My name is Shaelyn Brown and I just came back from my mission in Chicago and I’d like to start out by sharing why I’m here today; why I went on a mission, stayed on a mission long enough to come home and give this talk. I never wanted to go on a mission. I know lots of girls that have grown up planning to go on a mission and that was not for me. But one day I was in institute, which was a rarity at the time, to be in institute, but I was there and the teacher was talking about the Lord’s timing but he was mostly applying it to marriage, I wasn’t paying any attention to that because that wasn’t in my plans either, right? But as I was listening I felt the impression that I was supposed to go on a mission. I laughed it off because that was ridiculous, but the thought wouldn’t leave my mind, it kept coming and because it was so against anything that I ever wanted I knew that it was something I needed to look into a little bit. So, I studied. I studied it out. I talked to my Heavenly Father about it. I read my scriptures and I fasted. I went to see my bishop the following Sunday and I didn’t go with the intention of opening my papers, but it happened. I was so scared. It was the scariest time of my life, until now. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to do what my Heavenly Father wanted me to do, but I didn’t want to go on a mission. So I got ready and I went to the MTC and the first day in the MTC I told my companions, “I don’t want to be here. I’m here because I am supposed to be, but I don’t want to be.” I’m so glad I did. To this point in my life, it has been the best experience I’ve ever had. I was told by President Wallis before I left on my mission that there were people that I was supposed to find. People that I promised before this life that I would find them and I would help them find their way. And I can promise you that that happened, that I met people that needed me, not because I am anything special, but just because I could connect with them in a way that other people can’t. I know that’s why I was supposed to go on a mission. That’s why I know I couldn’t just stay at school and let all those other girls who always wanted to go on missions go on missions.
Today I want to talk about what I learned on my mission about missionary service, not what it means to be a full time missionary, but what it means to do missionary work in our everyday lives. I want to start out by reading a verse in the Bible, in John. It is right after Jesus Christ died and was resurrected and He came to the apostles and He found them fishing. They had gone back to what they knew. He took the head apostle, Peter, and He talked to him. “So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17). We know in the scriptures when we hear something repeated, it is important, and here it is repeated three times, “feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” We see that again in the Doctrine and Covenants, it’s in 112: 14. It says “Now, I say unto you, and what I say unto you, I say unto all the Twelve: Arise and gird up your loins, take up your cross, follow me, and feed my sheep.” So that was a commandment to the apostles, but it is also a charge given to every one of us, to feed Christ’s sheep. But first we have to know who are the sheep? Who are the sheep we are supposed to feed? The answer is everyone, obviously. We are all children of God. We are all part of his flock, your family members, your friends, your neighbors, and yourself. You are a lamb of God. He cares about you and He loves you. So that is who the sheep are, but how do we find them? I had that question a lot in Chicago. Chicago is the third largest metropolitan area in the United States with 9.8 million people, 9.8 million sheep in the metropolitan area. Just because they are sheep doesn’t mean they are ready to be found or to be fed or to be saved. So how do we know? How do we know if the people that we are surrounded with are ready, if they need us, if we need to feed them? The answer is often times we don’t. We just need to try, but the Lord will guide us. Heavenly Father knows every single one of His lambs, He knows every single one of His sheep. The flock is made up of individuals and He wants every single one of His sheep to return to Him.
There were a lot of experiences I had on my mission where I really saw that God wanted His sheep to be found. That He knew them and what they needed and where they were. One such experience didn’t happen to me, it happened to one of my companions. We were learning a lot about prayer at that time and how prayer is really something we really don’t understand, even as missionaries and members of the church. That prayer is a literal conversation with our Father in Heaven. He will answer us. And it can apply to anything. And so my companion applied it to missionary work, where we needed to go to find the people that needed us. She got down on her knees and she asked God where to go, when do we need to go, is there someone we need to find? She was given an answer. She was given a time. She was given a place. She was given a day. She was given the idea that we needed to find a mother. So that next day we went to that apartment complex that she thought of, at the time she was told and we found a mother, a young woman who was about to give birth in a couple of weeks. She needed us at that time. She needed to be fed, she needed to be saved. Our Heavenly Father knew that. He knows it for everyone and he will tell us. You don’t need to be a missionary to get these answers of who you need to help, of who you need to save.
I have a lot of stories about people that are ready. That is a huge testimony I gained on my mission that there are people that are ready for the gospel, that are ready to be fed. I saw it a lot in the women that I found, that I taught and I saw accept the gospel. There was one woman who was in her fifties, her name is Imelda. She was a Jehovah’s Witness which is a difficult religion to teach. She was a referral, we knocked on her door and that day she set a day to be baptized. She didn’t miss a single day of church from the moment that we knocked on her door. She is the only member of the church in her family now. She was baptized six weeks after we knocked on her door. All she wants is to go to the temple. All she wants is for her family to join the church. She has terrible arthritis in her legs and her arms and she can hardly walk. She had to miss a couple of weeks of church because of it and it killed her. She got super depressed. She had only been a member for a month. She knew that coming to church and taking the sacrament was something vitally important to her salvation.
