I have been called to serve in the Benin Cotonou Mission, and if you are like most people, your first reaction is "Where in the world is that?" The countries of Benin and Togo are in West Africa. When I received my mission call, I actually had to Google where Benin was. As I continued to read more about my mission, I was excited, thrilled...and terrified. Let's be completely honest here, Africa is a scary place. I know that it's where I'm meant to be for the next two years, but that doesn't change how scary living there can be. You might be asking "Why is a tall, pasty, skinny, white boy from Utah going to Africa? He's not going to last two weeks!" If you're not asking that question, just know that I certainly was. It is to that question, "Why are you serving a mission?" that I have focused these thoughts.
In thinking about how to best answer that question, I was reminded of the Bible story of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet, but he never really got it, and if you watch it you can spot it, he did not get the point (Thank you, VeggieTales!). I have heard and read the story of Jonah dozens, perhaps hundreds of times throughout my childhood, but in re-reading that story, I was drawn to the "why" of the story, not just the "what," and I noticed where Jonah went wrong.
When Jonah was out at sea in the middle of a storm, the sailors he traveled with asked him why he would run away from God's calling to preach the gospel. It's interesting that we don't have Jonah's response recorded in the scriptures. This, to me, indicates that Jonah didn't answer, or perhaps he gave a poor answer. Jonah knew what he did was wrong, but he seemed to keep it to himself. He must have thought "I'm doomed, I'm damned, and I'm done," and he didn't open up about his mistakes. Furthermore, when he does finally preach the gospel and the people of Nineveh repent, he is angry at God for being merciful; he wanted to see God's justice, and not God's mercy.
In these two faults of character, we find that Jonah misunderstood how he worked with God and how God worked with him; he misunderstood our relationship with God. That's an interesting thought. If a misunderstanding of our relationship with God might cause us to run away from the task, surely a correct understanding of that relationship would inspire us to press forward in the callings and trials ahead of us.
Now, that sounds peachy keen on paper, but it's a hard principle to understand and apply. Maybe you're unsure of God's existence; or maybe you believe that God is there, but you don't know if He is listening or if He even cares. Maybe you know that God is there and that He does listen and care, but you feel alone and abandoned. Maybe you feel small, maybe you feel inadequate when compared to the task ahead.
To these thoughts and fears, I would direct your attention to the story of Enoch. Enoch was a prophet, and he did get it. Enoch lived in a time when the people practiced wickedness, but he did his best to live righteously in a terrible environment. The Lord commanded Enoch to go and preach the gospel to the people, and call them to repentance.
There was just one problem, however: Enoch had a speech impediment, and he had trouble interacting socially (Enoch reminds me of someone else I know, and those of you reading know him too). Enoch bows and asks the Lord "Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?" (Moses 6:31). That is proof right there that even the prophets of God feel inadequate at times. But the Lord addressed Enoch's fears: "Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good... Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me," (Moses 6:32, 34).
That is a remarkable promise, and while the Lord may not ask us to move literal mountains or change the course of rivers, the promise is still the same: the Lord promises to work with and alongside us, not just separately. We work together to fix and improve ourselves, and to do remarkable things.
"And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places, and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works... And it came to pass when they heard him, no man laid hands on him; for fear came on all them that heard him; for he walked with God," (Moses 6:37, 39).
Brothers and sisters, God doesn't set us on the path and wish us good luck; He sets us on the path and gives us the opportunity to walk with Him. I know that everyone in the world needs to hear that message, and I have been called to do my very small part in sharing it with the people of Africa. I also know that as I share that message, God will give me the opportunity to work alongside Him in converting the wonderful people of Benin and Togo.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord loves you. As we go throughout the rest of our lives, there may be times when we feel alone or unloved, but know this: at least one person loves you, and He is our Savior. His love will inspire you and give you the ability to do things none of us could have ever imagined.