Date

November 27, 2019

Area

Dzvvnkharra

Companion

Orgil Batbold

Week 45, Mongolia Week 35

Hello everybody. How're y'all doing back in the beautiful U.S. of A.? I've heard it's starting to get "cold" there now haha, yeah right. Y'all getting ready for the holidays? This is my favorite time of year. This place is wild as ever and every day is still an adventure. I've realized that my emails have turned more into a feeling/impression based expression instead of documenting actual events that've happened so I'll try to be more conscious of that and find a good balance between the two.

Transfers are coming up next week so there's always a chance that I get shipped out of Dzüünkharra which has led me to think and reflect on my time here quite a bit. Looking back at it as a whole, I've come to see lots of things that I never saw in the moment. Incremental changes that were hardly noticeable in the day to day grind. Before I came here, Dzüünkharra was a notoriously dead area and dysfunctional branch. If you can't be a missionary in the traditional sense of the word and you rely on the members for majority, if not all, of your work then it makes it rough when the members dont even come to church or care about the state of their branch. Being one of the first Americans here in a long, long time was going to be extremely difficult for me, or so I was told by many. However, once I got here, started going to work, and seeing how things really were, everything those people said turned out to be....a gross understatement hahaha. Towards the beginning of my time here, we'd have about 7-10 people show up to sacrament meeting on a good day and not a single member of the branch presidency or priesthood holder would be one of those few who showed. We ran the branch. Conducted the service, gave talks, played the piano, blessed and passed the sacrament, handled clerical tasks, etc. For the first few weeks it was crazy and I was just living in the moment and trying to keep my head above water. Then, one night I was thinking to myself about what was going to happen after we left. The branch would fall back into dysfunctionality and nothing I had done here would really stick or make any sort of impression on anyone. So, we shifted our focus to the members and all the people who didn't come to church. I took my first look at the directory and skimmed the list of names. In some countyside areas they have as many as 2,000 baptized and confirmed members from the proselyting days here even though no more than 100 consistently come to church. Expecting some inordinate number like that, I was pleasantly surprised to find that we had 74 names on that list. To me, that was manageable and I was able to set realistic goals. We started our effort by meeting with the branch presidency and their families a lot and doing lots of service everyday for them. Then we went to their closest member friends and did the same in the hopes that we'd be bringing back a close, tight-knit community that would hopefully help each other out and look out for one another. Then, we went to the friends of those friends. Next thing we know, the whole branch presidency and their families are coming to church. Then, their friends started coming back to church. Before we knew it, we were having large branch meetings where we were talking about who we could help next. Ultimately, it became the members' desire to bring back their friends and it became bigger than my comp and I. It was almost like a passing of the torch. Now, we typically have about 40-50 people coming to church on Sundays including every member of the branch presidency, a primary teacher, a branch president, and priesthood holders to bless and pass the sacrament. All those names I couldn't pronounce on that list had become actual people. They weren't numbers in a report, they were friends.

Looking back and recanting this story brings a smile to my face and a dear warmth to my heart, but in the moment, it was rough. There were plenty of days where I was miserable and very sinnical. I know that sounds counterintuitive based on what y'all just heard but there is such a large difference in the day-to-day and the big picture. Things didn't start out great. To be honest, I've only found a peace in being here in the past couple of weeks. This was a slow burn for sure. The people here, members or not, didn't respect me at all which grew my disdain for them. I was really irritated that they didn't even give me a chance and that they just labeled me as a privileged American who didn't understand them and their culture. I started to really hate being here. I couldn't understand why I was being ostracized by these people. I was here to help them, why didn't they embrace me with smiles and open arms? Isn't that what a mission was supposed to be after all? You love the people and culture you're serving and they love you right back. Maybe for some missions that's true but it certainly wasn't for mine. I was so hung up on the fact that I wasn't having the experience that I wanted, that I didn't realize that I was having the experience I needed. I find myself guilty of that so often in life, as I think we all are from time to time. During one of my calls (vent sessions in my native language for me) back home, I was unloading on my parents about how hard everything was and how miserable and depressed I was all the time, just complaining and complaining about how hard it was for ME. Me, me, me. My mother reminded me of a quote from President Hinckley from his mission in England when he wrote his dad to tell him he was about to throw in the towel, only to get the response to forget himself and go to work. I just thought, "oh that's nice" and brushed it off but later on I seriously thought about it and realized that I was that American stereotype these people saw me as. I was expecting a great experience to be handed to me, minimal effort required. But, as we all know, nothing worth it comes easy. The people didn't trust me and I didn't trust them. What good is going to come from that? I had to swallow my pride and be nice to them even when they were constantly ridiculing me. I'm ashamed to say that there were a few times where they pushed me to my very limits and I had so much rage built up inside me that I couldn't even speak, in fear of completely losing my self restraint. I didn't have that experience often before, and I certainly never thought I'd have it as frequently as I did on my mission of all places. I felt like a failure. I'm here to love these people yet I couldn't stand them and they me. Simultaneously, it seemed like everything that could come crashing down did and I found myself in the darkest time of my life. I doubted my testimony to the point of not being able to speak a single word in an investigator lesson because I couldn't pull myself to say something I wasn't even sure I believed in myself. In that moment, the culmination of all these events, thoughts, feelings, and doubts made the ground slip away from beneath my very feet. I started falling, further and further, until I found myself on the cusp of slipping into a darkness that I was never going to come back from. It was such discombobulating experience that I can't put it into words that make it easily understandable but perhaps some of you will be able to grasp the gravity of the situation. I was utterly and completely alone. Not only alienated from the natives, but even from other missionaries. All of my friends here seemed to succumb to the same darkness I was and many of them turned to unhealthy outlets for relief, or their mental health deteriorated to the point of having to return back home to America. I had no one to turn to, at least no one I trusted that could possibly understand my situation and all the complex feelings associated with it. Think about it, who could? My situation right now is so unique and specific that only a handful of people could empathize and understand and all of them are here with me. But, all of them are doing the things that I'm so desperately trying to avoid. So who do I have to turn to? Absolutely no one. I sunk into that pit of despair and partook of that bitter cup of loneliness. Then I realized that I wasn't the first to drink from that cup. I thought of all those before me who have had that cup laid before them. The most poignant of whom to me being our very Savior, Jesus Christ.