There is another woman who I taught named Liz who has a son with autism and a mother in law with severe Alzheimer’s disease. She was having a difficult time. She is an illegal immigrant. She doesn’t speak any English. Which were some pretty big trials in her life. She didn’t know what to do so she went to her husband and said “We need a church, we need God.” He said “I think I was baptized Mormon.” And so she looked up the church on line. She looked up Mormon.org and showed up to church the next week. She sat by me in church and she said, “How do I get baptized?” I said “I can help you out with that, don’t you worry.” She was baptized a week and a half later. She is the most poignant example I can think of of someone that has seen the gospel truly bless her family, bless her life. Her trials haven’t gone away. She still has a son with severe autism, she still has a mother in law with severe Alzheimer’s, she still can’t speak English, she is still trying to find a job without any legal status, but it is easier. She can feel her Heavenly Father’s love and she can feel the Savior’s atoning sacrifice in her life.
There is a young girl named Nathaly who came to us and said “I’ve been going to church for a while with my aunt and I want to be baptized now that I’m 18.” She was, and all of her family disowned her, except her aunt. She is 18 years old. She is still in high school. She is still working on her papers. Her mother threatened to cut her off. She didn’t know what she is going to do. She didn’t know if she is going to be able to graduate from high school. But she was ready for the gospel and she knew she needed it. Her Heavenly Father knew she needed it. He told us to go to her house on that day that she needed it. There are countless stories like that. The sheep are all around us. They are our family members. They are our friends. They are members of our church and they are non-members of our church. They are ourselves. We are the sheep. We need to be fed. So how do we feed the sheep? How do we take care of these people who need our help? We do it exactly as our Savior did it. The Savior is a perfect example. Elder Ulysses Soares said in this October 2005 general conference, “Jesus showed patience and love to all those who came to Him seeking relief from physical, emotional or spiritual illnesses, who felt discouraged or down trodden. To follow the Savior’s example each one of us must look around and reach out to the sheep who are facing the same circumstances, and lift them up and encourage them to continue on their journey toward eternal life. This need is a great as or perhaps even greater than when the Savior walked on this earth. As shepherds, who we all are, we must understand that we should nurture each one of our sheep and bring them to Christ which is the purpose of all we do in this church. Any activity, meeting, or program should focus on the same objective. As we stay in tune with the needs of the people we can strengthen them and help them overcome their challenges so they will remain steadfast in the way that will lead them back to our Heavenly Father’s presence and help them endure to the end. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about people not programs. Sometimes in the haste of fulfilling or church responsibilities we spend too much time concentrating on programs instead of focusing on people, and end up taking their real needs for granted. When things like that happen, we lose the perspective of our callings, neglect people, and prevent them from reaching their divine potential to gain eternal life.” That is what we are supposed to do; we are supposed to love people. Our callings in the church are important to keep the church going forward, but the whole purpose of the gospel is to save sheep. We can’t do that if people feel like they are a responsibility, if they feel like they are just a job. We need to truly love them. Elder Soares continues, “People are most receptive to our influence when they feel that we truly love them, and not only because we have a calling to fulfill. As we express true love for people, they will be able to feel the influence of the Spirit and may feel motivated to follow our teachings. It is not always easy to love people for what they are.” That was also true for me. So on my mission, surprisingly, I did not love every single person I met immediately, but I tried. There one woman in particular that we were teaching and that I had a really hard time with honestly. I didn’t want to go her house, I felt irritated whenever we were there and I felt she was taking advantage of us, but she needed us. I turned to the scriptures and to my Heavenly Father for help and in Moroni 7:48 it says, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.” This woman didn’t change. She stayed the same. But I was able to see her in a different light. I was able to see as our Heavenly Father sees her, as His daughter, as someone precious. I came to love her. It was hard, but I really love her. That’s what we need to do. We need to pray, we need to pray to love these people that surround us so that we can help them. Many of the sheep and lambs in our lives, especially in the lives of all of you, are our children. I know that’s something that I am concerned about, as I face the next stage in my life, which is probably to have a family. How do we raise or children in the gospel? We can teach them, we can take them to church every week, but it’s not a guarantee and that’s scary. But there is another scripture that is in 2 Nephi 25:26 that tells us the way that we can teach our children, that we can do our best. It says, “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophecy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”
