Thursday, January 7, 1999

Mission Transfer

Dear Friend,

I’m sure by now you have heard that I have transferred missions. If you haven’t heard, well then this letter should be a big surprise. The reason I have decided to write this is because I want you to know what’s going on, and I’d like to get this out of the way so I can move on. I want to forewarn you that this letter will be long. The remainder of this correspondence, save the final two paragraphs was copied directly from my journal.

I need to start at the beginning of my mission. I came on my mission because I knew the Book of Mormon was true. The spirit had manifest that plainly to me in a powerful personal experience that I had just prior to accepting the call to go on a mission. I do not think I can adequately describe it in written form, but would happily attempt to do so verbally if someone asked me about it. Needless to say, I knew then that the Book of Mormon was true. With that witness also came knowledge of the truthfulness of the rest of the Church’s teachings and doctrines. So, I decided I’d better follow the Church’s teachings and serve a mission. I didn’t really want to do it, but I knew the Book of Mormon was true, and by extension that the Church was true, and so when the Church says “every able bodied young man should serve a mission,” that meant to me that if I wanted to get to the Celestial Kingdom that I would have to follow that council.

In my brief time on this planet I have learned that two things motivate people, love and fear. My act of going on a mission was all done out of my fear of the judgments of God. I find that fear is a weak motivator, it doesn't last usually, and when a temptation comes, all that’s considered are the consequences. Consequences can be justified or forgotten until after. Because of this, I struggled spiritually in my mission, early on.

About four months out and I was seriously thinking of going home early. I was on splits with my Zone Leader, Elder Greg Christian. He didn't know any of my concerns, but we were talking while riding the bus, about sinning I think, I can’t really remember what he said now, but I do vividly remember the spirit which I felt during that conversation. I knew in that moment that I needed to stay on my mission, and I did. I was still motivated by my fear though. When temptations came, I easily gave in, and thus didn't adhere to the mission rules. As I continued to do those things, I got further and further from the light. I started to bring other missionaries down with me. The things I did were bad. I didn't break any “commandments” as such… I mean, had I not been on a mission all of my actions would have been acceptable. It was just the mission rules I would break, at least that’s how I was justifying it to myself at the time.

The truth of course is that mission rules are commandments to the missionary. They are the will of God, and knowingly or willfully going against the will of God is a sin. Needless to say, due to my actions, the spirit on which so many a missionary relies ceased to be with me and I began to become darker and darker. I thought I was alright. I would read my scriptures, pray, and kept having spiritual experiences. Continually people would teach and rebuke me and my behavior, the truth was often right in front of my face, but "darkness comprehendeth not light" (John 1:5). I could not understand, my heart was being hardened, but I thought I was alright.

Looking back whatever I did, however terrible, however hurtful, it all made sense in my head. I didn't think I was a bad person. I continued to work and to baptize and have great success. I couldn't understand when President would tell me to change, or when people would say “obedience is so important.” Cause I thought I was doing great without it. I recognize now that I was truly deceived.

When I was serving with Elder Paul Bunch, every once in a while something that was said would pierce me, to the very heart. I would feel remorse and think, “I should repent… change.” Unfortunately my fear would instantly sweep those thoughts away. Not Godly fear, no, it was worldly fear. In the battle of fears, worldly fear easily outweighs Godly fear. Because worldly fear is immediate rather than eternal, easy to see. I was scared of being sent home dishonorably, of that humiliation, of the pain that I perceived that being sent home would cause my family. I justified that it would be better to lie, and stay on my mission for the last few months, then to repent and be sent home early. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was falling deeper and deeper, light and righteousness was becoming foreign to me.

When I went to serve with Elder Rob Shirley in York, I made the decision not to break anymore rules, sadly I continued to fall short. In retrospect this is because fear was still my motivation, and it wasn’t enough. Then something happened. Some rumors of my disobedience had leaked to the mission President. What is interesting is that the rumors were untrue, I didn't even do the things which were alleged. I knew that President would be breathing down the necks of everyone around me and that additional questions would be asked. Which would obviously leave those questioned with the decision; Should I be honest or dishonest? This paranoia lead to some correspondence between me and other disobedient missionaries, trying to prepare for the coming interrogations. I wrote letters to all of my friends in the mission who had broken rules with me. I told them that if neither one of us talked, that the Mission President wouldn't know. I told them that they had to lie, no matter what. After all as mentioned before. I did not want to go home dishonorably.

I got a reply letter from one of those missionaries, this friend has no idea, but their letter changed my life. It basically said this, “I've gone strait, I don’t want to lie, I feel bad, I want to do what’s right, but I won’t let you down.” This letter knocked me off my feet. I felt awful. The horrifying realization I had was that I was making somebody sin. This was on December 10th, 1998.

That morning with all of that on my mind, we had district meeting. Elder Shirley did a little thing at the end where he shared Alma 26:22 which really made me think. Then the hymn we sung that day was “Do what is right” (let the consequence follow). That coupled with the content of my friends letter, left me with some serious guilty feelings. After district meeting we went home because Elder Shirley was sick. If you know Elder Shirley, possibly the healthiest human being on the planet, this was an odd occurrence. So I was stuck at my flat with about 8 hours before our tea appointment. I resolved with the day’s events that I would decide what I needed to do.

A month or two earlier in an argument with my Mission President I said to him when asked about my motivations, “my loyalty to my friends is greater than my love for the Savior and God.” I remember when I said that to him he started to cry, and I couldn't understand why. I realized that I really felt that way, and with my Presidents reaction being so dramatic he obviously thought that was wrong, so I figured I would start there.

