Thomas S. Monson, the president and prophet of the LDS Church, passed away this week. It was expected since his health had been failing for some time now. It was just a matter of time.
He was an apostle for six decades. What I have decided to do, to honor him and his life, is to take a talk from each of his six decades and apply his prophetic voice to our life here as missionaries in Bosnia.
I will never forget this session of conference. I was sitting at the airport preparing to board a plane to London. I had about 20 minutes before the plane boarded. Then I got a call from my youngest daughter, Briel. She had turned 19 just a few weeks before. She was in tears. When she told me the news, a tear came to my eye as well. Because this was her miracle.
October 2012 - Beginning at Age 19
|Saying good-bye to my daughter Briel as she enters the MTC.|
She knew she needed to serve a mission. But 21 was a long ways off. She was considering taking a semester off and doing a service mission somewhere. The age change gave her clarity of purpose. She called her Bishop and started the paperwork almost immediately. She was the first 19-year sister old missionary to leave from our stake. She was the first 19-year old sister missionary in her mission (Iloilo, Philippines).
|The missionaries share a taxi. Makes the trams in Sarajevo look luxurious.|
|You can never leave Sister Newton!|
|Sisters Russell and Christensen were here for some early December snowfalls.|
We have served with 12 different sisters here in Sarajevo. In our public affairs calling, we have served with 3 additional media sisters. They have brought joy, love, and energy to Sarajevo and the mission. And a little comic relief (Sister Rogeau at the alpine slide, for instance).
|Sisters Andjewerden, Higley, and Rougeau. All three served in both Sarajevo and Banja Luka.|
|I know kissing is against mission rules...but who could resist a smooch from Elder Hole's "action otter." We served with Sister Locey the longest...three full transfers.|
|Esma has gotten to know almost all of the Sister missionaries. This pairing, Sister Martineau and McColm was probably one of my favorites because the two are such opposites. It was fun to watch them learn to live with each other.|
|Last summer we had 3 sisters in Sarajevo. Sister Turner and Bues brought tons of energy...except when riding in the car.|
|Sister Orchard was the other part of the threesome.|
|Sisters Heder and Russell are going to send us off and welcome our replacements, the Coopers.|
A few moments later, President Monson also had this to say..."we continue to need many more senior couples. As your circumstances allow, as you are eligible for retirement, and as your health permits, I encourage you to make yourselves available for full-time missionary service. Both husband and wife will have a greater joy as they together serve our Father's children.
|Can you tell the "greater joy" I am experiencing by the look on my face?|
October 2009 - Anger Doesn't Solve AnythingPresident Monson's character exuded joy and hope. What makes this amazing is that he did not live a sheltered life. He was at countless deathbeds. Old and young. He was specifically assigned to serve "behind the Iron Curtain" and minister to the Saints in East Germany. He often heard tales of the worst in human nature.
But those stories never broke him. He never gave into the pangs of anger. There has been much recent talk about "righteous anger" by those whose desire is for political change. Unfortunately, anger just breeds more anger. Contention leads to contention. Monson, however, believed in peace and love.
|The buildings and streets in Bosnia still bear the scars of war. The funny thing is...nobody saw the conflict coming...most Bosnians took pride in how well the different cultures coexisted.|
Monson's address entitled "School Thy Feelings" speaks directly to the situation in Bosnia; a place where there is too much anger and not enough hope.
|Fortunately most of the landmines have been cleared by now. Still remember my father warning me about jogging in Bosnia because of the landmine danger.|
|Institutions that should be leading reconciliation efforts in Bosnia are, quite frankly, not. Churches and mosques are not providing the leadership needed to quell the anger. And the politicians continue to fan the flames of distrust.|
And then he added his own witness. "To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry. I testify that such is possible."
|How does a monstrosity like Srebrenica occur? It cannot occur if there is not some form of institutional anger which has been left to fester.|
Too many people here in Bosnia choose to remain angry. Horrible things happened here. Genocide. Rape. Starvation. Torture. But healing cannot occur when anger remains. Bosnians choose, as a people, to remain angry. And if that does not change, "it can destroy everything."
When he was younger, Tommy Monson served as a mission president in Canada. The first president of the KC temple, was a missionary under him and often referred to him as "Tommy." The area was always dear to Monson's heart and he mentioned it often during the stories he would tell.