Example is the best way to teach and the best way to lead. Our Savior will help us if we are doing everything we need to, he will make up the difference. Something else I have learned, though, is that it is not after everything we can do He will fill in the gap, He is there every step of the way to help us do what we need to do, to help us return to Him, to help us help others. Often times in my mission I felt like I needed more help than those that I was helping. How was I to go out and teach the gospel when I myself was struggling, when I myself didn’t know how to continue. There are many answers. We need to follow the fundamentals of the gospel. There is a scripture in Alma which says, “Behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass….by small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls. ” (Alma 37:6-7) By small things we will be saved, but we need to do all of the small things. It’s like a spiritual house. We need to have prayer. We need to have scripture study and going to church. These make up our walls, our ceilings and floors, our foundation. But without one of those things we are not protected from the evil outside, from the spiritual winds that bring snow and rain. We need to be sure we are doing those simple things and then we will be protected. But more than anything what I learned on my mission is that when I needed help, to help others, helped me more than anything. That I would go to people’s homes with a lesson prepared and they would need something else, we would give that lesson and that lesson was what I needed. The scriptures that we shared were what I needed. I know that helping others helps us more than we can even imagine. I know that feeding Christ’s sheep is a commandment. It was a commandment that I knew I needed to follow, especially on my mission. But there was always the question of how do I find these people amongst 9.8 million? How do I feed them? How do I save them? There is also the question I have had the last couple of months, what do I do after my mission? How do I continue being the kind of person I want to be and what’s next? General conference was coming up and I went to general conference with questions that I wanted answers to. The questions I had were where should I live? What should I study? Who am I going marry? Where am I going to meet him? What’s his name? I didn’t get those answers. But I did get a very powerful answer from Elder Holland’s talk which was actually about feeding the sheep, saving the lambs. He gave his own “non-scriptural elaboration” is what he calls it, to the story of John 21 where the Savior came to Peter and asked him to feed His sheep. Elder Holland said, “After the third time Peter said “Lord though knowest that I love thee”. Then the Savior may have said “Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? 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. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of The Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.”
My answer to my questions was that it didn’t matter what I did as long as I continued. As long as I loved God and did what He asked me to do which was to be His disciple, to feed His sheep and save His lambs. Elder Holland continues by saying, “My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain 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 exactly what Christ asked Peter: “Did you love me?” I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” And if at such a moment we can stammer out, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.
“If ye love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus said. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can’t quit and we can’t go back. After an encounter with the living Son of the living God, nothing is ever again to be as it was before. The Crucifixion, Atonement, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ mark the beginning of a Christian life, not the end of it. It was this truth, this reality, that allowed a handful of Galilean fishermen-turned-again-Apostles without “a single synagogue or sword” to leave those nets a second time and go on to shape the history of the world in which we now live.”
Elder Holland says “I testify from the bottom of my heart, with the intensity of my soul, to all who can hear my voice that those apostolic keys have been restored to the earth, and they are found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To those who have not yet joined with us in this great final cause of Christ, we say, “Please come.” To those who were once with us but have retreated, preferring to pick and choose a few cultural hors d’oeuvres from the smorgasbord of the Restoration and leave the rest of the feast, I say that I fear you face a lot of long nights and empty nets. The call is to come back, to stay true, to love God, and to lend a hand. 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. To the youth of the Church rising up to missions and temples and marriage, we say: “Love God and remain clean from the blood and sins of this generation. You have a monumental work to do, underscored by that marvelous announcement President Thomas S. Monson made yesterday morning. Your Father in Heaven expects your loyalty and your love at every stage of your life.” (The First Great Commandment, Jeffery R Holland, General Conference Oct 2012)
I want to add my testimony to that of Elder Holland’s that I know that this work is true. I know that this is what we have been called to do is to be disciples. I have had a life changing experience and I cannot go back to fishing. I have been called to love my Savior and to love Him forever.
Yo quiero compartir mi testimonio en Español para ustedes. Yo sé que este es la iglesia de Jesucristo. Sé que es la misma iglesia que Él estableció cuando Él estaba en la tierra. Que tenemos el sacerdocio que necesitamos por las ordenanzas sagradas que nos pueden llevar a la exaltación. Yo sé que El Libro de Mormón es escritura sagrada. Que fue traducido por un profeta, José Smith. Que él es el profeta de la restauración. Y que nuestro Salvador, nuestro Hermano, Jesucristo nos ama. Que está esperandonos con sus brazos abiertos. El quiere que lleguemos todos. Que siguen en esta obra. Estoy muy agradecida por la oportunidad que tuve de server al Señor. Digo estas cosas en el nombre de Jesucristo, amén.
Homecoming at airport!
Father and daughter