I served as a missionary in a small industrial town in Germany called Krefeld. I was still fairly new to Germany, the language, and talking to everyone we could about the gospel. I had gotten enough German down to get the gist of what people were saying to me in most cases– including all the swears, but I was still horribly un-creative with my gospel pick-up lines (“We’re talking to people about Jesus Christ.” or trying to take advantage of their curiosity or all things USA “We are American missionaries, and we’d like to talk to you about…”). I even prided myself on keeping my American accent, because it would often get a few friendly inquiries even if they didn’t want a Book of Mormon.
We weren’t meeting regularly with any “progressing” investigators (people who weren’t members the church, but had committed to be baptized and were meeting regularly with the missionaries), and the outside temperature was slowly dropping. The skies were overcast and often raining in those cold October and November days, and I had a nightmare that we would be knocking on doors on Halloween (at least we’d have really good costumes!). In such start conditions, it was fairly difficult to maintain a cheerful demeanor.
One thing that kept my hopes up was our little ward in Krefeld. Our bishop was a businessman from Taiwan. He was dedicated to the members of our congregation, us missionaries included. He would take time out of his schedule to go out with us, even if we didn’t had an appointment with an investigator of the Church. We had a recent convert, with whom we would meet regularly to discuss her reading in the Book of Mormon. She diligently read chapter by chapter, but we often had to fill in a lot of the Biblical background for her. Her excitement to read the Book of Mormon was so refreshing! We had another dear brother in the ward who actually hadn’t ever been baptized; he had some sort of mental handicap, and his wife wouldn’t let him join the Church. But he was dedicated in coming to Church every Sunday, and even had an unofficial calling of sorts, so he was often at the church building during the week too. He always enthusiastically greeted us and sat in on discussions when we held them at the church. Finally, we met every week with a young man from Sri Lanka who was raised Catholic. He loved learning about the idea of the gospel being restored, of Christ’s ministry in the Americas, and Joseph Smith’s calling to be a prophet in our day. In nearly every lesson, he would express his desire to go on a mission too, but his parents had absolutely forbidden him being baptized. He would sometimes disappear for weeks without answering his phone, but we would run into him on the train and we would being meeting again.
While I was serving in Krefeld, I heard one thing in a testimony meeting that I have held on to because it gave me such hope in a dark time on my mission. A sister in the ward explained that she believed God gave every individual a small box of problems before they came to earth. Each box was different for each person. When we open our box of problems, we often wonder why God gave them to us. Why this out of anything else I could have gotten? But over time, as we examine our little box of problems, we being to realize how they all fit together, and that they are actually gifts.
Does it sound too sappy? Perhaps it simplifies the problem of pain too much, but this explanation always comes back to me. In that seemingly dark chapter of my mission, I remember my dear friends in Krefeld and the hope they brought to me.
I was thinking of this analogy of the little box of problems as I was reading the book “Dear and Glorious Physician.” The book gives a speculative back-story of Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament. In it, Luke is trained from an early age to become a physician. Growing up, Luke has several loved ones die. He grows resentful towards God, and while he doesn’t question God’s existence, he views Him as an enemy to mankind. In his anger, he vows to steal God’s victims by healing them and saving them from the grave. He becomes a masterful physician, and many love and respect him for the miraculous work he performs.
Luke’s box of problems helped him dedicate himself to helping others and forged his greatest strength. It helped him serve so many of God’s children, and eventually helps reconcile him with God. Our little box of problems in this sense seems to be essential for our own personal at-one-ment with God.
Luke’s pain became his greatest calling in life: healing others and relieving them of suffering. I tied this together with a conference talk given by Elder Pingree during the Saturday morning session. Elder Pingree recounts a story of a brother from Nepal:
“Consider Girish Ghimire who was born and raised in the country of Nepal. As a teenager, he studied in China, where a classmate introduced him to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Eventually, Girish came to Brigham Young University for graduate work and met his future wife. They settled in the Salt Lake Valley and adopted two children from Nepal.
“Years later, when more than 1,500 refugees from camps in Nepal were relocated to Utah, Girish felt inspired to help. With native-language fluency and cultural understanding, Girish served as an interpreter, teacher, and mentor. After resettling in the community, some of the Nepali refugees demonstrated interest in the gospel. A Nepali-speaking branch was organized, and Girish later served as its branch president. He was also instrumental in translating the Book of Mormon into Nepali.”
This brother was able to use his gifts and unique background to serve his fellow brothers and sisters. It was a unique work that only he could do. This is more than a Church calling. We don’t need to wait to be called in our ward or stake to do them. Elder Pingree related several other examples, including a doctor who volunteered his time once a week to give free health care to those in need, and another family who moved to a poorer neighborhood to help those who were socioeconomically disadvantaged.
“Brothers and sisters, God has important work for each of us… These divine assignments are not reserved for a privileged few but are for all of us– regardless of gender, age, race, nationality, income level, social status, or Church calling. Every one of us has a meaningful role to play in furthering God’s work.”
I have my own little box of problems that I feel has also become my calling. When I first admitted to myself that I was gay, it wasn’t with joy and self-acceptance. It was painful, because I could see no way to reconcile it with a faith in which marriage between man and woman is sacrosanct. It seemed like a burden to be carried my entire life. But now I cherish what I once thought a burden as an essential part of myself, of my testimony, and of my identity. I feel that the work to which I have been called in to help make room in the Church for our dear LGBTQ brothers and sisters. This is a work that needs to be done that can’t be done alone by church leaders and counsels. It ultimately needs all of us to be welcoming and accepting. As someone with a foot in both worlds, I feel like I understand the concerns and the needs of both sides, and I love both in their entirety.
I am so grateful for fellow disciples who are working to help incorporate our LGBTQ brothers and sisters into the body of Christ. Papa Ostler is a former YSA bishop who has done so much in expressing a loving and welcoming arm: “I love my LGBTQ friends. You are worthy, whole and complete. You are full equals in my eyes, the eyes of so many, and the eyes of our Heavenly Parents” Some of his thoughts are collected on his site here.
Ben is a fellow gay Mormon who I was able to meet at the Northstar conference this past year. He also regularly blogs about his experiences as a gay Mormon at his site here. He inspired my wife and I to start an ally night in our area. Thank you Ben for your all you do!
Jenni and I have loved reading Josh Weed’s blog since we were dating. He and his wife Lolly are amazing! You can read their story here.
Ty Mansfield has done so much to help so many. When I was in the midst of my own faith crisis, his book In Quiet Desperation helped give me a boost when I felt I had no one to talk to.
Thank you for your individual ministries of Christlike love and service!