Monday, June 19, 2017

Welcome Home, Elder Steele!

Elder Austin Taylor Steele returned home with honor on June 13, 2017. It was a glorious day to be together again, as a "Party of Five." Austin addressed the congregation of the Allen 1st Ward, Allen, Texas on Father's Day, June 18, 2017.  The talk is included in this final post. Thank you to everyone who supported Austin with your positive thoughts and prayers.
"...Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord." Matthew 25:23

Fathers of the Book of Mormon

             “I speak to you tonight on the subject of worthy fathers, worthy sons. The Book of Mormon was meant for us. It was written for our day. Its scriptures are to be likened unto ourselves.” This is how Ezra Taft Benson started his 1985 October General Conference address. And it’s how I start mine. But what does the Book of Mormon have to do with fathers? While I know there really are no handbooks that have all the secrets to be a dad, I also know that the Book of Mormon can guide us in the right direction. We do not need to go very far in the Book of Mormon to find the first great example. It’s probably the most read verse “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father” Like I said, we’ve all read it every single we’ve tried to get back into a habit of reading the scriptures daily, but let’s take a moment to analyze. Nephi recognized the blessings that were his parents and we can give some credit to them because they taught Nephi, and Nephi was able to experience or live those teachings.  President Benson also had something to say about this verse, “Good fathers teach their sons, and good sons listen and obey. Teaching is done by precept and example, and by word and deed. A good model is the best teacher. Therefore, a father’s first responsibility is to set the proper example.” Now how does he do that? By learning. How does he learn? Well there are many ways, and one of those answers is… the Book of Mormon. Lehi had a testimony and lived what he taught so that’s why Nephi trusted in his father, evidence is found in 1 Nephi 3:7 “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” Nephi had been taught by his father to trust in God. Lehi had to set the example and Nephi had to listen to him. By the end of their experiences in leaving Jerusalem, Nephi had grown in faith because he trusted in God, and he trusted in God first because he followed the example of his father.

            But it doesn’t stop there. If we look at the story of the Book of Mormon, one of the big running themes is fathers teaching their sons. Like Mormon comforting his son Moroni that “may Christ lift thee up” (Moroni 9:25). Or Lehi again encouraging his sons, this time to “arise from the dust and be men.” In Mosiah (27:14) we learn of what to do if as a parent we are struggling with a child “And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.” Alma was constantly praying for his son because there was not much more he could do.

And then there is the story of Enos. Most of the time we focus on how long he prayed and how he was able to repent, but I what leads him to pray is also worth noting. “Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it—And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins. Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.” (Enos 1:1-3). Enos didn’t wake up that day and decide he was going to pray, but instead it was the culmination of all that he had been taught by his father Jacob being brought back to his remembrance at the exact time he needed it. Or in other words, Jacob was a light for Enos.

Jose A Texeira, an area 70, recounted an experience he had while camping with his 2 sons. “We first went to the store to buy supplies” he said “and even though it was a 1 night trip, we had bought enough food to last us a whole week and then we went to a fast food restaurant for dinner on the way.” His younger son was very excited and shouted “Wow Dad. Look at all that food. It’s just for us!” They arrived at the campsite and got everything set up. Then they decided to go exploring around the campsite and enjoy time together. Then the night came and Elder Texeira realized… he didn’t bring a flashlight. “There we were. With all this food waiting for us back in the tent but we had no light to get us back. Not even 1 little match.”

Being a father is much more than just providing food for your children, it’s being a light to guide them for when the dark comes. Because it will come. Now how can we get this light to guide us? “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)”Or in other words; The Book of Mormon! There is so much power in the Book of Mormon. Not only in the words and teachings, but also because it’s purpose is to bring us closer to Jesus Christ. And there in lies the solution.

Now at this point y'all are thinking, hey, isn’t he supposed to be giving a report on his mission. Where are the stories? And well, one of the biggest lessons I learned is all centered upon the power of the Book of Mormon. Especially in my last 3 areas I really came to experience how reading and following the principles of the Book of Mormon can bring miracles.

