A Long Overdue Report From Middle Earth!
Our semester ended and the Institute choir put on a beautiful cantata, “Seek This Jesus,” for the stake. The music was very difficult and yet they learned all nine songs and sang like angels. I was so proud of them.
During the summer break between semesters, our daughter Mariah and her husband Michael and two sons came to New Zealand and we were able to take a little holiday with them. We flew up to Auckland on the North Island, met them, rented a van, and drove down to Wellington taking in all the sights and beauty along the way. My favorite thing, being a big J.R.R. Tolkien fan, was Hobbiton. It was like reading a book and suddenly falling into it like Alice in Wonderland fell into the rabbit hole. Suddenly I was in the book, watching, touching, smelling everything Frodo did. I loved it! I also loved Te Papa, an amazing museum in Wellington. After Wellington we flew down to Christchurch in time for Christmas and were able to introduce the Wickhams to all our friends here. It was fantastic! But of course, the best part was being with the Wickhams and spending Christmas with Eli and Eisen.
The day after they left some very good friends, Stan and Gwen Soper also came to visit and we had more great times with them visiting Akaroa (in the rain!), shopping in the open market, riding an amphibious Antarctic vehicle called a hagglund, and going punting on the Avon River. Best part were the long talks about life and love! So good to have friends you can share your heart with!
After they left, we needed to travel south to Dunedin to do some seminary training, and since we were still on semester break we took a few extra days and spent Elder Johnson’s birthday in one of the vacation hot spots of the world—Queenstown. While there we flew over the southern alps to the Milford Sound, an awe inspiring flight over glaciers, mountains and gorgeous multi colored lakes. This world God created is absolutely amazing in its beauty and majesty! At the Sound we took a cruise through the bay and out into the sea and watched a dolphin on the bow of the boat catch a ride on the current. He’d roll over, jump in front of the boat, swim along just under the bow, but the whole time he sent out vibes of delight. It was as if he knew he had an audience, and he was going to tease us with antics all he could. Sheer delight! After the cruise we flew back to Queenstown. I hope it is a birthday Elder Johnson will never forget. I know I won’t!
During the break we’ve had time to regroup and recuperate. It has been nice to go at a little slower pace, but I’m ready now to start up again! We begin classes next week and I’ve missed my YSA family a lot. It will be so good to be with them again.
One of the fun things about a mission is you never know what is going to happen next. I wrote a condensed version of this experience as a Facebook post, but there is so much I learned from it that I’m retelling more of it here.
Our assignment isn’t to proselyte, but once in a while the young missionaries need a member to sit in with them on a discussion. So last week we found ourselves in a meeting with a young man who from the first “Hello” made it clear he had not made the appointment to learn, but to tell us why we were going to hell. When the sisters asked him if he had read the Book of Mormon they had previously given him, he replied that he’d only read one verse. He then turned to 2 Nephi 25:23 and read, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” He then proceeded to tell us that we believe our works save us not grace, and that since we didn’t believe in the grace of God we were going to hell. I told him that was not true and that if he had read more in the Book of Mormon he would know it wasn’t. “For example,” I said, “read 2 Nephi 2:2.” But he wouldn’t listen, he just kept insisting we were going to hell.
It was very interesting to watch him. I’ve studied body language a lot and as I watched him puff up as he proudly pronounced his own salvation and our damnation it was a stark contrast to the humble, loving countenances of the sister missionaries who were trying to teach him. The obvious haughty pride on his part only accentuated the caring attitude of the smiling, loving sisters. I wish I could have captured it in a photo. But it also made me contemplate the times I may have had the wrong attitude. Have I ever tried to teach the gospel of love without love? I am going to be more careful!
The thing that struck me the most, however, is how he kept insisting that I didn’t believe what I believe. It seems very arrogant, impudent, and rude to me that when I proclaim my belief that I am saved by the grace of God, another human being would say to me, “No that’s not what you believe.” He thinks he knows more about what I believe than I do? Again, I hope I am never so arrogant!
In short, it was a very informative and interesting experience. I do hesitate to recall it here because it may sound like we were negative or arguing. We weren’t. The sister missionaries were amazing! They kept their composure and kept bearing testimony despite the fact that he kept saying that isn’t what they believed. As often as he would let me get a word in, I would also bear testimony and we all ended on a very cordial note. My heart goes out to him and I know that my Savior loves that young man as much as He loves me.
We have been out almost eleven months now, which will be our half way mark, but already we are concerned about how difficult it is going to be to leave these wonderful friends, the amazing food, and this beautiful country. I love it here. When Mariah left she told us she was worried we wouldn’t want to come home, and she is right. It is going to be rough, but I won’t think about leaving. I have eleven more months to do the Lord’s work in this part of His vineyard and I’m going to savor every special moment!