So let me ask you, have you tasted of this bitter cup? Have you felt forsaken and alone, so much to the point of abandoning all hope, and questioning the very faith you once held so fervently to? Have you been mocked and spit on for your beliefs, like our dear Savior? Have you walked the valley of loneliness, where the way is dark, and the mountains that surround you seem to hastily close in?

At one point or another, the time will come where we each will have to drink from this bitter cup. Repulsion and reexamination of your life and faith are direct symptoms of having tasted the contents of this cup. The greatest members of our faith, all throughout time, have at one time or another partaken of this bitter cup of loneliness that was once the Savior's. I feel like an oft briefly touched on aspect of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is that He too, as perfect as He is, had within Himself a moment of doubt. Of unimaginable pain. Of loneliness.

He has felt all of our pains which enables Him to so perfectly empathize with us. Now the time comes to beg the question, have you felt His? Have you tasted of this bitter cup?

I know that sounds perplexing at first. How can we feel His pains if He took on our pains? Wouldn't we just be feeling our own again? It goes deeper than that. Not only are they our pains again, but they're our pains as felt by Him. It's really incomprehensible for any of us and any attempt of mine to explain it would surely be in vain, but please seriously contemplate that thought. At one point our pains were His, as were the rest of the human race's....at the same time.

I had never felt a personal connection with the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I had never even had a personal relationship with Christ Himself. I had a knowledge but that was the extent of my relationship with Him. I spent many nights here in Dzüünkharra kneeling in pain and tears by my bed, earnestly and sincerely pouring out my heart to Heavenly Father to please help me, only to feel....nothing. At all. I didn't feel the peace people talked about feeling when they prayed. I was alone. Entirely. It wasn't until I hit that utter low point and truly felt so alone that I could, for the first time in my life, understand the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I finally understood that loneliness He felt. I finally felt the pain He felt. But most importantly, I finally felt the peace that comes from the Atonement. It wasn't some big, one time, crowning event, and come to think of it, I don't even know when it really started to take effect, but it did. It's a peace I can't explain or describe because it just simply transcends our realm of comprehension. The thing I know is, it's there, and I don't feel so alone anymore. I haven't changed anything about my lifestyle or my daily habits, but there's something different about my days now.

This email may be shocking, surprising, and certainly not the typical weekly you get from a missionary but I've come to really value honesty and genuineness. So, I'm putting it all out there and you can take it as you may. You can judge, you can think of me differently, you can do whatever you want. At least you know I was being honest and true to myself and hopefully, my genuine account will touch just one person who might be feeling that loneliness I did. That one person who's not just questioning, but doubting their faith. That one person who feels like the church is great and all and probably true but has never had meaningful, personal experiences with the Atonement. If I can just touch that one person's heart through this honest email, even at the expense of my "image" or what people may think of me, it was more than worth it. I think we get so concerned with feeling that we have to keep up this image of being perfect and that everything is fine that we don't take the time to be real with others and even with ourselves anymore. The simple truth is, no one's perfect. Why should we put so much effort into a facade that indicates otherwise? Do you know how your friends are really doing? Do know what members of your family are really going through? Do you still put the effort into having honest, set aside conversations with your spouse as to how both of y'all are actually doing? What you're thinking? What you're feeling? What you're struggling with? Everyone's going through something, and sometimes all it takes to save that person in distress is an honest, genuine conversation or act of love.

A quote by Aristotle that I have contemplated a lot during my time here is, "It's through doing just acts that a just man is produced." I think you can substitute "just" for just about anything and it still holds true. It's through doing faithful acts that a faithful man is produced. It's through doing genuine acts that a genuine man is produced. It's through doing loving acts that a loving man is produced. By taking the first step in putting forth effort into my relationship with the people of Dzüünkharra, I found myself, through doing loving acts, to develop that love over time. Even if those acts weren't from a sincere place of love in the beginning, they eventually became that way. We just looked to serve the people, and we served them a lot. Once they saw what we were willing to do for them it was amazing how much they would open up to and trust us, especially me, in particular, being the American.

My testimony isn't the most extravagant or profound, and as of right now, it's not much. But, what I'm about to say is something I can say I wholeheartedly believe in.

I believe that Jesus Christ's Atonement was a very personal, individual sacrifice made for each one of us. In some sort of way that we can't understand, I feel that He thought of each one of us personally and that He felt EXACTLY what we have felt and are feeling. I know that He loves you. I know that His atonement can bring a peace that you will never be able to describe or replicate elsewhere. I know the power of love and genuineness. When you perform a sincere act of love from the bottom of your heart for someone, in that moment you can connect with that person on a soul to soul level that I can't even describe. I don't understand everything and I certainly won't anytime soon, but there's a power in love that just seems to originate somewhere deeper in ourselves that we can't fathom in this realm of existence. I know the things I've said are true, and I know that if you honestly seek the same things out for yourself that you'll come to the same conclusion.

I say these things in the name of our Beloved Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.




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