First, let’s go to Maquinista Savio. It’s a small town (almost) in the middle of nowhere up in the northern part of the provincia of Buenos Aires. The first 10 months of my mission I had basically been in the heart of the city of Buenos Aires in the Villas, or ghettos. Everything was crammed, loud, and dangerous city living. Then I got the call to Savio. I didn’t even have the slightest idea of where that was, no elder had ever talked about there. Later I found out my trainer had been there, but he had never told me before. So there I was in (almost) the middle of nowhere and I DID NOT LIKE IT AT ALL! I had to ride a broken dumpster bike through mud every day. The members couldn’t give us lunch most of the time, and due to inflation we had to be very conscious of how we spent our money. They were constant rolling blackouts which meant no hot water or power for our little heater in the middle of winter. I had never been so cold and hungry in my life. And to top it all off, the ward wasn’t that great either. We started the transfer with a baptism and then got left with 0. We couldn’t find anyone willing to teach. We had already passed by all the members everyday. We were out of ideas. Then as I was reading the Book of Mormon, I began to note how the great missionaries of that time were able to do so much good. Of those things were: their incredible faith that there were people prepared, the prayers they offered so that hearts would be opened, their diligence, and their patience through suffering and afflictions. I had afflictions so I was already on my way. It struck me that there were people prepared; we just had to ask. One of our biggest challenges was at night. It was too dangerous in most of our area so we had to stay and work closer to the apartment, but the issue was that there were almost no members nor old investigators. We then received counsel to specifically ask for something to do at night. Then we prayed and fasted for a family to teach at 8pm close to the apartment. And we kept doing it and still nothing. And in the meantime, ward attendance was dropping. Then, the other companionship was cleaning out their apartment and happened upon a piece of paper that said “My Family has read the Book of Mormon” and it was a daily reading calendar. He told us about it and how they felt we should try it out with the ward. Then “Operation Jesus Christ at home” went into action. We challenged every family to read the Book of Mormon every day as a family even if it was 5 minutes and we were able to promise big blessings. Things started to change. The ward “woke up” and changed in how they acted. They really started to worry and work to help those who weren’t coming by organizing better the home and visiting teaching programs. The ward started to do more activities and overall they were just happier. The ward all had renewed desires to grow and they all did their part. There was more love and a different spirit. The ward was ready to welcome whatever investigator we would bring. One day we did divisions as a zone and I left the area for the day while my companion stayed back. As a zone we were to send messages when a miracle happened. It was about 7:30pm and a message came that said “Miracle woman. Married. 7 kids. Accepted baptism date first contact. #miracleinsavio” I couldn’t believe it! 2 days later we went back and we taught Cecilia and her family at 8pm at their home, which was located near the apartment. We were truly blessed those 3 months to baptize her and her family and find many people through her.

My faith was almost unbreakable, I seriously felt like I could face head on any challenge with God’s help.  Then I got sent to Villa Urquiza. It’s in a zone called Belgrano. It’s the wealthiest zone of Buenos Aires and also known for being the most difficult. Urquiza hadn’t had a baptism for more than a year. My first few days I was really excited and ready to change everything. But like with most things in life, as time goes on it gets harder and we lose the fire we started out with. All day everyday we would just walk around cleaning out the member list because there was almost nobody in the streets nor did we have any records of old investigators. And the ward had just been divided so we lost a good number of members and those who stayed started to burn out. So what did we do? Got them to read the Book of Mormon! With the same reading calendar from Savio, we committed every family to read the Book of Mormon. Then we had a new initiative to share 30 copies of the Book of Mormon per week in contacts, which meant we had to talk to A LOT of people about the Book of Mormon. As the ward started to take their reading seriously and as my companion and I did our best to share the Book of Mormon with everyone, things started to change. Again, the ward grew and was happier. Members were more willing to talk to their friends and also reach out to those who had fallen away. Then to top it off, near Christmas time we as a district went to every area singing and contacting with the Book of Mormon. While we were in Urquiza 2 people went up to a companionship of sister missionaries and asked if they could talk to their mom. We went, and as we talked to her, we were able to see how God through trials had prepared her. Livia accepted everything trusting in God and was able to get baptized. And again, it was a large part due to the Book of Mormon. (There was also the time when right after doing emergency divisions, we left the apartment and the other elder stopped a lady on the street and asked if we could share a book with her. Susana and her Husband were baptized 3 weeks later.)

And then there was Nueva Pompeya. When I arrived, there were rumors that the stake was going to make some changes and were going to divide some wards and redraw boundaries. The stake president and the bishop asked us if we would work outside the villa. The villa is where the elders had always worked and where the majority of the members lived. After receiving a spiritual confirmation, we went to work. We didn’t do it alone though, of course we had the Book of Mormon! We were able to share the Book of Mormon with so many people it was incredible. The ward saw us working and that we were dedicated to sharing the gospel, which made them trust us more. The ward started reading the Book of Mormon and the bishop changed the ward mission plan to “Share the Book of Mormon” The youth organized activities to go out to share it with everyone they could (in 4 hours they shared 55 copies). The members were having incredible experiences in their homes and the Lord was truly blessing them for their desires to grow closer to him. The ward also put a lot of emphasis in reaching out to those who were not attending because we all began to miss their presence. My last Sunday, working all together, the ward was able to bring 30 less active/inactive members to church. All because the members, through the Book of Mormon, recognized what they could do and the blessings that come from it.

Brothers and Sisters, I testify of the Book of Mormon. It is powerful and it is true. It tells us what we need to do to have peace in this life and salvation in the life to come. Reading the Book of Mormon changes lives. Fathers read the Book of Mormon personally and as a family. Children, listen to your fathers. We all have a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to return to be with Him, and the Book of Mormon is one of the many blessings we have to make that possible.

(If it goes too short, talk about obedience. How the Book of Mormon teaches us what to do, Mosiah 2:41, obedience stories)

Testimony in Spanish

Pictures taken before the Open House on Sunday, June 18, 2017


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