Sunday, May 13, 2018

My Homecoming Talk - Mother's Day

Recently, I came across a quote that said that the “spiritual solidarity of the family” would determine the success of many things, especially societies and happiness in families. I thought about spiritual solidarity and instantly realized that this was exactly what my mother did and created in our home when I was growing up. Having spiritual solidarity in a family means everyone working on keeping the spirit of God, love, and unity with them. I truly believe that what I felt and learned in my home growing up and was the biggest reason why I chose to serve a mission. I had learned to love and serve my Savior and I wanted to bring this same happiness to other people and families in the world.

What would happen if each person in a whole family had this kind of self-government; if they understood spirituality and lived spiritually solid? When the family is solid it cannot be destroyed, altered or penetrated by distractions or dysfunctions.

The unity of the family is powerful, but the spiritual unity of the family is unconquerable!

To create spiritual solidarity in our home my mom did some very specific things that helped shape my personality and my testimony of Jesus Christ.

My mom was firm in her beliefs. She was religious. I saw her practice her faith daily and with us as a family. Some of my fondest memories are reading the BOM together as a family, especially the time that President Hinckley challenged families to do this. My mom has a lot of little traditions that sometimes I think I took for granted as a kid. It was very important to my mother at a young age that we recognized the spirit in our home and in our daily lives. I remember many days coming home from school, or on Sundays she would sit us all down and ask us what our spiritual experience was of the day – when we felt the spirit, on a daily basis. That really strengthened my testimony and help me prepare for a mission – to really learn and recognize the promptings of the Spirit. I used to think my mom had ESP because she always knew what was going on in our lives. I cannot tell you how many times my mom told me that she received promptings about us and how right she was most of the time. As I got older, I realized my mom specifically prayed daily to receive these promptings for us. Looking back, I am so grateful for how in tune my mom was. It always made the biggest difference in my life.

My mom always made sure that we were strengthening our family relationships by having regular and frequent family time together. We did a ton of stuff together as a family and my mom guarded family time like the mama bear that she is. She also took this idea to extreme lengths at times, as we never had our own rooms growing up, even though we had the space in our house. She purposely made us share rooms our whole lives with a sibling, usually the ones we didn’t get along with the best. We often had two rooms in our home that were set up as guest rooms and never used! She believed that there were many things we could learn about relationships, and being unselfish, and making sacrifices, that would prepare us for living with college roommates, missionary companions, and spouses someday.

My mom worked hard to decrease distractions to our family and in our personal development. I’m not sure why my mom even bought us cellphones, video games, or anything like that because she never let us use them. She always kept us really busy and focused on what was really important.

My mom was always very in sync with my dad and they were unified in their parenting and teaching. In our home there was no going to dad to ask him to say yes if my mom had already said no. I think we all tried that once, but never felt the need to try it again. This worked the other way too.

My mom created a home full of love, unity, and respect, which kept contention and frustration to a minimum in our home. I loved being home and I get very homesick. I could rarely be at my friend’s house for more than a couple of hours without calling my parents asking them to come and pick me up. My home has always been my favorite place to be and I was so grateful my Heavenly Father strengthened me during my mission so that I could focus on the work and not miss my home too much, because I was a little concerned about that at the beginning. Knowing my mom well, and knowing how much she missed me and loves me, I am positive that she was praying for me to have this strength as well.

I am so grateful for my mom, and for all mothers in the world today. I love this quote by Andy Stanley and I think it is worth pondering especially today. “Your greatest contribution to the Kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.”

10 years ago my mom took me to hear a homecoming talk of a sister missionary that served in Cambodia. I was 10 or 11 at the time. I remember sitting, just as you guys are, listening to a sister coming home from a mission. She had a little bit of an accent, but she talked about strange foods, and a new weird language that she learned. She talked about taking bucket showers and I was totally mesmerized by this. I even remember leaning over to my mom and saying, “I want this.” From that day on, I’ve been preparing my homecoming talk, thinking about the stories I would get to tell, thinking of the ways I could express my testimony, and the people I would have to talk about. I’m so grateful that Heavenly Father gave me this opportunity and He even gave me part of my dream to have some of the same experiences that she had, even the cold bucket showers!

