For Family Home Evening we met as a branch with Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Seventy. Apparently he was supposed to be coming when Elder Holland came in October but his wife got sick in Switzerland and they ended up going home instead of visiting Cairo and the rest of the Middle East. Since he wasn't able to come visit us then he came this time.
I should have taken notes during his talk. Rachel was off with Jaehee and Lindsey so my hands were free, but I still didn't take notes for some reason. It was very interesting though. He talked a lot about the former USSR, which I happened to enjoy a lot. In 1985 when the temple in Freiberg, Germany, was dedicated behind the iron curtain. People always said that the church would never make it past the iron curtain and he even had some people tell him that when the church went into Russia they'd start repenting then because that, surely, had to come soon before the end of the world.
In 1987 Elder Neuenschwander was called to be mission president of the Austria Vienna East mission, covering Poland, Hungary, and other countries behind the iron curtain. (And Egypt.)
In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down. In 1991 the USSR collapsed. And then the gospel was brought into Russia.
The gospel will be brought to all the world in the Lord's time. Right now we are working within the laws of the land which means that we can't proselyte and we can't convert anyone, but we can be good members of the church. So often we focus on what we can't do, but what we can't do isn't important and hinders us doing what we can do. We need to do what we can do. We can set and example, we can serve, we can do humanitarian work, we can meet together, we can pay tithing, we can do church history work.
It doesn't matter that the church isn't big here because the church is here. We need to do what we can do.
(Having so many General Authorities visit does not mean they are plotting anything big and grand. As far as he knows they are there for educational purposes so that when decisions need to me made they can be made well. It also helps us feel more "a part" of the church since we're so "isolated" out here.)
So often we "short change" ourselves by thinking that we know what's best. We are capable, but the Lord knows best. We need to do the Lord's will in all things. If we do, our lives will be easier and we will be blessed.
He told some wonderful stories of some new converts in Ukraine. When the USSR collapsed, and before, dachas were very important to the survival of the people. There wasn't enough food to be had year round so in the summer families would go out on the dacha every weekend and farm, basically. They had fruit trees and gardens and would grow and preserve everything they'd need for the year.
This was a big problem for the saints because they only had the weekend to work on the dacha, but church was on Sunday, which took away one of their days of labor.
In a meeting, Elder Neuenschwander read them some scriptures about keeping the Sabbath day holy and then felt compelled to promise them that, if they would make that sacrifice, they would be blessed with a bountiful harvest. He went home after that meeting almost shaking; he wasn't sure why he had promised them such a big thing, except that the Lord had told him to.
Sure enough, though, them members that decided to keep the Sabbath day holy, and only work on the dacha on Saturdays, started seeing miracle after miracle. They had water for their gardens when there was no water to be had. Their dachas were untouched by famine or theives. And their harvests were bountiful.
One couple told him that they had decided, when they joined the church, that they would pay their tithing and keep the Sabbath holy and that their berry bushes yeilded a crop twice as big as before. Such an amazing blessing!
And it's always been there. Malachi 3 was more of a rebuke than a promise. Tithing is an act of gratitude, not an extra something we do to get extra blessings. The Lord is always ready to bless us when we keep his commandments, though, and this is a reminder that when we keep the commandments we will be blessed in ways that we cannot even fully receive.
He talked a lot, a lot, about putting trust in the Lord. Because we don't know. But He does.
In the end he said, "I bless you that you will remember who you are."
What a wonderful blessing, to be able to remember who we are, to remember that we are children of Heavenly Father, and that he loves us, and that all we ever have to do is ask.
It was a fabulous meeting; we were so happy, and a little surprised, that Elder Neuenschwander and his wife still came. We were worried that they wouldn't be able to come anymore because of the bomb in the Khan yesterday.
Bishop Burton was scheduled to come visit us in January when David was here visiting but because of the Palestine/Israel crisis his trip was postponed until a few weeks ago. He ended up coming on February 13th, along with Presidents Porter and MacMillan of the Bountiful and Centerville stakes, and their wives.
He said that small and simple things are the "avenue of salvation." Sometimes things that are easy (and essential) seem mundane (and unimportant), for example, attending church meetings, or paying tithing.
He mentioned that the prophet and president of the church is tutored by the Lord by experiecnes and opportunities to serve (being in the Quorum of the 12, moving up in senority, etc). The Lord takes us as we are and makes us who he wants us to be, if we let him. My callings and experiences are transorming me into what the Lord wants me to be, also.
He also said, like Elder Neuenschwander, that we may feel forgotten by the church here, but that it is so exciting to be a Latter-day Saint here. He mentioned that he chatted with President Monson in the temple after one of their meetings and President Monson is aware that he (Bishop Burton) is here and that he (President Monson) sends his love.
The blessing the Bishop Burton invoked on our branch family was that we would be successful in our most important responsibilities as fathers and mothers (and, for those of us who are not yet fathers and mothers, that we would be a successful member of our families).
We are so blessed being "isolated" and "forgotten." We've had four general authorities visit our branch in 6 months! Being forgotten is awesome!