Friday, June 30, 2017

2017-06-30 President's Final Message

Dear Elders and Sisters,
You will receive this letter on the last day I will serve as the president of this mission (Monday, July 3). Beginning that afternoon I will no longer preside over this mission, but I will always be your mission president and you will ALWAYS be my missionaries!
As I look back on these three years I think of the 35,000 weekly missionary emails I have read. (I love reading your emails!) I think of the 4,000 missionary interviews I have had (I love meeting with you and feeling the Lord's love for you!). I think of the zone conferences, training meetings, district and stake conferences. I think of the amazing miracles the Lord has done here...baptisms, temple ordinances, lives changed and families saved. I think about the first interview I had with you at the beginning of your mission--with your wonderful combination of faith and nervousness, your struggles to adjust over the first few weeks, and then watching the remarkable light of the Spirit fill your countenance. I think about watching and helping you as you gained confidence to forget your self and do hard things in the service of others.
I have truly treasured this time with you. On the first day of your mission I told you the story about the travelers who needed to collect precious diamonds during their journey. Diamonds are very valuable because of their beauty, their great strength and their rarity. Diamonds are the hardest of any bulk materials on the earth. How are diamonds formed? They do not grow in gardens or fall down like rain from the sky. Natural diamonds are formed deep in the earth under great pressure (650,000-900,000 lbs or 270,000-400,000kg) They are also formed in intense heat (1,600-2,400 degrees F or 900-1,300 degrees C).
YOU are the diamonds of my missionary service. You are the diamonds of the Lord. You are beautiful, strong and rare. You have made huge changes during your mission because you have taken on your shoulders the responsibility to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Figuratively, you have undergone "great pressure and intense heat" as the Lord has purified you and formed you into rare and precious gems. The "greatest diamond of all" is our Savior, Jesus Christ. He suffered more than any human can suffer...and He did it all for for His Father and love for us. In a small way, you have followed in His footsteps to become diamonds. Your sacrifice, like His, is motivated by your love for your Heavenly Father and your love for your fellow men. Your process of changing and growing is part of the gospel plan:
"I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." (Isaiah 48:10)
"Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. for after much tribulation come the blessings..." (DC 58:3-4)
We should not expect that being a disciple of Jesus Christ would be easy. If we say we want to truly follow someone who selflessly suffered, we need to be ready to selflessly suffer as well.
The Lord is not done with you yet. He has a lifetime of blessings awaiting you. As you humbly and selflessly serve Him, you will be tested and tried AND you will be blessed more than you imagine.
Thank you for who you are. Thank you for being my heroes. Thank you for loving Heavenly Father more than yourself. Thank you for loving our Filipino brothers and sisters more than yourselves. As I write to you now, tears of love come to my eyes.
As you know...the Atonement of Jesus Christ means everything to me. EVERYTHING.
All of my hopes, desires and dreams are possible because of the Atonement of my Savior.
The Atonement is the Bridge across the deep canyon of sin. It will "...lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked--and land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven...(Helaman 3:29)
The Atonement of Christ is my comfort and strength in times of trouble: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou are with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Psalms 23)
I can overcome all things through the Atonement, through faith in Christ:
"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13)
"What are these that are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?...These are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."  (Revelation 7:13-14)  "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." (Revelation 21:7)
The Atonement of Christ will make right every wrong: "They shall hunger no more, neither shall they thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Revelation 7:16-17) "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain..." (Revelation 21:4)
The Atonement provides the resurrection: "And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in Him." (2 Nephi 2:10)
...there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life...that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead." (2 Nephi 2:8)
The Atonement opens the way for me to be sealed to my family and to be with those I love after this life: "And the same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy." (DC 130:2)
I am deeply and eternally grateful to my Heavenly Father for the gift of His Son. I am likewise overwhelmingly grateful that Christ had the love and courage to say the simple words: "Here am I. Send me."