I loved my mission. I loved the people, and I loved them in a way that I have never loved before. Every time after being transferred to a new area, I felt like maybe this time, it wouldn’t be the same, but maybe this time the members weren’t going to be as good, or I wasn’t going to find as good investigators. Every time, Heavenly Father proved me wrong. I soon learned that no matter where I was placed it was immediately my best area in the mission. It was the best area in the world for missionary work. Because I felt in my heart that Heavenly Father had put me into that place for a reason. There were miracles that we found, people that we found to love, lives were changed. Heavenly Father expanded my heart, and he continued to make room for more and more people for me to love.

When I was called to serve in Brazil, I thought for the longest time that I would be called Irma Vance, because it means Sister Vance in Portuguese. When I walked into the MTC, I was given a nametag that said, Sister Vance. At the time I was a little bummed out about it – I wanted it to be a little bit different. But I never realized how many times being called Sister Vance in my mission that I would think of my dear mother. I would think of what she would do in this situation – I have no idea what to do, what would my mom do? Usually what I found that my mom would do was exactly in line with what Jesus Christ would do. I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to represent my Savior, but also represent my dear mother on my mission.

I would like to take some time to share some sacred experiences from my mission:

At one point in my mission, I had been out for a little over a year, me and my companion were praying, asking for a big miracle. We really wanted to find someone that would one day serve a mission. We really wanted to find a teenager that became really converted and then one day, we would be able to see the many fruits of our work. A little bit out of the selfishness of my own heart, I started to pray to feel like me and my companion found someone, and that I was making a difference where I was serving. One day we were walking on a street at night and we saw a young guy sitting on a curb. We walked past him, we were on our way to some appointment, but I felt like I needed to talk to him. I realized I had to make the awkward turn-around, but I said I would do it. I turned around and started to talk to this young man. His name was Maurecello. As we were talking to him, we started talking to him about the plan of salvation, about who he was, and we told him that he has a Heavenly Father that loves him. I’ll never forget the way he looked up at us and asked, “I’m important to Him? I’m important to God?” I just couldn’t believe that someone who was 17 years old, couldn’t feel the love that I feel on a daily basis, because I know how essential this is. We marked a day to visit him and when we passed by to visit him, we both realized that we had knocked on his door a week earlier, but he wasn’t home. So yet again, Heavenly Father gave us another opportunity to help Maurcello. As we started teaching him, he accepted a baptismal date, and went to church. He was just ready to accept every invitation that we gave him. It was funny because I became excited thinking, “Wow, it was me that made that contact! It was me that turned around and started talking to this kid.” But every time we were at his house, the only feelings I could feel were, “you did nothing.” That is the moment that I learned that the Spirit is the true converter in this work. We really are the tools. It was funny because even at his baptism, it was the baptism that I felt like I had done the least. His story is really special to me because he struggled with his gender identity. At the time, he had to make some changes in his life. After he was baptized, he had a former boyfriend that was against him getting baptized, but he showed up to the baptism and then left and was saying all of these negative things to Maurcello about his baptism. Maurcello said that he has do continue doing what is right and that he can’t get lost in all these negative comments. He was very strong in the church. But a couple weeks later, this friend sent a text to Maurcello and said, “I’ve seen the changes in you. I want the same things in my life.” This moment was really special to me because I still hope that one day he decides to serve a mission, but through that little experience on the road, we helped Maurcello, but we also had the opportunity to see the fruits of our work. I know that people can change. I’ve changed, so anything is possible.

