Homecoming Speech

Well… turns out when you’re not a missionary, your life isn’t nicely divided by P-days. So, making regular blog posts gets shoved to the back burner. Fail. To kickstart this particular repentance cycle, here’s my homecoming talk:

Vanessa Oler

Mission Homecoming

Westfield Ward – Repentance

February 10, 2013


  • Just returned from serving full-time Mission in Taiwan Taipei mission
  • Sorry about last week… I’ve had a full week now to remember English, but if you start to not understand, just raise your hand. 😀 Though I hear rumor we have another returned Taiwan missionary in our ward. Awesome!
  • Speak about Repentance – kind of a scary word; problem with English is that unless you are a history geek, well-versed in etymology you wouldn’t immediately know the full history and origin of the word. That means, over time words can take on different meanings, connotations, and even feelings. Repentance, for example, to most people sounds like some big, scary thing meant only for the worst of the worst – for the sinners in the hands of an angry God.
  • In Chinese, though, they don’t tend to have this problem. This ancient language, when it runs across a new concept or a new thing… it first takes a look at what that thing does, then names it accordingly.
    • For example: computer. What does a computer do? It uses electricity and it does a lot of processing, analyzing, and data collection. What does that sound like? To the Chinese, it sounds like an “electric brain machine” … which is, in fact, how the words for computer directly translate into English.
    • With that in mind, how does Repentance translate into Chinese? It is a two character word, with four major parts or radicals:  a heart, an every (as in every day), a change, and a self. So, when you hear the word Repentance in Chinese you actually hear “to change your own heart every day.” Mmmm. Beautiful, isn’t it?
    • So, as I speak to you today I want you to forget all the negative, overwhelming, daunting, or scary feelings you have towards the word repentance… and instead, replace it with this concept: every day, changing your own heart. Deal? Deal.
  • Last Wednesday I attended Institute and we had a wonderful discussion about the Plan of Salvation. At one point, I asked the class what the difference between “doctrine” and “principle” was.  Savannah Rivers – who I will always see as a cute little Beehive – put it succinctly that doctrine is information and principle is application. In church, we often find these two words used interchangeably. This is because we are lazy. Stop it. They are fundamentally different and an awareness of the difference will make your study of the Gospel much more fruitful.
  • For example, in a city called XinZhu several months ago a member friend of mine named Renae started bringing her boyfriend to a Monday Night FHE the missionaries organized. The boyfriend became friends with me and a few other members there. And eventually he started showing up at church. One night, when Renae couldn’t be there, I asked him if he understood everything that was going on at church. He said no, and without skipping a beat said “and I don’t want to get baptized. I know what you do as missionaries. I’m an atheist.” I just laughed and I think that shocked him. I explained that missionaries preach the Gospel – that means, giving everyone a fair chance to see the doctrine laid out in plain terms and an opportunity to accept or reject it. I had no intentions of making him get baptized. All I was here to do, was let him know what the Gospel offered so he could make an informed, intelligent decision. He loved that and set up to meet with us every Tuesday night at 8pm for the next six weeks. The member whose house we had FHE at volunteered her house for teaching lessons as well. Her name is Pei Pei.
  • We met with him according to plan and he was right – he was a devout atheist, if I can say that. Pei Pei made a great peike (member present at a lesson) and the fact that we were meeting later in the evening at her house meant I got to see Pei Pei’s husband more often. Pei Pei’s husband is a not a member of the church – in fact, he is a Tibetan Buddhist of the highest order. He comes to activities and drives his wife to the Temple once a month, but he is as firm in his faith as his wife is in hers. So, every Tuesday, mid-lesson Pei Pei’s husband would come home from work, say hi to us and go into his study to chant Tibetan hymns with fellow Buddhists around the world using Skype.
  • One night, however, he came home early and we all ate dinner together before separating to our individual religious studies. In the course of dinner, I began asking him about his religion. I’d studied Tibet in history classes and political science classes… but never had a chance to talk with a Tibetan Buddhist face-to-face. I was thrilled! 😀 He loved my curiosity and you could tell no one had ever taken an interest in nor appreciated his faith before. As dinner wrapped up and we prepared to say the opening prayer, Pei Pei’s husband didn’t get up from the table. Pei Pei looked at him, and he just said “I’d like to stay for this one.”
  • I was floored and suddenly panicked. Especially since the lesson was on Jesus Christ. Great…. Couldn’t be further from any concept remotely similar to Buddhism if I tried. But, we said the opening prayer and my companion gave an introduction to the lesson stating that we wanted to learn about how to exercise faith in Jesus Christ in order to be cleansed from our sins. That word faith jumped out at me. As Pei Pei described the principle of faith, I realized something: the boyfriend is an atheist. The concept of faith to him is all together ridiculous – in that moment, he couldn’t possibly start to develop faith in Jesus Christ if he didn’t see a need for FAITH at all. So, I turned to Pei Pei’s husband and asked him for his opinions on faith.
