Monday, April 27, 2015

Elder Oaks' Apostolic Visit

We did divisions this week with Hermanas Duncan and Safsten, except this time I stayed in our area. This was the first time I had ever worked in my area without Hermana Beecher. I was in charge. Hermana Safsten has been out here for 5 weeks. Imagine being newer than me and being put under my responsibility and care. And laugh and laugh and laugh like I did. Navigating between 15 sprawling barrios and making sure the pension didn't set on fire while we were gone was quite the task, even though I see Hermana Beecher do it every day. Watching it is one thing, doing it is quite another. The stress made me giddy. I was very excited to see Hermana Safsten and show her all I know. Hermana Safsten and I are good friends after this fun experience. I cooked her good food and told her to pretend like it was Chinese food and then it would taste okay in her mind. Hermana Safsten and I love each other after this experience. We found a lot of cool people during these divisions. I introduced her to Hugo and Mabel as well. 

So I've been thinking a lot about what Basilio said to me right after his baptism. He said "Ya soy un hijo de Dios---Now I'm a child of God". I knew so well what he meant when he said it in that moment, but later I thought "What DOES that actually mean, anyway?"
We go around all day everyday telling everyone they're sons and daughters of God. Why should that be any different for a baptized vs. unbaptized person? It's not different. We're all children of God. Basilio was already a son of God well before last Saturday. Yet I knew that what he said to me as he shook my hand was true. A few days ago I found the answer to this conundrum.
 Mosiah 5:7 says 
And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. I was led to think about what Elder Christofferson said this conference about how we need to be physically born but then spiritually reborn. 

Speaking of apostles, Elder Oaks. Elder Oaks and his wife and various other important people visited us twice. Twice. I walked out of the first one feeling so content, so inspired that I could have strolled into the valley of the shadow of death and been okay about it. And then I realized I would see him AGAIN. You could say that we were double-blessed this weekend.

On Friday he came to Resistencia, where the entire mission came together to listen to him. This was the first and proably the last time I will ever see the entire Resistencia mission at the same time. I still get very excited about Resistencia, because it is the city of my dreams. When our bus got into the city and the chapel emerged out of the trees with its formal, flat facade and round-topped windows, I almost fainted. I needed to sit down. Then I realized I was already sitting down because I was in a bus. My newness made our arrival overwhelming. Getting down off a double decker bus and entering into a sea of faces and greetings and reunions between long-lost companions. Everyone was so clean and well-dressed and pulled together for the big day. It was overwhelming, like the first day of 6th grade, or a big movie premiere. I had to stop analyzing it and let the current take me. 

The conference went beautifully. Elder Oaks and Sister Oaks are beautiful. I didn't know what I expected from them. I didn't know what I expected to hear or feel. I just went into it and was pleasantly shocked by how real Elder and Sister Oaks are. They were only married 15 years ago, as he was previously married and his wife passed away. Kristen Oaks was single before this; she was not married until she was 55. She is a convert to the church, she served a mission in Japan, and has a doctorate in education. The playful banter between these two was positively wonderful. She would run up to the microphone to add her thoughts when Elder Oaks was talking.

The other relationship we got to witness was that between Elder Oaks and the interpreter. And just watching a consecutive interpretation situation go so well. I never thought it could go so well. Now that I know it can go so well, I know that I can be an interpreter. His name is Carlos Aguero I believe. He has interpreted for Elder Oaks before. He was so cool and collected and interpreted with such precision..... But the best part was how Elder Oaks and Bro Aguero worked as a team. After a while you just started accepting them as a single two-headed animal. Elder Oaks: "I can speak a little bit of Spanish, but I can give a better talk in English." (pause for interpretation. Then, after introducing Bro Aguero...) "I trust him." (Then he turns to him.) "If I don't give a good enough talk in English, you must make it better in Spanish!"

