Good afternoon. For those who are the new in the ward my name is George Sheko. Four months ago I received the call to serve as a missionary in the Argentina Mendoza Mission and now the time has come to answer that call. I report to the Provo Missionary Training Center in 10 days. I will never forget the feeling I had when I opened my mission call and read aloud the first few sentences. I was shocked and overjoyed as I had waited for that moment my entire life. I'll be honest, It seemed like such a long time to wait and I thought the beginning of my mission would never come, but it has come so quickly. I feel so much gratitude in my heart for each and every one of you who are here today.
It's wonderful to have Jacob Crandall back with us. I look forward to hearing about his missionary experiences in his talk. As I was writing my talk I was reflecting on some of our experiences together over the years, and I'd like to briefly share a few of them with you today. We've lived across the street from each other since I was in 1st grade. As very young children, Jacob and I were always enthralled by the magic tricks my dad performed as a hobby. One day we decided to attempt one of our favorite tricks that we had seen him do several times, placing a dollar bill in an envelope and making it disappear. Despite our best efforts we could not make that dollar disappear, and we tried everything. My mom recalls walking into the room and observing us with our heads bowed and our arms folded, praying to Heavenly Father to make that dollar disappear. Fast forward a couple of years. On a hot summer day, still as young children, we decided it would be a good idea to catch bees using butterfly nets. It was fun and exciting until curiosity got the best of us. It was not enough just to keep them in a container. We had to touch them. We learned an important lesson that day. Running in circles and screaming does not ease the pain of a bee sting. Having gained an ounce or two of wisdom from that experience we decided to spend our time doing safer activities. Moving on to our teenage years, I particularly enjoyed our trip to the thrift store to get clothing for the tacky prom dance, one of my first dances, when I was 14. We looked good wearing pajama pants with Hawaiian shirts and we even had worlds hottest Mormon buttons pinned onto our shirts. All jokes aside, As we grew older I saw what a great example Jacob is to everyone around him. Having spoken with him about his mission since he returned, I hope to follow in his footsteps and gain as much from my mission as he has from his.
The Lord has declared that missionary work is the responsibility of all who follow Him. It is not limited to full time missionaries. All members of the Lord's Church can, by the goodness of their lives and the strength of their testimonies, share the gospel message to all; family, friends, and non-members. There are currently 85,147 full-time missionaries serving in 406 different missions, teaching the gospel in 188 different languages.
Today I will not only be speaking about the mission I am about to serve, but I will also be speaking about the greatest missionary to ever come to Earth, the perfect missionary, Jesus Christ.
As we get closer to Christmas we reflect on the birth of our Lord and Savior. This was the beginning of his mission. In a talk given by Elder Russell M. Nelson titled: The Mission and Ministry of Jesus Christ, he discusses the two main objectives of Christ's time on the Earth. The first objective, as stated in Moses 1:39, was to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. The second objective was to set an example for all of us with the hope that we would strive to be like him. In John 13:15 Christ says "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done." He states in his talk (QUOTE) "His first objective I have defined as His mission. His second objective I would like to identify as his ministry." (END QUOTE) Christ's mission of the Atonement was to die for our sins so that we could one day return to live with him. "He came to pay a debt he didn't owe because we owed a debt we couldn't pay." I often hear this quoted and It really shows how much love He has for each of us. As missionaries we are not asked to suffer through the same things that Christ did, however we are asked to sacrifice 2 years of our lives to spread his ministry around the Earth, teaching about the sermons that he gave, the parables that he taught, and the things he requires of each of us to obtain salvation.
Christ himself was mocked and ridiculed and put to death for His ministry. Even today, missionary work is hard. Elder Jeffery R. Holland said, (QUOTE) "Missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and His is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never easy for Him?" He goes on to say, "I believe that missionaries and investigators [and all members of the church] to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to know something of this price that has been paid, will have to pay a token that same price. For that reason, I don't believe missionary work has ever been easy, nor that conversion is, nor that retention is, nor that faithfulness is. I believe it is supposed to require some effort, something from the depths of our souls."
Serving a mission requires great faith in Jesus Christ and it serves to further our faith as we teach His gospel. There will be trials throughout all of our lives and we can rely on the Lord and his power to receive the strength we need to continue into the unknown. We see countless examples of great faith in the Lord throughout the scriptures. It amazes me how much faith Nephi had as he and his family went into the wilderness, and experienced trial after trial. He never once questioned the Lord and he always relied on Him as they made the journey to the Promised Land.
