Dear Family and Friends,
This week was great. Hard and weird and wonderful, which, I think, all the best weeks on the mission are. I always knew going on a mission would change me, that I would learn, and that it was important, but I never imagined how much I would fall in love with it. My mission is joyful.
This week started out with my last district meeting ever. 18 months ago, I never thought I would be crying about district meeting, but that didn’t stop me from doing it on Tuesday. Our district meeting was held in Hope, which is one of the smallest units in the mission. They average about 15-20 people to sacrament meeting, and almost half of the Melchizedek priesthood holders are men assigned to attend from other units.
Having district meeting in Hope, made things worse on my emotions I think. The Hope building is tiny, consisting of a chapel with a max capacity around 70, and two or three classrooms. The kitchen is smaller than some walk-in closets, and there is a single basketball hoop bolted to the wall on the back end of the chapel. It’s probably the only building in the church where I could make a basket from the pulpit.
The Hope building is a reality in the church that was so foreign to me a year and a half ago. 15 people at sacrament meeting? There were days when we had more people in my youth Sunday School class. At first these kinds of realities scared me, but over time I have fallen in love with them. There is something very special about the church in places like Hope. Much of the pomp and circumstance, the issues of church culture that so often plague larger units, are missing in places like Hope. The gospel is stripped down to the very basics of what it is, and that is beautiful.
The district meeting went well. My district leader asked me to instruct for part of the meeting on Weekly Planning, trying to gain from my “ancient wisdom”. Little does he know, planning has always been one of my weaknesses as a missionary! It didn’t matter, though. If you pray for inspiration, no matter what the topic at hand may be, the Lord is going to grant you with what you need to teach others.
Following our district meeting we traveled outside to take a district picture, another thing I will miss. The senior couple in Hope, the P’s, took our picture, and afterwards Sister P (who misses so badly the comfort of her home and family in Springville, Utah), started telling me just how lucky I was to be going home in time for the holidays. Her eyes welled up with tears as she told me about some of the family traditions they would be missing this year, exchanging them for a humid Christmas in Hope, Arkansas. I cried too, but for different reasons. I couldn’t tell this to Sister P, but in that moment, I felt she was the lucky one. Christmas in the mission field is so special, and I would give anything for another one.
Tuesday night we had dinner with the H’s and W. We knew W needed to have an experience where the Spirit would be invited strongly, so I volunteered to ask Brother H for a blessing during the lesson. What a sacrifice on my part, right? Haha. The time for the blessing came, and when he asked me what it was for, the tears came again. I explained to him my fears about going home and my sadness in leaving all of this behind. At first I was worried Will would be uncomfortable, but he listened quietly, and at the end he thanked me for my service. Brother H then sat me down in a chair and gave me a blessing. The Spirit was beautiful, and in the blessing, he focused completely on the things I would do at home. At first this made me upset, but as I listened I felt the Spirit testify to me that I yet have a great work to do, and that my service will not end here in Arkansas. The Spirit was very strong.
Following the blessing, we had a long discussion about how we can know truth, which has been a reoccurring discussion with W. He has always felt that truth only came from the Bible, that he could only know something was true spiritually, if he could read it from the scriptures. He has been having a hard time finding the Book of Mormon in the Bible. Previously, we had spent time finding every Bible scripture we felt testified of the Book of Mormon, to convince W of our views, but during the lesson the Spirit prompted me to take the conversation in a different direction. I asked him how he had come to trust in the Bible so well, he couldn’t have learned that the Book was true simply because it said it was, the teaching meant nothing until he had received a spiritual witness. He was quiet for a little while, and then someone else shared a scripture and the lesson went in a different direction. It was a very good lesson, and the Spirit was strong, but I was worried that he hadn’t understood what I was trying to help him see. Following the lesson though, we received a text that read “Sister Thomas, I want you to know that your point about how we know something is scripture was not lost on me tonight, I will be praying on it.” I am so thankful for the Spirit.
My other “last” this week was exchanges. I went to Pinnacle Mountain with Sister K. I am so impressed by the spiritual capacity of other missionaries, and Sister K is no exception. Several transfers ago I was her Sister Training Leader, and we went on exchanges several times. I could tell in the beginning she was a little nervous, probably thinking I wouldn’t want to listen to her, but I was excited to learn from her. As we went through the day I was so impressed by her abilities to use the scriptures in lessons. I think using a scripture is so much better, because then they know it comes from God, not from me.
Exchanges helped me so much. Sister K was truly inspired as she helped me come to terms with some things. That’s another thing my mission has given me so much perspective on, our leaders are absolutely entitled to revelation and they receive it. I have always been happiest on my mission when I actively do my part to listen to and sustain my leaders.
This week we saw a huge miracle because W came to church, which was something he said he would not do a month ago. He sat through all three hours, and enjoyed it all, Even the Sunday school discussion on the literal gathering of Israel. After church, he was missing, and we went out into the parking lot to see if he had slipped away without talking to us. Instead, we found him in the parking lot, pulling his truck up to jump an older woman’s car. She was visiting the branch from out of state, and didn’t know anyone. She probably didn’t even realize W wasn’t a member, especially because of how quick he was to help. He came off very Mormon-y. 🙂 As we stood watching him help this woman he didn’t know, I had a flash of a thought that someday W is going to make the best Elder’s Quorum President ever. I couldn’t help but smile, in that moment I received the spiritual confirmation to know that he will be baptized. It might not be in the next couple weeks, or even in the next couple months, but he is going to be baptized.
Sunday, I spoke in sacrament meeting, and once again became so thankful for the Spirit in the Arkadelphia. This branch is special, and they make me feel special. I spoke on Enduring to the End, which was particularly poignant for me. I love writing talks, because I always learn so much. One scripture reference stood out so strongly to me while I was studying:
3 Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.
4 For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.
5 Remember this, which I tell you before, that you may lay it to heart, and receive that which is to follow. (D&C 58)
I found a lot of comfort in it, especially the part about not being able to behold the things which shall come hereafter. I was surprised and delighted, then, when I opened my My Plan and found the same scripture at the beginning of the module, where they asked me to start my Life Plan. I cried plenty then.
If there I was one thing I have learned these past 18 months, it is that God is fully and lovingly aware of each of us, and His fingerprint is everywhere. I would challenge each of us to find it more often, and when we do, to offer a prayer of thanks for His loving care and guidance. He is the master of all.
I love y’all, and I hope you have a great week!
Sister Hannah Kathryn Thomas
Sunlight makes for great selfies.
Exchange picture. I forgot how to make normal faces in group photos a long time ago.
Squad pictures are important, very important.
The all important Camden District.
Me with a small girl I met on exchanges- after we took the photo and were looking at it she said “Look! Your teeth are clean, good job!” 😂