On transfer day, Anh ca Tien surprised me by showing me the transfer letter. It was a few pages stapled together, but only the first page was a letter from President Moon. The rest of it was my writing. Back in February, President Moon commissioned me to write a paper for some people he thought could use my help...and then this week he gave it to everyone in the mission, so today I will share it with you.
For anyone who is interested or pays attention to the people in the stories I tell, you should know that Anh ca Tien "died" on Friday. He finished his mission, and as I am writing this, he is now on a bus headed out of Cambodia on his way home to Viet Nam. We're going to miss him a lot - him and his crazy Hai Duong accent.
The last Tuesday of every transfer, the Viet zone has lunch has Elder and Sister Westover's house (the office couple who are also assigned to the Viet branches) so we can say good-bye to anyone dying or going to Vietnam (or both). Chi Huong and I had recently translated "Ye Elders of Israel" into Vietnamese and had yet to debut it, so after lunch we sat Anh ca Tien down and the whole zone to sang it to him, only we sang a special version of the chorus at the end:
"Oi Anh ca Tien, Oi Anh ca Tien, tu nay xin tu biet.
Chung em se o lai vung dat Campuuchia nay."
Basically, "we bid Anh ca Tien farewell, and we'll all stay here in Cambodia."
We did get a new missionary, Anh ca Tran, who is half Vietnamese and will be trained by Anh ca Duc in Ha Noi.The first thing he said when we met was, "I read your blog." He was in a BYU ward with Erica, one of the YW I taught in Massachusetts. Small world.
P.S. Here's the temperance paper:
Self-mastery has always been a qualification to do the Lord's work in any capacity. In several places in scripture, there are lists of virtues necessary for administering priesthood ordinances, serving in a priesthood office (Jacob 2:2; D&C 107:30; Titus 1:8), being numbered as a saint (2 Peter 1:6; Titus 2:2), building the kingdom (D&C 12:8), or being called to missionary service (D&C 4:6). Although the specifications of the assignments vary, the attributes are for practical purposes virtually the same; one must cultivate certain characteristics in order to be prepared to be an effective instrument in the hands of the Lord in whatever work he asks of you. Temperance, although often only briefly mentioned, is common to many of these discussions on personal spiritual development and deserves attention and effort on our part in our striving to be more Christlike.
When Alma called his three sons together to give them their respective charges for the ministry (Alma 35:16), he gave each of them individual counsel according to their strengths, weaknesses, and needs. A portion of his counsel was common to all his sons, however, specifically the instruction to be sober. For each son, this is mentioned with declaring or preaching the word, apparently a vital quality for them to have success and be the missionary the Lord wanted them to be. The encouragement toward self-control, self-mastery, and self-management is particularly clear in his words to Shiblon: "Be diligent and temperate in all things;" "bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love;" "now go...and teach the word....be sober" (Alma 38:10,12,15).
It is important to not that 'sober' means neither 'grim' nor 'emotionless.' It merely means that one is calculated, careful, and controlled in expression. It is safe to communicate with such a person. The Spirit can edify, instruct, and correct because the communication will be received and regarded appropriately. The Spirit can reveal knowledge because it will be used for the Lord's intended purposes (Preach My Gospel, 99). Others will entrust matters to your confidence knowing you have unshakable integrity and the utmost respect for God and His children. How temperate are you? Does the intensity of your reactions negatively affect the honesty of your investigators' responses when you follow up on commitments? Does it dissuade the open discourse you should have with your companion? What if a bishop reacted in such a way to a person seeking to repent? What if a parent responded to the mistakes or misconduct of a child in such a manner? Would someone be likely to seek correction, counsel, encouragement, comfort, or forgiveness from you when they realized something went wrong? When we need such aids in our life, we turn to a Heavenly Father who is firm but gentle, powerful but patient, and this reassures us. We must strive to be likewise in order to be of service in Heavenly Father's kingdom. That way when someone is in need, be it serious or small, we can be useful.
You will still have emotions, and it is important to be sincere and communicative about emotions and needs you have, but you must take care that these are communicated appropriately. That is what temperance and moderation are all about. Because we are human, we appreciate human responses, both our own and those of others which either balance out or perpetuate ours. In sharing with one another though, it is essential to be considerate and maintain civility. "Use boldness but not overbearance" (Alma 38:12). You must communicate, not berate. Communication is inherently a two-sided process. A companion is not a verbal punching bag for you to take out your stress and other emotions on them. A companion is another human being who also has emotions you must take into account. It is your responsibility to make your companion aware of how you feel and to do so in a measured, appropriate, considerate manner that invites them to do the same. Careful expression does not mean no expression. The Lord does not tell you to stop being yourself; he invites you to be your best self.
Self-control increases our capacity to receive, experience, and express love. It can only augment our capability to serve and our happiness. That is why Alma told Shiblon to "bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love" (Alma 38:12). When we postpone or change our desires by putting the Lord's will before our own, we learn to put of the natural man, to seek long-term solutions rather than short-term gratification, to value the happiness of others. We start to learn this principle physically by living the law of the fast. Fasting is a means by which we learn the temperance and control to transform from a being ruled by carnal appetites to a divine and glorious being characterized by godliness. This principle must be further applied to the spiritual, emotional, and social aspects of our lives. We learn the Lord's higher ways and find greater joy. The greatest joys we can have in mortality and eternity are found in relationships. Selfishness destroys relationships, but selflessness strengthens them. As Elder Bednar said, the character of Christ is that he turns outward when we would turn inward (Elder Bednar, "The Character of Christ," MTC Devotional 25 December, 2011). An outward focus on others makes us more Christlike, more capable of experiencing eternal joy.
