Repentance in Italy
Repentance is the changing of one’s soul that brings about a new attitude towards, God, oneself, and towards life in general. Repentance entails an obligation that one will distance themselves from and abandon wickedness and turn one’s heart and mind to God. True repentance is a natural result from our love for God and our desire to obey His holy commandments.
Repentance is a process.
True repentance can be very hard.
One of the greatest joys of being a missionary is that you get to help people discover what a glorious and amazing blessing true repentance can be. The changes that people often need to make in order to reconcile themselves to God can be very difficult and painful. Our personal vices and desires may appear to bring happiness, but this “happiness” is often fleeting and does not last. Happiness that the world promises will never satisfy; it will leave you empty. Only the gospel and the love of our Heavenly Father can bring us true joy and satiate our quest for happiness. This is both the blessing (I say blessing because the joy of success is almost indescribable) and curse (I say curse because it is a process that is not so easily accomplished) that we missionaries have to help our brothers and sisters throw off the natural man, be born again changed from their carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming and recognizing their true potential as sons and daughters of the most high God entitled to everything that He has.
I would say that on my mission 3 individuals stick out as teaching me the most about repentance. These three persons helped me see how great and miraculous repentance can be when applied in our lives. Maribel was a Peruvian who had been baptized at age 16, but in her 20+ years living in Italy had lost all contact with the church. Silvia was a woman who had been found street contacting. She had an addiction to smoking and lived a very stressful and trying life. Diana was a mother of 2 who had learned of the church as a teenager, but had not joined for various family reasons. All three of these women changed before my eyes. Their lives all improved and became filled with joy as they embraced the gospel and repented of their sins. Silvia and Diana were baptized. Maribel returned to full activity in the church and had her 8 year old daughter baptized.
I loved these people with all my heart, which is why it is so hard for me knowing that each of these people also fell away from the church. Each took back up their old lives, returning to the things that they had known before finding the church. They had seen the positive changes the gospel had brought into their lives, and in spite of this they still decided to turn away.
Why?! I don’t have a good answer to this question, but I do know that even in these seemingly hopeless circumstances, there is still hope. For I know that repentance is a continual process. It is not a one-time event of “being saved”! It is something that we work at daily, and work hard at, daily! I know that these individuals can still be reconciled before God and return to Him, and that He will welcome them with open arms and say as the father of the prodigal son said to his son, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” I know this to be true!
Repentance in Switzerland
First of all, I want to write a quick two cents about repentance. Repentance comes with such a negative connotation, and I hope that this can change. As the Bible says, we are all sinners and come short of the glory of God; and then it also says that God so loved world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe on him should not perish but have everlasting life. Although we all sin and come short of the glory of God, our Father in Heaven knew that this would happen and therefore prepared a way for us to be able to reach that goal of everlasting life. Jesus Christ suffered for our sins so that we can repent and become clean of our sins. Repentance is the only way that we can receive this forgiveness. The invitation is given to everyone to repent, or to change, or to become a better person. That is all that repentance is. Changing one’s life to bring it back onto “the path” that leads to eternal life. I love the idea of repentance, and I am very grateful that the Lord allows us to change, and when we do change we can receive the ultimate gift of forgiveness. Amazing!
This story is about a prime example of a family who repented, and the changes that were made in their lives and the blessings that came from these steps of repentance. Last week I told the story of the Kargbo family, and when they made the decision to be baptized and this week I want to talk about the changes that this family made before they made that decision to be baptized.
When we first met the family, Augustine was a smoker. He didn’t smoke a lot, maybe a few cigarettes a week, but this needed to stop since it is a commandment to take care of our bodies, and more specifically not to smoke. We talked to him a few times about this, and we went through a program and he stopped smoking! It was a great step. He was a smoker and stopped. He had changed his life in that aspect.
There were a few other aspects that the family changed in order to bring their lives into accordance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They started coming to church on a weekly basis. I remember one week they told us that they were going to come to church and right before church started I saw Augustine and Thomas walking to the door in the rain and we could tell they were in the rain a little longer than expected. They then explained to us that they missed the train and so they had to walk. What a great example of faith. The town they lived in was a few kilometers away and they walked it in the rain to come to church. They started to read in the scriptures daily, and they started saying their daily family prayers. The changes were remarkable and we could notice a difference in their lives. Then, as was explained last week, they decided to get baptized to cap off their repentance process.
I remember the day after Augustine and Margaret were baptized, Augustine showed up to church in a new suit wearing a white shirt and a tie, whereas weeks before he would come in a colored button up shirt with jeans. He looked nice the previous weeks; however it was no suit and tie combo. When he showed up that day in the suit, and was talking to him and I told him, “Hey Augustine, looking sharp today!” and then he responded with, “I’m a new man!” That day in church he bore his testimony about how the Gospel had changed his life. I could tell that this man had repented, and he felt the wonderful feeling of forgiveness that comes after one repents. Augustine had become “a new man” just like everyone one of us can become if we fix what needs to be fixed in our lives and live more in accordance with the Gospel.
Repentance in Guatemala
One of the best gifts that our Father in Heaven regaled us with is the miracle of forgiveness. I think that forgiveness is so cherished because of the difficulty of acquiring it. Repentance isn’t a moment in which we enter water and become automatically perfect, but rather it is a change in lifestyle to perfect every moment we have. No matter at which angle we approach repentance we must take the acute or ‘strait’ and narrow path. God provided this way of escape from the evils that envelop this world. As a missionary this was the message that I brought to every Q’eqchi’ family imaginable.
One of my favorite stories of repentance occurred in my second Polochik area called Sajomte’. A strong LDS man seemed to shine like one of the brightest stars in the jungle’s night sky. He was constantly making appropriate and inspiring comments during class and always willing to help the missionaries. One day I went to visit his house (he was reading his Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith book) and I heard his story and why he was so strong in the church. He was excommunicated when he was younger for a heinous sin he had committed in a time of weakness. He separated from the church but always wanted to return because he knew it was true in his heart. Instead of running away from this impeding step in his eternal progression he started to contemplate what it is he really wanted. He mentioned the pain and fear that we all know too well that accompanies sin. He didn’t want those feelings to engulf him in this life or the next. He started his attempt to return to the church. I may not be an expert in psychology of excommunicated people but I can only imagine the many opposing influences he faced. Whether it was the members who look down on sinners, other church influences, or the devil himself...he faced them all. His process was arduous but to this day he loves the decision he made that day and lives up to all of God’s standards. I even have confidence that that man will end up in the highest of God’s mansions possible. He is a true inspiration to me because I can see how the atonement has worked in someone’s life to where they are in a state of peace. I’ll always remember him and what I learned on the top of the Ch’ulak mountains.