Hello! It's good to be back. I'm Oliver Dahl and just returned this week from the Arkansas Little Rock Mission, which covers a lot of Arkansas, but also Memphis, TN, and a chunk of Mississippi. The locals call it the buckle of the Bible belt, and boy do they love their Bible. I guess it makes sense - I think the people of the South can just relate really well to the stories of Jesus ministering to the sinners and the publicans... cause there are a lot of sinners and republicans down there.
In all seriousness, though, I loved the South. I'm not sure I'd move there anytime soon, but I can't imagine a better place to serve a mission. I don't know where on God's green earth - Salt Lake City included - you will find a people so almost universally devoted to their Savior.
This of course, comes with a few caveats. Things like how there are literally more different churches than gas stations. I loved how this helped certain people identify with the Joseph Smith story, not knowing which of all these churches was true. People are recognizing hypocrisy and the straying from biblical teachings.
In the BoM, We've heard of Moroni's challenge, but there is also a challenge Mormon gives, in Mormon chapter 7 verse 9. "For behold, this [referring to the BoM] is written for the intent that ye may believe that; [referring to the Bible] and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them."
While not every bible-loving person we talked to politely and eagerly accepted a Book of Mormon, I loved seeing light dawn in people's eyes as they realized, "hey that makes sense. God does love all of His children. I guess he would call prophets among the people of the Americas, too."
I am so thankful for the BoM. It is powerful, divine, and has thoroughly convinced me of the reality of Jesus Christ, and of the true points of His doctrine that make The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.
The Book of Mormon outlines, supports, and makes more clear the answers to spiritual questions. To me, the idea that the purpose of life is to "accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior" isnt... wrong. But it falls a little flat because there is so much more to it than that.
The BoM teaches us that a central purpose of our life on earth is to overcome the natural man, which one does when he "yields to the enticings of the holy spirit" and "becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father" (Mosiah 3:19).
It's this idea of submitting our will to the Lord's that I was asked to speak about today.
Neal A. Maxwell taught, "The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar... The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him" (August 2000 Ensign).
So many of us are kept from eventual consecration because we mistakenly think that, somehow, by letting our will be swallowed up in the will of God, we lose our individuality (see Mosiah 15:7). What we are really worried about, of course, is not giving up self, but selfish things—like our roles, our time, our preeminence, and our possessions. No wonder we are instructed by the Savior to lose ourselves (see Luke 9:24). He is only asking us to lose the old self in order to find the new self. It is not a question of one’s losing identity but of finding his true identity! Ironically, so many people already lose themselves anyway in their consuming hobbies and preoccupations but with far, far lesser things. (Oct. 95 conference address)
Oof, that's pretty direct. One of the things that I think we all have to continually figure out is what exactly God's will for us is. I think it'd be a whole lot easier if God just told us, "okay, here's your agenda for today. I need you to do this, this, and this." But I think a part of what makes surrendering our will so difficult is we don't always know what exactly we are submitting to.
Every day as a missionary, we plead with the Lord to know His will in order for us to... do His will. Some days, it seemed like everything lined up perfectly for us just by asking. But other days, it seemed like the heavens were closed to us. I came to understand that this was actually a sign of trust from our Heavenly Father. He knew that we understood our purpose, and trusted that we would figure something out to do that day. While this was sometimes frustrating, I think we grow a lot more when God trusts us enough to leave us to our own.
Inevitably, we would see some small miracle or divine indication that what we'd chosen to do really was His will after all. One of my favorite examples of this was found while tracting in Collierville, TN, a wealthy suburb of Memphis. We weren't having much luck, which I'd kinda gotten used to, but I was looking at my shoes as we were walking, wondering why we'd picked this neighborhood. All the sudden we find a temple recommend on the ground! There was a youth temple trip that evening, and we were able to return it to the young woman. It built my faith that the Lord leads His missionaries and His church, and wanted the young woman and those she would do the temple work for to benefit from that. He made sure they wouldn't miss out.
[And in an April 87 conference talk:] And in Neal A Maxwell's signature poetic style, he sums it all up this way:
"Some give of their time yet withhold themselves, being present without giving of their presence and going through the superficial motions of membership instead of the deep emotions of consecrated discipleship."
