of my testimony didn't come until a couple of years later.
I know I haven't always made the best choices in my life. My testimony then wasn't what it is now. And what it is now is a small portion of what I hope it to be after many years of service for the Lord in the future. Although my testimony has always been there doesn't mean that I have made the best choices but the consequences of my choices, fortunately, have allowed me to gain an even stronger testimony after repentance.
Well, that's enough for my little tangent experience. But if any of you are feeling like the Lord hasn't answered you then just think about it for a minute, reflect, and give it some time. The Lord answers in his own time and when he knows it is right. The fact that he will answer it in the right time will mean that you will be more ready and that the answer will mean more when you receive it.
I guess I ended up talking more about myself than Elder Christofferson but I felt like sharing that testimony of mine with you all. I hope you were able to get a little something either from what he or I said. Have a great week!