One night we were walking through a park and we saw a young man sitting there. As he was sitting there, we decided to go talk to him. He decided that he didn’t believe in God, he didn’t believe in anything like that. We started with the basics. We started talking about prayer with him. As we were talking about prayer, he was kind of out of it and said, “I don’t think God will answer my prayers.” We said, “In the Book of Mormon you can find a lot of your answers.” We gave him the Book of Mormon and he said he would read it. When we were marking a chapter for him to read, I felt a distinct impression to write something in there for him – a little note. We handed him the Book of Mormon and said, “Okay, we will see you the next time we have an appointment with you. Is there anything else we can do to help you?” He was going through a lot of difficult things in his life and looked up and said, “Please, pray for me.” In that moment, I pointed to what my companion and I had written in the Book of Mormon and it said, “We are praying for you. Don’t forget this.” This is just one example of the millions of examples I’ve had where the Spirit has prompted us to do something to help someone increase their faith. When he read that, he looked at me and said, “I know now that God exists. You’ve just proven that to me.” I know that Heavenly Father guides this work on the earth. I know that he led me and my companion to find people that were ready for the gospel.

There was this one woman, named Tatiani. She was a single mom. When we walked in, we started teaching her about the plan of Salvation. A lot of the people we taught were more “simpler-minded”. We were teaching her about Adam and Eve, the Spirit World, and a lot of other things. At the end of the lesson, my companion and I stopped and I felt impressed to say, “Tatiani, if you forget everything that we told you about Adam and Eve, that’s fine with me. We can come back and we can talk about it again, and we invite you to pray to know if these things are true. But the real invitation we have for you today, is we really want you to know that Heavenly Father loves you. Will you pray to know that Heavenly Father loves you?” When I was saying those words, it really touched my heart because in my patriarchal blessing it says nothing about serving a full-time mission. But something that it does talk about is that I will have the opportunity to serve and help other people throughout the world feel Heavenly Father’s love for them. At that moment, it really felt like I was completing or accomplishing my patriarchal blessing. In that moment, I really did feel the love of the Savior running through my bones.

One of my last days on my mission, I was a little worried. Everyone that has served a mission knows how weird it is to finish your mission and come home and everything like that. One of the last nights of my mission, I was packing my bags and my companion was crying because she was sad that I was going home. But I couldn’t even cry because it didn’t seem real to me. I really wanted it to hit me that I was going home so that I could be a little bit more emotionally prepared. So I said my prayers, asking Heavenly Father to help me realize that my mission was coming to an end. As I crawled into bed, I was laying there, I felt the strongest feeling whispered into my heart that said “it hasn`t hit you yet, because your mission is not over. It will never be over.” It then really clicked for me in that moment that if I am valiant, I will spend the rest of my life that way - I will still have about 40 or 45 more of these 18 months stints, working that hard, caring that much, loving that deeply. That I must never forget the feeling of working and giving everything to something and people who I love. It wouldn’t be too long before school, work, family, church callings, etc. are the ones you give 24X7. My mission was just the beginning.

The most important thing I learned about missionary work is that it’s about giving. It’s about putting your whole heart into something and loving each and every person in a way that you would do anything for them. A remember a couple stories where Irma Maria was baptized and when she came, she didn’t bring a change of clothes, or didn’t have under garments to put on and I just remember at that moment thinking, “I would do anything for Irma Maria. I would maybe even trade a bra with her or something because you learn to love these people in a different kind of way.” That’s what motivated me every day as a missionary. That’s what motivated me to be obedient. I love a quote that says, “Faith is measured by what you are willing to do.” I think that is so true. Faith is measured by what we are willing to sacrifice. What are we willing to give up to be obedient and follow the example of the Savior?

I know that when our purpose in missionary work is to give and to serve, and to focus on other people, it’s impossible to care about someone too much. Yes, as missionaries we often had many disappointments, a lot of them couldn’t follow through with what they said they would do, and sometimes we do get let down. But we were filled with the lowest of lows and the highest of highs, because people do have their agency. There were so many moments on my mission when I was teaching, that I wish I could take mental pictures. I was just praying in my heart for Heavenly Father to always help me remember the experiences I had, to always help me remember the faces that people had when they accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, the light and countenance change they would have.