  • This time he was floored. But, he gave a beautiful description of how to develop faith. He said, “you need to look around you and pick a teacher or a master, someone you think is doing really well. Then study him, his teachings, his behavior, his mannerisms. Once you’ve done a good study, you need to look at yourself and see if there’s anything you’re doing that’s different from him. If there is, try to change it. Don’t change all at once, but just a little every day. Then look at the results. If the results are good, you know you’ve chosen a good master and you can continue applying his teachings in your life. If the results are bad, you may need to reevaluate.” Pei Pei’s husband looked across the table at me and asked “is that about right?” I was beaming – “It was beautiful. Better than most Christians could describe.” We pulled out some scriptures on faith and had a good hearty discussion about the principle of faith applied in our lives – each person at the table bearing powerful testimony that only through faith can you have the courage and strength to overcome every day challenges of living on this earth.
  • When I reported the next night in PEC about the progress of the boyfriend, I related the story of Pei Pei’s husband as a peike. Now it was there turn to be floored. It started sounding like a bad joke – a Tibetan Buddhist helping a couple of Mormon missionaries convert an atheist. But I explained to PEC that Pei Pei’s husband had no fault – he absolutely had a grasp the eternal principle of faith and was actively using it. The only difference was doctrinal – he believed the perfect example was the Dalai Lama. I believe the perfect example is Jesus Christ.
  • Point being – the difference in a point of doctrine and an eternal principle is significant. Don’t confuse the two. You can apply eternal principles in your life all you want, and because they are eternal you will get results. But if you want those results to bring you closer to the Celestial Kingdom, those eternal principles need to be founded on true doctrine.
  • Why is this critical to today’s study of repentance, you ask? Simply because the principle of repentance is change. That’s it. Just change.  Things are changing all the time – when I last spoke at this pulpit the iPhone 3Gs was the hottest thing, Romney hadn’t even declared if he was going to run for President or not, and “gundam style” hadn’t even been invented yet. And that’s just scratching the surface.
  • The question becomes, then, how do we focus this change? How do we make it productive? How do we make sure we’re changing and progressing in the right direction? How do we use change to become who we were meant to be? How do we use change to return to Heavenly Father’s presence?
  • We must information pertaining to who we are, where we come from, what we’re doing on this earth, and what comes after we die. Great. We have the Book of Mormon and the Bible. We have the Plan of Salvation. We have sermons straight from Jesus Christ himself. We have living Prophets, with God’s personal permission to broadcast this information. We have all of this written down and packaged neatly… in about a million different formats and 150+ languages. It has never been easier to get the word of God in your hands than it is now.
    • The problem is getting it from your iPhone into your heart. There’s no cable for that, there’s no wifi, no app, no blue tooth, nothing physical that can do that for you.
    • But there is the Holy Ghost. His only job is to testify of doctrine – he takes that information and puts it into your heart, cultivates that desire for change, reminds us each of our divine nature and divine potential. Makes these words a living reality. If no doctrine is present, however, He cannot function. If we’re simply telling stories, using principles without a real base of doctrine we’re not giving the Holy Ghost an opportunity to do His job.
    • The week before a girl named Vicky was baptized in XinZhu, she called me. “Sister Oler, the weirdest thing happened today. I felt the Holy Ghost at work.” I laughed. “that’s not weird… the Holy Ghost doesn’t live in the church. What were you doing at work?” I asked. She said, “Well, I was thinking about my baptism and all of a sudden the warmest, calmest feeling came over me. And as I looked at each customer in front of me, I saw something different. They were all children of God. He loved them. And that feeling helped me love them. And I was just about ready to cry I was so happy.” By this point in our conversation, I was crying. She got it. She made the connection between these words and real change, real repentance and real conversion. She was thinking about truth – the need for baptism and the Holy Ghost opened up to her a vision of what God sees when He looks at each one of us.
    • Shortly after she was baptized, she went to college in another county… which is usually the kiss of death of new converts. But her conversion – her change, her repentance – was so deeply rooted in the doctrine, was so complete that she spontaneously called me once a week to share miracles seen in her life. They frequently started with the sentence, “Well, I was reading my scriptures that morning… and then that afternoon…. I ran into a friend who wants to meet with the missionaries.” Like clockwork, every single one of her friends began meeting with missionaries. The cause? She knew the doctrine, she applied the principles in her life, she helped those around her feel God’s love…. And they, without fail, asked her “what makes you so different?”
    • Here’s a story of the opposite. A few months ago, an Elder called me exasperated. “Sister Oler, every single one of my investigators have the same problem. Word of Wisdom. And I’m realizing it’s been like this my whole mission…. What do you do to help them get over Word of Wisdom problems?” I sat and thought for a minute – the silence killing him. And then I asked one question: “How do YOU feel about the Word of Wisdom.” It was his turn for silence. “Ummmmmm….” I didn’t let him finish, I just invited him to go read the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, sort out the doctrine behind the commandment. Why do we have this? What does it do? And then the principle when applied to someone’s life. How does the Word of Wisdom help me return to God’s presence? Then get on his knees and ask if it was true. He said he’d do that. I have to admit, I was a bad missionary and didn’t follow up on my commitment to him… but I also didn’t need to. Three weeks later, he had three “eternal investigators” all with Word of Wisdom problems scheduled for baptismal interviews, pass them, and receive baptism and confirmation.