In a later talk, he adds, "Thus, brothers and sisters, consecration is not resignation or a mindless caving in. Rather, it is a deliberate expanding outward, making us more honest when we sing, “More used would I be” (“More Holiness Give Me,” 1985, Hymns, no. 131). Consecration, likewise, is not shoulder-shrugging acceptance, but, instead, shoulder-squaring to better bear the yoke. (Oct. 95.)
In this endeavor of surrendering our will to the Lord's, we will find that giving that of ourselves is difficult. Its the stubborn natural man in us that wants to do what we want to do. Turning our will over to the Lord isn't about giving in with a "fine, I'll do it," but with genuinely getting to a point where we want to do what He wants us to do.
The scriptures give us a warning about this. 2 corinthians 9 says that we should give "not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). And Mormon adds in Moroni 7 that if we give a gift grudgingly, "it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God" (Moroni 7:8).
Elder Renlund, in his October 2018 conference talk, expounded on this idea.
"Our Heavenly Father’s goal in parenting is not to have His children do what is right; [wait a minute, did I read that right?] it is to have His children choose to do what is right and ultimately become like Him. If He simply wanted us to be obedient, He would use immediate rewards and punishments to influence our behaviors.
"But God is not interested in His children just becoming trained and obedient “pets” who will not chew on His slippers in the celestial living room. No, God wants His children to grow up spiritually and join Him in the family business."
Our Mission President has us read at the beginning of my mission a talk entitled
The Fourth Missionary by Lawrence E. Corbridge, which identifies the "fourth missionary" as an example of consecratation. It reads,
"The purpose and central blessing of life is change. It is to be changed to become more like Jesus Christ. It is to incorporate into your character, the qualities of His character. It is to move from one degree of intelligence and capacity to the next, and from there to the next, until you see God face to face and know Him as He knows you.
...This process of change, this process [of] evolving, becoming, is the object of the gospel. Change is the design of faith in Christ, repentance, and baptism. Redemptive change happens by the power of the Holy Ghost. But it happens only if and when your heart is right. It happens only if you do not fight against God. It happens only if you unconditionally surrender your will to the Lord."
Again, there's a difference of course in a reluctant surrender as opposed to a willing surrender of your will. This next line is my favorite in the talk.
"You can't be in a state of happiness, whether now or in the eternities, if you don't want to do the things that lead to happiness... even if you do those very things."
So... not only do we have to surrender our will, but we have to also want to? Otherwise, it's a gift given begrudgingly, and has neither saving power or associated blessings.
This idea was kind of hard on me for a few days as a missionary as I pondered about that. I'm supposed to want to go knock doors? Want to go sweat through my clothes? Want to go do this and this?
And fortunately, the perfect example of our Savior, Jesus Christ came to mind.
When in the Garden of Gethsemane, his prayer gave me hope and peace and gratitude.
He prayed, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."
Not His will be done? What was the Savior's will? At first glance it seems that maybe He didn't want to drink the bitter cup. He wasn't stubbornly refusing to do it, but we can tell that there is a part of His perfect soul that isn't entirely enthusiastic about what will happen next.
But did he give the gift begrudgingly? No. Because His will to not drink was made secondary to his greater desire to not shrink and to do the Father's will. That will to have His Father's will be done was stronger than His will to have His will be done.
The Savior's example taught me that it's okay if I don't whole-heartedly jump for joy as I accept His will and His timing. He, in part, wanted some other way. ...But not as much as He wanted to please His Father. He taught me that I am acceptable even if I want some other thing. As long as I want His way even more. I came to think of this idea as "wanting to want" to surrender my will.
So long as our wanting to want to do what the Lord commands is a stronger desire than our wanting to do our own will, we will find ourselves changed, blessed, accepted, and exalted. There will be times when we want to shrink from our own, smaller, and far less bitter cups. But we can pray, as did our Savior, "nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."
What does this look like? It looks like sitting in an air conditioned car, knowing the temperature is in the 90s and the humidity just as high and perhaps even thinking "What kind of person would live here and subject themselves to this kind of heat?" There might even be the thought, "I really don't really want to be mosquito food, I don't wanna do this." But then opening the car door, and going to work, talking to people in the street, anyway.
We may not want what is around the corner, but we can earnestly strive to want to want our Father's will for us. We may not want to leave the air conditioned car, but we can want to want to enough that the next thing you know, we're doing it!
