"Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. " --- John 8:10

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Lights

Hello all. It's been a while since I've written this type of email. I'm not sure how much everyone has been hearing, but I haven't intended to write anything for the masses in months. Don't know how I'm going to feel about it next week, but I figured that there's probably some sort of eternal retribution for missionaries that don't write well the week of Christmas, so here's to avoiding that.

I'm currently working in the strangest area of the mission: Dongducheon. It's a small little city that only really exists to support the American military bases in the area the largest of which are Camps Casey and Hovey. I'm working in an English speaking branch teaching primarily soldiers and African factory workers.

They're pretty interesting. Very different from Koreans. Since I got here, we've actually been having a drop party at the end of every weekly planning. There were well over 70 names on our board when I got here and I've never been able to meet the vast majority of them. Not always their fault. Korean labor laws are a bit looser than American ones so most of the people who come to work the factories work over 13 hours a day and are in an out of work frequently, which makes it hard to meet even though the majority of them are very religious and a bit more open than most. After a month or two of trimming the fat, we have identified/found the people that are actually willing to keep commitments, come to church and all the rest, and three of those people (M___, J____, and R____) are on track to be baptised on the 4th of January, God willing.

M____ is as gold as they get. After meeting him once and challenging him to read the first lesson pamphlet, he came to church, then when we met him again he had read the pamphlet, had questions, went to mormon.org, cleared up his concerns, watched the Joseph Smith movie, then felt like he needed to pray about it and did, resulting in him being told in a dream that it was true.

Right? That happens?

He's already being a good fellowshipper, reaching out to friends and family and helping love and invite them into the church. Those friends include R___ and J___.

J___ is great. Really smart guy, comes to church on his own really well, but we have a lot of trouble meeting him because of his work schedule. We got permission to stay out later to meet him, but still haven't been able to meet him since we set his baptismal date. The only two things blocking him from baptism are us being able to teach him everything fast enough and a concern about whether he will stay strong in the church after returning to Nigeria.

R___ is fun. He has a lot of friends in the ward fellowshipping him and meets with us pretty well. He has some trouble understanding sometimes so the teaching is slower, but he's on track for the date as well.

This last week we met a couple of interesting people. J2___ is from Philadelphia and has been living in Korea as an English teacher for six years, so his Korean is pretty good. Probably comparable with mine. He doesn't attend church, but is really religious. He's studied the crap out of his Bible and expanded to the apocrypha and the Book of Mormon, as well as, I believe, the Koran. However he's got a couple of interesting, but incredibly strong beliefs. One of them, which is essentially the only thing we have talked about so far, is that Jesus of Nazareth was black and that he can prove it from the Bible.

Now, I don't really care. Honestly, that would make Jesus just that much more cool to me. The problem comes from his strong objections to our pictures of Christ as a white guy. My belief is that Jesus probably looked like most Jews at the time, which in my head is fairly tan. But. Alas. We are going to talk doctrine next time, but it seems like even if he can accept all of the doctrine, he still isn't likely to get baptized over this. Really interesting lesson though.

The other guy is a recently inactive friend of Elder C's from back home. Looks like he's kind of fallen off the map since they lost contact. He's in a really dark place. Even I was able to discern a really dark presence coming from him. It really got to Elder C, but it felt more familiar to me. If there is a reason for the two of us working together it is because we are maybe the two people in the mission who are best equipped to help him. There are too many signs of intervention to believe that he's here and so are we by chance and that we ran into him just days after Elder C prayed to find him. I mean, just think of how many other places the army could have sent him.

Well, this week in Church was our Christmas program. I sang twice. First with the missionaries singing With Wondering Awe and then with the Elder's quorum slaughtering While Shepherds Watched their Flocks. I'm starting to really enjoy singing. The hymns are a lot funner when you are putting together the Bass or Tenor part instead of not being able to hit the melody.

President Peden started his remarks by talking about commercial vs real Christmas. This wasn't the case last Christmas, but I was actually kind of shocked by being reminded that there was a commercial version. There are a lot of things that are difficult about missionary work, but it is really easy to be focused on Christ. Honestly, I, being imperfect, spend a lot of time while we are walking around (low population density) talking about non-churchy things and I may or may not have broken when a member pulled up the new Star Wars trailer on his phone (ok, I did, and it was EPIC!! Already talked with President and he didn't even care!!), but all of that aside (no really, let's let it go), just because of who I am and the role I'm playing now Christ is always a huge factor in everything that I do.

And why shouldn't he be? Is there anyone or anything more important in this world? People talk about family, and family is awesome, but Christmas would continue to go on, the world would continue to go on without my family. Presents, trees, and wrapping paper are all hollow and empty unless we choose to turn on the lights.

That actually is one of my favorite Christmas traditions. The lights. We risk life and limb to hang up these colored lights all over our house throw them on and Christmas time becomes, quite literally, less dark. A couple of musings on Christmas lights:

1. There is a reason that we put our lights on the outside of our house. One of the great things about light is that you never run out when you share it. In fact, if you want to make things brighter, you should try to find things to shine your light on. Think about it. You shoot a flashlight into the night sky and the area around you is only illuminated on the most minute of levels, but once it hits a tree, or the ground, or the face of one of your friends, your view brightens. 

2. Not all Christmas lights are the same, and not all of them are equally beautiful, at least in my eyes. Though each light contributes, some of the most beautiful light shows I've seen make good use of flickering. Constant, steady lights are great, but those lights that flash different colors or sparkle like stars in the bushes have always had a special place in my heart.

3. Remember who we are. Christ, the "true light which shineth" taught us to be the "light of the world." This Christmas, shine.

If you are looking for ways to do that, think about getting involved in the #ShareTheGift push. The church has made a couple of incredible videos to help us focus on the true gift of Christmas. The gift that matters. The gift that came with no receipt, so there are no returns. It is ours to reject or embrace, and it is ours to share. He is the Christ.

Flickering on from a world away, and hoping He enjoys the show,
Elder Whitlock