In closing, I would just like to share one last experience. My parents had the opportunity to pick me up from my mission. That was a really sacred experience for me because the people in Brazil were my family away from my family, and at home, it was my family away from my other family as well. So for the two to be able to come together was really special. On my last night, we stopped by my last area. There was a girl that was getting baptized that we had taught the week before. Her name is Lara Késsia. We were talking with her and she saw that my dad was there. She really had the desire to be baptized by the same person that baptized Sister Vance. In that moment, I had the opportunity to testify to her how worthy my dad is. In that moment, it was the perfect ending to my mission in Brazil. My last night there, my dad had the opportunity to baptize someone I had taught. In that moment, it wasn’t just the physical part of my dad being able to be there and baptize someone I had taught, but because when I looked at my mom and dad standing there, it was like the two worlds had come together – that everything that had happened before my mission, happened because of my parents. That the reason why that girl was being baptized by my dad, was because of the way I was raised – because of the way the gospel was taught in my family.

I can say another 10 pages of stories of things I would love to share that I won’t make you sit through. But I loved my mission. I love my Savior. I am so grateful for Him. I am so grateful that Heavenly Father trusted me enough. He could’ve picked anyone to meet the people that I got to meet, he could’ve picked anyone to serve where I got to serve, but I got to be there. I got to have those experiences. I’m so grateful for that.

In my first interview with my Mission President, we sat down, and he asked me, “Why did you decide to serve a mission?” I was young and dumb at the beginning of my mission and said, “Because I want to repay the Savior for everything he’s done for me.” When I look back at that, I just want to hit myself over the head because if anything, I’m just in more debt to my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ – because every day of my mission He was blessing me, and even after my mission, he is still blessing me.

I would like to bear my testimony that I know that Jesus Christ lives. I know that Heavenly Father lives and loves us, and each one of His children. I know that it is our responsibility to share this with other people.

I would just like to close in bearing my testimony in the language that I’ve learned to love – the Portuguese language: (bore testimony in Portuguese)

This is my testimony that I leave with you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Change of Heart

Family & Friends,

I had another tender mercy. As we were waiting at the bus stop for the elders to arrive to do a baptism interview, some kid tapped me on the shoulder and I looked up and it was Jose! He is a member from Parnaiba and we would always invite him to make visits with us. At the time it seemed like he wasn’t sure if he would go on a mission, but I got to see him as he was on his way to catch a flight in Teresina! What were the chances that I would have been there at that 5 minute time slot, and that he would have seen me! Heavenly Father blessed me so much by allowing me to experience this “chance” encounter. In the attached photo, the two boys are from Parnaiba and are going to serve missions in Sao Paulo! The one boy only has the things he has on his back and his flip flops! What faith!!

This is it! I can’t believe it has come to an end! I have two types of feelings; one, that I know how much I am going to miss this, my beloved Brazil, the people, and the special feelings that come as a set apart representative of Jesus Christ. There is just nothing like it! The second feeling is just such a great sense of accomplishment. I did it, and loved it! I really put so much time, energy and focus into magnifying my calling as a missionary! It, to me, has been the greatest success in my life!

I ended my mission on a high! BAPTISM! Woohoo! Natalia is already excited to be a sister missionary one day! She is 10 years old, and is a little bit on the younger side, but it has been so neat to see on the mission how sharp and prepared some of these kids are. They are so pure in heart, and it’s great to know that they will be able to participate in the church programs like primary and young women’s! She is also neighbors with a member, so we know that she will always be in good hands. We also are just inviting everyone, I mean EVERYONE, to be baptized, and it has been truly humbling to see their hearts softened and accept the invitation. Inviting people to be baptized on the mission, always takes a leap of courage, but for that reason it is my favorite and one of the things I will most miss. I had my last district meeting and it was actually the district “funeral”, because it’s a joke that I was dying as a missionary. It was funny!

This last week was just really special to me. I have wanted to talk to everyone, to plant as many seeds as I could about the gospel. I just wanted to run around like a maniac and do all that I could as my time as a missionary came to an end. But I am grateful that I really do have no regrets. I am grateful that the Savior helped me serve a diligent mission. My mission president looked at me and told me that he had seen a change in my heart, and I am so grateful for the work that the Savior personally did in my life and with my life. This year and a half flew by for me and hardly felt like a sacrifice; if anything it was the greatest gift anyone could have given me. I will forever be grateful.

