"A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." Joseph Smith

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Finding Refuge from the Storm

flickr.com courtesy of Brian DePalo

flickr.com courtesy of Greg Willis
It was pouring down rain the day we met Hiếu.  We were at a print shop, standing under the awning waiting for the monsoon style rain to subside. It was the end of September of 2016 and the rainy season was in full swing.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a young man was standing next to us, also seeking refuge from the storm.  Elder Coffey said, “Hi”, and Hiếu responded, “Hi”, and that began a lasting friendship.  Hiếu speaks only a little English, and we knew almost no Vietnamese, but between the three of us, with the help of the Spirit, communication occurred.  Hiếu told us later that for some reason he was able to understand us that day, beyond his normal capacity to understand.  When Hiếu learned that we were on our way to church to teach English, he said, “I come too!”   

At the print shop where we first met Hieu

Hiếu at Young Single Adult Activity Night

And come he did! Hiếu came to everything.  He came to Monday night Young Single Adult activities, Wednesday night English classes, Sunday church services, and anything else the church members were doing. 

The church building is a major hub for members of the Church and their friends day and night every day of the week.  Always open, it is a gathering place for members on lunch breaks, a place for home teaching, a place to meet with friends. And Hiếu was nearly always there. 

Soon he began meeting with the missionaries and learned about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the blessings that could be his.
Meeting with the missionaries for lessons
Changing one's life to conform to the teachings of Jesus Christ is not always easy.  There are many 'storms' in our lives - physical storms, private storms, family storms, economic storms.  But like the physical rainstorm in which we met Hiếu, if we are patient and persistent, we can weather the storms, overcome our challenges and qualify for the blessings of the restored gospel.

The grandest moment in the history of mankind, supernal and eternal, was the moment Jesus Christ took upon Him our sins, paid the price for those sins, and stood with outstretched hands to receive us unto Him. Those who turn away from their sins, or repent, and follow Him into the waters of baptism, are freed from the negative effects of their choices, and forgiven of their past sins.

Today Hiếu entered the waters of baptism and made a covenant with Jesus Christ to follow Him. Hiếu asked Sister Coffey to be one of the speakers at the baptism. 

A 72 year old woman ( Sister O.) was also baptized today. The chapel was filled to capacity with more than 75 members from 8 countries coming to support them on this special day.  

Sister O.and Hieu, dressed in white, ready for their baptism. 
Hiếu’s mother came to the baptism (standing next to him in the photo). She expressed her deep gratitude for what the Church has done for her son. It was a glorious day for all of us.

Elder and Sister Coffey with Hiếu

Monday, February 20, 2017

Seekers in the Lord's Kingdom

The eye is an amazing organ.  It can focus on things near or far, small or large.  Most people have within their eye little bands or squiggly clearish threads that float around.  Perhaps you have noticed them as they move around depending on your own eye movement.  These are called “floaters”.  You may go years before you notice them, but once you first notice them, they can be all you think about – what are they, how did they get there, are they obscuring my vision? After awhile you begin to forget about them until the day comes when you don’t even remember that they are there. They are ever present, but because you are not focusing on them, your eye virtually “sees through them”. 

Photo courtesy of Flikr.com/lteachr

The Savior taught The Light of the body is the eye. If therefore, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

It seems that when we focus on the things of God, that which would obscure our path gives way and we can see more clearly the bigger picture that God has for us.  Our minds, too, learn to “pay no heed” to the challenges surrounding us as we remain fixed on the Savior.  Truly, when we love God with all our heart, soul and mind and put him first in our lives, our eyes are single and our whole body is full of light.

The Savior admonishes us, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

While in Thailand to attend a wheelchair distribution on our previous mission, our van sped along the road, passing beautiful fields of velvety, green rice paddies.  I was determined to get a clear picture of the beautiful scene, even from inside the moving van.  Yet as I took picture after picture, I was irritated to find the image in my camera was obscured by rows of blurry trees. 
Where had those trees come from?  They were not there when I took the picture! 

Then I looked up at the scene again – and sure enough, lining both sides of the highway were rows of small trees.  I had not seen them before.  I had not even noticed them. Not until I took the picture which focused on what was closest did I notice them.

"…when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present….the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.”      Sarah Ban Breathnach


So it is with life.  

If we look too closely our vision is obscured.... but when we pull back a little.....

...when we pull back and look at things from an eternal perspective, we realize we are basking in a beautiful garden.

Quoting a well-known author, President Monson said,

“Both abundance and lack [of abundance] exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend … when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us [happiness]—the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.”

