Well, this past week has been quite a unique week in the life of a missionary, and the work has literally exhausted me every single day. I definitely didn't expect all of this when I received my call or when I was submitting my papers, but nonetheless, it has been such a learning experience which has allowed me to grow in many ways that wouldn't have been possible in other circumstances, and I am very grateful for that.
From last Monday to Saturday night, it has been work work work. Gut this house, remove this fallen tree, clear this debris made up the first couple of days, and then Friday and Saturday turned into us "tracting" in our yellow "Mormon Helping Hands" shirts and looking for people who needed help in all of the affected areas. It has been really cool to see barriers broken down as people realized that we were simply looking to help. People whose door we had knocked on months ago only to meet an abrupt rejection allowed us into their home and showed great love for the effort we were putting forth simply because we were looking to serve them. I have never felt like the work I was doing was as appreciated as I do now. It makes me wonder what I could do to help people see that our normal proselyting activities are of even greater service to them and thereby break down those barriers that unfortunately exist.
One of the great things that has come about because of our disaster relief efforts is an increased teaching pool. We have now received eight referrals to contact once they have rebuilt their homes, all from service opportunities. People naturally are curious to know what it is that motivates others to sacrifice their time to help a stranger in such a significant way, and as we have served others, that has become clear by us receiving these referrals. I am thankful to our Heavenly Father for providing us with such great opportunities to help others, and He has blessed us significantly.
We will be spending the next two days blitzing the affected areas seeking more work orders because the Church has offered a lot of member work crews from surrounding states to come and assist us this next weekend, we just need to know how much work we will have to get the right amount of crews brought in. To accomplish this, we are having our zone and the Gulfport zone come over and all 26 or so missionaries will do everything we can to get this done. What an effort. Just in the projects I've participated in thus far, we have seen over 300 man hours put into serving non-members, and that doesn't even begin to cover all of the other projects that will and have been done in Slidell alone. I can't wait to hear the final number of hours of service rendered (they are preparing a report to give to the Brethren - maybe they'll share in General Conference??).
One funny experience that we did have was while we were "tracting" in one of the hardest hit areas, Palm Lake. As we were walking, a young man approached us and inquired what we were doing. After a brief conversation, he proceeded to offer us both jobs on the spot with his demolition and renovation company. Apparently they had received contracts for over 120 homes and only had 15 employees. To give you an idea, it would take 12 hours for a crew of 6-8 people to do two homes. So we laughed and told him that we were full-time missionaries and not allowed to participate in commercial activities, and he awkwardly apologized and shuffled off. Man, maybe I should have seen how much they were paying!!! Hahaha.
So there you have it - a busy and exhausting week that will only continue. But I can testify that service is the best missionary work possible, because "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." Hearts have been softened, doors have opened that we never imagined, and lives changed as we have extended a helping hand. The beautiful thing is that it doesn't take a hurricane for this principle to become evident in each of our lives, because service opportunities are all around us, for members and non-members alike. Even with what might be considered a small act of kindness, we can brighten both our own lives and the lives of those we surround ourselves with, and opportunities to do so are everywhere we go - it is up to us to do our part and recognize them. As we do so, opportunities to bear testimony, through word or deed, will naturally come, and our own testimonies of the gospel will truly be strengthened.
Although it is sometimes to forget, Christ's is a gospel of kindness and compassion, and it is only after we master the eternal principle of selfless service that we can progress in all aspects of the gospel. To quote President Monson, "'Love thy neighbor' is more than a divine truth. It is a pattern for perfection." He continues, "As we look heavenward, we inevitably learn of our responsibility to reach outward. To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy." May we always remember that we are all beggars (see Mosiah 4:19), and therefore it is our responsibility to assist others when God has provided us with the resources and ability to do so. As we do so, we can and will find true fulfillment in our lives.
Have a great week! I'm praying for you all!
Love,Elder Joshua Thomas