To me it doesn’t matter if they remember my name or my face or even what I said. I just hope that the impressions of the Spirit will forever be written on their hearts in a way that they will never be able to deny the way that they felt, hearing the gospel truth!

Love you all,

Sister Vance

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Losing Myself to Become More Like Me Than Ever Before

Family & Friends,

There is an old missionary myth that the more you get rained on, the more handsome your future husband will be. I’m not trying to brag or jump to any sort of conclusion here, but this past week we got rained on every day; pouring rain storms that left so much flooding! So, “Dear Future Husband, one day when you read this, don’t forget to thank me!” Haha, #KeepTheRainComing!

But really, there has been some pretty extreme weather. It hasn’t rained so much since 2009. There have been times when the water has been waist high, and there are fish swimming in it. I wish I was kidding, but it’s true. We were proselyting for more than 3 hours without shoes. It has been way fun, and definitely an adventure and struggle at the same time. But waist deep water can’t stop the work. When it’s raining or storming, missionaries can’t just take shelter and wait out the storm. It’s absolutely the best time for finding people to teach! They will let you in because of pity or yell at you to come into their house.

When we were proselyting barefoot, we found Janderson. A 26 year old man, we taught him about the Restoration and he found it interesting, but when we pulled out the Book of Mormon and started explaining it, his eyes lit up with interest and excitement. When we returned a day later, he had read everything (introduction, testimonies) and 13 chapters! We tried not to fall out of our chairs! We tried to play it cool with him, but left trying really hard not to make a scene in the street, because we became so excited and happy!

We had an appointment set for 8pm another day, and it was raining and storming a ton. When we showed up, the family was shocked. The grandma started running around to dry us off with towels, and had no shame of touching wherever she needed to get us dry! It must have been a bit of a shocking sight to see us show up, but when they said they thought we wouldn’t come, we responded and said, “but we told you that we would come, right? We mean what we say”. My companion and I have decided that we really have to SHOW them how important and sacred this work is. We aren’t messing around here! Someday, I just hope that these people we teach can see and understand how much we worry about them, how they are constantly on our minds, and how we are willing to do anything for them. We really do love them.

Victor, a 16 year old young man, has been receiving our messages. Saturday, we taught him the Plan of Salvation, and at the end he said, “did I ever tell you about the dream I had? The other night, I did what you have been teaching me to do, praying with faith and asking if these things I am learning are true. In my dream, I was walking in a grassy field and I looked up and saw a tree”. My companion and I already had goosebumps, and I was already getting emotional. He continued, “and when I looked up at the tree, I saw a light that said to me, ‘continue on the path that you are on’”. As he explained more, it was clear he had dreamed about the tree of life (1 Nephi 8)”! We read in the Book of Mormon about Lehi’s dream and it was so spiritual. What a miracle! Mighty faith brings about mighty miracles! It was so cool, because he understood and then was able to fully interpret his dream using the Book of Mormon. We have seen so many miracles this week that have felt like tender mercies from the Lord. I am excited to see what He has in store for me during my last week in the mission!

Because of the flooding, it has been sad because water has entered into houses as well and people have had to leave. We were invited to go to place where these people were staying. We made breakfast for them, played around and got to know a bunch of them. They were sweet and it was a humbling experience. We got 30 or more of them together and taught the Plan of Salvation. I have had many opportunities during my mission to teach groups of people and it is always a different experience. I always feel the power and authority of my calling as a missionary. I feel like I’m really preaching, haha! One man yelled out at the end, “I am so happy, everything seems so much clearer to me!” I thought, that just sums up the “Plan of Happiness” for me too, my friend. I love having the knowledge that we have, and the way it influences my daily and life decisions. I have been praying a lot recently about my life and what to do with it, haha, and this service project was an answer to my prayers. I have learned that whatever happens, my life needs to be FILLED with service. I feel myself thriving in joy in these situations.