Sister Oaks was equally amazing. She had an Elder come up to do a mock baptismal interview with her in Spanish, and she answered all the questions in full sentences in Spanish. It was mostly funny and cute, because she was reading it off a paper with much enthusiasm. But overall it was the gesture that we were left with. That she and Elder Oaks cared about us, and the culture and language here. We didn't feel separated from them or below them. The missionaries of the Posadas mission were all gathered together too, and they were watching the meeting via satellite transmission. And the Oaks' went out of their way to make them feel like they were there with them too. We could see them on a screen, all seated on benches in a chapel in Posadas, and Elder Oaks would turn and talk to the screen and ask them to participate in what we were doing.

Friday in Resistencia was very, very wonderful. We were also glad to see President and Hermana Franco, who were quite flustered and honored to have an apostle visiting their missionaries. They shared great messages with us as well, and continue being humble, loving caretakers of this mission. Hermana Beecher and I had the privilege of singing in a choir in both of the meetings! For this one in Resistencia, it was a small choir of 11 sisters and 11 elders, and an Elder with a violin. We sang "Con valor marchemos" [Onward Christian Soldiers]. A Polynesian Elder, Elder Takapu, did a solo in the first verse, and his voice was positively angelic. Hna. Beecher and I were honored to have been asked to be a part of this little choir. What were the odds?

The conference in Formosa the following Sunday was just as brilliant, and this time we got to share in the excitement of the members and all the people who have been preparing for this. A companionship from Pirané (remote part of Formosa province) came to stay with us the night before, Sisters Rodriguez and Barker. The rest of the missionaries in Pirané are Elders. These women are rough & tough pioneers. I love these 2 sisters. Coming out late at night to open the gate for them and take them in as weary travelers, we received them and all slept for a few hours until we got up at 5:30 to get to the conference on time. 

Hna. Beecher early Sunday morning waiting for bus to stake conference.

The stake choir did a splendid job. We all looked like the real deal with our little red cravat/ascot/kerchief thing going on. 

Stake Choir (Hna. Tolman not shown, Hna. Beecher 2nd in.)
Elder Oaks once again spoke to us. This time more to the Formoseñans than to us missionaries.
The fact is, dear readers, I'm out of words to describe this event. The brilliant reality of the situation was and is this: Elder Oaks was called of God. His words didn't sink into our hearts because of his wit, his humor, or his background in law. While he has all of those things, he spoke to us as an apostle.
If you find you have concerns about the organization of the LDS church, but you still find you want to be a part of it, maybe start by asking yourself a very basic question.
Do you believe you're an eternal being?
Do you believe in God?
Do you believe he's aware of you?
If you do believe he's there, and if you love him and want to know him, then ask yourself who Jesus Christ is.
And what does it mean to you that without Jesus Christ, you couldn't come to know God?
Then, and only then, start thinking about the leadership of this church. And THEN, listen to what they say.

To finish up, I will tell you some of the things Elder Oaks, one of Jesus Christ's 12 living apostles said to our stake. He said "Formosa is just as close to heaven as Salt Lake City." He went on to say that we're all God's children, so we all have a different passport, but God eventually wants the same for each one of us. He also said "God doesn't love His sons more than He loves His daughters." He said that the Lord doesn't necessarily call the best and most worthy to be leaders. He talked about asking "Why me?" when he was called, and his own family asking "Why him?". And then he said once you've been called it's your responsibility to grow into the position. He said that church membership is not an event; it is a process. It is a place where if we come with willing hearts, we will be made complete where we are incomplete.

I know that God works through us according to his wisdom, not according to our own inherently limited knowledge and perspective. When I realized and knew what this church was and is, it took my breath away. This church is not a social organization. This church is an eternal organization, and concerns itself with eternal matters. Temporal welfare matters come second to that, and are also a great part of the church. But this church exists first and foremost to help us come to know Jesus Christ, the reality of who he is and was, and ultimately to help us to know God and make peace with him and with ourselves, now and in the future.
I know these things to be true. 

Much love, Hermana Tolman

The Dynamic Duo

Hugo was a greeter at stake conference. He got up around 4 a.m. to be there on time.

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