This week was something special. It was a week filled with spiritual experiences, and I truly enjoyed it.
Tuesday afternoon, we went out teaching. Cocotomey is less urban than most of the other sectors in Benin. There's a lot of sand (so we have fun with our 4x4), and it's a pretty chill town. For one of our rendez-vous, we went into the bush a bit to teach a super-dedicated ami named Edmond. He's a great guy, and we're working on his civil marriage so he can be baptized.
Wednesday morning and lunchtime was dedicated to preparing for the zone conference with Elder Vinson. We arrived at the new Benin stake center, organized chairs, tested the sound, and organized the missionaries. It was great to see a lot of old friends, and to make some new ones. I really like the missionaries here, we've got a great group of missionaries.
Anywho, Elder and Sister Vinson came in with President and Sister Morin, and we all stood up as we sang hymns for them. Elder Digbeu directed the conference, and bore his "last testimony". I taught my small lesson on "Reponding to Objections with the Book of Mormon," which was great. Other missionaries taught and testified, Sister and President Morin talked about convert baptisms. Sister Vinson talked about obedience, which is something crucial for a missionary to understand.
When it came time for Elder Vinson to speak, I got ready to translate, but I was surprised at the fact that I didn't have to do much translating. Elder Vinson has really put a lot of effort into learning French, so I only had to help him with three or four words, and translating missionaries's responses to his questions. That was super cool to see. Elder Vinson talked about faith, and how faith is central to obedience. If we don't have faith, then why obey? His main message was that faith in Jesus Christ will lead us to do anything He asks of us. If we truly love the Savior, then we're willing to do anything for Him.
At one point, Elder Vinson was bearing his testimony about President Thomas S. Monson, and how even though he's old, he testifies with power. At that moment, I felt the Spirit bear strong witness that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God. That was super cool. In all, a good conference.
Thursday morning, we had the mission council with Elder and Sister Vinson, and President Morin. I conducted. We focused on the needs and successes of each zone, and the sister missionaries. The main focus, I felt like, was again on faith, and helping investigators keep the Sabbath day holy. Elder Vinson read Exodus.31:12, 14, and 17 , and very passionately testified that coming to Church is how we show our love to the Lord. He, at one point, said "Coming to church is not just important, it's crucial! Missing church is not an option! Even if it's your mother's funeral, you can go on Saturday, but on Sunday, you go to church! We can't afford to miss out on church, not once!" That was pretty powerful. Elder Vinson at one point got teary, and said "I love my Savior; I'd do anything for Him." Elder Vinson promised us that if we would lift our efforts and our vision, then the Lord would rain down blessings upon this mission, and that we'd have much more success. That was a powerful promise, and so now we're ready to serve the Lord!
In all, the mission tour was a marvelous experience to learn at the feet of a General Authority and his wife. It was so cool! Definitely a moment I'll never forget.
Friday morning, President had a training/council meeting with us. We watched a clip from the seminar for new mission presidents, which talked about in-field training for missionaries. The idea of being an assistant is to be in the sector as much as possible, and to have a model sector in which we can occasionally bring the zone leaders to train them on what President wants us to focus, so that they can in turn apply it, and then bring the district leaders into their sectors. After the video, we discussed different ideas and concerns for the mission. We're going to hold another mission council next week, and Elder Digbeu, President, and I will present different training. I'm going to talk about commitments, and focus on the commitment to come to church.
That afternoon, we went out teaching. Elder Digbeu had the inspiration to visit an ami who hasn't been to church in a while, Toussain, and teach the Atonement. After Elder Vinson's training, he had the idea to give the commitment to come to church in the context of the Atonement. We planned on sharing that with Toussain. There is a new law in Benin that any type of shop, store, or stand that crowds the roadside must be torn down. It's been really efficient in cleaning up the city and making things less crowded, but it's been hurting lots of people on a personal level. Well, as we showed up to the lesson, we found a shed that Toussain owned, freshly knocked over. Toussain arrived just after us, and so his head was on his knocked-down shed. We taught our planned-lesson, but it didn't seem to click for Toussain, and so we walked away from the lesson a little discouraged, but we still had a prayer in our hearts that he would come to church. Well, what do you know it? Toussain came to church! That was a hugely pleasant surprise, and we were super happy! The Lord inspires for a reason, folks.
There are two sister missionaries opening up a new sector in our zone, and their branch hasn't been officially created yet, so they needed to do a baptismal service in our branch building. Saturday afternoon, the baptismal candidate, an awesome young man named Bonaventure, got cold feet due to some misinformation from his friends, so we got to teach him a lesson and respond to his questions. I believe that was the first time in my mission that I've had to respond to anti-Mormon media, in my memory. I've had to deal with anti-Mormon rumors, but never had an investigator stumble upon anti media. I consider myself blessed.
Anywho, we had a very special, spiritual lesson with Bonaventure. The gift of discernment is very real. At one point, I felt prompted to ask Bonaventure if he had prayed to know that the Church is true. He said that he's prayed very much, but that God hasn't responded, or that he hasn't been listening well enough, and that he had been praying for a powerful sign. I felt prompted to share Ether 12:6, and share a little quote that I love: "God will rarely use a spotlight when a flashlight will suffice." In other words, God trusts Bonaventure, and knows that he's looking for the truth, and because Bonaventure is very open to the Gospel, his answer will most likely come in a "still, small voice". Bonaventure's a great guy, he walked away from the lesson very optimistic, and I had the feeling that he'll eventually re-accept to being baptized. Good luck, Bonaventure! (:
I know that God hears and answers prayers, and that if we exercise our faith, we have the daily opportunity to see, hear, and feel miracles. I know that God speaks to us in our day by His chosen servants, and by personal revelation. In the words of James, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him." I know that each one of you can receive spiritual answers to your questions and preoccupations, and I invite you all to go to the Lord in faith and prayer.
I love you all so much! Have a wonderful week! Bonne semaine!
Avec tout mon amour,
Elder Brian H. Phillips
"Travailler comme c'est votre premier jour, témoigner comme c'est votre dernier."