Elder Boyd K. Packer said this about faith, (QUOTE) "Faith, to be faith, must center around something that is not known. Faith, to be faith, must go beyond that for which there is confirming evidence. Faith, to be faith, must go into the unknown. Faith, to be faith, must walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness." (END QUOTE)
A major question I had that became very important when I turned 18 was When and why should I serve a mission? There's many answers to that question. Yes, it is a commandment from God for every worthy and able young man to serve a mission, and yes there is a great pressure by all those who have served before to serve a mission yourself, but there's so much more to it. Years ago I decided for myself that I was going to serve a mission, but when the time came to truly be serious about it I desired to receive the true revelation as to whether I really should serve a mission. I can recall receiving a very pleasant feeling after praying one night and I knew it was what I needed to do and that the time to serve was now. For me personally, I desire to serve a mission so I can bring others the happiness that I've felt in my life that can only come from the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are so many children of God who have not heard of His gospel and do not know where to find it. I've had it easy. I've grown up in the church and learned about the Gospel since primary. I've always had a great group of friends who are so strong in the gospel and have taught me so much. I want those I get to teach on my mission to have what I have. I want them to have reassurance when when they lose a friend or family member. I want them to know that they can repent of their sins to better themselves because that's the reason we are here. I want them to know of the Spirit and the constant companion that it is to each of us. I want them to know of the power of prayer and what it can do for them.
Prayer has always been the most comforting thing for me. I can pray anywhere, any time, verbally or in my head. There is no limit to how long my prayer can be or how long it has to be. I strive to have faith that I will receive an answer to my prayers, whether it is immediate or in the future. There have been many occasions in my life that an answered prayer has had such a great impact on me. I'd like to share one particular occasion.
When I was 9 years old my dad and I purchased a remote control airplane. It required a large area to fly due to its power and size. We went to the biggest field that we could find. It was apparent that the grass had not been cut in a while but it worked just fine. We launched our plane and the fun began. After quite some time the battery was low and we had to replace it with the extra one that we had brought. I had to go to the car to retrieve it. My dad handed me the keys and I quickly returned with the new battery. We once again launched the plane and it was my turn to fly it. Still having the keys in my possession, I set them down on the ground to free my hands so I could operate the controller. We followed the plane wherever it went to stay within range of it. Eventually the sun began to set and it was time to go home. We traveled back to the car and with a feeling of dismay, it dawned on me that I had set the keys down somewhere in the massive field. My dad and I searched through the thick grass for close to an hour. The darkness had set in and it was difficult to see. The thought popped into my head that I should say a prayer so I kneeled down and prayed that I would find the keys. I finished my prayer and with an overwhelming feeling I knew I should turn around. There they were directly behind me and I knew from that moment on that Heavenly Father answers prayers.
The primary song "Love One Another" has always been one of my favorites. The lyrics are so simple yet so spiritual. "As I have loved you, love one another. This new commandment. Love one another. By this shall men know. Ye are my disciples. If ye have love one to another." As a missionary I desire to love and care for each and every person I teach. I want to love them as much as Christ loves me. Love is such a strong emotion and love for the Gospel and of Christ is crucial to obtaining salvation. Love invites the spirit to testify of truth to those around us. Even in this world of chaos there are always acts of love that can be seen and felt as we all strive to love one another. I read the following story on Facebook and I thought to myself what a perfect example of love it really is.
Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living. It was a cowboy’s life, a life for someone who wanted no boss. What I didn’t realize was that it was also a ministry. Because I drove the night shift, my cab became a moving confessional. Passengers climbed in, sat behind me in total anonymity, and told me about their lives.
I encountered people whose lives amazed me, ennobled me, made me laugh and weep. But none touched me more than a woman I picked up late one August night. I was responding to a call from a small brick four-plex in a quiet part of town. I assumed I was to pick up people leaving a party, or someone who had just had a fight with a lover, or a worker heading to an early shift at some factory for the industrial part of town.
When I arrived at 2:30 a.m., the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window. Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, then drive away. But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door. This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself.
So I walked to the door and knocked. “Just a minute”, answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.
“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness. “It’s nothing”, I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated”. “Oh, you’re such a good boy”, she said.
When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?” “It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly. “Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice”.
I looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes were glistening. “I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I don’t have very long.” I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to take?” I asked. For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.
As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.” We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.
I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. “How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse. “Nothing,” I said. “You have to make a living,” she answered. “There are other passengers,” I responded. Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly. “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.” I squeezed her hand, then walked into the dim morning light.
Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life. I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?
On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life. We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware – beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.
Brothers and sisters. I want you to know that I have so much love for all of you and all that you've helped me to become. I have so much love for the Lord and all he has done for me. I pray that we can all feel his love through prayer and through acts of kindness. I testify that this is the true church. Thomas S. Monson is the true prophet of God on the Earth today. I testify of the truth of the Book of Mormon and the guidance of the Spirit. I know these things to be true with all my heart and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.