And we can face it wanting it, or we can face it shrinking from it. Even if we make the same decision in either circumstance, choosing reluctantly won't reward us, change us, or bring us happiness. So we might as well want to want to do the Lord's will.
2cor8:12 says, "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" (2 Corinthians 8:12). Wanting and seeking a willing mind, inherently develops within us a willing mind. These righteous desires, no matter how small or faint, are accepted over the portions of ourselves that may still be reluctant. Our wanting of a willing mind outweighs, on God's scale, the weight of our natural man's hesitancy and lack of true desire.
We may not always want to do Heavenly Father's will. We may want to "shrink" from whatever bitter cup is before us. But as we, like the Savior, profess "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done," (Luke 22:42) our intent changes from "grudging gift giving" (see Moroni 7:8) to a "perfect heart" and "willing mind" (see Chronicles 29:9 and D&C 64:34) -- hearts and minds that at least want to want to obey.
I love sharing the gospel with people. As kind of a creative person, I like writing, photography, etc. To share what's in my mind and heart with people. I came to realize pretty quickly that missionary work is just another medium of art, sharing not just thoughts, ideas, experiences, or scenes, but the best feeling of all - the witness of the Holy Ghost.
There are times I wish I could just take my brain, what little I know, and the lot that I feel, and just put it right inside someone else's head for a little bit, until they're choking for air and get the idea!
I've spent a lot of time frustrated that my words can't begin to describe my feelings for the gospel. But I recently read Pres. Packers first genconf talk, and he reminded me that it's not my words job to do that. It's the Spirits job.
So I hope as I bear my testimony, in words you've heard the primary kids use, and even the apostles use, that the Spirit will be able to convey to you what I know.
I know that Jesus Christ lives, and that He is my Savior. Though "I stand all amazed" now, I sense that in a coming day there won't be much standing happening at all.
I know that He restored His ancient church to the earth today through the prophet Joseph Smith.
I know that He today leads and directs this church. If there's any doubt about that, go look at the Arkansas Little Rock Mission. I know that Pres. Russel M. Nelson is God's prophet on the earth for our day.
I know that the Book of Mormon is divine in source, authenticity, and power. It is through this precious, flawless book that I have come to know all these other things. It is true. I'm thankful the Lord loves His children enough to give them more of His word. The world needs it so desperately.
I'm thankful for the time I had to serve a full-time mission and wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
Well, here it is! Elder Dahl's last weekly email! Episode 105.
Last week, President Hansen told me to make this week the best one of my mission. It was definitely a good way to finish! A worthy grand finale!
Even though the days were full of "lasts," I comprehended it mentally, but none of it really sank in. (And with a lot of it, I still don't think it has yet).
A recent convert had all of his upper teeth removed, and called us up asking for a priesthood blessing. He hadn't ever had or asked for one before, so it was cool to be a part of that and to see it help him!
After that, we had to get an oil change and clean our car, cause it was getting traded in. I was hoping to not have to do that until I was gone, but oh well haha.
We met a guy who was mowing his lawn and had broken his neck once upon a time by jumping into a pool whilst intoxicated. But he turned his life over to the Lord and got better and was interested in the Book of Mormon!
Then before we turned in for the night, we had a lesson with a mother of 5 young kids who were bouncing all over the place, about prayer and our premortal life. It was good!
We started off our day with a lesson with a guy named Bubba, who within the last year has gone blind. We didn't know that beforehand, cause he was a referral from the sisters. But he came outside and felt the wall, and sat down on his porch steps in front of us. We read from 1 Nephi 8 out loud to him, and I was trying to picture the imagery like he would, and it was cool how clearly I was able to in my mind. I hope he was able to see it, too.
Later, we walked by a mailbox that said "Apostle" and then their last name. Hmm. I figured, what the heck, it's my last week, let's try it. An older mustachioed woman answered and welcomed us in. We sat on her ornate gold chairs and she told us about being a female pastor in an old country church. To add to it all, there was a big box by her front door all about medical marijuana. Man. I'm gonna miss experiences like that haha. Just little details make it so funny. Marijuana, a mustache, a female pastor... It's great.
Thursday is one of my favorite days of my whole mission, I think.