I have learned on my mission that when people or God talk about “losing yourself”, it means abandoning all selfishness, all pride and our self-will. Once we do that, God really gives us back all of our personality … when we are wholly His, we will be more ourselves than ever before! You may have noticed that over the past 18 months I have still been crazy, always laughing and I have had fun and happiness on my mission. But I really feel like I have changed.

I feel like Christ and God’s love have really molded and shaped me. I feel more love within me, with more love to share. I feel more forgiving because I realize how much I have been forgiven. I am more patient because other people (including Heavenly Father) have been more patient and kind with me. I love to work hard here because I know that this is His work. I have learned obedience because of the perfect example of our Savior, and have seen the blessings of it here in the mission, and the miracles it brings. I have learned what real faith is and have learned how to nourish it and grow it on a daily basis. I have learned humility as I have realized that I need the help of the Divine in my life. I have seen that, no matter how much or how hard I have worked, sweated and even cried to help these people, He is always doing more and doing the job in the perfect way that only He can do it.

In the end, I love my Savior, Jesus Christ, because I have felt and seen Him save me from myself over and over again. He is my King, my personal Savior and personal Redeemer. I am striving to live in such a way that when I return to Him and am in His presence, that it will feel familiar to be close to Him.

See you all soon; love you all!

Sister Vance

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Right Place, Right Time

Family & Friends,

After I logged off of email last week, we decided to go to the grocery store. I wasn’t feeling too great. I thought to myself that maybe my stomach pain was because I had forgotten to eat all day. As I passed close to the open meat section, I had a feeling of slight dizziness. I thought it was just because of the smell of meat/blood. At the checkout, reality hit me hard. My companion handed me a grocery bag and I left the store running, looking for a place not filled with people. Then I remembered that I had to stay in sight and sound of my companion. Oh gosh, so yes, a sister missionary was found throwing up right in the entrance of the supermarket! I was just grateful that I had a grocery bag – until the wind picked up and while I was throwing up, the wind took the bag and wacked me in the face! Anyway, the struggle was so real! I vomited nonstop for the next couple hours. I couldn’t even take medicine without it all coming back up. So against my will, I was forced by Sister Melo to go to the hospital at 9pm. Our ward mission leader and his wife were there for moral support. Actually, they were there to take videos of me getting IVs and being dramatic, haha, but I love them. For the next 7 hours I sat in a chair, with an IV in one arm and my throw-up bucket in the other. It would have been okay if wasn’t for the male nurse trying to “Bible-bash” with us the whole time. I just wasn’t up for that! Then at 4:00am we tried to reach the church member that has a car, because we had made plans with him to get a ride home, and he wasn’t answering. We tried everything, and I thought we were going to have to walk home! Everything turned out okay and I am better now. It was karma, because I have joked my whole mission that if I gained weight on my mission, I would drink the water from the faucet to get sick and lose weight, haha!

Amidst the sickness, we saw many blessings! We had nine (9) investigators in church! Woohoo! I hope to see a lot of them baptized before the end of this transfer. I’m sure there will be many that I will only see photos (#plantingseeds). One of them, Livia, even bore her testimony. She was almost baptized last week, but her husband is in prison waiting to be judged, so it’s a bit complicated. But she will probably be baptized in a few weeks. She said in her testimony that “the sisters told me that Satan will work on me to try to make me give up. When I almost give up, I remember them saying that, and I promise that I’ll never give up!” It was so cute.

One morning this week, we were walking to a part of our area a bit far away. A “moto” stopped and the young woman introduced herself and said, “I have been inactive for years, and I need you to visit me. I am struggling … when can you meet with me?” It was a cry for help. I am so grateful that we were in the right place at the right time. She came back to church on Sunday, and we are working to help her get back on the path of happiness through living and applying the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When we were at the hospital, we started talking to another woman hooked up on an IV. Her name was Maria Jesus, and she was suffering. She had “bleeding” problems for months straight. I remembered the story of Jesus with the woman of “the blood issue”, and how she reached out to him to be healed! We shared this story with her, prayed with her and bore our testimonies and tried to comfort her. We talked to her for hours, sharing our blankets and our life stories. When we were leaving, it was sad to leave her there, but she said, “wow, who would have known that we would have met here; that I would make my first American friend in a hospital in Campo Maior, Brazil?” She was cute and we got her address. It was definitely inspired that we met her, and maybe Heavenly Father even let me get as sick as a dog, just to be able to help Maria Jesus a little through this trial and brighten her day. I know I felt better as I looked for ways to serve her. I have learned that when we give we always gain.