October 1990 - Twelve of Whom Were in Attendance
In a 1990 talk entitled "Days Never to Be Forgotten," Elder Monson described a visit to the St. Thomas branch, located about 120 miles outside of Toronto. He was invited to attend sacrament meeting and give a talk to the members there.
|Elder Shaw and Sisters Orchard and Russell practicing a song for church. The missionaries are called upon to do something every Sunday...speaking, performing, teaching a class, music, and cleaning.|
Monson met with the branch president who pointed at picture of a church and said "we need one of those here." Monson replied that it would come in due time once the little branch had enough members to support a building (this was back when local members paid 30% for the cost of a building). President Wilson remarked "we need that building and we need it now!"
|Sreten prepares to bless the sacrament in Tuzla.|
Within two and a half years a building was constructed. And that branch is now a thriving ward.
|The Pruess family lived in Sarajevo for 3 years. Love crazy-pose pictures!|
"When I reflect on the town of St. Thomas, I dwell not on the ward's hundreds of members and many dozens of families; rather, in memory I return to that sparse sacrament meeting in the lodge-hall basement and the Lord's promise, 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.'" (Matthew 18:20)
|Elder Leach speaking to a large crowd in Tuzla.|
Monson's description of St. Thomas reminds me of the branches here in Bosnia. The buildings are small and certainly not on par with the wonderful mosques and Orthodox/Catholic churches here. Only 2 members (and 6 missionaries) attended the Sarajevo branch this past Sunday. Tuzla has had weeks where there was not a single member in attendance.
|Elder Smith and Fadil share a warm embrace.|
|The Sunday of Christmas Eve we had over 30 attendees at church in Sarajevo. We were excited with the numbers. Many people lingered for over an hour after the meeting was over.|
In the face of death and tragedy, where do we find hope? In 1981 Elder Monson addressed that question in a talk entitled "He is Risen." Another story answers this question and also tells us much about the man that Thomas S. Monson is.
October 1981 - Tell Me What Happens To My Spirit When I Die
|One of our favorite photos from Bosnia. Just can't remember where we took it.|
I prayed for heavenly guidance before attempting to respond. My attention was directed to the Book of Mormon, which rested on the table beside his bed. I held the book in my hand, and, as I stand before you today, that book opened to the fortieth chapter of Alma. I began to read aloud:
'Now my son, here is somewhat more I would say unto thee; for I perceive that thy mind is worried concerning the resurrection of the dead...now concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection--Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body...are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace; where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.' (Alma 40:1, 11-12)
My young friend closes his eyes, expressed a sincere thank-you, and silently slipped away to that paradise about which we had spoken."
|During the middle ages, Bosnians created these massive headstones called stećak. There are an estimated 60,000 of these within BiH.|
|Connor (left) with his sister and parents.|
Alma's promise of a paradise where our loved ones "shall rest from all their troubles" in a state of peace brings me comfort.
|The second largest Jewish cemetery in Europe is located in Sarajevo. There used to be a sizable Jewish population in Bosnia but Tito allowed them to emigrate to Israel in the mid-70s. Most of them left at that time.|
Another thing that this story tells us about Monson is that he confidently relies on the Spirit. He was only in his early 20s when this story occurred. He did not have scriptures memorized for occasions like this. It is impossible to have an answer to every question regardless of how hard you study, how much you know, or how educated you are. But he had faith that the Lord would guide him to the right answer.
October 1975 - Suffer the Little ChildrenAccording to his biographer, Thomas S. Monson learned an invaluable lesson that defined his life when he was a young Bishop at the age of 23. "He had the distinct spiritual prompting to leave a priesthood leadership meeting as his president was speaking and visit an elderly member of his congregation in the hospital. It seemed rude to stand, shuffle over 20 people, and exit as his presiding leader spoke. Instead, he sat uncomfortably until the talk ended, then bolted for the door before the closing prayer. At the hospital, he ran down the corridor. He stopped when he saw commotion outside the room of the man he was to visit. A nurse told him the man had died, calling Bishop Monson's name as he passed away. Shattered, the fledgling bishop went outside and wept, sobbing. He vowed then, in the parking lot of the old Veterans Hospital, that he would never turn a deaf ear to another prompting.
