Hello fam bam and friends! First things first: this country loves fireworks, haha! I was kept from sleeping multiple times because of the hearty application of said material. Not only that, they don't just use fireworks on New Years Eve here in the Phillies, they do it several days before and after, haha, even during the day time.
BUT: this weekly letter will be less about anything new that's happened (because there's relatively little) and more about something that I've been pondering about and want to share.
The transforming power of missions.
I know that many parents and even children have huge misconceptions about how a mission can change and elder or sister. I am by no means perfect or even that great, but I can honestly say that these things have become real to me over the course of this last year. I can confidently say that I know that God lives, that this church is true, and that Jesus Christ lives, whereas before I could only say that I believed, and even then only passively. But I was involved only a few weeks ago in a clean up effort that followed an incident that happened here in my mission. A group of four missionaries got together without notifying any of their mission leaders and the results were sad. There's no need to specify what, but my knowing the full details actually depressed me for a little while. I was shocked that men who had pledged to a prophet of God that they would be servants of Jesus Christ could do things this wicked. Two of the elders were excommunicated. All were sent home immediately after one of them confessed because of the guilt he couldn't bear afterward. I actually worked with one of these elders on an exchange, before it was discovered by president but after the event had happened. I know all parents that sent those elders out had high hopes for their sons, eagerly expecting them to return in two years as transformed, now spiritual giants. Instead, they came home early, just in time for Christmas, none of them with an honorable release and two of them with the complete dissolution of every covenant they made and their priesthood with it.
I will make this comparison: cleaning bathrooms.
A parent can tell his son or daughter to clean a bathroom. In one case, the son or daughter is given just a rag. In the other case, he is given gloves, equipment, cleaning supplies and someone to show him how to do it.
BUT: it's still his or her choice whether he or she will clean the bathroom.
A mission can be an amazing experience where our conversion is deepened and we really start on the path that leads us back to our Heavenly Father, but the mission does not put us on that path like an escalator. A missionary on his or her mission is given an amazing opportunity to really become a disciple of Jesus Christ, but that does not mean that he or she will actually do it. There are many missionarys, ones that even finish their missions "honorably" who do not change at all on the inside.
Getting a name tag does not change who you are. It does not mean you no longer face temptation, pride, bitterness, envy, fear or lust. It does not give you an added +30 spiritual points. You are still you.
I know Jesus Christ is real. I know He can heal us through His atonement, and I love serving Him with the time He has given me to do so :)
Me and fellow thugs / missionaries of my apartment Christmas Eve.
This week was quite a week! The Philippines celebrates Christmas a bit differently than we do, but it's still quite fun! The biggest difference is the fireworks, haha, lots and lots of fireworks. Over the course of the week, I was able to Skype my family, be fed exorbitantly and watched the church's "He is the Gift" video about 50 times, but all of those things were wonderful! The "He is the Gift" video makes me feel the spirit every time I watch, especially as Mary looks up while holding the infant Christ in her arms as the drums stop. (chills). Other than that, it was a little difficult to feel the Christmas spirit without my family, or without even a hint of being cold, but that is honestly okay! I still enjoyed the actual purpose of Christmas, which is remember the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ!
Because the news is scant for this week, I would like to leave my very last email update of this year with my testimony.
I have come to know for myself that these things are true, independent of any person, people, group, organization, or influence other than the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is not imaginary, or just a concept folks made up to feel better about themselves or to make the unfairness of the world around them somehow make sense. He is real. He lives! He speaks to our prophets today as he did from Adam to Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson. I know from that same power that there is a loving Father in Heaven and that He works day after day to bring us home to Him :) In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Happy New Years!
Feed your fire!
Gain light and truth!
Just keep swimming!
Elder Mikesell III
Me and Elder Guiuo getting Christmas gifts the day after from the Chan family in our ward!