I know that when I am helping others, Heavenly Father will bless me to overcome any trial and tribulation that I may have while I am here on this earth. It is my responsibility to listen to the Spirit, be at the right place at the right time and always be willing to “turn out” when the natural man wants me to do the opposite. I am being so blessed here ... I love my mission because I am given the responsibility to serve and love random strangers every minute of every day. When I think about it, we all have that opportunity every day of our lives.

Love you all!

Sister Vance

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Hardest Thing I've Ever Loved To Do

Hello Everyone,

Last week we were warned about a crazy, one-legged lady with AIDS on the loose with her blood in a syringe, running wild in the streets injecting her blood into innocent victims. These types of situations are far too common here, and while they are just part of the crazy circumstances here in Brazil, I feel like I haven’t really lived without these experiences. But don’t worry family (or anyone), we have to be discriminating here and guided by the Spirit, so we will be safe but we make ourselves available to everyone and anyone seeking after the truth.

I keep writing that it’s 2016, and I am just way confused about that. It’s April 2018 already, and I don’t know if it’s a sign that I still haven’t realized so much time has passed and that I’m not at the beginning of my mission anymore. It’s been 1 year and 5 months, but I guess it still hasn’t hit me that I have been gone that long or that so much time has passed. We had zone conference this past week, and everyone asked me, “so, Sister Vance, what are your plans?” I responded, “plans for what?” haha, but was just kidding as I have definitely made some personal goals for when I return. The zone conference was just awesome. It was at President Melo’s house and it was so spiritual. It was one of the best ones yet, and that’s a good thing because it was my last! The closing hymn was “Called to Serve”, and of course I started getting a little choked up, and the mission president’s wife (Sister Melo) came by my side and she started to cry too! I love that woman so much! We are going to miss each other. Then I looked over at my companion (Sister Keuiele) and she was crying more than me, saying that she didn’t want me to go. It was cute, but I told her not to cry because we still have a lot of time together, and lots to do!

Speaking of Sister Keuiele, this week we were doing training together and talking about the people we teach. She then started to rant about how she was frustrated that not everyone will listen to us, pray, read the Book of Mormon, or go to church. She then started to cry and said, “if only they knew how much these things could change their lives for the better. I just want them to have what I have and know what I know. Why don’t they care about their own happiness? I would do anything to help them understand the truthfulness of the gospel.” I remember, many times, feeling the same way during my mission. As she was frustrated and crying, I felt the Spirit so strong. When she stopped, I smiled and said, “this right here is exactly what missionary work is all about. This is why we are here”. I just wanted to throw the training book out the window because the real desire to bring salvation and joy to others is everything you need to be a great missionary and a true disciple of Christ. The rest will come on its own.

The most important thing in missionary work is giving, and putting your whole heart into it, and loving each and every person in a way that you would do anything for them to feel peace and knowledge that we have through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that when this is our goal and purpose in the mission field, that at the end of it all, we will be the ones that come out of this the most converted and the most changed, but only if our focus is on others. It’s impossible to care about someone “too much”. Yes, as missionaries we are often disappointed or let down, but missionary work was never meant to be easy. If it’s easy, then you’re doing something wrong! It is filled with the lowest of lows because of the agency of others … but it is also filled with the highest of highs that make it all worth it in the end. There are moments when I say a silent prayer to Heavenly Father asking Him to help me never forget the complete joy that seems to completely fill me. Sometimes I try to take mental pictures when I start to see a physical change in the countenance of someone I love here. Only Heavenly Father truly knows how grateful I am for this opportunity. These experiences are so unique and precious to me … it is truly the hardest thing I’ve ever loved to do.

Love you all!

Sister Vance