I know that the Father and Christ live. I have felt their love. I have felt their strength. I have seen the hand of God so clearly. I have seen Him in the faces of many beautiful Filipinos and many beautiful missionaries. I know that this is the church of God. I know that the priesthood is real. I know that the temple is the house of God. I know that you were called by God and that He has endowed you with power.
Now, my dear missionaries, do you remember Lehi's dream in the Book of Mormon? It is a remarkable dream that is centered on the Atonement of Christ. Lehi sees a tree "whose fruit was desirable to make one happy...and I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted...and as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy..."
Lehi then tries to get his family to come. He watches as many people press forward trying to get to the amazing tree. He then describes what I think could be two groups of missionaries:
GROUP ONE: "And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness (all the trials of a mission), clinging to the rod of iron (obedient and faithful) even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree (becoming clean and serving the Lord faithfully).
And after they had partaken of the fruit (after their missions) they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed."
Lehi then looks to see what the problem is: "...on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building: and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit. And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at the; AND THEY FELL AWAY into forbidden paths and were lost."
I can imagine Lehi, in his dream, jumping up and down and waving his arms, shouting: "STAY BY THE TREE! STAY BY THE TREE!" I can imagine his anguish and sorrow as they succumbed to social pressure, mocking and evil influences and wandered away to destruction.
GROUP TWO: "...he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree." This group STAYED BY THE TREE. They humbly fell to their knees...and stayed humble. They ignored the people who were pressuring them.
With this second group I can also imagine Lehi saying to himself: "I am SO glad that they stayed by the tree! Now they will be safe. Now they will receive all of the blessings." In those days they didn't do "high fives", but if they did, I am sure Lehi would have been giving them all around!
Elders and Sisters, my strongest counsel and most urgent invitation for you is to STAY BY THE TREE. The Tree is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the Atonement of Christ. It is the plan of happiness. It is your temple covenants. It is your baptism covenants.
The greatest danger for returned missionaries is SOCIAL PRESSURE. It is the pressure to rejoin the world after your mission. It is the danger of becoming part of the world again. As Elder Shayne Bowen said: "Shame on you if you feel comfortable in the world!"
Now that you have tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Life I invite you to STAY BY THE TREE.
ONLY the tree has the blessings of happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come.
How do you Stay By The Tree?
1. READ the Book of Mormon every day. No exceptions.
2. PRAY every day. No exceptions.
3. SERVE every day. Pray to know who you can serve every day of your life. On the Sabbath, keep the Sabbath Day holy. When you have a calling, fulfill it. When the missionaries need help, go work with them.
If you will do this, the world will have no power over you. Even if your family opposes your activity in the church. Even if all of your friends want you to break the commandments; if you Read, Pray, Serve the Lord will be with you. He will lead you to new friends and give you new strength.
As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught regarding Peter, who who wavered after his first mission:
"Peter, do you love me? ...Lord, thou knowest that I love thee...Then Peter, why are you here? (back in the world) Why are we back at this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? What I need, Peter, are disciples, and I need them FOREVER. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me. And loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do...Did you, like they, think the cross and the nails and the tomb were the end of it all and each could blissfully go back to being whatever you were before? Children, did not my life and my love touch your hearts more deeply than this?...I include in that call to fixed faithfulness every returned missionary who ever stood in a baptismal font and with arm to the square said "Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ." That commission was to have changed your convert forever, but it was surely supposed to have changed you forever as well."
"My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not sure just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us precisely what Christ asked Peter: "Did you love me?"...The crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty..." (General Conference, October 2012)
I love you with all my heart. I look forward, at some future day, to greet you with open arms in the Celestial Kingdom. In the meantime, I will pray for you every day of my life. I will cheer for you. I will love you.
Sister Ostler and I plan to serve many missions. We will serve the Lord until the day our Father calls us home. I promise that we will do our very best to Stay By The Tree...with you.
Mahal ko po kayo,
President Creg Ostler