According to Jeffrey R. Holland, "It's the most impressive story I know from him about his ministry to the one. As far as I know he kept that promise ever since. It became fundamentally characteristic of his life and what sets him apart from others, that he committed to this idea of following a prompting, and the focus almost always was a single person."
|Young Esma, born 3 months premature, was resuscitated using techniques taught by LDS Charities through the efforts of George and Marcia Bennett.|
In 1975 Elder Monson gave a talk that reinforced his commitment to listening for and following promptings. The talk is called The Faith of a Child.
He tells of the Methvin family from Shreveport, Louisiana. Ten-year old daughter, Christal, discovered an unusual lump on her leg. It was cancerous and the leg was removed. But the cancer had spread to her lungs. They did not despair but decided to seek a blessing from a General Authority. Since they did not know any personally, Christal randomly picked Elder Monson.
|Sister Melonakos plays with a young refugee baby in Kutina.|
"Christal never made the flight to Salt Lake City. Her condition deteriorated. The end drew nigh. But her faith did not waver. To her parents, she said, "isn't stake conference approaching? Isn't a General Authority assigned? And why not Brother Monson? If I can't go to him, the Lord can send him to me.
Meanwhile in Salt Lake City, with no knowledge of the events transpiring in Shreveport, a most unusual situation developed. For the weekend of the Shreveport Louisiana Stake Conference, I had been assigned El Paso, Texas. President Benson called me to his office and explained that one of the other Brethren had done some preparatory work regarding the stake division in El Paso. He asked if I would mind were another to be assigned to El Paso and I assigned elsewhere. Of course there was no problem--anywhere would be fine with me. Then President Benson said, 'Brother Monson, I feel impressed to have you visit the Shreveport Louisiana Stake.' The assignment was accepted. The day came. I arrived in Shreveport.
|Our Croatian Red Cross friend, Mario, plays with some refugee children. Mario wears his heart on his sleeve and considers many of the refugees as his own pseudo-children. Especially the unaccompanied minors.|
I examined the schedule of meetings for that evening and the next morning--even my return flight. There simply was no available time. An alternative suggestion came to mind. Could we not remember the little one in our public prayers at conference? Surely the Lord would understand. On this basis, we proceeded with the scheduled meetings.
|Dionne with a young refugee in Porin, Croatia.|
At the very moment the Methvin family knelt in prayer, the clock in the stake center showed the time to be 7:45. I was sorting my notes, preparing to step to the pulpit, when I heard a voice speak to my spirit. The message was brief, the words familiar: 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God.' (Mark 10:14) My notes became a blur. My thoughts turned to a tiny girl in need of a blessing. The decision was made. The meeting schedule was altered. After all, people are more important than meetings. I turned to Bishop Serra and asked that the leave the meeting and advise the Methvins.
|Tarik is a wonderful young man that lives in Zavidovići, BiH. It has been a pleasure to see his growth this year. In the background is our infamous European leader at LDS Charities, Gilles Francois.|
I shall ever remember and never forget that early-morning journey to a heaven the Methvin family calls home. I have been in hallowed places--even holy houses--but never have I felt more strongly the presence of the Lord than in the Methvin home. Christal looked so tiny lying peacefully on such a large bed. The family surrounded Christal's bedside. I gazed down at a child who was too ill to rise--almost too weak to speak. Her illness had now rendered her sightless. So strong was the spirit that I fell to my knees, took her frail hand in mine, and said simply, 'Christal, I am here.' She parted her lips and whispered, 'Brother Monson, I just knew you would come.' A blessing was given. A faint smile crossed Christal's face. Her whispered 'thank you' provided an appropriate benediction. Quietly each filed from the room.
Four days later the pure spirit of Christal Methvin left its disease-ravaged body and entered the paradise of God.
|Esma is alive because of the selfless service of members of the church. There are hundreds of other children alive in Bosnia today due to the efforts of the newborn resuscitation team.|
There is a common theme throughout all of the Thomas S. Monson's talks. Once you come to know God, he will guide you as you strive to do his will. And God's will always involves helping others.
October 1965 - A Humble and Pure Heart
|The sisters are witnesses even at the bottom of a deep river valley near Jajce.|
"The formula for finding Jesus has always been and ever will be the same--the earnest and sincere prayer of a humble and pure heart. The Prophet Jeremiah counseled '...ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.'" (Jeremiah 29:13)
|President Nelson visited the Bosnia prior to the church being formally recognized here.|
|Elder Rasband meeting with the Federation President.|
|Newly called apostle, Thomas S. Monson.|