We began by helping a lady move out of her apartment. Then we had my very last district council. I've instructed in either 56 or 60 of those, now. I'm going to miss those, too. We had my "funeral" afterward and then went to lunch at Pizza Hut. They kinda got our order wrong and took forever, but I felt too spoiled to possibly complain after a man walked by our table, gave every missionary in our district a twenty dollar bill, and then walked right out the door before we could do anything more than stammer a thank you. People can be really really nice.
We got home and tried to study through our post-pizza-coma, and then had a lesson with a gal named Sherry we met earlier this week. She was awesome! She read the whole pamphlet we gave her, and even looked up the scriptures that go with everything. She wasn't sure what "Nephi" and "Alma" were all about, so we gave her a Book of Mormon and started explaining it. And then the Jehovah's Witnesses walked in. I guess they were close friends. She told us when they left, though, that she didn't agree with everything they teach. But despite the interruption, it was a good lesson!
From there we went down the road to a family we've been working with for a while. We were able to set a baptismal date goal for the parents to work towards. Not all their kids were home, then, but we're hoping to get the rest of the family on board soon!
Next up, we saw Isaiah, another guy we are working with towards baptism, and had a good quick lesson with him, too. Then we had my last missionary correlation meeting [as a missionary] and then had one of my favorite lessons of my mission.
We've been working with this couple since we got to West Memphis, and had a challenging lesson last time. But we were able to get President Hansen to come with us. At their request, we met at a Wendy's haha. We arrived around 7:15, and didn't leave until about 9:25! But it was just really enjoyable. That couple is awesome, and President Hansen is awesome, and we were able to share sooo many good scriptures all at once, basically teaching all of lesson one and two from the Bible. President and I both had the references memorized, but were able to help out the other when we couldn't quite remember off hand hahaha. He ultimately invited them to put John 7:17 and the restored church to the test by acting as though they were members of the church for 60 Days. Admittedly to our surprise, they shook on it!
As we were leaving Wendy's, President Hansen told me that he barely recognized the Elder Dahl in there, and I guess said I did a half-decent job or something. He'd come to another lesson with me in the first few months of my mission. But no, to hear that he could recognize that growth and that he was impressed with my teaching skills meant a whole lot.
We had interviews with President Hansen and then I went on my last exchange! I went up to Blytheville, AR with Elder Rockwood. We visited some of their investigators that spoke Spanish because they, (unfortunately for everybody involved) speak even less Spanish than I do. I was able to pick up on a few things and like share my testimony, but... I think they were both pretty hammered, honestly. When native-Spanish speakers talk in Spanish as fast as they normally do, it's hard to understand. Add some booze to slur it all together and I'm out of luck haha.
Brother Boggs from the good ole town of Collierville met us when we got back into West Memphis and we got ourselves some tasty fried pork chops for lunch that were really good. It was awesome to get to see him again! We had my last weekly planning session after that (Which is not something I'll miss too terribly much) and then had a busy evening.
Whoa! My last Sunday as a missionary. That's said. But I am excited that this Sunday (whether I do or don't) it's allowed for me to take a nap! And I can't say I'll miss the stress and disappointment of waiting for people to come to church week after week.
We came home for studies, and then Bro. Jones called and we rode with him over to Memphis to pick up a bike box. On Saturday, I'd called a bike shop over there and they said "yeah, we have a box, come on over." So I'd told Bro. Jones, and he hadn't gotten around to picking it up then, so we went with him today. He had called them again before picking us up. When we arrived though, they said "yeah, one second, lemme just grab it really quick." And then... a few minutes later, they said they'd thrown it away cause it was really torn up. What the.
Fortunately, Bro. Jones had the idea to go drive around back and dig through their dumpster. Even more fortunately, we didn't have to dive through a dumpster at all! The box was just sitting on their back porch in an alley, and only one flap was torn up, and easily fixable with some tape. Huh. Suspicious.
But we got back in town and hit the ground running! We visited a couple people, had a few short lessons, and WENT HAM cause it was like my last few hours of solid proselyting time. We ended up finding 4 new people to teach and they're all pretty awesome and I'm kinda sad I won't be able to teach them again... But God giveth the increase.
That night I had my last call-ins and that was weird, too! I've been doing call ins every Sunday night for 21 months haha.