    • Here’s the moral of these stories: in order to make change productive – in order to use that change to progress towards the Celestial Kingdom, it needs to be based on true doctrine and it needs to be real, honest change. I’m not sure how that Elder felt about the Word of Wisdom before his mission, whether or not he was 100% obedient to it or not. And frankly, I don’t care. I know he repented – he studied the doctrine, he allowed the Holy Ghost to testify to him that it was true, then used the strength of that testimony to help others participate in the repentance process and receive all the blessings our loving Heavenly Father has in store for us. That’s it.
    • By the end of my mission, if you asked anyone what kind of missionary I was you would get one response, “she LOVES the doctrine. She’s crazy about it.” And this is why—nothing changes behavior, nothing causes sincere and lasting repentance better than a study of true doctrine. No one teaches and testifies of doctrine better than the Holy Ghost. Without the doctrine and without the Holy Ghost, we’d all be changing for nothing. And with them, we can be changing for something – changing for the better, becoming the divine being that God intended us to be.
    • There are lots of people here today – from all over the world. Eventhough we’re all sitting in the same place, we are in different places spiritually. The beauty of the doctrine of the Atonement and the principle of repentance is simply this: Jesus Christ knows where you are. He knows that you’re struggling, that you’re feeling inadequate, that you don’t think you can make it, that you’ve made some mistakes, that you’ve made them again and again. Jesus Christ knows this and he accepts it. No matter where you’ve come from or what you’ve done, He’ll take your sacrifice. He’ll take you where you are and through repentance take you to where you need to be.
    • It starts with a study of the doctrine. And a study of yourself. Look at where you are, honestly. Dig into the scriptures and figure out where you need to be. Then tell God what you think it’s going to take to get there. He sent His Son to help you get there.
      • As missionaries we’re given a topic to focus on and some invites to make changes or add things to our routines that help us focus on the given topic… the idea being we’re all still learning and growing and improving. I’m not too pleased to say that the bulk of my time on Island, I spent thinking the invites were stupid, that they were just busy work and were getting in the way of doing what needed to be done.
      • For my last two transfers, I was assigned by President Day to be the Coordinating Sister in the XinZhu zone. This meant that I conducted exchanges and did training for other sisters in my zone and… worst of all, I now had to prepare for and attend that meeting where those stupid invites were created. I was less that excited. But I took it in stride and worked our schedule accordingly.
      • The first month, the focus was on the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is something I’ve never had a problem believing was true… made sense to me. But growing up, it was the book of scripture I enjoyed the least. It was WAY too simple. So I spent my time in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants. I understood more historically and ecumenically about the church and the doctrine than any of my peers… and I was proud of it. Sure, they could spout of stories of Alma and Helaman, but I could argue application of Pauline epistles until your ears started to bleed. In fact, I hadn’t read the Book of Mormon cover-to-cover until Bishop Petrakovitz told me I could go on a mission until I’d done so.
      • So, heading into that meeting with our Zone Leaders and other district leaders I knew I was lacking something – a burning passion for the Book of Mormon. I knew it was true, but I’d never seen it impact my life, never seen something from inside it really change me. The Zone Leaders started the meeting and wrote President’s “focus questions” on the board: 1) how does the Book of Mormon answer the questions of the soul? Great. I had no answer. But I did know one thing: I could NOT help my investigators understand how the Book of Mormon could answer THEIR questions of the soul until I got some of my own answered first. I’m pleased to report the invite we came up with that day was just that – invited the missionaries to ask the hard questions, and turn to the Book of Mormon for real answers.
      • The next day we met with a friend of a member for the first time. After teaching the first lesson, we gave her a copy of the Book of Mormon and I decided to try something. I asked her, “What kind of guidance do you feel you need in your life right now?” She very quickly responded, “I have three questions that I need answers to, actually, and I’m hoping something at church can get me an answer.” I invited her to write those three questions down in the front cover of her Book of Mormon and every time she opened it to read, she first say a prayer and ask God to help her find answers to those questions.
      • Two days later, we met with her again. She was on fire! Before we even got the opening prayer out, she told us about how she already had the first question answered. And in the course of the lesson, her second question was answered. The greatest feeling washed over me – “see, this is what it’s like to have a testimony of the Book of Mormon.”
      • That night I went home and grabbed a blue copy of the Book of  Mormon in English, wrote down a few thoughts and questions in the front cover, said a prayer, and started reading. From that moment to now I’ve just never stopped. I can’t describe the difference… except to say that I not only intellectually know the Book of Mormon is true, but I’ve felt its changing power in my life. Joseph Smith said this book is the most correct book on earth and even more than that, living by and applying the doctrine and principles found in it will change your life. It will bring you closer to God, closer to becoming the person you need to be in order to return to Him.
      • That month I made a change – I repented. I saw something I was lacking, studied the doctrine, applied the principles, and progressed. And because I was willing to do that, I could help others along the way. That’s what this life is all about and that’s what real repentance brings.
      • I want to leave my testimony…




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