In Mormon chapter 1, we read Ammaron's remark about then ten-year-old Mormon: "I perceive that thou art a sober child, and art quick to observe" (verse 2). Because he was sober, Mormon "tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus" (verse 15). He understood well how to have Christlike love for his fellowmen because he was sober. It was Mormon who authored the wonderful discussion on faith, hope, and charity we have in Moroni 7. Mormon was an observer of people who sought the guidance of the Spirit to know the Lord's will for how to serve others. In the October 2012 General Conference, Sister Linda K. Burton advised us to "first observe, then serve" (see also Mission Vision: How We Do It). If you take the time to seek inspiration prior to taking action, the Spirit can teach you more about people and enable you to love them as Heavenly Father does. This goes for the Cambodian or Vietnamese people as a whole, individual members and investigators, leaders, and your companion. Whoever you are trying to serve, do it with great care, diligence, creativity, and flexibility. Don't be afraid to change tactics to find what helps them feel loved. As you devote appropriate attention to the happiness of others, you will enjoy an increased capacity to love and serve. They will allow you to do more for them and Heavenly Father will teach you how to do it.
The power of our work comes from obedience to commandments and covenants. Our loyalty to the Lord and our covenants is demonstrated by how well we love and serve our fellowmen. Loyalty means love (Elder Holland, "The First and Great Commandment," General Conference October 2012). Diligence is an expression of love (Preach My Gospel, 121). Have the patience to be diligent and the diligence to be patient. Observe first, then serve. Do not be so anxious and eager to help that you forget to actually serve. Sympathy is akin to pity and debilitates, but empathy is powerful and invites change and growth. Seek to know the Lord's will and serve as he would.
Remember, temperance is essential to developing charity. "Be diligent and temperate in all things;" "bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love;" "now go...and teach the word....be sober" (Alma 38:10,12,15).
Some ideas to put into practice in the moment:
You decide how good your companion is.
Focus more on similarities than differences.
"Listen to and connect with the variations in melody" (President Uchtdorf, October 2012).
Is the behavior or your reaction to the behavior the most disruptive? Change yourself. (Mission Vision: How We Do It)
I tell people that I have two fundamental motivations in life. If I choose to do something, it's generally because, one, it's fun or, two, it's the right thing to do. I prefer to fill both at the same time, but the second supersedes the first if necessary. A returned missionary in Ha Noi has a similar set of criteria to apply to decision-making. He poses two questions: Is it the right thing to do? Is it worth it (will it make you happy)?
In companionship inventory, regard the the question, "How can I improve?" not as an chance to nitpick but as an opportunity to discuss what could make the companionship experience better.
Don't be fatalistic. Judgements of character should not replace discussions of application. Don't undermine someone's sense of identity; help them use both their strengths and their weaknesses.
For every gut reaction you have, respond to yourself with a logical truth. Every time your initial reaction is to be angry, offended, or anything else negative, talk yourself out of it. (e.g. They are being unreasonable!...I didn't explain my position clearly.)
Consider the partitioning of India. When The British Empire pulled out of India, they divided the country to create what is now Pakistan. Many people regard this a hasty exercise of poor-judgement. In college I found myself in a classroom discussion trying to find reasons to support this decision, and I learned to ask myself, "If I were that person and I had just done that, what would my motivation have been?" Even if it was something I don't think I would have done, I have to assume I did do that, so why did I do it? What is the best possible explanation I could have for that action?
When debating whether or not to tell someone about a problem, first evaluate using this question which an elementary school teacher required all her students to answer before they could tell her about something someone else did. "Are you telling to get someone in trouble or out of trouble?"
Remember that as long as you trust in the Lord and do his will, it isn't all up to you and it can't all be your fault. The only thing left entirely up to you is the choice to trust and obey.
I once wrote the following to a young woman in the United States: "There is another regard in which your specific seminary situation can help you prepare for a mission, and that is the fact that seminary, while it ought to be an amazingly uplifting experience, is presently uncomfortable and difficult. The mission is the same. Missions are hard. It is a constant quest to edify in circumstances that are most often far from ideal, but I suppose that's what makes both seminary and a mission miraculous experiences. They are two of the greatest things a young person can do to prepare for the rest of their life. I hope you will complete both with no regrets. Always be diligently striving to create harmony and happiness for everyone and ultimately you will find yourself very richly blessed. Remember my current favorite scripture (D&C 123:17); cheerfully do everything you can and then you can stand still, assured that everything will work out thanks to our omnipotent and omniscient God. Don't feel that you are being robbed of any opportunities. God knows your position. Often, he's the one who put you there. Sometimes a difficult situation is due to poor choices on our part, but then one must realize that he honored his gift of agency for man and he still knows where you are because he let you go there. If the circumstances are out of your control, you can rest assured that you are where you are by divine design. Whatever your environment and however you got there, Heavenly Father knows all about it, so just trust him because in the hands of the Creator, everything works out the best way possible."
Recommendations for additional study:
"Judge Not and Judging" Elder Oaks
The White Handbook: read it looking for the theme of stewardship
Moroni 7, look for what is says about the diversity of people, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses
D&C 121 and Matthew 21:12-14, consider anger and the exercise of power
Hebrews 13:17 (Your leaders just want to able to report good things about you.)
TG Sobriety, Sober, Soberness
Mission Vision: How We Do It