Then Monday came around! I got a haircut and packed up my bike and my clothes and everything else I own into two suitcases, a backpack, and a sidebag. It was kind of a struggle tbh, but by the end of the day it was pretty much all done.
Bro. Simpson took us and the sisters out to Pancho's Mexican Restaurant for dinner. They're famous for their cheese dip, and you can buy it in Wal-Mart and stuff. I guess they started in West Memphis! The cheese dip was pretty good, but I'll take texmex and Idaho-mex over Arkansas-mex. Soon!
Both of our evening appointments fell through, but then the couple we taught with Pres. Hansen offered to take us out to dinner, too... so we went to Kelly's Kickin' Chicken. Gonna miss them! They're awesome.
Got a little extra packing done early in the morning and then got it in the car and drove to Bartlett. Bid farewells to missionaries and the Memphis Temple. Gonna miss everyone! I would say that Elder Bang is going to be a great missionary, but........... he already is! He's going places. :) Made the long trip to Little Rock. When we stopped for gas, we talked with a guy from Egypt who had become a Christian and he was really cool.
We made it to the mission home, and had my last interview with President Hansen. There were 4 other elders going home with me, and one sister. Through the afternoon, we had various devotionals from the mission presidency, local members, and Elder Beheshti, the area seventy. We had a yummy dinner, followed by a testimony meeting, and tried to sleep. Actually, falling asleep wasn't the hard part, because I was exhausted. Staying asleep was the trick.
I woke up around four in the morning unable to fall back asleep. After some restlessness, I was able to for a little bit. Got up again at six and just got ready. We had breakfast, got our bags ready, took a picture, and then we were driving to the airport. And then our bags were checked. And then we were just short of security and all the sudden we had to say goodbye to President and Sister Hansen. We'd said bye to them dozens of times after meetings, interviews, and so on, so even after lacing up my shoes again on the other side of security, it still didn't feel real.
Elder Peterson was the first to go, and then Elder Barney and Elder Pederson. And then it was supposed to be Sister Gerratt and Elder Jolie, but their flight was delayed, and so it was my turn. Sitting on the plane didn't make it seem real yet, either. I'm anticipating it will "set in" a few days after being home.
But as I finish up this email, I'm a few thousand feet in the air above Arkansas, bound for Houston, TX. (Funnily enough from the Bill and Hillary Clinton Airport to the George Bush airport). It's sinking in a little more.
Have you ever heard of people pulling out loose teeth by tying a string around their tooth and connecting the string to a doorknob, and then slamming the door? Yeah, sorry for that violent imagery. President Hansen didn't use that analogy, but I think it's not far from the truth. As we took off, it felt like a string was tied around a part of my soul and anchored to Arkansas. I didn't know I could love such a miserable place so much haha.
Since this is my last weekly email, I figured I probably better add my testimony to it. And why not make a long email longer, right?
I know that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is instrumental to our Father's Plan of Salvation, and is an ultimate manifestation of their love for us. I know that my Savior lives and leads His church on the earth today. While I "stand all amazed," filled with gratitude now, I can only imagine how on the other side I won't be doing much standing at all.
I am thankful for the opportunity and privilege I have had to represent Him and His restored gospel to the people of Arkansas and Tennessee. I've felt the Spirit in a pew and in the temple, and I've felt it on the porches and in the homes and trailers and garages of the South.
I know firsthand the joy described by Ammon, and the humility he tempers it with - "Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever" (Alma 26:12).
I have loved being an instrument in the Lord's hands, in helping others feel to "sing the song of redeeming love." This is real. This is true. It brings peace, causes joy, eases pain, ignites hope, and has power. I know it, and love it, and thank my Savior and Father in Heaven for it.
From the Houston Texas Airport with so much love,
https://youtu.be/LIiffBAaUTA (Video of man in West Memphis)
Serving A Mission!
What's all this about? As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it is expected of me that I will serve a two-year mission. (And yeah, the "riding bikes and wearing nametags and knocking on doors" kind of mission.) But this isn't something I'm doing because it's expected of me... I'm doing this because the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ has blessed my life SO much, in SO many ways. I can't think of a greater honor or responsibility than being able to play a part in someone's story of finding and enjoying these blessings, too.
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(After June 20, 2017)
Elder Oliver Wrigley Dahl
Arkansas Little Rock Mission
905 Kierre Dr
North Little Rock AR 72116