May we all be seekers in the Lord’s kingdom,
 paying no heed to the obstacles,
and watch the miracles unfold before our view.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Standing on Holy Ground in a Commune in Vietnam

Chúc Mừng Năm Mởi - Happy New Year!

2017 welcomes in the Year of the Rooster – an auspicious year to be sure.  If you were born in a Year of the Rooster (Years of the Rooster include 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, and 2029.) then you might be very observant, hardworking, resourceful, courageous, and talented.  Roosters are very confident in themselves. Roosters are talkative, outspoken, frank, open, honest, and loyal individuals. They like to be the center of attention and always appear attractive and beautiful.  And being a surgeon is a good career for them.

Do you know someone born in one of those years?  Do they fit the mold?

But watch out - If you are a rooster, the Year of the Rooster is actually unlucky for you – sorry. Go figure!

To help prevent bad from getting worse, stay away from red, avoid 1, 3 and 9, and don’t go east. All very unlucky, they say! There are 12 of these animals, and they rotate on a 12 year cycle. Sister Coffey is a dog.  Elder Coffey is a horse.  Guess we’ll be safe this year!

But we always start the year off big – and Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is a great way to welcome in the New Year. The amazing array of flowers in Ho Chi Minh City - thousands and thousands of flowers brought in special for the occasion, excites the senses, but especially the bright yellow Mai flowers. "Mai" sounds like "may" in Southern Vietnamese, which means luck, so the Mai flowers are the luckiest of all the flowers for Tết.

Tết is a bit like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's all put together. The central event of the occasion is a big dinner with family and friends.  Or several big dinners, as Tết will last for up to 7 days. We were blessed to be invited to three dinner celebrations.

This is the home of our Branch President and his family, who live with his wife's parents and other extended family members on different levels of the home.

For another meal, we spent 2 hours traveling first by bus, then by tuk tuk. Our friend lives in a commune in the southern most part of the province, and the only way to her home includes crossing two small bridges that are only big enough for motorcycles or tuk tuks. Thus the need to travel by tuk tuk - our first experience with this!

After a very long wait at the bus stop, we finally found a tuk tuk going our way, but it was full.  Ten people were already loaded in.  But they seemed undaunted and cheerfully let two more on board, as we squeezed, squeezed, squeeeeeezed in until we found a spot to sit.  Elder Coffey was assigned to a tiny plastic stool in between the two passenger benches, amidst poking knees, bags, and assorted wares. The tuk tuk stopped to pick up more people along the way.  At it's peak, there were 17 people in and on our little tuk tuk! Finally we reached our destination and gratefully piled out.

Elders hopping off the tuk tuk on their way to our friend's Tết dinner.

After the 2 hour ride, we walked down alleys and around corners and over bridges to finish the trip to her home.

Elder Coffey makes his way down one of the alleys.

The Elders cross the last bridge. Notice the hanging sausages
 drying out in the sun to the left.

Branch members and missionaries gathered at our
 friend's home to celebrate.

Our wonderful friend who graciously hosted us in her home that day. 
She has been taking the missionary lessons from us 
and is such a wonderful person.

Helping prepare the red dragon fruit in the kitchen.

As the meal concluded, we invited the missionaries to share a spiritual message before they left. One of the Elders began sharing the message. He is one of the newest Elders here and is still learning the language. 

As he spoke, he struggled with each word and phrase.  Sometimes he would have to stop and think how to say the next part.  Sometimes his pronunciation was not clear and the investigator had to guess what he was trying to say and help him a bit. His companion/trainer watched, patiently, never intervening, never showing any signs of impatience or frustration, even though any of them in the room could have delivered an eloquent, fluent message.

Instead, we watched as this humble Elder struggled, paused, then continued with his message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our hearts went out to him as he endeavored to find the right words with his limited vocabulary. It seemed like it took forever.  But with that slowing of time came a power into that room that filled the hearts of everyone present. The Holy Ghost, in powerful majesty, bore eloquent testimony of the truthfulness of the young Elder's words.  The Spirit filled the home, the room, and the heart of each person there.  What the Elder lacked in language, the Lord provided with the language of the Spirit.  What he lacked in fluency, the Spirit amply supplied. We realized then that we were witnessing a sacred, hallowed moment in time in a little commune in Vietnam. We stood on holy ground.

"Do ye not remember", Nephi reminds us, "that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels?" (2 Nephi 32:2) 

This was the tongue of angels.  

The Lord has said, "...that the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world..." (D&C 1:23), and "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass." (Alma 37:6)

Thank you, Elder, for your simple message that day.  It was a lesson we will not soon forget.