As I explained in the beginning of this entry, I knew the church was true, that wasn’t the question I needed answered. I wanted to know how much God loved me. So that’s what I sought to discover. I read and studied my scriptures. Then read my patriarchal blessing, then prayed, and nothing happened, no answer. So I repeated the process; scriptures, blessing, prayer. Still nothing. A third time I did it. Before I started praying I remember specifically looking at the clock and noticing I had been doing this for nearly three hours! It didn't seem like that at all.

The third time around, during the prayer it happened. Putting the experience into words is difficult; however I will do my best to explain. An overwhelming feeling came over me. One that actually hit me with some physical force so that I fell forward from my knees on to my stomach. At first all I felt was despair and hopelessness. I remembered all of the terrible things I had done. All of those people I had influenced to do wrong. Even sins I had committed before my mission filled my mind with grief. I felt smothered and helpless. I was crying and experiencing an inner pain that I had never felt before.

I guessed that the pain was guilt because the overwhelming feeling was a good sensation, I think it was as much as is humanly possible to experience the love of God. I felt the actual love that my Father in Heaven had for me. It was tangible, and it hurt. As I lay there sobbing I thought of my Savior, I kept repeating “I’m sorry” over an over. I know it sounds cliché, but I wanted to die. I was feeling so hopeless, sad, and guilty, I would have welcomed death. That thought ran through my head and I started to think about the 2nd discussion, and how Christ died for us so that death would not be the end. I felt worse as my mind delved further into that thought process and I imagined living for ever with this pain. Then as my mind started to think about the other part of the 2nd discussion; that Jesus took our sins upon him so we could be forgiven. Before I had even completed that thought, almost instantly, the pain and the sorrow was gone.

The overwhelming feeling was still there, but I felt totally calm, and at peace. I dare say it was the greatest feeling of joy my whole life. And for the first time, ever, I had a change of heart – a mighty change of heart. I felt the purest sorrow for my sins for the first time. I picked myself up, and realized that nearly another 5 hours had passed since I last looked at the clock.

I love my Heavenly Father so much. I know he loves me, more than I can comprehend. I will be forever grateful for this witness I received through no worth of mine.

I realized that with this witness and my change of heart came responsibility. I sat and thought for a while. I realized that my plan for the next day was to go to my interview with my mission President and simply lie. I was going to lie, I had it all planned out… of course, that was my plan. After my experience I knew that I could not do that. Two thoughts kept running through my head: “Do what is right let the consequence follow.” And “Not my will, but thy will be done.” I fully believed that once I confessed that I would be sent home dishonorably and I felt okay with that.

Elder Shirley woke up, almost as if on queue, about half an hour after I got off of the floor. I explained to him the experience I had, it felt really good to tell the story, and I felt a piece of that love from before as I regaled him. He was supportive and even said with his signature grin, “I knew it, I never get sick, it had to have been divine intervention.” I laughed a little realizing that Shirley was trying to lighten the thoughts of a dishonorable discharge, but thought that his comment was probably the truth, and I felt thankful for it.

The next day, after telling President Seamon everything, he said that the decision wasn’t his to make, but that he was certain, and that it would be his recommendation that I be sent home. A day later I received instructions that I would be flying out in two days. I remained with Elder Shirley, we fasted on the Saturday that was to be the last day of my mission. I felt really good about the future, but had no idea what the Lord had in store for me. That night, right after my companion and I said our evening prayers and had climbed into bed and the phone rang. It was for me.

Elder Henderson: Hello?
President Seamon: Do you believe in miracles Elder Henderson.
Elder Henderson: Yes
President Seamon: You are going to be allowed you to finish your mission. Tomorrow you will be transferring stateside to the Ohio Cincinnati Mission.

This was a shock because when I was told by the Area Authority that I would be sent home he didn't even mention this as a possibility. Elder Shirley and I were so excited we were jumping up and down hugging and crying at the news. I cannot express how happy I am to be given the opportunity to continue serving the Lord. I flew out of England on the 14th of December 1998.

I’ve been in the Ohio Cincinnati Mission for a few weeks now. I love my Heavenly Father, he has given my so very much despite the fact that I am not worthy of it. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the only true church on the earth. I’ve known that all along, but now I know that God and Jesus Christ love me, more than anything, they love all of us, and all they want is for us to be happy. I am so much happier knowing how much they love me. This gospel is such a blessing, I am so glad to be allowed to continue to share that with others as a missionary.

To try and somehow make up for some of the wrongs I’ve done, I’ve decided to extend my mission as long as they’ll let me. I asked for 20 months, which my mission President says is preposterous, so I have begged for four. President says that even that will be difficult as they usually will give no more than a month extensions. I will find out and let you know. I am sorry especially for any pain I have caused and for being a bad example. I hope that you can understand and perhaps learn from my errors rather than make them yourselves. Thank you for everything you do, for your love and support and friendship. If you have any questions please write and ask. Again I am sorry.

Love

John

Ohio-Cincinnati Mission
3940 Olympic Blvd ste 370
Erlanger, KY 41018
USA

4 comments:

Emily said...

This is an amazing story!

You are amazing!

Pam said...

Thanks for sharing so honestly. It sounds like you have really had a lot of growing experiences. I have too and that is a good thing.

Your movie reviews are fun too.

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